1 Samuel 15:1-35: "To obey is better than sacrifice"

1 Samuel 15:1-35: "To obey is better than sacrifice"

Samuel to Saul: “What is this lowing of cattle and bleating of goats?”

Samuel to Saul: “What is this lowing of cattle and bleating of goats?”

Samuel gives a clear message to Saul: God is punishing the Amalekites for what they did to Israel (see Exodus 17:8-14; Deuteronomy 25:17-19), so Saul must totally destroy them and all that belongs to them. “Totally destroy” translates a Hebrew word that means to devote or sacrifice something to God. Saul does attack the Amalekites but spares their king and the best of their sheep and cattle. So when Samuel comes to Saul he wonders aloud, if Saul had really obeyed the Lord, “what is this lowing of cattle and bleating of goats I hear?”

Is this an act of mercy? Is Saul offended (as we might be) by God’s command to completely destroy a nation? No, because he does not spare innocent women and children, but the best of the animals. Why? He says that he planned to sacrifice them. But God had already told him how to sacrifice them, that is, by completely destroying them. Saul also spares Agag, the Amalekite king. Why? Mercy? Or as an act of courtesy to a fellow king? Was Saul afraid that killing another nation’s king might set a precedent for others to kill him?

Next Steps

Whatever his motivations, Saul has not obeyed the clear word of God. He has refused to listen to God’s voice, preferring his own plans. Samuel accuses Saul of rebellion and arrogance. Saul finally admits his sin, but blames it on his fear of the people. He begs Samuel to stay and offer a sacrifice on his behalf and for the people of Israel. Samuel at first refuses, turning away from Saul. Saul grabs at Samuel’s robe, tearing it. Samuel says it is a sign that God has torn the kingdom from Saul and given it to another. Samuel finally relents and offers a sacrifice with Saul. He also finishes the job by executing Agag. Samuel mourns for Saul, but never sees him again in the flesh. God also mourns, sorry that he ever made Saul king.


God of truth, keep us from self-deception. Do not let us rationalize our disobedience.

Dr. Gary Holloway is guest writing for The Journey Bible Project Blog.


Gary Holloway is Executive Director of the World Convention. Holding degrees from Freed-Hardeman, Harding, The University of Texas, and Emory University, he has written or edited thirty books, including (with Douglas Foster) Renewing God’s World: A Concise Global History of the Stone-Campbell Movement from ACU Press. He is married to Deb Rogers Holloway. 

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