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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 15

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-9

First Samuel - Chapter 15

Saul’s Amalekite Victory, vs. 1-9

At what point of Saul’s reign the expedition against the Amalekites occurred is uncertain. It appears, however, to have been at some later time than his earliest reign and the significant war with the Philistines. It is interesting that Samuel made a pointed reference to the Lord’s attitude toward Amalek and His determination to exterminate them in giving the task to Saul. It was the Lord who had Samuel anoint Saul to be king over Israel, therefore Saul should hear what the Lord has for him to do. "To hearken" implies a careful attendance to God’s command and a diligence to perform it.

The incident which the Lord calls to mind with reference to Amalek is recorded in Exodus 17:8-16. Israel had barely arrived in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. They had no water, and the Lord had given them water from the stricken rock (Exodus 17:1-7). In speaking to Saul the Lord tells him that Amalek "laid in wait" for Israel, evidently with the purpose of destroying them. It would seem that they had a special animosity against the Lord. (They were descendants of rebellious Esau, Genesis 36:12.) They also appear to have thought to take the water which the Lord had given Israel there in the valley of Rephidim.

There is an analogy in Amalek’s desire to take the water from the rock by their own power and force. It belonged only to those who were the Lord’s people. It is like those today who attempt to procure everlasting life by their own strength, without taking it as the gift of God. These things caused the Lord to proclaim perpetual war with Amalek. This war continues in the spiritual realm with those who would obtain salvation by works.

God commanded the total destruction of Amalek. This illustrates the utter condemnation and judgment of sin. Though it does not destroy the soul of the innocent it does affect their lives. Such destruction is a preview of the judgment in the end of time.

Saul gathered his army at Telaim, a town in the southern border of Judah. Again the men of Judah receive special notice. They numbered ten thousand in addition to two hundred thousand from the other tribes. When Saul’s army arrived in Amalek he sent warning to the Kenites, who were friendly to Israel, to remove themselves from the area, and they did. The Kenites were a Midianite people, related to Moses’ wife’s people (see Judges 4:11).

The destruction by Saul’s army stretched from Havilah (the area southeast of the trans-Jordanic tribes of Israel toward Arabia) to Shur (on the approach to Egypt in the west). The people were destroyed, except that Saul and the people kept the king, Agag, as a prize of war and also the best and finest of the cattle and sheep. The rest they utterly destroyed.

Verses 10-23

Saul’s Third Major Error, vs. 10-23

The transgression committed by Saul, on this occasion, brought the sentence of finality on his kingdom. He had acted presumptuously in making his own offering (chapter 13) and made himself unpopular by his foolish ban (chapter 14). Now he becomes guilty of utter disregard for the will of God (chapter 15). God’s condemnation of Saul’s kingdom begins with His informing Samuel the prophet that He was done with Saul. Samuel was grievously upset at the news. It seems he had a great love for the king, and he spent the rest of the night crying to the Lord, evidently seeking mercy for the willful king.

God did not relent, and the next morning Samuel was sent to search out the camping place of Saul’s army to give him the bad news. Saul was moving toward Gilgal in the Jordan valley, where he had before met with Samuel. His camp at Carmel, in the far south of Judah, had been deserted for the removal to Gilgal When Samuel eventually caught up with Saul the king came out with a warm greeting for him, an utterance of blessing, and a brazen claim that he had performed the commandment of the Lord.

Samuel inquired of the meaning of the bleating of the sheep, and the lowing of the cattle, if Saul had indeed complied with the Lord’s com­mands. It was evident that God’s command had been violated. Saul im­mediately began to hedge and make excuses. He begins to speak of "they" and "the people," implying that it was done because of the peo­ple’s insistence. He further tried to make it seem that it was out of zeal for the Lord the animals were spared. These fine, fat animals had been kept for sacrifices to "the Lord thy God," which also seemed to imply that Samuel should appreciate that the people desired to honor his God.

Samuel now proceeded to tell Saul what the Lord had revealed to him the previous night. He began by recalling the child-like humility which Saul displayed when first he was anointed, when God had made him head of all the tribes of Israel. Now the Lord had given Saul a clear, unequivocal command to go and utterly destroy the Amalekites and all they possessed. And he had failed. In fact, it appeared that he had willfully disobeyed the Lord’s command. He was charged with evil in the sight of the Lord.

But Saul protested that he had obeyed the command of the Lord and had destroyed the Amalekites as He said. Agag the king, the sole survivor, was brought back to emphasize their destruction. He agreed that all the animals should have been destroyed, but the people had insisted on bringing them here to Gilgal to sacrifice to the Lord. Saul seemed to feel that he should be allowed to interpret the Lord’s command as he wished.

Samuel answered the king by saying that God delights more in faithful obedience to His commands than He does in the sacrifice of many fat animals. Obedience is from the heart, while sacrifice of animals is an outward formality. Rebellion against the Lord Samuel paralleled with witchcraft, for both constitute a substitution of something else for God’s word. Stubbornness is as bad as idolatry, because both set up something in the place of the Lord. For Saul’s rejection of the Lord’s word the Lord was rejecting his kingship.

After his intrusion into the priest’s office Saul was told that his kingdom would not continue. This time, however, his kingship itself will cease. It would seem that, from this time forward, the Lord no longer recognized Saul’s leadership of Israel.

Verses 24-35

Saul Repents Too Late, vs. 24-35

At last Saul admitted that he had sinned by transgressing the com­mandment of the Lord, but his admission has an insincere air in it. First, he continues to put the blame for his transgression on the people, whereas the Lord clearly holds him responsible for what has happened. Then, secondly, his confession is certainly partially to get Samuel to come to the sacrifices he has planned. This he desires in order to save face with the elders whom he has invited. Then, lastly, judging from the vigor with which Saul resisted the possible succession of his replacement, one must conclude that the king’s admission and con­fession were not genuine.

Samuel refused to go with Saul because he had rejected the Lord’s word and the Lord had rejected him. As he turned to go away, Saul caught hold on Samuel’s mantle and it was torn. Samuel used this rending as an object lesson of what the Lord was doing to the kingdom of Saul, rending it from him and giving it to his neighbor who was better than Saul. Further, he told him, the Lord, the Strength of Israel, does not change His mind. Saul’s loss of the kingship and the kingdom were irrevocable.

Once again Saul admits his sin and now begs Samuel to come to the worship with him. He also admits that he desires the prophet’s presence in order that he will be held in honor by the elders. Saul was afraid of being embarrassed by the prophet’s absence. So Samuel consented to this, his last appearance with Saul.

During the course of the worship Samuel called for Agag. The Hebrew word translated "delicately" with reference to Agag’s coming, may be more accurately rendered "cheerfully." Agag though his life had been spared and the worst was over for him. But Samuel denounced him as a murderer of women and children, took a sword and chopped him to pieces. Following this the prophet returned to his home in Gibeah, never again to see Saul to the day of his death. But he continued to mourn for Saul. Saul returned to his place in Gibeah where his spiritual condition continued to deteriorate as he evidently brooded over what the Lord had revealed to him through Samuel. That the "Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel" is to express in terms of man’s thinking the Lord’s abandonment of Saul when he had proved himself incorrigible and left him to his eternal fate (Proverbs 29:1).

Lessons: 1) God’s purposes are to be carried out by his people, even when former generations have postponed them; 2) men often try to revise God’s commands to fit their own ideas with eventual regret; 3) those who defy God will be utterly destroyed in His judgment; 4) true Christians should accept the Lord’s chastisement as deserved and not try to excuse themselves by accusing others; 5) there is no better thing for the godly than to obey the commands of God’s word; 6) all will repent at last, but many, many will repent too late; 7) insincere repentance, for selfish reasons, is no repentance at all in God’s sight.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 15". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/1-samuel-15.html. 1985.
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