To obey is better than sacrifice. But, to love is better than obedience.
There is a progression of growth with God throughout the OT. God seems to move his chosen people away from false religion and false gods. The old gods were easy to appease, often with simple sacrifices of the people abundance. However, at times harder sacrifices were also offered. Even human sacrifice was often used to appease the gods – be the victim of the sacrifice willing or unwilling. We see echoes of this as Abraham is challenged to even sacrifice his only son. Fortunately, Abraham was stopped and another sacrifice – a ram – was offered in his sons place.
However, religion is sort of a shallow game. We see in Job that Job is a righteous man. In fact, he is a righteous gentile – which is strange to realize in a Jewish book. Job moves from giving daily sacrifice to God for safety of his family and property only to lose most of it. His peers and even a priest – and ultimately God Himself challenge him. We see Job move into a new realization that he was doing for God that he is in need of a Redeemer. Job realizes he is doing his religion but actually did not see God. God reveals Himself to Job and it is then Jobs begins a new relationship of understanding with God and in a sense, Job gets a new life.
We then turn to 1 Samuel, and read “to obey is better than sacrifice”, which is an admonishment against Israel’s thinking that they can do what they want and just give a sacrifice and get away with it. In relationships, this would be very unhealthy. God desires a relation that is deeper than sacrifice – God desires obedience.
Now, this is where it gets tricky – this is when Jesus comes into play.
Churches today still teach that we must obey, but forget that Jesus was the One Man who was able to be obedient. “No one is righteous”, as Paul states. We make up things like, “With the help of God you can be obedient” and miss this is still mixing grace and works. No, grace came through love, our works are now to be acts of love, and that God Himself is doing the works in and through us by His Spirit.
The bible teaches obedience is something we are to do – but this obedience is impossible. Jesus fulfills the Law by His obedience and then teaches us that the Law is fulfilled by Love. Loving God and loving others.
I know that I could make this easier for you if I gave verses to read – but I suspect many already know the bible well enough and recognize the verses I have given a light brush over. If now, feel free to engage me in a deeper discussion.