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Monday, July 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 15

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 1


‘King over His people Israel.’

1 Samuel 15:1

The story of Saul is among the saddest which Scripture anywhere contains.

I. Notice first the singular elements of nobleness which are to be traced in his natural character, so that his moral stature did not altogether belie the stateliness of his outward frame. There is nothing which so often oversets the whole balance of a mind, which brings out faults unsuspected before, as a sudden and abrupt elevation from a very low to a very high position. But Saul gives no token that the change has wrought this mischief in him. The Lord’s anointed, Israel’s king, he bides his time, returns with a true simplicity to humblest offices in his father’s house. He would gladly, and that out of a genuine modesty, hide and withdraw himself from the people’s choice. Slights and offences done to himself he magnanimously overlooks. He ventures his life far for the people whom he rules, as one who has rightly understood that foremost in place and honour means also foremost in peril and toil. Saul is clear from every charge of that sin which left the darkest blot upon David’s life; seems very sparingly to have allowed himself that licence which almost all Oriental monarchs have so largely claimed. There was in him also a true capacity for loving. Of David we are told he ‘loved him greatly.’ Even at his worst, what glimpses of a better mind from time to time appear! The deep discords of his spirit are not incapable of being subdued into harmonies, as sweet bells jangled or out of tune which for an instant, though, alas! but for an instant, recover their sweetness. And, most noticeable of all, the love which he could feel he could also inspire. If then there was a shipwreck here, they were not paltry wares, but treasures of great price, which went down into the deep.

II. The history of Saul brings home to us these facts: (1) That the life we now live is a life of probation; that God takes men and puts them in certain conditions to try them. We are each put upon our trial as certainly as Saul was upon his. (2) All the finer qualities of Saul display themselves at the outset of his career. They gradually fade and fail from him, pride, meanwhile, and caprice, and jealousy, and envy, and an open contempt and defiance of God coming in their room, until at last of all the high qualities which he once owned, only the courage, last gift to forsake a man, often abiding when every other has departed—until this only remains. (3) We learn from Saul not to build on any good thing which we have in ourselves. Let us bring that good thing to God and receive it back from God with that higher consecration which He alone can give.

—Archbishop Trench.

Verses 20-21


‘And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me,’ etc.

1 Samuel 15:20-21

It will appear somewhat startling to any one who first notices it how very little is said in the Bible about truthfulness. The reason is that truthfulness is not a strictly religious duty; it is a duty which is entirely independent of faith in God or Christ, a duty which is so absolutely necessary to the very existence of society, that without reverence for it no community could last for a day. The Word of God passes by those things which men can find out for themselves, and does not insist on those duties which the common interests of commerce and security and comfort are sure to enforce.

I. It is most important to notice with regard to this passage in Saul’s life that, taking the words as they stand, there was probably no absolute falsehood in them.—Nothing is more probable than that the people did take of the spoil to sacrifice unto the Lord, and that at any rate it was very nearly true that Saul had utterly destroyed the Amalekites. And yet, after all, in God’s sight, with all this semblance of veracity, the unhappy king stood up as a convicted liar, who, with his reddening cheek and his stammering tongue, was being put to shame before all his people. He did not dare to lie outright. He would not quite confess his guilt, but he dressed up a lie in the garb of truth, and took his chance of getting off his punishment by a paltry subterfuge.

II. Saul is only a type of a million others who have done the like again and again in all times.—It is the hardest thing in life to be true, and the rarest. To state the simplest fact with perfect simplicity, to explain our most innocent motive with exact honesty, are feats which will often baffle the most sincere among us. Truth is not natural. It is not common. It is not easily learnt; only by watchfulness and prayer can it be learnt at all. The first temptation was but a piece of cheating: the traitor Judas acted a lie when he gave his Master that false kiss in Gethsemane, and ever since then falsehood has been Satan’s chosen weapon for plucking Christ’s children out of their Saviour’s hands, and robbing them of that heaven where only the true can live.

—Canon Jessopp.


(1) ‘ “In the twenty-second and twenty-third verses we have one of those great golden principles which are not for an age, but for all time. With a burst of prophetic inspiration Samuel rends asunder Saul’s tissue of excuses and lays bare his sin. His words are the key-note of the long remonstrance of the prophets in subsequent ages against the too common error of supposing that external ceremonial can be of any value in the sight of God when separated from the true devotion of the worshipper’s heart which it symbolises.” David often insisted on this in his Psalms. Micah the prophet, in words which recall these, did the same. So did Jesus—“Go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” Here is a perpetual, world-wide principle. Build a church, leave money to some charity, give liberally to the collection—all this avails nothing if your heart is not right with God. To lay this down clearly has often brought morality in conflict with formalism, the prophet into conflict with the priest, the preacher into conflict with the ritualist: but it cannot be said too emphatically.’

(2) ‘Nothing can be love to God which does not shape itself into obedience. We remember the anecdote of the Roman commander who forbade an engagement with the enemy, and the first transgressor against whose prohibition was his son. He accepted the challenge of the leader of the other host, met, slew, spoiled him; and then in triumphant feeling carried the spoils to his father’s tent. But the Roman father refused to recognise the instinct which prompted this as deserving the name of love. Disobedience contradicted it and deserved death.’

(3) ‘Though Saul was not necessarily a castaway soul, he was a castaway king; a failure, not because God willed it, but because, as we have seen, by the trend and temper of his heart, he could not be aught else. But what a majestic failure! See how he sought to hide his tragedy from his people’s eyes, struggling on under the burden of kingship, with his “might have been” burning in his heart. As we follow this noble ruin of a king on past Endor to his “last weird battle” on Mount Gilboa, we yearn to see him look beyond the shade of Samuel, and to hear him say in all-surrendering faith: “The Lord my God.” The faith that glorifies a life has no links; it binds us directly to the feet of God.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 15". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/1-samuel-15.html. 1876.
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