The Sentence of Rejection
1 Samuel 15:22, 23
And Samuel said, Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold…

"Hath Jehovah (as much) delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of Jehovah?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to give heed than the fat of rams.

For (like) the sin of divination is rebellion,
And (like) an idol and teraphim is obstinacy.
Because thou hast rejected the word of Jehovah,
He hath rejected thee from being king." The crisis has now fully arrived. The aged prophet confronts the self-deceived king, whom he looks upon as no longer reigning as servant of Jehovah, in consequence of his endeavour to rule according to his own will and pleasure, though in connection with the outward forms of the religion of Israel. He has striven in vain to turn him from his way, and can henceforth only regard him as a rebel against the supreme Ruler. Inasmuch as Saul, in seeking to justify himself, showed that he estimated moral obedience lightly in comparison with ritual worship, Samuel first of all asserts the incomparable superiority of the former to the latter. He then declares that disobedience is equivalent to heathenism and idolatry, against which Saul, in offering sacrifices to Jehovah and other ways, exhibited such zeal. And, finally, he pronounces, as a judge upon a criminal, the sentence of his rejection. "There is a poetical rhythm in the original which gives it the tone of a Divine oracle uttered by the Spirit of God, imparting to it an awful solemnity, and making it sink deep into the memory of the hearers in all generations" (Wordsworth). Notice -

I. THE PARAMOUNT WORTH OF OBEDIENCE, considered in relation to offerings and sacrifices and other external forms of worship (ver. 22).

1. It is often less regarded by men than such forms. They mistake the proper meaning and purpose of them, entertain false and superstitious notions concerning them, and find it easier and more according to their sinful dispositions to serve God (since they must serve him somehow) by them than in self-denial and submission to his will. It is indeed by no means an uncommon thing for those who are consciously leading a sinful life to be diligent and zealous in outward religious worship, and make use of the fruit of their disobedience "to sacrifice unto the Lord," imagining that it will be pleasing to him, and make compensation for their defects in other things.

2. It is absolutely necessary in order that they may be acceptable to God. The spirit of obedience and love is the soul of external services of every kind, and without it they are worthless. "To love him with all the heart is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mark 12:33). The one ought never to be disjoined from the other, but it is often done; and they are set in contrast to each other. "If we were to say charity is better than church going, we should be understood to mean that it is better than such church going as is severed from charity. For if they were united they would not be contrasted. The soul is of more value than the body. But it is not contrasted unless they come into competition with one another, and their interests (although they cannot in truth be so) seem to be separated" (Pusey, 'Minor Prophets,' Hosea 6:6). "The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination" (Proverbs 21:27).

3. It is incomparably superior to them, considered as needful and appointed modes of serving God (apart from the "wicked mind" with which they are sometimes observed). Because -

(1) The one is universal; the other is partial, and really included in it.

(2) The one is moral, the other ceremonial. It is a "weightier matter of the law."

(3) The one is of a man himself, the willing sacrifice of his own will; the other of only a portion of his powers or possessions. And "how much better is a man than a sheep!"

(4) The one is essential, being founded upon the natural relation of man to God; the other is circumstantial, arising from man's earthly and sinful condition. "Angels obey, but do not sacrifice."

(5) The one is the reality, the other the symbol.

(6) The one is the end, the other the means. Sacrifice is the way of the sinner back to obedience, and the means of his preservation therein. Even the one perfect sacrifice of Christ would not have been needed if man had been obedient. Its design is not merely to afford a sufficient reason for the remission of punishment in a system of moral government, but also to restore to obedience (Titus 2:14).

(7) The one is temporary, the other is eternal. The sacrifices of the former dispensation have now been abolished; and how much of the present form of Divine service will vanish away when we behold the face of God! But love and obedience will "never fail." Since obedience is thus the one thing, the essential, more important than anything else, it should hold the supreme place in our hearts and lives.

II. THE IDOLATROUS CHARACTER OF DISOBEDIENCE (ver. 22). In proportion to the excellence of obedience is the wickedness of disobedience.

1. It is a common thing for men to make light of it, especially in actions to which they are disposed, or which they have committed, being blinded by their evil desires and passions.

2. In the sight of God every act of disobedience is exceedingly hateful. "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil" (Habakkuk 1:13) without punishing it.

3. In the light of truth it is seen to be the same in principle as those transgressions on which the severest condemnation is pronounced, and which are acknowledged to be deserving of the strongest reprobation. It is probable that Saul had already taken measures to put down the "sin of divination" (1 Samuel 28:9), and prided himself upon his zeal against idolatry; but he was acting in the spirit of that which he condemned, and was an idolater at heart. For he was turning away from God, resisting and rejecting him, and making an idol of self, which is done by all who (in selfish and superstitious fear or desire) seek divination (witchcraft) and trust in an idol ("which is nothing in the world") and teraphim (household gods - ch, 19:13). "The declinations from religion, besides the privative, which is atheism, and the branches thereof, are three - heresies, idolatry, and witchcraft. Heresies when we serve the true God with a false worship; idolatry when we worship false gods, supposing them to be true; and witchcraft when we adore false gods, knowing them to be wicked and false - the height of idolatry. And yet we see, though these be true degrees, Samuel teacheth us that they are all of a nature, when there is once a receding from the word of God" (Bacon, 'Advancement of Learning'). "All conscious disobedience is actual idolatry, because it makes self-will, the human I, into a god" (Keil). "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).


1. The punishment of the disobedient is the appropriate fruit of his disobedience. "Because thou hast rejected me," etc. Saul wished to reign without God, and have his own way; what he sought as a blessing he obtains as a curse. Sinners say, "Depart from us," etc. (Job 21:14); and the most terrible sentence that can be pronounced upon them is, "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Psalm 6:8; Matthew 7:23). "God rejects no one unless he is before rejected by him."

2. It involves grievous loss and misery - the loss of power, honour, blessedness; the experience of weakness, reproach, unhappiness, which cannot be wholly avoided, even though mercy be afterwards found.

3. Judgment is mingled with mercy. Although Saul was discrowned as theocratic king, he did not cease to live or to reign as "legal king." He was not personally and entirely abandoned. God sought his salvation to the last. "His rejection involved only this -

(1) That God would henceforth leave him, and withdraw from him the (special) gifts of his Spirit, his counsel through the Urim and Thummim and by his servant Samuel; and

(2) that in a short time the real deposition would be followed by tangible consequences - the kingly ruins would be destroyed, and the kingdom would not pass to his descendants (Hengstenberg, 'Kingdom of God,' 2:89). - D.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.

WEB: Samuel said, "Has Yahweh as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Yahweh? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.

The Principle of Obedience
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