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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 15

Kingcomments on the Whole BibleKingcomments

Verses 1-3


1 Samuel 15 is in a way the last chapter about Saul. Here the king himself is rejected after the kingdom has previously been taken from him (1 Samuel 13:14). With 1 Samuel 16 begins a new phase in God’s people, in which David is in the foreground.

God does not simply push Saul aside. The kingdom may be taken away from him, but his person gets another chance. God does this by giving him a task that is easy to carry out. He must completely destroy an archenemy of Israel. Anyone who loves God and His people must hate this terrible enemy. Whoever thinks like God should not have the slightest difficulty in exercising this judgment on Amalek. God gives Saul this new, but at the same time last chance. Unfortunately, we will see that Saul fails.

The task can be simple, but at the same time is serious. To see the seriousness of it and to realize that the consequences of failure are serious, we need to know who Amalek is. Amalek is mentioned for the first time in Exodus 17 (Exodus 17:8). There he attacks Israel as soon as the people are delivered from Egypt. It is the first enemy the delivered people will face. Amalek attacks the place where God’s people are weakest and when they are exhausted. In Amalek we can see a picture of the flesh and of Satan, who controls the flesh.

God has announced that He will destroy Amalek (Exodus 17:14). But God also has patience with Amalek. In the book of Numbers, we find a second clue of the judgment on Amalek (Numbers 24:7). The downfall of Amalek is related there to the arrival of the great King. As a foreshadowing thereof David, and not Saul, will completely defeat Amalek. Thus will the Lord Jesus let cast the devil into the abyss and accept His reign (Revelation 20:1-Joshua :). In his farewell speech Moses recalls the extermination of Amalek (Deuteronomy 25:19). As Moses points out, the picture shows that the flesh will work easily and that we will then be an easy prey for Satan when we are weak.

The Command to Exterminate Amalek

Samuel comes to Saul. He first reminds Saul of his anointing. This anointing was not Samuel’s own initiative. He anointed Saul on the explicit command of the LORD. Anointing is done with a view to a service for the LORD, to which obedience to the words of God is directly linked. Samuel says directly to Saul that he must listen to the words of God.

Anointing and obedience to God’s Word belong together. That also applies to us. We are anointed as well, with the Holy Spirit. We may be held accountable for what we are.

Samuel passes on the words of the LORD who presents Himself as the LORD of His hosts. He gave Saul command of the Israel’s hosts. He is the true King, both over all that is on earth and over the hosts and a kingdom higher than the earth. He reminds Saul of what Amalek did to Israel and how He judges that (Deuteronomy 25:17-Job :). Amalek stood in Israel’s way when the people were freed from Egypt by him.

God has long patience with His enemies and those of His people, but once comes the reckoning. Now the judgment must be exercised, and that judgment must be total. Nothing but the absolute authority of God justifies this judgment. This fight will not enrich Israel: all people and animals must be killed.

Verses 4-7

Saul Defeats the Amalekites

Saul is preparing for the battle. It seems that he obeys the LORD. He calls the people and a large army comes up. That is something else than the six hundred men he had with him some time ago in his fight against the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:2). Jonathan’s victory and its results have given the people the courage to go to battle again.

Saul counts them at Telaim, which means ‘lambs’. He counts them as lambs. He is not overconfident either but works with consultation. The setting of an ambush indicates this. Before attacking Amalek, he does a favor to the Kenites.

The Kenites belong to the Midianites. From there also came the father-in-law of Moses (Judges 1:16; Numbers 10:29). The Kenites have been connected to Israel by Moses and have proved to the people a blessing in the person of Jethro. Saul acknowledges the friendliness that their ancestors have proven to Israel when they came from Egypt. Jethro and his family have helped and served Israel in their journey through the wilderness (Numbers 10:29-Obadiah :).

From this we can learn that those who come after us can benefit from our good works when we are no longer there. God is not unjust to forget even one kindness that has been shown to His people (Hebrews 6:10). He will reward every good deed, if it is not already on earth, then certainly in the resurrection.

Another lesson is that it is dangerous to be found in the company of God’s enemies. Here the Kenites are warned to leave. This warning is still valid today. It is our duty and our interest to depart from any company that does not put the Lord Jesus in the center, so that we do not have fellowship with the sins of that company and do not receive the plagues that come upon it (Revelation 18:4). The Jews have a saying: Woe to the wicked, and woe to the neighbor.

When the Kenites departed from the Amalekites, Saul defeats Amalek. It is more a killing of convicted criminals than a war against fighting enemies. The result cannot be questionable, because the matter is fair, and the vocation is clear. Saul executes the LORD’s command.

Verses 8-9

Saul Spares Agag and the Best of the Cattle

Saul’s obedience is not complete. He kills all the people of Amalek, but he spares their king. The people are also disobedient, but Saul is mentioned first in not fully executing God’s command. He confirms the serious truth of Romans 8 (Romans 8:7-Ruth :) .

The best is spared. Saul and the people do not want to judge this. It is a question of their will. It is a picture of a man in the flesh who wants to do away with the worst excesses, but spares everything that seems to be good. That is a denial of the depravity of the flesh and disobedience to the Word of God.

No one shall condone drunkenness or fornication doctrinally. But when it comes to religious rituals and legal formalism or an unequal yoke with an unbeliever in the work of the Lord, one talks differently. All of that can be spared, on the pretext that it can be devoted to the Lord’s service.

The sin of Saul and of anyone who deals with these things in this way is giving an own interpretation of what God has said. Such interpretations are always given with an eye to one’s own desires and the desires of the people of God, while ignoring God’s explicit command.

Verses 10-11

The Regret of the LORD

Then comes the word of the LORD to Samuel. The LORD tells Samuel of Saul’s disobedience and what is the consequence thereof. He decides to reject Saul and announces this to Samuel. The LORD says that He regrets that He has appointed Saul king.

If God regrets anything, it is not because He must come back to a wrong decision made by Him. Regret in God is not what it is in us. In us it is a change of meaning and will, but with Him it is a change in His method. He does not change His will, but He wants a change. His regret is not the result of an act of Himself, but of man’s actions. God’s regret shows that He is deeply sad about what man has done with what He has given him, not about what He Himself has done. He never needs to revoke anything (1 Samuel 15:29). Although God knows everything in advance, including the evil that will happen, He is full of sadness when that evil happens.

Samuel’s reaction to what the LORD tells him shows that he is a true man of God. He gets angry with Saul and at the same time he calls to God all night for this one man. anger and grief can go together, as we read of the Lord Jesus (Mark 3:5). There is anger about sin and grief about the sinner. Samuel is the great prayer who has said that he will not cease to pray for the people (1 Samuel 12:23). His calling to God indicates a deep inner involvement and a great movement of mind.

Verses 12-15

Saul’s ‘Obedience’

Samuel must convey the message of God to Saul. He did not sleep that night but called to God. From that fellowship with God he goes to Saul. Before he meets Saul, he is told where Saul is, what he did and where he then went. God supports His servant in his task.

The fact that Saul has erected a monument for himself shows that he is looking for his own honor (cf. 2 Samuel 18:18). The word “monument” is literally “hand”, symbolizing his actions, what he has accomplished. Now he is in Gilgal. Samuel follows him until there. There everything becomes public.

Saul does not take the place that suits him against the man of God. He does not wait until Samuel starts. He does not ask what Samuel comes for, but immediately takes the floor, to praise himself and to tell how obedient he has been. Saul deceives his own conscience through his words. He takes the initiative because he feels that he has not been obedient. The presence of a man of God like Samuel can only make him restless about his incomplete execution of the command. This is how it is when we come to someone who lives with the Lord, while we fill in our lives with the Lord in a loose way.

Samuel is not deceived by the elation with which Saul meets him and the testimony he gives about himself. First, Samuel is informed by the LORD of the reality of Saul’s actions. Secondly, Samuel points to the evidence that Saul was not obedient. He hears the bleating of sheep and the lowing of the oxen. How is this possible when he has exterminated everything according to the LORD’s command?

Saul’s pompous talk of devotion to the LORD is being denied by the noise of the spared sheep and oxen. Anyone who says that he is full of the Lord but does not read the Bible or thinks he does not need the upbuilding of his faith in Christian meetings, shows the same contradiction. The deeds show the lie of the words. What is spared of the flesh contradicts a confession of devotion. There is the same arbitrariness with such believers as with Saul. Later on, we see Saul does thoroughly act against Abimelech, whom he suspects of sympathy for David. He spares nothing from him (1 Samuel 22:19).

The bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen are like the rust of gold and silver (James 5:3). The beautiful confession is contradicted by the practice. It is nothing new that beautifully looking confessions of obedience to God’s commandments are at odds with giving in to the flesh and love of the world. If the beautiful confession sounds that nothing on earth has value but the Lord Jesus, while we live in large and luxuriously furnished houses and drive expensive cars, that confession is not worth much.

Saul not only presents things better than they are, but he also lies. He has spared the best himself (1 Samuel 15:9), but he blames others by saying that the people did it. This is the old shear-off system. It has already been put into practice by Adam and Eve. He also speaks three times about “the LORD your God” (1 Samuel 15:15; 1 Samuel 15:211 Samuel 15:30). Indeed, it is not his God, but only Samuel’s. He has no bond with God.

How David reacts very differently when the sword of judgment hangs above the people (2 Samuel 24:17). Moses also wanted to be exterminated out of God’s book himself, and that for a disobedient people (Exodus 32:32). Above all, the Lord Jesus reacted very different, who says: “If you seek Me, let these go their way” (John 18:8).

Verses 16-19

Samuel Confronts Saul

Samuel has enough of Saul’s justifications and silences him. He must tell what God said to him last night. Saul gives in and gives Samuel the opportunity to speak. Samuel does not go directly to the heart of the matter. He introduces the actual message by reminding Saul of a few things. He recalls him his humble beginnings and how he was then in his own eyes and how he had become the head of the tribes of Israel. He also reminds Saul that this was a matter from the LORD.

The act of anointing was done by Samuel, but Samuel did it on behalf of the LORD. All that Saul has become he is through the LORD. This is in stark contrast to the monument he erected for himself. He has seen himself gradually grow bigger. As he has grown in his own eyes, the LORD has disappeared from his field of vision.

The anointing by the LORD means that he depends for everything on the LORD and that he receives his commands from Him. Thus the LORD has given him the clear command to exterminate the Amalekites. For this he would have to fight, but in doing so he could have count on the strength of the LORD.

After Samuel has recalled Saul of what the LORD has done with him, and of the clear commission which the LORD has given him, he asks Saul a question. The question is not whether he has carried out the command, but why he has not carried it out. Disobedience is established and no longer needs to be proved or acknowledged. It is about whether Saul wants to acknowledge his disobedience honestly and repent of his disobedience. Samuel paints the disobedience in bright colors. He states that Saul was “rushed upon the spoil” and that he did “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD”.

Verses 20-21

Excuses of Saul

It appears that the conscience of Saul is no longer reachable. He defends himself against Samuel’s clear charges. He points out once again that he has carried out the LORD’s task. He destroyed the Amalekites, didn’t he? The fact that he has saved Agag is not allowed to have a name. Only a grumbler like Samuel pays attention to that.

Except to belittle his disobedience and in fact to wave it away, Saul refers again to the people, to what they have done. Indeed, they did not quite do what God said, but they did it with the best intentions. They have spared the best of the cattle to bring it to the LORD. Do you see that they have thought of the LORD?

But what impression does one have of the holiness of God? Saul acts according to the principle: “Let us do evil that good may come” (Romans 3:8). We act on this principle if we want to justify what is clear disobedience.

Verses 22-23

Why Saul Is Rejected

Samuel tells Saul that the LORD is not interested in his sacrifices, but in his obedience to Him and his listening to Him. This is a timeless principle. It applies anytime and anywhere. Our whole relationship with God begins with listening and our whole relationship with God is maintained by listening. This listening must be done in an attitude, a mind of obedience.

Samuel starts with obeying. Only when there is a willingness to obey there can and will also be listened to and understood what God says. God does not want our good intentions, because they stem from our own ideas about serving Him. We think that He can be very satisfied with our sacrifices, mentally or physically. It is important that we make these sacrifices to Him, but the one question is what our motive is. It is not only important that we do something. It is especially important that we do what He wants and that we do it because He says it. That also determines the time of our acts.

Scripture never says that appearance is unimportant. The sacrifice is important. However, it has no meaning for God if the inner being is not in agreement with it. God wants both, but first He wants obedience. He prefers obedience to sacrifice, for He despises all sacrifices if the heart is not obedient. If the heart is obedient, He accepts the sacrifices with great joy. The fat of rams is the best of the sacrificial animal, but listening is much better.

It is much easier to bring a cow or a lamb to be burned at the altar than to act with every high thought as it is written: “Destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and [we are] taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and subject our will to His will. Obedience is the fame of the angels (Psalms 103:20) and is also our fame.

If God is pleased with us and our services, then we are happy, then we have reached our goal. However, if we follow our own will, believing that we are serving Him, He says to us: “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” (Isaiah 1:11). Now we are clearly told here that humble, sincere, and meticulous obedience to the will of God is more pleasing to Him than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. Careful listening and doing what He says is more pleasant to God than to perform all kinds of religious acts (Ecclesiastes 5:1; Micah 6:6; Micah 6:8; Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7).

Saul was not obedient, but rebellious and insubordinate. He resisted the will of God. God has given him a command, and he has not fulfilled it. Samuel calls rebellion a “sin of divination,” for rebellion against God means turning away from God and turning to demons. Saul has also been insubordinate. He did not allow himself to be corrected. Samuel calls it “iniquity and idolatry”. If one sets one’s own standard higher than that of God, it is idolatry, for one’s own self is worshipped, not God. One’s own will is placed above the will and honor of God. Offers from such a person mean nothing to God.

Disobedience is rebellion and is intricately linked to satanic powers of sorcery. Thus, Satan enchanted Eve and made her to revolt against God. Because of this behavior, which clearly showed that Saul rejected the word of the LORD, Saul is rejected from being king.

Verses 24-25

Saul Asks for Forgiveness

Saul acknowledges that Samuel’s command was a command of the LORD. He acknowledges that he has sinned, but it is not accompanied by a sorrow that is according to the will of God. We also see such a confession with Pharaoh and with Judas, who both said: “I have sinned” (Exodus 10:16; Matthew 27:4), but without them doing repentance for sin.

Saul does not take full responsibility for the debt. He still blames the people for fear of the consequences of his actions. He is afraid of the people and listens to their voice instead of God’s voice. He fears the people instead of God. Such a person is unfit to rule. “Fear of man [someone] lays a trap” (Proverbs 29:25).

Saul has no personal relationship with God. He looks at what is in view and seeks support from Samuel. If Samuel would forgive his sin and wants to return with him, he will put it right again with God.

Verses 26-29

Saul Rejected as King

Samuel does not allow to be manipulated. He sticks to what God has told him and repeats this for Saul as the reason for his decision. Samuel remains at the side of God. When Samuel wants to leave, Saul seizes the edge of his robe. He wants to keep Samuel with him by force.

This again self-willed act of Saul causes a tear in Samuel’s robe. Samuel connects to the tearing of his robe directly a message from the LORD. He explains the tearing of his robe as a symbolic act for the fact that the LORD has taken away the kingship of Saul. Samuel adds that the kingship will be given to a “who is better than” he. Samuel does not mention a name, but we know it is David.

Samuel then gives a testimony about the incorruptibility of God and the immutability of His intentions. God is the Unchanging of His people. He does not have to come back to anything because He would have made a wrong decision. He does not have to return here to the judgment of Saul, as if He had passed judgment too quickly. He is not a man who would lie about a decision He has made or should regret (Numbers 23:19).

A human being makes mistakes. As a result, he may have consequences that he would like to undo but cannot. This is not the case with God. God knows what He does. God perfectly oversees all the consequences of His actions. This has nothing to do with probability, but with His perfect knowledge of the person He Himself created. God knows what He can hold man responsible for and what He can expect of him. He does not overpower man.

If man fails in his responsibilities, it is due to man himself. God’s knowledge that man will fail is related to His omniscience. He is God. The failure of the human being does not overtake him. Man’s failure is not the result of God’s wrong decision, but of man’s wrong decisions. That God also uses man’s failure to fulfill His plans of grace is a matter that we humans cannot explain. In this God asks us to trust Him.

Verses 30-33

Samuel Kills Agag

Once again Saul pronounces that he has sinned (1 Samuel 15:30; 1 Samuel 15:24), but again because of the consequences and not because of the deed. Also here it appears why he wants Samuel to go with him. He is only interested in his own honor for the people. He wanted to keep himself high. The people look high up against Samuel. If he could secure Samuel’s company, his position with the people would be guaranteed. Saul seeks external, human grip and then promises to worship the LORD.

Remarkably enough we read that Samuel meets Saul’s wishes. Is it because he has a weakness for Saul? In the next chapter we see how much Samuel is attached to Saul. It resembles the weakness Paul has for his Jewish brothers who are zealots for the law and in which Paul is persuaded to act below his position as a believer delivered from the law (Acts 21:20-Ezekiel :). Saul also keeps his word and worships before the LORD. But what is the point of this tribute to the LORD if the heart has not really changed?

It is also possible that Samuel goes with Saul to finish what Saul should have done. He orders that Agag, whom he calls “the king of the Amalekites”, be brought to him. It seems as if Agag is coming whistling because he thinks he will be spared. It is impossible to determine whether such a thought is stupidity or overconfidence on the part of Agag. In every fall his optimism is unfounded. His optimism also shows the complete lack of repentance for his atrocities.

Before Samuel passes judgment on Agag, he tells him his crimes. Then Samuel, the old prophet, does what Saul should have done, to his shame, and cuts Agag into pieces. It says that he does it “before the LORD at Gilgal”. Samuel acts in accordance with God’s thoughts and not out of vengefulness.

Agag reaps what he has sowed. He is rewarded for his deeds. The spiritual lesson is clear. With “the sword of the Spirit, that is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17), the flesh is hewn down in its most beautiful and royal form, in which it is so often spared. Here all ‘Sauls’ of all generations fail. The powers that exist destroy what is wrong to a certain extent, but they do not judge as God judges. The sword can only be stretched over Agag by the hand of a prophet.

Verses 34-35

Saul and Samuel Definitively Separate

Then the ways of these two men separate. The man who represents the Word of God must turn away from him who has made himself totally unworthy of his company and the trust placed in him.

The farewell will be final. Samuel will not see Saul until the day of his death. For Samuel it is a farewell that hurts him and about which he is sad. Samuel really loved Saul. He sees how this hope of Israel has failed and has been rejected by God.

Humanly speaking, it is understandable, but here too God must reprimand him, as we see in the first verse of the next chapter (1 Samuel 16:1). That does not mean, however, that, again humanly spoken, the LORD is not touched. Finally, we read once again that He regrets that He has appointed Saul king over Israel. The LORD grieves over the end of Saul’s life.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 Samuel 15". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-samuel-15.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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