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Bible Commentaries

Grant's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 15

Verses 1-35

God had a more solemn controversy with the Amalekites than with the Philistines. The mere formal worship typified by the Philistines is empty; but Amalekite "lusts of the flesh" are a deadly enemy that had afflicted Israel from the time of their leaving Egypt. Samuel reminds Saul that it was the Lord who had sent him to anoint Saul as king over Israel, and calls for his attention to the authoritative words of God.

God remembered the early attack of this bitter enemy of Israel (Exodus 17:8), taking advantage of the feeble and faint and weary, who were the "stragglers" at the rear of the company (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). He had declared "I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven" (Exodus 17:14).

Now that Israel had a king, God calls upon him to attack Amalek and completely destroy all that they have, not sparing man of woman, child or babe in arms, together with all their animals. Of course God would command no such thing in this present dispensation of His grace, but the iniquity of Amalek was such that destruction was the only righteous remedy. It may seem dreadful to kill little children, but at least they would be taken to heaven, while it would be a different matter if they were reared in bitter enmity against God and the truth of His Word.

The typical lesson for us also is most important. Since Amalek stands for the lusts of the flesh, then we should spare nothing of this cunning enemy that is always ready to attack us in underhand ways. This therefore involves the self-judgment that should at all times characterize the children of God.

Saul is able to amass a great army of 200,000, plus 10,000 men of Judah. When God gives commands, He opens the way for our carrying these out. Saul begins with a city of Amalek, waiting however to give opportunity for the Kenites to separate themselves from Amalek, for the Kenites were not the same people, and if associated with them would be exposed to the same judgment as they. The Kenites were of Midianite background (Judges 1:16; Exodus 2:15-21), and friendly to Israel. They were evidently of the kind who could get along well with anyone, and therefore were in danger of making wrong friendship

Then God gives Saul a decisive victory over the Amalekites, and he "utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword." This evidently refers to all that they were able to find, for we read of the Amalekites again in 1 Samuel 27:8; 1 Samuel 30:1. Of course the typical significance is that, however decisively we may judge the lusts of the flesh, they always have a way of springing up again, just as poisonous weeds.

But Saul and the people spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites and also the best of their domesticated animals. All that was of inferior quality they destroyed. This was a fatal blunder: mere natural thoughts enter in to take precedence over the express command of God. Of course Agag the king was the worst of all Amalek, the figurehead of all its opposition to God. His name means, "I will overtop." This signifies the pride of being who I am, which is at the base of all the evil of the lusts of the flesh. If this root is not judged, but merely some of the details of lustful things, then the evil is not rightly judged at all. The best of the animals speaks of those things that are the more refined lusts, not glaringly bad, but which can put on a nice appearance that deceives people into thinking they are not so bad.

God cannot let this pass. He speaks solemnly to Samuel, telling him He has repented of making Saul king because he has turned back from following the Lord, deliberately ignoring His clear commandments. The soul of Samuel is affected to its depths, and all night he cries to God in prayer. Of course his mourning over Saul was directly connected with his concern for God's people Israel. On the one hand, when a leader fails, there is a great tendency of accusing him. On the other hand, those who are more friendly with him are likely to excuse him. Neither of these attitudes is right. How much better to be like Samuel and to pray for those leaders who wrongly influence the people of God, rather than either defending them or becoming angry with them.

After praying all night Samuel rose early in the morning to go to meet Saul, and was informed that Saul came to Carmel where "he set him up a place" before going down to Gilgal. He knew it was right to return to Gilgal after a victory, for it speaks of the self-judgment of our own flesh, which must not be allowed to exalt itself because of a victory. But Saul exalted himself BEFORE going to Gilgal. His settling up "a place" shows that he wanted some public recognition, perhaps a monument, to the effect that he had gained this victory, before he would take the low place of attributing no credit to himself! Therefore, coming to Gilgal after setting up a place was really hypocrisy. Let us take this seriously to heart, for we too may easily become hypocritical in our claims of judging the flesh, while desiring the recognition of men.

On meeting Samuel, Saul uses impressive words that were empty so far as Samuel was concerned: "Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord." He was evidently not at all prepared for the response of Samuel: "What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?" But though Saul acknowledges that these have been taken from the Amalekites, he excuses himself by blaming the people of Israel for sparing the animals, but only the best, he adds, in order that they might be sacrificed to the Lord. Was Saul not king? Did he not give the people clear orders as from God that ALL the animals were to be destroyed? It is clearly evident that Saul agreed with the people's desire to spare the sheep and oxen.

Therefore Samuel speaks to him most solemnly, declaring to him the words the Lord had spoken. Saul is reminded that when he was little in his own sight the Lord anointed him as king of Israel. Did he no longer think he was little enough to be required to obey the word of God? The Lord had sent him to utterly destroy the confirmed enemies of God and of Israel. Samuel tells him plainly he did not obey the Word of God, but dared to "fly upon the spoil." God easily discerned that the motives were not those of genuine desire to sacrifice to Him, but motives of greed. Israel knew that if they offered peace offerings to God, the offerer would get a good share for himself.

In spite of the exposure, Saul protests that he actually had obeyed the Lord, had taken captive Agag, the Amalekite king, and had utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But why had he spared Agag? Was this obedience to God's word? Partial obedience is not obedience at all. Then a second time he tries to excuse the sparing of the sheep and oxen by blaming it on the people, but insisting that they did so with the object of sacrificing these to the Lord. But when God had given orders to him, then he was responsible to give the same orders to the people, and see that they were followed. God rightly makes him responsible for the whole matter.

Samuel therefore speaks as God had directed him, questioning Saul if the Lord has as great delight in offerings (even burnt offerings) and sacrifices as in obedience to His word. He answers the question himself, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." When there is plain disobedience to God's word, then sacrificing is a mere pretense of honoring Him. But there is still stronger condemnation of this evil. "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness as iniquity and idolatry." One who is guilty of this is therefore opening the door for Satan, for he is virtually closing the door against God's word. This is the very reason for the flood of evil with which the world is filled today, which is all too sadly seen even in the professing church.

Then God's sentence against Saul is pronounced with irrevocable solemnity. Because he had rejected the word of the Lord (not merely that he had misunderstood it), then the Lord had rejected him from reigning as king of Israel. From this point on the matter was fully decided. While Saul continued to reign for some years after this, yet this was only because the sentence was held in abeyance. It is the same with all the governments of the world today. All have been already rejected by God, yet allowed to continue until God sees fit to remove them and give to the Lord Jesus His rightful authority over all creation.

After Samuel pronounces God's sentence against Saul, Saul finally confesses to Samuel, "I have sinned," adding that he had transgressed the commandment of the Lord and Samuel's words. He admits his fear of the people (which had more effect on him than the fear of God. No doubt it was true that the people wanted to take some of the spoil, and were able to influence Saul. But Saul had clearly heard the word of God. Perhaps the people had not heard this directly, but Saul was responsible to tell them absolutely that God required the utter destruction of animals as well as of people.

He asks Samuel to pardon his sin, and turn again with him, that he might worship the Lord. If there was repentance in this at all, it was very shallow. For true repentance involves willingness to bear the just results of one's sins, as in the case of the thief crucified with the Lord: "we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds" (Luke 23:41). It seems that Saul thought the mere admission of his sin would make everything clear, so that he could go on worshiping the Lord as though nothing had happened.

For this reason Samuel told him "I will not return with thee: for thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel." This sentence would not change, and Saul must bow to it. As Samuel turned to leave, however, Saul took hold of the skirt of Samuel's mantle, tearing it. Evidently Saul was anxious lest Samuel's disapproval would discredit him in the eyes of the people. Samuel however uses this occasion to impress on Saul the truth he had told him, that the Lord had torn the kingdom of Israel from him and had given it to one better than he. He insisted that the Hope of Israel, the eternal God, would not lie, nor repent of passing this solemn sentence. He was not as a mere man, disposed to change His mind. Samuel would allow Saul no false impression as to this matter.

Saul repeats his confession, "I have sinned," and evidently realizes it as true that he will eventually lose his kingdom to another; yet for the present he urges Samuel, "honor me NOW before the elders of my people, and turn again with me that I may worship the Lord." Many since Saul have little taken to heart God's word as to the future because they are more concerned for present honor! Saul would hold on to his public position just as long as the Lord would allow him to. This of course is not true repentance as in the eyes of God. Honest repentance would have made him willing to step down immediately: had he done so he might have saved himself the pain of a sad public history.

Yet Samuel turned again after Saul, and Saul (at least outwardly) worshiped the Lord. No doubt Samuel was right in doing this, for Saul must be taught through painful experience and failure that he was far from qualified for the responsibilities of reigning over Israel. Just as Adam was allowed to live for years after God had passed the sentence of death, so, though Saul had forfeited his right to reign, the sentence was not carried out until later.

But if Saul had failed as regards Agag, Samuel would not. He is not influenced by the servile appearance of this king of Amalek, nor by his words, "Surely the bitterness of death is past." He firmly tells him, "As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women." Then Samuel, old man though he was, "hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal." Solemn work for a man of God! But we too must allow no compromise with sin in the flesh.

Samuel returned to Ramah, and did not come to see Saul again, though Saul saw Samuel once more (ch.19:21-24). The last phrase, "the Lord repented Him that He had made Saul king over Israel," does not infer that God had made a mistake in doing so, but rather His regret because of Saul's proving himself unfit for this position. A similar expression is in Genesis 6:6: "it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth." Certainly there was nothing morally wrong with what God had done, but His regret was because He felt deeply the sorrow of the consequences in both cases. Thank God that He has wisdom, power and grace to bring in afterwards what will far transcend the tragic failure of man and provide infinitely greater blessing in exchange!

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Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 15". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/1-samuel-15.html. 1897-1910.