“to obey is better than sacrifice.” Obeying God from a humble heart is much more important in God’s sight than sacrifices and offerings. Sacrifices and offerings were never designed to make a person with an evil heart acceptable in the sight of God. An evil and arrogant person who has no real intention of obeying God cannot simply do a sacrifice, make an offering, or pray to God, and then be accepted by God. God is much more interested in obedience and a humble heart than in a person’s making sacrifices (1 Sam. 15:22; Ps. 40:6-8; 51:16-17; Jer. 7:22-23; Hos. 6:6 [quoted in Matt. 9:13 and 12:7]; Mic. 6:6-8).
The Bible says that when a person is evil and unrepentant, the sacrifices and offerings he makes, including prayers, are simply rejected by God. God’s favor is not for sale (cp. Prov. 15:8; 21:27; 28:9; Isa. 1:11-15; 58:1-8; Jer. 6:20; 14:10-12; Hos. 5:5-6; Amos 5:21-23; Mal. 1:10; 2:13-14; James 4:6. Verses that specifically mention prayer include: Job 35:12-13; Prov. 15:29; Isa. 59:1-2; Ezek. 8:17-18; Mic. 3:4; Zech. 7:12-13; James 4:3).
In this case in 1 Samuel, King Saul had flagrantly disobeyed God, then tried to make various excuses to cover his sin instead of humbly confessing his sin to God. God was not fooled by Saul’s excuses, and lost his kingdom because of his arrogance (1 Sam. 15:23). As we can see from v. 23, rebellion and being stubborn are very serious sins.
[For more on God being more concerned with love and obedience than sacrifices, see commentary on Matt. 5:24. For more on God not speaking much about sacrifices when Israel came out of Egypt, see commentary on Jer. 7:22.]