Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, July 14th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 15

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

Verses 1-35

XV. The War against Amalek; Saul’ s Disobedience and Deposition (E). – A section of a secondary narrative; according to the scheme adopted here, the last section of this document was 1 Samuel 3:3 to 1 Samuel 4:1.

1 Samuel 15:1-9 . Samuel bids Saul attack Amalek and subject it to the herem (pp. 99, 114), or sacred ban, by which all living creatures were put to death in honour of Yahweh. ( Cf. the cases of Jericho and Achan, Joshua 6 f.) Saul called a general levy to a rendezvous in the south of Judah— the numbers are probably exaggerated— and advanced against “ the city of Amalek,” possibly a tribal sanctuary which served as the headquarters of this nomad tribe; and lay in ambush in a neighbouring valley. The Kenites ( Genesis 15:19, Judges 1:16) were dwelling amongst the Amalekites, but at a warning from Saul they departed. Then Saul carried out Samuel’ s instructions, except that the Amalekite king, Agag, and the best of the cattle were spared.

1 Samuel 15:7 . from Havilah to Shur: ICC is probably right in suggesting that “ our author [ i.e. the author of the document from which this section is taken], whose geography is not very distinct, borrowed the whole phrase from Genesis,” without verifying it, as a description of the whole extent of the Amalekite territory, wrongly identifying the latter with the Ishmaelites. The statement that the whole tribe was exterminated need not be taken literally; there would be refugees. The tribe appears again in ch. 30, and in 1 Chronicles 4:43.

1 Samuel 15:10-31 . Yahweh tells Samuel of Saul’ s disobedience. Samuel’ s sympathies were with Saul; no doubt he still regarded him as the hope of Israel; and was angry with Yahweh— OT ideas of reverence were more elastic than ours— and spent the night in intercession, which clearly met with no response. In the morning he set out to look for Saul, and was told that he had gone to Carmel ( 1 Samuel 15:12), a place to the S. of Hebron, also the scene of the Nabal story, not the better-known Carmel on the coast. Here he had set up a trophy of his victory, and had gone on to the sanctuary at Gilgal to sacrifice thank-offerings ( 1 Samuel 15:21). Samuel followed him and was met by Saul with a profession that he had fulfilled his commands. He explained that the best of the cattle had been reserved for sacrifice. Such a proceeding, however, would not have been entirely disinterested, as an ordinary sacrifice was a feast, and the Amalekite spoils would have provided a magnificent banquet. Samuel rejects Saul’ s excuses, saying finally:

Is Yahweh pleased with whole burnt offerings and sacrifices

As with obedience to the voice of Yahweh?

Behold, obedience is better than sacrifice,

And to hearken than the fat of rams.

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,

And self-will as the iniquity of teraphim.

Because thou hast rejected the word of Yahweh,

He hath rejected thee from being king.

This oracle, like many of the prophetic utterances, is given in the form of verse, which imparted to it a special solemnity. It summarises much of the teaching of the prophets of the eighth century— Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah— teaching which was repeatedly endorsed by their successors; in true religion conduct and character come before the external observances of worship, especially those which have no intrinsic spiritual value. The cruelty of the particular act of obedience with which these lines are associated detracts from their impressiveness; but there was no question of humanity at issue between Saul and Samuel; Saul had slain men, women, and children, and the writer probably means us to understand that he had spared Agag to gratify his vanity by exhibiting the conquered prince as his captive. If the document comes from the closing period of the Jewish monarchy, men were not only under the influence of the lofty teaching of the prophets; at the same time their feelings were embittered towards foreigners by the ruthless cruelties they had so often experienced at their hands. Dt. gives us an example of humanity towards fellow-countrymen combined with savage cruelty towards foreigners ( Deuteronomy 7:2; Deuteronomy 22:1-4). Saul’ s penitent prayer for pardon was rejected, and he was told that the kingship would be given to someone more worthy.

1 Samuel 15:23 . teraphim: Genesis 31:19 , p. 100.

1 Samuel 15:29 . the Strength of Israel: the meaning of the word translated “ Strength” is uncertain; RVm “ Victory” or “ Glory” ; LXX “ and Israel shall be rent in two.”

1 Samuel 15:32-35 . Then Samuel executed the herem upon Agag, hewing him in pieces at the altar at Gilgal. The text. and translation of 1 Samuel 15:32 are uncertain; RVm gives “ cheerfully” for “ delicately,” but we should probably accept the rendering of ICC, based on the LXX, “ And Agag came unto him trembling. And Agag said, Surely death is bitter.”

Then Saul and Samuel separated, never to meet again, though Samuel mourned for Saul. In 1 Samuel 19:23 Saul comes to Samuel at Naioth, but this of course belongs to a different document.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 15". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/1-samuel-15.html. 1919.
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