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Saturday, June 15th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 15

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-35

The Rejection of Saul (15:1-35)

This chapter represents the later tradition, with its opposition to the monarchy as contrary to the divine will, although there are also reflections of a more favorable attitude, akin to that of the early source, in verse 1 and subsequently in the chapter. These references probably show that opposition to the monarchy does go back to Saul’s time, but that it was not so violent and one-sided as the tradition was later shaped to indicate.

Saul was given divine instructions to destroy the Amalekites because of their treatment of Israel in the wilderness journey. Apparently Samuel was still very much in evidence, and it is difficult to place this chapter chronologically; the association with Samuel suggests a point near Saul’s anointing. The story may well embody the cause of the real break between the king and the prophet, namely, the way in which the campaign against Amalek was conducted.

The Amalekites were foes of Israel from the wilderness days. They led a seminomadic existence on the desert fringe of southern Palestine, occasionally raiding the cultivated areas in search of provisions, especially at harvest time. Judah was open to such raids because of its proximity to the Amalekite territory, and Saul singled out the men of Judah in the army which he gathered. The divine instructions to Saul through the prophet were that "Amalek," both the people and their property, was to be totally wiped out. This total extermination is known as a "ban," that is, a curse in which a whole people is to be destroyed because of the sin of some group within it. The verb "utterly destroy" is best translated "devote to destruction." The practice was bound up with the belief that Israel was the Chosen People of the Lord, a holy people, dedicated to their God. Other peoples had their own gods and were dedicated to them, therefore they would fall under the ban of the Lord. They could have no part in his holy purpose. They and their property must be destroyed before him. This "ban" evidently played a part in the invasion of Canaan and persisted down into the time of the monarchy. If a people could not share in the holiness of the Lord, they came under his ban. In the case of the Conquest and here also, the ban was not rigorously enforced. Intermarriage with the Canaanites rather than extermination was the dominant policy. In the same way, Saul apparently did not totally destroy the Amalekites, for enough were left to give trouble later (1 Samuel 30:1). It may well be that the ban was carried out only in token form.

The Kenites were spared because of their kinship with Judah, a composite tribe which included Kenite elements, and because of the intermarriage of Moses with their group. Having warned this friendly tribe to depart, Saul turned on the Amalekites, wiping them out but sparing their king and their choicest cattle.

The Lord now declared that Saul had forfeited his kingship. Samuel, quite out of keeping with his general attitude as represented in this late tradition, was at first angry with God for this change of plan, but a night of prayer cleared his understanding. He went to Saul and reproved him for breaking the ban. Saul made the excuse that the choicest beasts were being kept for sacrifice to the Lord, but Samuel apparently rejected this plea and conveyed to Saul the divine message of rejection. Over the protests of Saul, the prophet reminded the king in a short oracle, paralleled in the pre-exilic prophets, that obedience to God’s demands is more important in the divine eyes than sacrifice (vss. 22-23; see Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8). Because Saul had disobeyed the Lord, he was rejected as king.

In view of the large part played by the practice of divination in these stories and Samuel’s participation in it, the attack on the sin of divination either reflects the later prophetic condemnation of this sacred rite or is a mistaken rendering of the original text.

Saul’s attempt at repentance met with no encouragement, and he and the prophet parted in a final break, after Samuel had slain Agag with his own hands. Verse 29 seems to contradict verses 11 and 35. It may well be, as some commentators suggest, that verses 24-31 were a later insertion.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Samuel 15". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/1-samuel-15.html.
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