1 Samuel 15:10–23
God has feelings. Did you think about that? There are things that give God pleasure, and things that don’t. That seems quite human, doesn’t it. We humans build a lot of our lives around the pursuit of pleasure. Less around pleasing others.
God wants us to know what things please and displease him. Do you think that perhaps God enjoys tipping evil people into the bottomless pit of hell? God tells us.
“I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live.” (Ezekiel 33:11)
Let me share something that gives me pleasure. Some of you may know this about me. I get pleasure from training dogs.
Dogs were created by God with an instinct to desire to please people. It releases joy in a dog to give pleasure to people. This is not dissimilar to the way we were created to relate to God. The purpose of training a dog is to develop the dog’s relationship with it’s master. This will bring pleasure to both dog and master.
God gets pleasure from having a good relationship with us. This will also bring us pleasure, though many of us live our whole lives thinking pleasure lies in other places.
Paul writes to the believers in Thessalonica about why he shares the Gospel. He says, “Our purpose is to please God, not people.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4)
Before I started training dogs, I had a dog that thought the greatest pleasure in life was to chase cars. This dog did not reach old age. I was just 16 when I learned that painful lesson.
One of the basic things I teach a dog is to sit. A young dog can learn this very quickly. They sit and then they get a treat. The next lesson is harder. The young dog associates sitting with treats, and starts to sit every time it wants a treat. So now we have a relationship, but it’s not yet correctly oriented. The dog has to learn that they only get a treat when they sit in response to a command. It’s called obedience training for a reason. It’s not us learning how to obey a dog, but teaching a dog to obey us.
A dog and a human do not have an equal relationship. Do I need to say that God and his people do not have an equal relationship. Yet young Christians can sometimes misunderstand their relationship with God. Even older Christians may have trouble with this. God is the master.
In our reading today, 1 Samuel 15, Samuel is teaching Saul about obedience.
There has been a battle and Saul has been victorious. Samuel turns up after the fighting is over and Saul greets him cheerfully. He says, “I have carried out the Lord’s command!”
Saul thinks he has obeyed God. He’s very pleased with himself for having done so well. In fact he has disobeyed God and Samuel demands to know why. He asks Saul why he has done “what was evil in the Lord’s sight?”
Saul is like the dog that has learned that when he sits, he gets a reward. So he keeps sitting.
Saul knows that God taught Moses how to make sacrifices. He knows that the people are called on to make sacrifices. And so Saul concludes that more sacrifices are automatically better. His is a faith that equates giving more sacrifices with getting more blessings.
Saul tells Samuel in verse 15 that this is what he did.
“It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God.”
Saul mistakenly thinks that is good, so in verse 18 Samuel explains. “The Lord sent you on a mission and told you, ‘Go and completely destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, until they are all dead.’ Why haven’t you obeyed the Lord?”
King Saul still doesn’t get the point. He repeats his defence in verse 20.
“But I did obey the Lord,” Saul insisted. “I carried out the mission he gave me.”
This is a discussion about obedience. Saul equates obedience with giving sacrifices. Saul is wrong. Are we also wrong sometimes? Do we seek to obey a scary God and get blessings by making greater and greater offerings? We don’t round up cattle and slaughter them these days. Instead we sacrifice things such as time and money. The danger is in doing this with the wrong motivation.
It’s too late for Saul, he has stepped too far outside God’s will. Even though he is sorry, God still rejects him. Samuel says, “Since you have rejected the Lord’s command, he has rejected you as king of Israel.”
Look what Samuel says in verse 22.
But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.”
Obedience is better than sacrifice, but the purpose is to be pleasing to the Lord. The New Testament hardly talks about obedience at all. It talks instead about pleasing the Lord.
Ephesians 5:10, “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.”
Romans 12:2, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Colossians 1:10, “Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.”
Titus says, “quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws … are useless and a waste of time. “
Romans 4:13 says, “God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was based not on his obedience to God’s law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by faith.”
It’s not that obedience is bad or that sacrifices are bad. It’s that their purpose is to develop our relationship with God.
God’s purpose is to use obedience to grow our faith, and thus our relationship with him. It isn’t about having robots that obey every command and never move without a command. We are being taught to please God because that’s the way to live.
In order for us to please God we need to “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.” To do that you have to “let God transform you”.
“You will grow as you learn to know God better and better.”
We are all of us learning to know God better and better. We are learning to listen to him and understand what he is saying. We all know that this is much harder than just following instructions. It is also much more rewarding. We are being changed to have God’s heart by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us.
When we don’t understand the heart of God, we can easily be like King Saul. Without new hearts we will listen and not understand. Without new minds we will sacrifice and yet not obey.
May he equip you with all you need
for doing his will.
May he produce in you,
through the power of Jesus Christ,
every good thing that is pleasing to him. (Hebrews 13:21)