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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
1 Samuel 15

 

 

Introduction

SAUL FAILS HIS FINAL TEST

This episode is not a variable account of Saul's rejection in 13:8ff. Yes, it is true that God warned Saul at that time of the loss of his dynasty; but the Bible abundantly bears out the opinion of R. P. Smith that, "God never finally rejects a man until, after repeated opportunities for repentance, he finally proves himself obdurate."[1] The passage which proves that God thus deals with men is Jeremiah 18:7-10. In this light, therefore, we reject as totally inaccurate the notion that, "This chapter contains a second version of the reason for Saul's rejection as king."[2] All of the talk of critical commentators about `different sources' and `contradictory accounts' are of no value except in their indication of such writers' ignorance of the Word of God.

Willis' remarkably discerning understanding of this chapter is evident in his statement that, "Both of the accounts in 1 Samuel 15:13 and here record two different historical events."[3] Furthermore, as also noted by Willis, "God did not reject Saul for a single isolated act of disobedience, but because Saul repeatedly disobeyed him and took matters into his own hands."[4]

The fact is that all three chapters (1 Samuel 13; 1 Samuel 14; and 1 Samuel 15) record successive instances of Saul's taking matters into his own hands and rejecting any restraint whatever upon his actions by what was obviously the will of God. Again, referring to Jeremiah 18:7-10, no believer will find any fault whatever with what is written in these chapters.


Verses 1-3

GOD COMMANDS SAUL TO DESTROY THE AMALEKITES

"And Samuel said to Saul, "The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore hearken unto the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, `I will punish what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way, when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.'"

"Therefore hearken to the words of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts ..." (1 Samuel 15:1-2). In this passage, Samuel took every precaution to make it certain that Saul understood that his instructions were not those of the prophet, but were the commandments of God; and there was no reason whatever, why Saul should have failed to believe what Samuel said. The things which Samuel had previously said to Saul had all come true; and any person in his right mind would have had no reason to doubt that what Samuel identified to Saul as God's commandments, were indeed just that.

"Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy ..." (1 Samuel 15:3). The Amalekites were the first pagan nation to attack the Jews following their deliverance from Egypt; "And God at that time threatened them with extermination as a consequence (Exodus 17:8-16)."[5] Centuries had elapsed since then. "God often bears long with those who are marked for ruin, but he will not bear always."[6] So it proved to be in the case of the Amalekites. "God had sworn that in the process of time, he would utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek. This was bloody work; and Saul was chosen to do it."[7] As we shall see, Saul did not do as he was commanded.

Some writers try to defend Saul's disobedience, and even commend what they call his humanitarian considerations in sparing Agag, and perhaps a great many others. However, the ban, the [~cherem], the total destruction of a city, or a people, was widely practiced in those times. Besides, it was God's command here.

"An example of this is recorded on the Moabite Stone (lines 14ff), dating from the 9th century B.C.: "And Chemosh said to me, `Go take Nebo from Israel'! So I went by night and fought against it from the break of dawn until noon, taking it and slaying all, seven thousand men, boys, women, girls, and maid-servants, for I had devoted them to destruction for (the god) Ashtar-Chemosh".[8]

Anything "devoted" was to be destroyed utterly and could not be used personally by the victors. This custom, practiced by all nations was well known to Saul. Furthermore, his savage murder of the entire priesthood at Nob indicates that there was not a single humanitarian thread in Saul's character.


Verses 4-9

SAUL PARTIALLY EXECUTES GOD'S ORDER

"So Saul summoned the people, and numbered them, two hundred thousand men on foot, and ten thousand men of Judah at Telaim. And Saul came to the city of Amalek, and lay in wait in the valley. And Saul said to the Kenites, "Go, depart, go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them; for you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt." So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. And Saul defeated the Amalekites, from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the 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 and of the oxen and of the fatlings, and of the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them; all that was despised and worthless they utterly destroyed."

"Saul numbered the people ... at Telaim" (1 Samuel 15:4). This appears to be the same place as Telem (Joshua 15:24) in the land of Judah in southern Israel. That part of Israel was closest to the territory of the Amalekites.

"And Saul said to the Kenites ... `Go down from among the Amalekites'" (1 Samuel 15:6). "The Kenites were of the family and kindred of Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, a people that dwelt in tents, which made it easy for them to remove to other lands."[9] Also, a more recent consideration for Israel was in the action of Jael the wife of Heber in her destruction of Sisera. "Famous among the Kenites was Jael, whose husband Heber had migrated to north Palestine (Judges 4:11; 5:24)."[10]

"And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive" (1 Samuel 15:8). Young noted that, "The name Agag is found elsewhere only in Numbers 24:7; and it may possibly have been an hereditary title like Pharaoh)."[11] We must reject this opinion regarding an `hereditary ritle'; because, when Haman plotted to kill all the Jews on earth, he was identified as "an Agagite," indicating that he was a descendant of the king mentioned here (Esther 3:1). This also shows that Saul did not destroy "all the people" as he said he did. Many no doubt escaped, for the Bible reveals that a remnant of them was still able to wage war in the times of Hezekiah (1 Chronicles 4:43).

"And he (Saul) took Agag alive ... and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword" (1 Samuel 15:8). "All the people" in this passage is hyperbole, as when someone says, "We gave a party and everyone came."

We cannot leave this without stressing the fact that God knew what He was doing when He ordered the destruction of the Amalekites. It was one of them, Haman, a descendant of King Agag, who in the times of Esther plotted the destruction of all the Jews on earth, a plot which required the intervention of God Himself to frustrate it.


Verses 10-16

SAMUEL CONFRONTS SAUL AND HIS EXCUSES

"The word of the Lord came to Samuel; "I repent that I have made Saul king; for he has turned back from following me, and has not performed my commandments." And Samuel was angry; and he cried to the Lord all night. Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning; and it was told Samuel, "Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself, and turned, and passed on, and went down to Gilgal." And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, "Blessed be you to the Lord; I have performed the commandment of the Lord." And Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear"? Saul said, "They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed." Then Samuel said to Saul, "Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me this night." And he said to him, "Say on."

"I repent that I have made Saul king" (1 Samuel 15:10). God's repentance is a far different thing from that of men. God does not change; but when men change, their standing with God is reversed; and that is what is meant here. "And it repented the Lord that he had made man" (Genesis 6:6 KJV). This is an accurate statement because it reflects the location of the change, not in God, but in men.

"And Samuel was angry, and he cried to God all night" (1 Samuel 15:10). The same words for being angry are found in Jonah 4:1; and it is clear that Samuel was not angry with God but with Saul and the ugly situation which Saul's willful rebellion against God's Word had produced. As every man should do when overcome with frustrating anger, Samuel cried to the Lord all night, in all probability praying that God would provide some exit from the shameful situation other than the dethronement of Saul whom Samuel dearly loved. If that is what Samuel prayed for, God could not answer his prayer, because of Saul's lack of repentance.

"Saul came to Carmel ... and set up a monument for himself" (1 Samuel 15:12). "This is not Mount Carmel on the coast of Israel, but a town in the wilderness of Paran in the south of Judah, apparently the modern el-Kurmul, about seven miles south of Hebron."[12]

"Saul said, "Blessed be you to the Lord ... I have performed commandment of the Lord." (1 Samuel 15:13). Saul here employed a double strategy involving (1) flattery and (2) outright falsehood. His warm greeting to Samuel was not sincere but given in the hope of avoiding the condemnation Saul knew that he deserved. His claim that he had obeyed the commandment of the Lord was an outright lie. We cannot agree for one moment with those who speak of Saul's "evident sincerity" here.

"They brought them ... the people spared the best" (1 Samuel 15:15). "There is something thoroughly mean in this effort of Saul to shift the blame from his kingly shoulders to the people. Every word uttered by Saul in this episode seems to indicate the breakdown of his moral character."[13]


Verses 17-23

SAUL STUBBORNLY MAINTAINS HIS INNOCENCE

"And Samuel Said, "Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, `Go, 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? And Saul said to Samuel, "I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal." And 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

hearken than the fat of rams.

For rebellion is as the sin of divination,

And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.

Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,

He has also rejected you from being king."

"Though you are little in your own eyes" (1 Samuel 15:17). The KJV; ASV and NIV emend this passage making it read,

"Although you were once small in your own eyes," etc. This would then contrast with the arrogant pride and conceit Saul manifested here. Our own view is that no emendation is necessary. Samuel spoke sarcastically. "Do you mean that you were so small and helpless in your own eyes that you felt that the people were in charge instead of yourself?. Ridiculous. You are the one whom God anointed King." H. P. Smith agreed "That this verse seems to be a rebuke of Saul's self-confessed subservience to the people."[14]

"The Lord anointed you king over Israel" (1 Samuel 15:17). This was Samuel's unanswerable argument against Saul's claim that, "the people" were to blame for saving the cattle. There was no possibility whatever that the people would have spared the cattle without the permission of their king. There even seems to be an implication in Saul's word to Samuel here, "That he wanted to let Samuel know that he was now king, and that he would carry on affairs after his own fashion."[15]

"I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites ... I have brought Agag the king" (1 Samuel 15:20). Could Saul have meant that the king was not an Amalekite? His words made no sense at all. There can be no wonder that Samuel commanded him to, `Shut up'!

"But the people took ... to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal" (1 Samuel 15:21). Saul, in this, was saying that he was only doing what God had commanded his people to do in the matter of offering sacrifices; but as Keil stated it:

"He overlooked the fact that what was banned (devoted) to the Lord could not be offered as a burnt offering, because being most holy, it belonged to God already, and according to Deuteronomy 13:16 was to be put to death exactly as Samuel had commanded him in 1 Samuel 15:3."[16]

"Behold to obey is better than sacrifice

And to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22)

This passage is one of the best known in the entire O.T., and R. P. Smith explains why:

"This saying marks the high moral tone of the prophets and soon became a fundamental principle with them. It was reproduced by Hosea (Hosea 6:6); Psalms 50:8-14; 51:16-17; Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 6:20; Micah 6:6-8, and finally received our Lord's special approval (Matthew 9:13; 12:7)."[17]

"The Lord has rejected you from being king" (1 Samuel 15:23). This powerful word from the very prophet who had anointed him and set in motion the events that crowned him finally got Saul's attention.


Verses 24-31

SAUL CHANGES HIS TUNE; BUT IN VAIN

"And Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandments of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore I pray, pardon my sin, and return with me that I may worship the Lord." And 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." As Samuel turned to go away, Saul laid hold on the skirt of his robe, and it tore. And Samuel said to him, "The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours who is better than you. And also, the Glory of Israel will not lie or repent; for he is not a man that he should repent." Then he said, I have sinned; yet honor me now 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."

"Saul said, I have sinned" (1 Samuel 15:24). "This was not true and sincere repentance; it was merely lip repentance arising from his fear of losing the kingdom."[18]

"Because I feared the people" (1 Samuel 15:24). Saul was still blaming the people. In his view, `His Majesty' had done nothing wrong, only the people had sinned.

Saul's response to God's prophet's confronting him with his sin should be contrasted with that of David when Nathan confronted him with his sin (Psalms 5:1-8).

After Samuel's refusal to grant Saul's request here; and as Samuel turned to go away, Saul was frantic and determined, if possible, to reverse the situation, by grabbing hold of Samuel's garment to detain him. The garment was torn.

"And Samuel said, the Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours who is better than you. (1 Samuel 15:28).

"Yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me." (1 Samuel 15:30). The meaning of this request seems to be, "Very well, granting that I have sinned, and that this exclusion from the kingdom has been passed upon me, yet at least do me the honor due to the rank which I continue to hold."[19]

"So Samuel turned back after Saul" (1 Samuel 15:31). Some have wondered what caused Samuel to go with Saul after his initial refusal to do so. There were several possibilities.

  1. Samuel sincerely desired to help Saul in the presence of the people, for he dearly loved the man. "Had Samuel refused the honor due to Saul's rank, it would have given an occasion of intrigue and resistance against Saul's government and could well have been a step toward bringing back the old anarchy."[20]
  2. Another possibility is that Saul might have threatened to take Samuel's life if he refused. His seizing Samuel's robe was in itself an act of violence; and Saul was certainly capable of killing anyone whom he considered to be a threat to himself.
  3. The third alternative is that Samuel's action here constituted a sin on the prophet's part. We consider this to be the least likely of the reasons cited here, and that the first reason is probably correct.

Verse 32-33

SAMUEL EXECUTES GOD'S SENTENCE UPON AGAG

"Then Samuel said, "Bring here to me Agag the king of the Amalekites." And Agag came to him cheerfully. Agag said, "Surely the bitterness of death is past." And Samuel said, "As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women." And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal."

The chronology here, like that in most of Samuel, is very uncertain; but it appears that this episode occurred immediately after Samuel had returned from worshipping with Saul.

"The law specified that devoted things could neither be sold nor redeemed, but must be put to death (Leviticus 27:28,29); and Samuel honored God's commandment,"[21] by this execution of Agag. We have already noted that some of the other Agagites had in all probability been spared by Saul, since one of them, Haman, later attempted to murder all the Jews on earth (Esther 3:1). Those who seek to second-guess God's order for the execution of Agag are completely refuted by subsequent events.

"Hewed Agag in pieces" (1 Samuel 15:33). "The verb appears only here in the Bible and probably refers to some particular method of execution; and being in the Piel conjugation it would mean not so much that Samuel personally put Agag to death, but that he commanded it to be done."[22] "There is something awful in the majesty of the Prophet rising above and eclipsing that of the king.[23]


Verse 34-35

SAMUEL DOES NOT VISIT SAUL ANYMORE

"Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death; but Samuel grieved over Saul, and the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel."

"And Samuel did not see Saul again till the day of his death" (1 Samuel 15:35). As this is translated, it contradicts the statement in 1 Samuel 19:24 that, "Saul stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel in Ramah."

However, this should be translated, "Samuel came no more to see Saul" (KJV), which is obviously correct. Of course, it is a favorite device of critics to favor any translation that allows them to allege "a contradiction," as did H. P. Smith, who rendered the passage, "Samuel saw Saul no more till the day of his death." and then alleged that, "The contradiction of 1 Samuel 19:24 is obvious."[24]

It is a weakness of the RSV that, based upon what they understood as a Hebrew idiom, they allowed the incorrect rendition to stand as a flat contradiction of 1 Samuel 19:24.

This writer accepts the KJV as correct. Presumably they knew as much about Hebrew idioms as any of the present-day scholars.

For those who are "hooked on the RSV," the only other possible explanation is that of R. P. Smith:

The words have a higher meaning than merely seeing or meeting with one another. They involve the cessation of that relation in which Samuel and Saul had previously stood.[25]

"The Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel" (1 Samuel 15:35). (See our comment on the Lord's repentance under 1 Samuel 15:10, above.)

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 15:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-samuel-15.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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