Now, it is interesting how Jesus’ desire for mercy resembles another place in Scripture. This passage is in the book of Samuel. In Samuel, the prophet Samuel tells King Saul that “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). Samuel stresses that God wants obedience more than burnt offerings. Samuel says this to King Saul because Saul disobeyed God. God told Saul to kill every Amakelite and all their animals (1 Samuel 15:1-7). But Saul kept their king alive and saved the best of their animals. Yet when Samuel met Saul about this rebellion, Saul claimed the animals were for a sacrifice to God.
Desire to Obey
Nevertheless, God knew Saul’s heart and true motives. So God did not take Saul’s excuse. Thus, Samuel told Saul that his rebellion was like any other sin. But what if Saul was going to sacrifice these animals? Why did God not desire a sacrifice like this? Even if Saul was going to sacrifice the animals, he disobeyed God’s commandments. And in fact, Saul later admitted he kept the livestock because he feared others. Thus, Saul allowed fear to deter his obedience to God.
Saul’s story and the story of Jesus eating with sinners point to a significant point: Following God from a rule-based perspective and ill intentions is not God’s desire. God wants us to follow him from a God-based perspective. What is such a perspective? We can see that this perspective is led by love, mercy, obedience, and so on. Certainly, we could add joy, peace, kindness, long-suffering, meekness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Still, if I call myself any of these characteristics but am not God-led in doing them, I sin against God. That is to say, if I do anything “good” but know, as Saul well knew, that God does not or will not support my ill-intended actions, I sin. Such sin, regardless of how much I dress it up, will not please God.