“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)
These are the words from God through Samuel to King Saul, another king called of God to lead his people. But King Saul turned from God to his own devices as he became more powerful. God’s original mission became King Saul’s misinterpreted mess of manipulation. (Read the whole story in 1 Samuel!)
King Saul led his people his way, away from God, and became so arrogant that it became a mental and spiritual illness! Killing to hold his power in place became his single goal. God deals with rebellion in the same way rebellious people behave, pulling them from leadership that maims and destroys others. In the next verse of 1 Samuel 15:23, Samuel, speaking for God, announces God’s displeasure and indictment to King Saul;
“ For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has rejected you as king.”
Jeremiah, God’s prophet, tells King Zedekiah in a similar way what will happen because of his disobedience, refusing to follow God, arrogance in his leadership, not to mention (but we will) his unkept promises to God’s people concerning the bondage of slavery! Yes, we learn that to obey God is way better than unkept promises and haughty, meaningless sacrifices.
Jeremiah 34, The Message
Freedom to the Slaves
34 God’s Message to Jeremiah at the time King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon mounted an all-out attack on Jerusalem and all the towns around it with his armies and allies and everyone he could muster:
2-3 “I, God, the God of Israel, direct you to go and tell Zedekiah king of Judah: ‘This is God’s Message. Listen to me. I am going to hand this city over to the king of Babylon, and he is going to burn it to the ground. And don’t think you’ll get away. You’ll be captured and be his prisoner. You will have a personal confrontation with the king of Babylon and be taken off with him, captive, to Babylon.
4-5 “‘But listen, O Zedekiah king of Judah, to the rest of the Message of God. You won’t be killed. You’ll die a peaceful death. They will honor you with funeral rites as they honored your ancestors, the kings who preceded you. They will properly mourn your death, weeping, “Master, master!” This is a solemn promise. God’s Decree.’”
6-7 The prophet Jeremiah gave this Message to Zedekiah king of Judah in Jerusalem, gave it to him word for word. It was at the very time that the king of Babylon was mounting his all-out attack on Jerusalem and whatever cities in Judah that were still standing—only Lachish and Azekah, as it turned out (they were the only fortified cities left in Judah).
* * *
8-10 God delivered a Message to Jeremiah after King Zedekiah made a covenant with the people of Jerusalem to decree freedom to the slaves who were Hebrews, both men and women. The covenant stipulated that no one in Judah would own a fellow Jew as a slave. All the leaders and people who had signed the covenant set free the slaves, men and women alike.
11 But a little while later, they reneged on the covenant, broke their promise and forced their former slaves to become slaves again.
12-14 Then Jeremiah received this Message from God: “God, the God of Israel, says, ‘I made a covenant with your ancestors when I delivered them out of their slavery in Egypt. At the time I made it clear: “At the end of seven years, each of you must free any fellow Hebrew who has had to sell himself to you. After he has served six years, set him free.” But your ancestors totally ignored me.
15-16 “‘And now, you—what have you done? First you turned back to the right way and did the right thing, decreeing freedom for your brothers and sisters—and you made it official in a solemn covenant in my Temple. And then you turned right around and broke your word, making a mockery of both me and the covenant, and made them all slaves again, these men and women you’d just set free. You forced them back into slavery.
17-20 “‘So here is what I, God, have to say: You have not obeyed me and set your brothers and sisters free. Here is what I’m going to do: I’m going to set you free—God’s Decree—free to get killed in war or by disease or by starvation. I’ll make you a spectacle of horror. People all over the world will take one look at you and shudder. Everyone who violated my covenant, who didn’t do what was solemnly promised in the covenant ceremony when they split the young bull into two halves and walked between them, all those people that day who walked between the two halves of the bull—leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, palace officials, priests, and all the rest of the people—I’m handing the lot of them over to their enemies who are out to kill them. Their dead bodies will be carrion food for vultures and stray dogs.
21-22 “‘As for Zedekiah king of Judah and his palace staff, I’ll also hand them over to their enemies, who are out to kill them. The army of the king of Babylon has pulled back for a time, but not for long, for I’m going to issue orders that will bring them back to this city. They’ll attack and take it and burn it to the ground. The surrounding cities of Judah will fare no better. I’ll turn them into ghost towns, unlivable and unlived in.’” God’s Decree.
WHAT DO WE LEARN—HOW DO WE RESPOND?
We must pause to pray and reflect on what God wants most from us—obedience. Obedience is worship. Obedience from a heart that wants to please God most of all is gratitude. Obedience that expects nothing in return is pure, unconditional love—like God loves us. Obedience that asks God what He wants first, before thinking or doing anything else, is living that abundant life that Jesus showed us how to live while He walked the earth!
Jesus didn’t say or do anything without first checking with His Father. “I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.” (John 12:49) Jesus further explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.’’(John 5:19) Jesus got alone by Himself to pray to the Father before doing anything of significance.
Who are we to think we can live life without laying our lives before the Father first, with readiness to obey his next steps of direction? Who are we to think we can do life on our own?
God gave weak King Zedekiah another opportunity to repent and save the city and the temple from ruin, but he refused to listen. Jeremiah warned him that the royal family and the court officials would not escape judgment and that he would be taken captive to Babylon, where he would die in peace. One act of faith and courage with obedience would have saved the city from ruin and the people from slaughter, but Zedekiah was afraid and did not obey God.
Promises Unkept. At one point during the siege, Zedekiah and the people made a covenant with the Lord in the temple to free all the Jewish slaves. A calf was slain and then cut in half, and the priests, officers, and people walked between the halves as a sign that they would obey the terms of the covenant. In so doing, they were agreeing to free their Jewish slaves or be willing to suffer what the calf had suffered. But they did not. God would deal with them accordingly. They would become slaves to their captors!
Don’t bargain with God. Instead of believing God’s Word and submitting to Babylon, the Jews tried to bargain with the Lord and bribe him into helping their cause. God’s people often make promises to the Lord when they’re in tough times, only to renege their promises when things get better. Many in pastoral ministry hear suffering saints on hospital beds promise to be the best Christian in the church if only God will give healing, and when He grants the request, most will forget.
The lesson today is clear. To obey you is better than a sacrifice to you. Lord, help us all to see the folly of bargaining with you, self-promoting sacrifices, and holding hostages in the faith by our mishandling of life missions. I want what you want from me and through me today. What is your agenda for me today?
In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen