David Guzik's Commentary on the Bible
1 Samuel 15
1 Samuel 15 - GOD REJECTS SAUL AS KING
A. Battle against the Amalekites.
1. (1 Samuel 15:1-3) A clear, radical command: destroy Amalek.
Samuel also said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’“
a. Samuel also said to Saul: This was a message from the spiritual leader of Israel to the political and military leader of Israel. The message was clear: punish what Amalek did to Israel . . . go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them.
i. The judgment Israel was to bring against Amalek was frighteningly complete: Kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. God clearly told Samuel to tell Saul to bring a total judgment against the Amalekites.
ii. Utterly destroy: This Hebrew verb (heherim) is used seven times in this account. The idea of total, complete judgment is certainly stressed.
b. Why? What did the Amalekites do that was so bad? Samuel explained that to Saul also: how he laid wait for him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Centuries before this, the Amalekites were the first peoples to attack Israel after their escape from Egypt (Exodus 17:1-16).
i. Hundreds of years before, the LORD said He would bring this kind of judgment against Amalek: Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-LORD-Is-My-Banner; for he said, “Because the LORD has sworn: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:14-16)
ii. Deuteronomy 25:17-19 repeats the point: Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore, it shall be, when the LORD your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget.
iii. The Amalekites committed a terrible sin against Israel. When the nation was weak and vulnerable, the Amalekites attacked the weakest and most vulnerable of the nation (attacked your rear ranks, all the strangers at your rear, when you were tired and weary). They did this with no provocation, no reason except violence and greed. God hates it when the strong take cruel advantage over the weak, especially when the weak are His people. So God promised to bring judgment against the Amalekites.
iv. But all this had happened more than four hundred years before! Why did God hold it against the Amalekites? This shows us an important principle: time does not erase sin before God. Before man, time should erase sin. The years should make us forgiving to one another. But before God, time cannot atone for sin. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can erase sin, not time. In fact, the time was time that the Amalekites were mercifully given opportunity to repent. And they did not repent! The hundreds of years of hardened unrepentant hearts made them more guilty, not less guilty! “Though it be four hundred years since, and I may seem to have forgotten it. It is ill angering the Ancient of Days; his forbearance is no quittance.” (Trapp)
v. “Nothing could justify such an exterminating decree but the absolute authority of God. This was given: all the reasons of it we do not know; but this we know well, The Judge of all the earth doth right. This war was not for plunder, for God commanded that all the property as well as the people should be destroyed.” (Clarke)
c. If God wanted to judge the Amalekites, why didn’t He just do it Himself? He complete destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah without any help from man. Why not just do the same here?
i. But God had a special purpose in this for His special nation, Israel. He wanted it to be a test of obedience for Saul, and all of Israel. Plus, since Amalek’s sin against Israel was a military attack, God wanted to make the judgment fit the sin.
d. Would God call His people today to fight such a war of judgment? Many today are afraid that this is the real agenda of the “religious right,” and they imagine that they want to rule the world according to the Bible, and at the end of a gun. But God has a completely different call for Christians under the New Covenant than He did for Israel under the Old Covenant.
i. Jesus made it clear that He was establishing a spiritual kingdom, not a political or a military kingdom. Jesus said in John 18:36 : My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here. Paul made it clear that the enemies of the church were not material, but spiritual: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12) Through the centuries, whenever the church has tried to rule the world politically or militarily, it has run into enormous trouble. We want to win the world for Jesus Christ, but we want to do it through the influence of individual lives, transformed one at a time by the spiritual power of Jesus Christ.
e. Though God no longer calls His people to take up arms as instruments of His judgment, it does not mean that God has stopped judging the nations. “But we cannot suppose, for a single moment, that the judgment of the nations is to be altogether relegated to that final day. Throughout the history of the world the nations have been standing before Christ’s bar. Nineveh stood there, Babylon stood there, Greece and Rome stood there, Spain and France stood there, and Great Britain is standing there to-day. One after another has had the solemn word - depart, and they have passed into a destruction which has been absolute and terrible.” (Meyer)
2. (1 Samuel 15:4-6) Saul prepares for the attack on the Amalekites.
So Saul gathered the people together and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand men of Judah. And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and lay in wait in the valley. Then Saul said to the Kenites, “Go, depart, get down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the children of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.
a. So Saul gathered the people together and numbered them: Saul was certainly a capable military leader. He shows he has the ability to gather and organize a large army. He also knew how to time his attack properly; he lay in wait in the valley.
b. Saul said to the Kenites, “Go, depart”: Here, Saul shows wisdom and mercy in letting the Kenites go. God’s judgment was not upon them, so he did not want to destroy them with the Amalekites.
i. “And when the Kenites pack up their fardles, it is time to expect judgment.” (John Trapp. According to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, a fardle is “A bundle or little pack.”)
ii. The Kenites “were the posterity of Jethro (Judges 1:6), who, thought he went not with Israel, yet some of his children did, and were helpful.” (Trapp)
3. (1 Samuel 15:7-9) Saul attacks the Amalekites.
And Saul attacked the Amalekites, from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is east of Egypt. He also took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.
a. Saul attacked the Amalekites: This was good, and in obedience to the LORD. But it was a selective, incomplete obedience. First, Saul took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. God commanded Saul to bring His judgment on all the people, including the king.
i. Whey did Saul take Agag king of the Amalekites alive? “Saul spared Agag, either out of a foolish pit for the goodliness of his person, which Josephus notes; or for his respect to his royal majesty, in the preservation of which he thought himself concerned; or for the glory of his triumph.” (Poole)
ii. “If Saul spare Agag, the people will take liberty to spare the best of the spoil . . . the sins of the great command imitation.” (Trapp)
b. As well, Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. God had clearly commanded in 1 Samuel 15:3, that every ox and sheep, camel and donkey was to be destroyed also, and Saul didn’t do this.
i. In a normal war in the ancient world, armies were freely permitted to plunder their conquered foes. This is how the army was often paid. Why was it wrong here? It was wrong for anyone in Israel to benefit from the war against the Amalekites, because it was an appointed judgment from God. This was just as wrong if a hangman were to empty the pockets of the man he has just executed for murder.
c. As well, they were careful to keep the best for themselves, but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed. They took the care to make sure that they took home the best, and we can imagine they were all pleased with what they had gained after the battle.
i. This perhaps was worst of all, because Israel was not reflecting God’s heart in His judgment. When they came home happy and excited because of what they gained from the battle, they implied there was something joyful or happy in the midst of God’s judgment. This dishonored God, who brings His judgment reluctantly and without pleasure, longing that men would have repented instead.
ii. “Partial obedience is complete disobedience. Saul and his men obeyed as far as suited them; that is to say, they did not obey God at all, but their own inclinations, both in sparing the good and destroying the worthless. What was not worth carrying off was destroyed, - not because of the command, but to save trouble.” (Maclaren)
iii. “We are prepared to obey the Divine commands up to a certain point, and there we stay. Just as soon as ‘the best and choicest’ begin to be touched, we draw the line and refuse further compliance. We listen to soft voices that bid us to stay our hand, when our Isaac is on the altar.” (Meyer)
iv. “But an even deeper reading of this story is permissible. Throughout the Bible Amalek stands for the flesh, having sprung from the stock of Esau, who, for a morsel of meat, steaming fragrantly in the air, sold his birthright. To spare the best of Amalek is surely equivalent to sparing some root of evil, some plausible indulgence, some favourite sin. For us, Agag must stand for that evil propensity, which exists in all of us, for self-gratification; and to spare Agag is to be merciful to ourselves, to exonerate and palliate our failures, and to condone our besetting sin.” (Meyer)
4. (1 Samuel 15:10-11) God’s word to Samuel.
Now the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.” And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the LORD all night.
a. I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king: God’s heart was broken over Saul’s disobedience. The man who started out humble and submissive to God was now boldly going his own way in disobedience to God.
i. How can God say, “I greatly regret”? Does this mean that God did not know what would happen? That God wanted things to happen a certain way, but was powerless to make them come to pass? Not at all. This is the use of anthropomorphism, when God explains Himself to man in human terms, so man can have some understanding of God’s heart. God knew from the beginning Saul’s heart, and Saul’s ways, and Saul’s destiny. He knew that He had already sought for Himself a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Yet, as all this unfolded, God’s heart was not emotionless. He didn’t sit in heaven with a clipboard, checking off boxes, coldly saying, “All according to plan.” Saul’s disobedience hurt God, and since we couldn’t understand what was really happening in God’s heart, the closest that we could come is for God to express it in the human terms of saying, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king.”
ii. “Repentance properly notes grief of heart, and change of counsels, and therefore cannot be in God, who is unchangeable, most wise, and most blessed; but it is ascribed to God in such cases, when men give God cause to repent, and when God alters his course and method of dealing, and treats a person as if he did indeed repent of all the kindness he had showed to him.” (Poole)
iii. “God’s repentance is not a change of his will, but of his work. Repentance with man, is the changing of his will; repentance with God, is the willing of a change.” (Trapp)
b. And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the LORD all night: Samuel shows that he has God’s heart. It hurt God to reject Saul, and it hurt God’s prophet to see him rejected. We are close to God’s heart when the things that grieve Him grieve us, and the things that please God please us.
5. (1 Samuel 15:12-13) Saul greets Samuel.
So when Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul, it was told Samuel, saying, “Saul went to Carmel, and indeed, he set up a monument for himself; and he has gone on around, passed by, and gone down to Gilgal.” Then Samuel went to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the LORD! I have performed the commandment of the LORD.”
a. So when Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul: Reluctantly, Samuel (who had anointed Saul as king years before) now comes to discipline the disobedient king.
b. Was Saul grieved over his sin? Not at all. Instead, he set up a monument for himself. Saul was quite pleased with himself! He felt he had done something good, and he believed he was totally justified in what he had done. There is not the slightest bit of shame or guilt in Saul, even though he had directly disobeyed the LORD.
i. In coming chapters, God will raise up another man to replace Saul as king. David, in contrast to Saul, was known as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Even thought David, as king of Israel, would also disobey God, the difference between him and Saul was great. David felt the guilt and shame one should feel when they sin. Saul didn’t feel it. His conscience was dead to shame and his heart was dead to God. Saul’s heart was so dead he could directly disobey God and set up a monument for himself on the occasion!
c. He set up a monument for himself also shows that Saul is not the same humble man who once had a humble opinion of himself (1 Samuel 9:21) and who once hid among the equipment out of shyness (1 Samuel 10:22). The years, the military victories, and prestige of the throne of Israel have all revealed the pride in Saul’s heart.
i. “But the truth is, he was zealous for his own honour and interest, but lukewarm where God only was concerned.” (Poole)
d. Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the LORD! I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” How could Saul do this? How could he come to the prophet of God with such boldness, such confidence, and boast of his obedience? Because of his pride, Saul is self-deceived. He probably really believed what he told Samuel. He probably believed, “I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” Pride always leads us into self-deception!
i. Maclaren has an insightful comment on Saul’s statement, “I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” “That is more than true obedience is quick to say. If Saul had done it, he would have been slower to boast of it.”
6. (1 Samuel 15:14-16) Saul “explains” his sin to Samuel.
But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” And Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.” Then Samuel said to Saul, “Be quiet! And I will tell you what the LORD said to me last night.” And he said to him, “Speak on.”
a. What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear? Saul had been proud of his accomplishments. He set up a monument for himself. He could openly - and in his own mind, honestly - say “I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” At the same time, the evidence of his disobedience was could be heard, even as he spoke! The livestock that God clearly commanded to be killed could be heard, seen, and even smelt even as Saul said, “I have performed the commandment of the LORD.”
i. Pride and disobedience make us blind - or deaf - to our sin. What was completely obvious to Samuel was invisible to Saul. We all have blind spots of sin in our lives, and we need to constantly ask God to show them to us. We need to sincerely pray the prayer of Psalms 139:23-24 : Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
ii. I heard one man say to another, “If you only knew how obvious it was to everyone else that you are in the flesh, you would be terribly embarrassed.” That could be said of almost any Christian at some time or another. We need to plead with God to reveal our blind spots to us!
b. Saul’s excuses are revealing. First, he blames the people, not himself (They have brought them . . . the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen). Second, he includes himself in the obedience (the rest we have utterly destroyed). Third, he justifies what he has kept because of its fine quality (the best of the sheep and the oxen). Fourth, he claims to have done it for a spiritual reason (to sacrifice to the LORD your God).
i. Of course, while all this made perfect sense to Saul (in his proud self-deception), it meant nothing to God and Samuel. In fact, it was worse than nothing - it showed that Saul was desperately trying to excuse his sin by word games and half-truths.
ii. But even in his excuse, Saul reveals the real problem: he has a poor relationship with God. Notice how he speaks of God to Samuel: “to sacrifice to the LORD your God.” The LORD was not Saul’s God. Saul was Saul’s God. The LORD was the God of Samuel, not Saul. In his pride, Saul has removed the LORD God from the throne of his heart.
iii. “O sinners, you do miscalculate fearfully when you give to God’s servants such false explanations of your sins!” (Blaikie)
c. The rest we have utterly destroyed: As it turned out, this was not even true. Saul, in fact, did not even do what he said he did. There were still Amalekites he left alive. David later had to deal with the Amalekites (1 Samuel 27:8; 1Sa_30:1, 2 Samuel 8:12). Haman, the evil man who tried to wipe out all the Jewish people in the days of Esther, was in fact a descendant of Agag! (Esther 3:1). Most ironic of all, when Saul was killed on the field of battle, the final thrust of the sword was from the hand of an Amalekite! (2 Samuel 1:8-10). When we don’t obey God completely, the “left over” portion will surely come back and trouble us, if not kill us!
d. Then Samuel said to Saul, “Be quiet!” Samuel has had enough. He will listen to no more from Saul. The excuse was revealed for what it was - just a lame excuse. Now it is time for Saul to be quiet, and to listen to the word of the LORD through Samuel.
i. But even in this, Saul can’t shut up. He shows his proud desire to retain some control by replying, “Speak on.” As if the prophet of God Samuel needed Saul’s permission! He would speak on, but not because Saul had given him permission. He would speak on because he was a messenger of God.
B. Saul is rejected as king.
1. (1 Samuel 15:17-21) The charge against Saul, and his feeble defense.
So Samuel said, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the LORD anoint you king over Israel? Now the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the LORD?” And Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.”
a. Now the LORD sent you on a mission . . . Why did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the LORD? This was the most apparent of Saul’s sins. God had given him a specific command, and he had directly disobeyed it.
i. Though the disobedience was the most apparent sin, the root of Saul’s disobedience was far worse: pride. Samuel refers to this when he remembers when things were different with Saul: When you were little in your own eyes, were you not the head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the LORD anoint you king over Israel? Now, it could no longer be said of Saul, you are little in your own eyes. He was big in his own eyes, and that made the LORD small in his eyes!
b. But I have obeyed the voice of the LORD: Saul first insists that he is innocent. But he is so self-deceived, that he can say, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD and then immediately describe how he did not obey the voice of the LORD! (Saul admits that he brought back Agag king of Amalek).
i. Saul’s claim, I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites is plain evidence of the power and depth of his self-deception. First, he admits that he brought back Agag king of Amalek. There was an Amalekite right in front of him whom was not utterly destroyed! Second, the Biblical record makes it clear that Saul had not even utterly destroyed the Amalekites, because later David fought them (1 Samuel 27:8; 1Sa_30:1, 2 Samuel 8:12), Esther fought them (Esther 3:1), and Saul himself was killed by an Amalekite! (2 Samuel 1:8-10) Yet, Saul can “honestly” say, “I have obeyed the voice of the LORD” and “I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites” because he is self-deceived.
ii. “He addeth obstinacy and impenitency to his crime, and justifies his fact, though he hath nothing of any moment to say but what he said before. So he gives Samuel the lie, and reflects upon him as one that had falsely accused him.” (Poole)
c. But the people took of the plunder: After insisting he is innocent, Saul then blames the people for the sin. His statement is a half-truth that is a whole lie. It is true that the people took of the plunder. But they did so by following Saul’s example (he spared Agag king of Amalek), and with Saul’s allowance (he did nothing to stop or discourage them).
i. Saul certainly could be zealous in commanding his army when it suited him to be so. In the previous chapter, he commanded a death sentence on anyone who ate anything on the day of battle. He was willing to execute his own son in his zeal to have his command obeyed. Saul was full of fire and zeal when it came to his own will, but not when it came to the will of God.
ii. “But his crime was in consenting; had he not, the crime would have been theirs alone.” (Clarke)
2. (1 Samuel 15:22-23) Samuel prophesies God’s judgment against King Saul.
Then Samuel said: “Has 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 heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.”
a. Has 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 heed than the fat of rams. Religious observance without obedience is empty before God. The best sacrificial offering we could bring to God is a repentant heart (Psalms 51:16-17), and our bodies surrendered to His service for obedience (Romans 12:1).
i. One could make a thousand sacrifices unto God; work a thousand hours for God’s service; or give millions of dollars to His work. But all of those sacrifices mean little if there is not a surrendered heart to God, shown by simple obedience.
ii. In sacrifice we offer the flesh of another creature; in obedience we offer our own will before God. Luther used to say, “I had rather be obedient, than able to work miracles.” (Cited in Trapp)
iii. “In sacrifices a man offers only the strange flesh of irrational animals, whereas in obedience he offers his own will, which is rational or spiritual worship.” (Keil and Delitszch)
b. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry: A rebellious, stubborn heart rejects God just as certainly as someone rejects God by occult practices or idolatry.
i. Saul’s problem wasn’t just that he neglected some ceremony. That is how Saul thought of obedience to God. In today’s world, he might have said, “What? So God wants me to go to church more? All right, I’ll go.” But religious observance was not Saul’s problem; the problem was that his heart had become rebellious and stubborn against God. If religious observance was not helping that problem, then it was no good.
ii. It would have been easy for Saul to point his finger at the Amalekites or the Philistines and say, “Look at those Godless idolaters. They don’t worship the true God like I do.” But Saul didn’t worship the true God either, because the real worship of God begins with surrender.
iii. “Though not so great, yet as inexcusable and impudent a sin as witchcraft; as plainly condemned, and as certainly destructive and damnable.” (Poole)
iv. “All conscious disobedience is actually idolatry, because it makes self-will, the human I, into a god.” (Keil and Delitszch)
c. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king: In his empty religious practice, rebellion, and stubbornness against God, Saul was rejecting God’s word. So God rightly rejected him as king over Israel.
i. It would be easy to say, “What, Saul will be rejected as king because he spared a king and a few sheep and oxen? Later kings of Israel would do far worse, and not be rejected as king. Why is God being so tough on Saul?” But God saw Saul’s heart, and saw how rebellious and stubborn it was. Saul’s condition was like an iceberg: what was visible might be managable in size, but there was far more under the surface that couldn’t be seen. God could see it.
ii. So Saul was rejected . . . from being king. Yet, it would be almost 25 years before there was another king enthroned in Israel. Saul’s rejection was final, but it was not immediate. God needed almost 25 years to train up the right replacement for Saul!
3. (1 Samuel 15:24-25) Saul’s weak attempt to repent.
Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD.”
a. I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words: So far, so good. Saul’s statement begins like a genuine confession, reflecting a genuinely repentant heart. But that changes as he continues: because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. In this, Saul refuses to own up to his sin; instead he blames the people who “made him” do it.
i. Again, on the surface, this isn’t such a bad statement of repentance. It is better than most the confessions of sin one hears today! Yet, at the same time, these were only words for Saul. His heart wasn’t in them at all.
ii. “When he could deny it no longer, at length he maketh a forced and feigned confession; drawn thereto, more by the danger and damage of his sin, than by the offence; mincing and making the best of an ill matter.” (Trapp)
iii. Worst of all, he tries to justify one sin with another. Because I feared the people makes that clear. “This was to excuse one sin with another. He should have trusted in God, done his duty, and not feared what man could do unto him.” (Trapp) “This was the best excuse he could make for himself; but had he feared GOD more, he need have feared the PEOPLE less.” (Clarke)
b. Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD: Instead of dealing with the deep issue of his heart of rebellion and stubbornness against God, Saul thinks that with a word from Samuel, everything can be fixed. But a word or two from Samuel will not change the settled nature of Saul’s heart.
i. God knew Saul’s heart. Not only did He know it was full of rebellion and stubbornness, but it was settled in that condition. That is something that no man could know with certainty, looking from the outside. But God knew it, and God had told Samuel the prophet this was the settled state of Saul’s heart. A simple “please pardon my sin” would not do when one’s heart is settled in rebellion and sin against the LORD.
4. (26-31) God’s rejection of Saul as king over Israel is final.
But Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.” And as Samuel turned around to go away, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. So Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.” Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD your God.” So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul worshipped the LORD.
a. I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel: Samuel has nothing more to say on this matter, other than what the LORD has already said through him previously (1 Samuel 15:23). That was all there was to talk about.
i. Why would Samuel say, “I will not return with you” when Saul just wanted him to worship with him? Because that worship would have no doubt also included sacrifices, and sacrifices of the animals that Saul and wickedly spared from the Amalekites. “This was a politic device of Saul’s that Samuel might at least seem to countenance his design, in reserving the cattle for sacrifice; which Samuel seeing, refused to do it.” (Poole)
b. Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. So Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today”: Saul’s desperate action provides a vivid object lesson on how the kingdom was torn away from him.
i. As useless as the torn piece of robe was in his hand, so now his leadership of the nation was futile. Now he was ruling against God, not for Him. And just as much as the robe tore because Saul grasped it too tightly, so his tight grip on his pride and stubbornness meant the kingdom would be taken away from him. In this respect, Saul was the opposite of Jesus, of whom it is said He had always been God by nature, did not cling to His prerogatives as God’s Equal, but stripped Himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as a mortal man (Philippians 2:6-7, J.B. Phillips translation). Jesus was willing to let go, but Saul insisted in clinging on. So Saul lost all, while Jesus gained all!
c. The Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent: Saul might have thought there was a way out of this. He was thinking of what he could do to “fix” this. Samuel let him know there was nothing he could do. This was permanent.
i. Samuel uses a title for the LORD found only here in the whole Bible: The Strength of Israel. This reminds Saul that the LORD is determined in His purpose, and is strong in His will. There will be no change.
ii. The title The Strength of Israel was also important, because at that time, Saul probably thought of himself as the strength of Israel. After all, 1 Samuel 14:47 says, So Saul established his sovereignty over Israel, and fought against all his enemies on every side. Saul was a mighty warrior, and it was easy for him to think, “I’m the strength of Israel.” But he wasn’t. The LORD God was The Strength of Israel!
d. I have sinned, yet honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel: Saul’s desperate plea shows the depths of his pride. He is far more concerned with his image than his soul.
i. “Here he plainly discovers his hypocrisy, and the true motive of this and his former confession; he was not solicitous for the favour of God, but for his honour and power with Israel.” (Poole)
e. So Samuel turned back after Saul: Why did Samuel do this? Why didn’t he lead an immediate rebellion against Saul, since God had rejected him as king? Because God had not raised up Saul’s replacement yet, and Saul was better than the anarchy that would come with no king.
i. “That people might not upon pretence of this sentence of rejection immediately withdraw all respect and obedience to their sovereign; whereby they would both have sinned against God, and have been as sheep without a shepherd.” (Poole)
f. So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul worshipped the LORD: Did this do any good? It did no “good” in gaining the kingdom back for Saul. That was a decision God had made, and He made it finally. But it may have done Saul good in moving his proud, stubborn heart closer to God for the sake of saving his soul. At least it had that opportunity, so Samuel allowed Saul to come with him and worship the LORD.
5. (1 Samuel 15:32-33) Samuel carries out God’s will.
Then Samuel said, “Bring Agag king of the Amalekites here to me.” So Agag came to him cautiously. And Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” But Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hacked Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.
a. Then Samuel said, “Bring Agag king of the Amalekites here to me.” For Samuel, the issue is not yet resolved. There is still the matter of Saul’s incomplete obedience. God’s command to utterly destroy all of Amalek still stood, even if Saul had not obeyed it.
b. And Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” As Agag came to the old prophet, he thought, “We will let bygones be bygones. I guess this old prophet will let me go home now.” The Living Bible expresses the thought well: Agag arrived all full of smiles, for he thought “surely the worst is over and I have been spared.”
i. “I who have escaped death from the hands of a warlike prince in the fury of battle, shall certainly never suffer death from an old prophet in time of peace.” (Poole)
c. As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women: Samuel makes it clear that Agag was not some innocent bystander when it came to the atrocities the Amalekites inflicted on Israel. Agag was the wicked, violent leader of a wicked, violent people. God’s judgment against him and the Amalekites was just.
d. And Samuel hacked Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal: Samuel was a priest, and had officiated at hundreds of animal sacrifices. He knew what it was like for the blade to cut into flesh; but he had never killed another person. Now, without hesitation, this old prophet raises a sword - or probably, a large knife, because that is what Samuel would have used in sacrifices - and brings it down upon this proud, violent king. Samuel hacked Agag in pieces.
i. Notably, Samuel did it before the LORD. This was not before Saul, to show him how weak and proud he was. This was not before Israel, to show them how strong and tough Samuel was. No; this was before the LORD, in tough obedience to the LORD God. This scene must have been shockingly violent; the stomachs of those watching must have turned. Yet Samuel did it all before the LORD.
ii. “But these are no precedents for private persons to take the sword of justice into their hands; for we must live by the laws of God, and not by extraordinary examples.” (Poole)
6. (1 Samuel 15:34-35) The tragic split between Samuel and Saul.
Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house at Gibeah of Saul. And Samuel went no more to see Saul until the day of his death. Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul, and the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.
a. And Samuel went no more to see Saul until the day of his death: Samuel knew that it wasn’t his place to see Saul. It was Saul’s place to come to him in humble repentance before the LORD. If he did, it probably would not have restored the kingdom to Saul; but it could have restored his heart before God. But Saul never came to see Samuel. Ramah and Gibeah were less than ten miles apart, but they never saw each other again.
i. “But we read, 1 Samuel 19:22-24, that Saul went to see Samuel at Naioth, but this does not affect what is said here. From this time Samuel had no connection with Saul; he never more acknowledged him as king; he mourned and prayed for him.” (Clarke)
ii. The next time Saul and Samuel “meet” will be a strange situation in itself! (1 Samuel 28:1-25)
b. Nevertheless, Samuel mourned for Saul: Samuel was not a cold, dispassionate messenger of God’s word. He hurt for Saul. “For the hardness of his heart, and the hazard of his soul.” (Trapp)
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