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.
God, as the supreme ruler of the universe has ever required prompt and unquestioning obedience. Even Christ, in the days of his flesh, was obedient to the law of the Father. Through the inspired psalmist he declares: “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire;” “burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart.” But men are lulled to sleep by the deceptions of Satan, who suggests excuses and conquers their scruples, saying, as he said to Eve in the garden, “Ye shall not surely die.” They forget that the word of the Lord is steadfast, and that every transgression will receive a “just recompense of reward.”
The Lord made a covenant with Abraham and his seed, and gave them the rite of circumcision as a token that he had separated them from all nations as his peculiar treasure. Had the descendants of Abraham faithfully kept this covenant, they would have escaped a great temptation to indulge in the sinful practices of other nations, and would not have been seduced into idolatry. By mingling with idolaters, they lost, to a great extent, their peculiar, holy character. To punish them, the Lord brought a famine upon their land, which compelled them to go down into Egypt to preserve their lives. The Lord suffered them to be oppressed by the Egyptians; but because of his covenant with Abraham, he did not forsake his people. He gave them an opportunity to turn to him in their distress, choose his righteous and merciful government, and obey his requirements.
The Lord heard the cries of his people in the land of their captivity, and delivered them, that they might be free to serve him. After they had left Egypt, and the waters of the Red Sea had been divided before them, he proved them, to see if they would trust in Him who by signs and wonders had delivered them from the house of bondage. But they failed to endure the trial. They murmured against God because of the difficulties in the way, and wished to return again to Egypt. Because of their dissatisfied, impatient, and rebellious spirit, they wandered for forty years in the wilderness. But the Lord was not chargeable with this delay in possessing Canaan. He was more grieved than they because he could not bring them into immediate possession of the promised land, and thus display before all nations his mighty power in the deliverance of his people. With their distrust of God, with their pride and unbelief, they were not prepared to enter Canaan. They would in no way represent that people whose God is the Lord; for they did not bear his character of purity, goodness, and benevolence.
The children of Israel forfeited the divine favor by their disobedience. Had they submitted to the authority of God, as a nation being governed by his judgments, and as individuals walking in his ordinances, they would have been a prosperous, holy, happy people. By their own perversity of spirit, the Israelites made it impossible for God to manifest his power in protecting them from the nations that opposed their passage to Canaan. When those who had been chosen of God as his peculiar people, who had witnessed so many displays of his greatness and the majesty of his power, imitated the iniquities of the heathen, their guilt was as much greater than that of the idolatrous nations as were their privileges. Not one of the good things that God had promised to his people would have failed, had they complied with the conditions upon which these blessings were to be bestowed; but God could not sanction sin, nor protect iniquity.
The history of the children of Israel is written for our admonition. We are probationers, as they were. God has given us his commandments, as he gave them to his people anciently. We may become strong in the strength of Israel’s God, if we will believe and obey his word. But if we are disobedient, doubting, and rebellious, as were the multitudes who fell in the wilderness, we shall be found unworthy to possess those mansions which Christ has gone to prepare for his people.
Through Samuel, God commanded Saul to go and smite the Amalekites, and utterly destroy all their possessions. But Saul only partially obeyed the command; he destroyed the inferior cattle, but reserved the best, and spared the wicked king. The next day he met the prophet Samuel, and greeted him with flattering self-congratulations. Said he, Blessed be thou of the Lord; I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” But the prophet immediately responded, “What meaneth then the bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”
Saul was confused, and sought to shirk responsibility by answering, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God, and the rest we have utterly destroyed.” Samuel reproved the king, reminding him of the explicit command of God directing him to destroy all things belonging to Amalek. He pointed out Saul’s transgression, and declared that he had disobeyed the Lord. But Saul refused to acknowledge that he had done wrong, and again excused his sin by pleading that he had reserved the best of the cattle to sacrifice unto the Lord.
The king’s persistency in refusing to see and confess his sin grieved Samuel to the heart. He sorrowfully asked, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offering 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.” “Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” And for his transgression, the kingdom of Israel was rent from the hands of Saul, and given to a neighbor that was better than he, even David, the son of Jesse.
God is no less particular now than he was in ancient times. His eye is upon all his people, and over all the work of their hands. He will accept of no partial obedience; he will sanction no compromise with self. Nor will he suffer those who disobey his word to go unpunished. Though he may bear long with the transgressor, retribution will surely come at last.
God spoke to the children of Israel by the mouths of prophets and apostles; but there never was a time when men were more fully informed than they now are concerning his will and the course he would have them pursue. But will they profit by his teachings? Will they receive his reproofs and heed the warnings?
Disobedience hardens the heart and deadens the conscience of the guilty, and it also tends to corrupt the faith of others. That which at first looks very wrong to them, gradually loses this appearance, till finally they question whether it is really sin, and unconsciously fall into the same error. When a duty presents itself, we should not delay to meet its demands. Delay gives time for doubts to arise, unbelief creeps in, the judgment is perverted, the understanding darkened; and at length the reproofs of God‘s Spirit do not reach the heart of the deluded one, who has become so blinded as to feel that they cannot possibly be intended for him or apply to his case.
Precious probationary time is passing, and few realize its worth. The golden hours are squandered in worldly pursuits, in pleasure, in absolute sin, while a preparation for eternity, the great object for which they were given, is entirely overlooked. The law of God is slighted and forgotten; yet its precepts are none the less binding, and every transgression will receive its merited punishment. For purpose of worldly gain men desecrate the Sabbath; yet the claims of that holy day are not abrogated or lessened. God‘s command is clear and unquestionable on this point. He has peremptorily forbidden us to labor on the Sabbath; he has set it apart as a day sanctified to himself.
Those who would walk in the path of obedience to God‘s commandments will encounter many hindrances. There are strong and subtle influences that bind them to the ways of the world; but the power of the Lord can break these chains. He will remove these obstacles from before the feet of his faithful, humble children, or give them strength and courage to conquer every difficulty, if they earnestly beseech his help. All hindrances will vanish before an earnest desire and persistent effort to do the will of God. Light from Heaven will illuminate the pathway of those who, no matter what trials and perplexities they may encounter, go forward in the way of obedience, looking to Jesus for help and guidance.
— E.G. White, Signs of the Times, 7/22/1886