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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

1 Samuel 15

Verses 1-3

CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—

“Samuel also said to Saul.” “This verse is not to be connected chronologically with chap. 12, but continues the narrative of chaps. 13 and 14. The solemn reminder of Saul’s royal anointing, and of Samuel’s Divine mission to that end, refers not to 1 Samuel 11:15, but to 1 Samuel 9:15; 1 Samuel 10:1, It points to the fact that the following commission is a Divine command communicated by the appointed organ, the prophet of God, and that the bearer of the royal office has here to perform a theocratic mission with unconditional obedience. The me stands first (such is the order of the Hebrew) in order to give prominence to the official authority, as bearer of which Samuel must have felt obliged by Saul’s past conduct to assert himself over against him.” (Erdmann.) “Several years had been passed in unsuccessful military operations against troublesome neighbours, and during these years Saul had been left to act in a great measure at his own discretion as an independent prince. Now a new test is proposed of his possessing the character of a theocratic monarch in Israel; and in announcing the duty required of him, Samuel brought before him his official station as the Lord’s vicegerent, and the peculiar obligation under which he was laid to act in that capacity. He had formerly done wrong, for which a severe rebuke and threatening were administered to him. Now an opportunity was afforded him of retrieving that error.” (Jamieson.)

1 Samuel 15:2. “I remember.” Bather, “I have looked upon” (Keil), or “I have considered, or noted.” (Erdmann.) “Amalek.” The Amalekites were a wild, warlike, desert-people, dwelling south and south-west of Judea, in Arabia Petrea, descended from the same ancestor as the Edomites, and took their name from Esau’s grandson Amalek (Genesis 36:12-1.36.16; 1 Chronicles 1:36). God’s command goes back to their first hostilities (Exodus 17:0), which were often afterwards repeated in their alliance with the Canaanites (Numbers 14:40 s.q.), with the Moabites (Judges 3:13), and with the Midianites (Judges 7:12), the Amalekites, according to 1 Samuel 15:33, having newly made an inroad, with robbery and murder, into the Israelitish territory.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 15:3. “Utterly destroy.” Literally, “put everything under the ban.” “The ban, of which we have here a notable instance, was an old custom, existing probably before Moses, but formulated, regulated, and extended by him. In its simplest form it was the devotion to God of any object, living or dead.… When an Israelite or the whole congregation wished to devote to God anything—man, beast, or field—whether for the honour of God or to get rid of an injurious or accursed thing, it was brought and offered to the priest, and could not then be redeemed (Leviticus 27:28); if living, it must be put to death. A deep consciousness of man’s sin and God’s holiness underlay this law. The wicked thing, contrary to the spiritual theocratic life of God’s people, must be removed, must be committed to him who was ruler and judge of God’s people. And so the custom had a breadth of use as well as of meaning which it never had in other ancient nations.… To spare the devoted thing was a grave offence, calling down the vengeance of God. In later times the ban was, doubtless under prophetic direction, softened, and in the New Testament times the infliction of death had quite ceased.” (Translator of Lange’s Commentary.)

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 15:1-9.15.3

THE SENTENCE AGAINST AMALEK

I. National sins may bring national retribution long after the individuals who committed the sins have left the world. Both history and revelation teach us that God deals with nations as a whole as well as with men individually, and that the sin of one generation may bring penalty upon another. If a man deals a murderous blow to another and is not brought to justice until long after the crime has been committed, the judge will not overlook the crime because it was not committed yesterday, or a few days or weeks ago—however long the transgressor may go unpunished the penalty of the transgression hangs over him until he has undergone the punishment which it deserves. The words of God in this chapter show that he proceeds on the same principle in relation to nations. Many ages had passed away since “Amalek laid wait for Israel in the way, when he came up out of Egypt,” and the men who were guilty of the deed had long since left the earth. Yet the mention of it here shows that the sentence here passed upon the nation had special reference to that national sin which had been committed so long ago. At the same time we must remember that the Amalekites of the time of Saul were possessed by the same spirit of hatred to Israel as their forefathers were—although no reference is here made to their later attacks upon the Hebrew people, we know from other passages (See critical Notes) that the Amalekites now were no less cruel and murderous in disposition than their forefathers in the days of Moses. If a man was brought to the bar of a human judge for a crime committed in his youth, and it was proven that he has since lived for years the life of a peaceable citizen, it might seem hard to make him now suffer for a deed done so long ago, but if during the intervening years he had been adding crime to crime he will deserve to have all his misdeeds taken into account when the day of reckoning comes. So it was with Amalek at this time. The present character of the nation was such that it fully deserved the sentence here passed upon it even if the ancient sin had not been remembered by God. When our Lord pronounced His terrible woe upon the Jewish nation of His day (Luke 11:47-42.11.52), and foretold that “the blood of all the prophets would be required of that generation,” He expressly declares that this terrible retribution would fall upon them because they “allowed the deeds of their fathers,”—in other words, because they were animated by the same spirit and were guilty of the same sins. It was doubtless the same in the case of the Amalekites.

II. The authority from which all national retribution proceeds. “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts.… now go and smite Amalek.” Whoever or whatever may be the instrumental cause of national judgment for national sin, God is the original and first cause. It is He who sets his servants “over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, and to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant (Jeremiah 1:10). The executioners of His will may be entirely unconscious that they are carrying out the designs of a Supreme Ruler of the universe in following the devices of their own hearts, but they are doing it as really as if they were knowingly obeying a Divine command. “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” (Amos 3:6). When we hear that a monarch or a government has declared war against a nation, we judge of the righteousness or unrighteousness of the act from what we know of the character of the man or the number of men who are responsible for it. If we know them to be men who are lovers of humanity—if we know that they are pre-eminently just and benevolent, and incapable of being actuated by any unworthy motives, we shall conclude that they have strong and sufficient reasons for the step, and that although it must bring much sorrow and suffering, they believe that it will prevent more misery than it occasions. In this light we ought to look at all the wars which were commanded or sanctioned by Divine authority in the early ages of the world. If a human monarch or human government had given such a command as we here find given to Saul, we should be bound to look at the command through what we knew of his character and disposition, and if we knew him to be a man of integrity and benevolence to conclude that he had good ground for taking such a step. We cannot do less when we read such a sentence as that here issued against Amalek. We know that God loves the creatures whom He has made—that He is a God of peace, and that He desires “peace on earth.” If the men of the ancient world could rest assured that the Judge of all the earth would and could do nothing but right (Genesis 18:25), he who possesses the New Testament record ought not to have the shadow of a doubt that all His dealings with men have at all times been actuated by the purest love and the highest wisdom; and that however stern and terrible some of them seem to us, they are in reality dispensations of mercy. In looking at the acts of the most perfect of human kind, we could not be certain of the perfect purity and wisdom of them all; but the same inspired Book which records these acts of retributive justice reveals to us so much of the Divine character as to make it certain that the final verdict of all His creatures will be—“Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints” (Revelation 15:3).

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

There are some particular precepts in Scripture given to particular persons, requiring actions which would be immoral and vicious were it not for such precepts. But it is easy to see that all these are of such a kind as that the precept changes the whole nature of the case, and of the actions, and both constitutes and shows that not to be unjust or immoral which, prior to the precept, must have appeared and really have been so; which may well be, since none of these precepts are contrary to immutable morality. If it were commanded to cultivate the principles, and act from the spirit of treachery, ingratitude, cruelty, the command would not alter the nature of the case or of the action in any of these instances. But it is quite otherwise in precepts which require only the doing an external action: for instance, taking away the property or life of any. For men have no right to either life or property, but what arises solely from the grant of God; when this grant is revoked, they cease to have any right at all in either; and when this revocation is made known, as surely it is possible it may be, it must cease to be unjust to deprive them of either.—Bp. Butler.

Verses 4-9

CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—

1 Samuel 15:4. “Telaim.” Most likely the same as Telem (Joshua 15:21; Joshua 15:24), a city lying on the eastern border of Judah, and therefore near the territory of the Amalekites. “Ten thousand men of Judah.” “This implies that the two hundred thousand were from the other tribes.” (Keil.) “The separate mention of the men of Judah shows how little union there was between Judah and Ephraim even at this time; a circumstance which throws light upon the whole after history. (See 2 Samuel 11:11). The presence of these men arose, no doubt, from their tribe being the chief sufferers from the inroads of the Amalekites.” (Biblical Commentary.)

1 Samuel 15:6. “Kenites.” A tribe first mentioned in Genesis 15:19. “Their origin is hidden from us, but we may fairly infer that they were a branch of the larger nation of Midian, from the fact that Jethro, who in Exodus 2:15, etc., is represented as priest or prince of Midian, and is in Judges 1:16; Judges 4:11, as distinctly said to have been a Kenite … They were therefore descended immediately from Abraham by his wife Keturah, and in this relationship and the connection with Moses we find the key to their continued alliance with Israel. The important services rendered by the sheikh of the Kenites to Moses during a time of great pressure and difficulty, were rewarded by a promise of firm friendship between the two nations (Numbers 10:32). And this promise was gratefully remembered long after (1 Samuel 15:6). The connection then commenced lasted as firmly as a connection could last between a settled people like Israel and one whose tendencies were so nomadic as the Kenites. They seem to have accompanied the Israelites in their wanderings (Numbers 24:21-4.24.22, etc.) … But these over, they forsook the neighbourhood of the towns and betook themselves to freer air—to ‘the wilderness of Judah, which is to the south of Arad’ (Judges 1:16), where ‘they dwelt among the people’ of the district—the Amalekites, who wandered in that dry region, and among whom they were living when Saul made his expedition there.” (Smith’s Biblical Dictionary.)

1 Samuel 15:7. “Havilah—Shur.” “Havilah, according to Genesis 25:18, the boundary of the Ishmaelites, probably therefore in the south-east on the border of Arabia Petrea and Arabia Felix.… Shur is the present wilderness of Jifar, the portion of the Arabian desert bordering on Egypt, into which the Israelites entered after the exodus (Exodus 15:22). Saul thus smote the Amalekites through their territory from south-east towards the west and north-west.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 15:8. “Agag.’ “Evidently a reduplicate variety of the Egyptian Hak (ruler). This was the common title of the Amalekite king. Saul spared him probably to enjoy the glory of displaying so distinguished a captive. Josephus distinctly asserts that the beauty and tallness of his body made so fine an appearance, and Saul admired it so much, that he thought him worthy of preservation (cf. 1 Kings 20:32-11.20.34).” (Jamieson.) “All the people.” “That is, speaking generally, some survived, of course; the Amalekites appear afterwards, 1 Samuel 27:8; 1 Samuel 30:1; 2 Samuel 8:12. Their complete annihilation is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 4:43.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 15:9. “Fatlings.” Literally of the second tort. Kimchi and others understand the word to denote animals of the second birth, which were thought better than others.

1 Samuel 15:13. “Samuel came to Saul.” “In the place (Gilgal) where he had solemnly pledged Saul and the people to unconditional obedience, he now executes judgment for disobedience to the Divine will.” (Erdmann.) “I have performed,” etc. “Self-will and rashness have hitherto been Saul’s chief faults. He now seems to add falsehood and hypocrisy.” (Biblical Commentary.)

1 Samuel 15:15. “The people spared,” etc. “The falsehood and hypocrisy of these words lay upon the very surface; for even if the cattle spared were really intended as sacrifices to the Lord, not only the people, but Saul also, would have had their own interests in view (vid. 1 Samuel 15:9), since the flesh of thank-offerings was appropriated to sacrificial meals.” (Keil.) “Every word uttered by Saul seems to indicate the breaking down of his moral character. There is something thoroughly mean in his attempt to shift the responsibility of what was done from his own kingly shoulders to those of the people, One feels that after the scene so forcibly described in this chapter, Saul must have forfeited his own self-respect, and that his downward career was henceforth almost inevitable.” (Biblical Commentary.)

1 Samuel 15:17. “When thou wast little.” “The reference here to Saul’s own words (1 Samuel 9:21), is beyond doubt. It is the humiliating reminder to the haughty Saul of the low position whence he had been elevated to the headship of Israel, and of the modesty and humility which he then possessed.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 15:18. “Sinners.” “As though God would justify his commission to destroy them. So it is said of the men of Sodom, that they were sinners before the Lord.” (Biblical Commentary.)

1 Samuel 15:19. “Fly upon.” “Expressive of eagerness, passionate craving.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 15:21. “The Lord thy God.” “As if he had been showing honour to Samuel, as well as to God, when he was disobeying both.” (Wordsworth.) “As if he had more zeal for the glory of God than was felt by Samuel.” (Biblical Commentary.)

1 Samuel 15:22. “Hath the Lord,” etc. “This fundamental ethical truth is affirmed, with unmistakable reference to these words of Samuel, in the classical passages Psalms 50:8-19.50.14; Psalms 51:18-19.51.19; Isaiah 1:11; Micah 6:6-33.6.8; Hosea 6:6; Jeremiah 6:20.” (Erdmann.) “There is a poetical rhythm in the original, which gives it the tone of a Divine oracle uttered by the Spirit of God, imparting to it an awful solemnity, and making it sink deep in the memory of the hearers in all generations.” (Wordsworth.)

1 Samuel 15:23. Literally, “Rebellion is the sin of soothsaying, and opposition is heathenism and idolatry.”

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPHS.—1 Samuel 15:4-9.15.9; 1 Samuel 15:13-9.15.23

SAUL’S SECOND ACT OF DISOBEDIENCE

I. God will not accept a partial obedience to any of His commands. There is nothing strange or unreasonable in this. If a human ruler gives a command, he will not be satisfied if the person to whom he gives it obeys it just so far as it suits his convenience or agrees with his fancy and no farther. Anything less than a whole obedience is no obedience in the estimation of a fellow-creature. If a soldier receives an order from his general to execute a certain military movement, he is not expected to consult his own wishes or his own judgment, but he must sink his own will entirely in the will of his superior, and fulfil his command to the very letter. However stern may be the work to be done, whatever sacrifice of personal feeling may be involved, anything less than an observance of the commandment in its entirety will be counted as grave a crime as the non-observance of the whole. If a father directs his son to perform a given task, and the son executes about half of that which is required of him, the father will consider that his command has been disobeyed. If this is the case with human superiors, it cannot be expected that the Holy and All-wise God, whose commands—however stern they may sometimes seem—are always perfectly just and good, will be satisfied with less than an entire obedience to His commands. He is surrounded by ten thousand faithful and mighty angelic servants, who render to him a perfect and unquestioning service, and although imperfect and sinful creatures cannot offer to Him a service equal to theirs, yet there are Divine commands which men are able to carry out to the letter, and which they must so carry out if they would not incur the penalty of disobedient servants of the Most High. Such a command was that which was here given to Saul—it was one which he could obey—one for the non-observance of which he could not plead inability—one which he did not attempt to say he was unable to perform. His partial obedience was rejected—his non-observance of all the details of the Divine command was accounted as direct an act of defiance of God’s directions as if he had taken no action whatever against the Amalekites. And so God will ever account compliance with His commands, which is measured not by His requirements but by man’s inclinations.

II. Where the condition is not fulfilled which is included in the Divine plan of blessing, God repents, not by changing His mind, but by changing His method in relation to the sinner. It is obvious that God cannot undergo a change of disposition or of motive. He is perfect in goodness, and therefore, in all His dealings with His creatures He must always have their welfare in view. He must always be willing to do for them that which is best for their highest interests. It is not possible for the Ruler of the world to act from any of the unworthy motives which sometimes influence men in their conduct towards each other. And being as infinite in wisdom as He is in goodness, He can have no better plans than His original plans, no second thoughts which are better than His first. When, therefore, God speaks of Himself as repenting, He speaks of a change of His dealings with a man, which are the result of a change in that man’s attitude towards Himself. Such a change is quite compatible with an unchangeable character and disposition, and is, indeed, the result of it. To men of the same character God’s attitude is the same now as it was ages ago, and it will be the same to the end of time, and when a man’s relations to God are altered it is in consequence of a change in himself, and not in the unchangeable God. There was no change in God when, in consequence of Saul’s non-compliance with the conditions of kingship, God rejected him from being king over Israel. He had been anointed by “the Lord to be captain over His inheritance” (1 Samuel 10:1)—in other words to be His vicegerent in Israel, and when he refused to act in that capacity God proved His own unchangeableness by changing His method of dealing with him. A purpose of blessing on the part of God towards men always includes a condition to be fulfilled on their part, and a purpose of judgment always includes a continuance on the part of the sinner of the conduct which has provoked the judgment. This is the explanation of the repentance of God in relation to the men of the old world, and in relation to the Ninevites. In the first case God sent judgment because the offenders refused to repent, and in the second instance He revoked His sentence of judgment because the men of Nineveh were willing to forsake their sins and return to Him for pardon. (See Genesis 6:5-1.6.6; Jonah 3:10).

III. Obedience is better than the offering to God of any other sacrifice.

1. Because it is a sacrifice of far higher value. Obedience is the giving up of the will to the will of another—it is therefore the sacrifice of the whole man. When a man has given himself thus to God, he has offered to Him all that he has to offer—all his powers of soul and body as well as all his material possessions. This was the sacrifice which Adam offered to his Maker before he sinned, and this is the offering which has been for ages offered to God by His sons who have never at any time resisted His will. This is far more precious, and therefore far more acceptable to the Lord, than “thousands of rams, or ten thousand rivers of oil” (Micah 6:7), because it is a spiritual and moral sacrifice.

2. It is a sacrifice which can be offered at any time and in any place. The sacrifices of the Levitical law were required to be offered in certain places. A man who desired to sacrifice to the Lord could only do so by coming up to the place appointed, and hence his offerings could only be made at intervals. But obedience is a sacrifice which can always be rendered to God—an expression of love to Him which can be made everywhere and always.

3. It is a sacrifice which every man can offer for himself. Even in Israel there might have been men at times too poor to be able to bring the least costly material offering to the altar of the Lord; but none is ever too poor to offer his will to God—to give himself up to His guidance and submit to His commands. And this is a sacrifice in which there is no need of the intervention of a third person—an offering in which every man can be his own priest.

4. It is the sacrifice which alone can make any other sacrifice acceptable. All other offerings without this are “vain oblations,” and even “an abomination” (Isaiah 1:13) unto Him who owns “every beast of the forest and the cattle upon a thousand hills” (Psalms 50:10). To expect a Holy and Spiritual Being to be willing to accept anything less than the offering of the heart, is to expect Him to be satisfied with less than would often content a fellow-creature. Many a man would spurn a gift which was not an outcome of inward feeling, and yet God’s creatures sometimes act as if they thought their Maker could be bribed by such an offering.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

1 Samuel 15:6. Thus does every good thing reward itself; nothing remains forgotten; often in later centuries the seed sown in an old past yet everywhere comes up gloriously, and children and children’s children derive advantage from the good done by their fathers.—Schlier.

He that is not less in mercy than in justice, as he challenged Amalek’s sin of their succeeding generations so he derives the recompense of Jethro’s kindness unto his far descended issue.
… If we sow good works, succession shall reap them, and we shall be happy in making them so.… It is the manner of God, first to separate before He judge, as a good husbandman weeds his corn ere it be ripe for the sickle, and goes to the fan ere he goes to the fire.… Why should we not imitate God, and separate ourselves, that we may not be judged; separate not one Kenite from another, but every Kenite from among the Amalekites, else if we will needs live with Amalek we cannot think much to die with him.—Bp. Hall.

1 Samuel 15:13. Here is a proof that a man may be blinded by his own self-will, and that he may imagine that his own way is right, while it is leading him to the gates of death.—Wordsworth.

Could Saul think that Samuel knew of the asses that were lost, and did not know of the oxen and sheep that were spared?… Much less, when we have to do with God Himself, should dissimulation presume either of safety or of secresy. Can the God that made the heart not know it? Can He that comprehends all things be shut out of our close corners? Saul was otherwise crafty enough, yet herein his simplicity is palpable. Sin can besot even the wisest man; and there was never but folly in wickedness … No man brags so much of holiness as he who wants it. True obedience is joined ever with humility and fear of unknown errors. Falsehood is bold, and can say, “I have fulfilled the commandment of the Lord.”—Bp. Hall.

1 Samuel 15:14. Let us aim after such a walk and conversation as that we can be natural in our demeanour, and not artificial and forced; such a life as will bear inspection behind the scenes, and as will not compel those who watch for souls to ask, as they look around, What meaneth this or that?… and while asking the question to feel the sad truth of the matter to be, that the thing which calls forth the question is in our own case, as it was in Saul’s, only so much spared of that which God has commanded us to subdue and destroy, so much permitted to live which God had required us to conquer and to slay.—Miller.

1 Samuel 15:16. We must not look to what hypocrites say of themselves, but to what God’s word says of them.—S. Schmid.

1 Samuel 15:17. Observe the contrast between Saul and Paul. Saul of Gibeah lost an earthly kingdom by pride, but Saul of Tarsus gained a heavenly kingdom by humility (1 Corinthians 15:10).—Wordsworth.

There is an ingratitude in every sin, and that is to be considered. Good turns aggravate unkindness, and our offences are increased by our obligations.—Trapp.

1 Samuel 15:20. Men are apt to cry out with Saul, “I have obeyed the commandment of the Lord; but, alas, when it comes to be examined, how have they obeyed Him?… Possibly they have, with Saul, destroyed the Amalekites; have constantly and openly opposed the declared enemies of religion. Moreover, perhaps, whatever was vile and refuse that they have destroyed utterly. Whatever sins did not easily beset them, nor offer them strong temptations, these sins they have both heartily avoided themselves, and severely condemned in other men. But the best of the sheep and of the oxen, the things which were dear to them, like a right hand or a right eye, these they could not spare.… And yet, as Saul endeavoured to transfer the blame upon the people, so, in the other case also, it is not the men themselves, it is not their reason and judgment, that chooses the sin, but their inferior appetites, their passions and affections choose it for them, and drive them into it, even perhaps in a manner against their wills.—Dr. S. Clark.

1 Samuel 15:22-9.15.23. It was as much as to say that the sum and substance of Divine worship consisted in obedience, with which it should always begin, and that sacrifices were, so to speak, simple appendices, the force and worth of which were not so great as obedience to the precepts of God.—Calvin.

All conscious disobedience is actually idolatry, because it makes self-will, the human I, into a God. So that all manifest opposition to the word and commandment of God is, like idolatry, a rejection of the true God.—Keil.

This saying of Samuel came literally true in Saul’s case. Through disobedience he was forsaken of God, and became a prey to the Evil Spirit, and was led on in time to resort to witchcraft (1 Samuel 27:7), and perhaps to consult seraphim (see 1 Samuel 19:13). Here is a solemn warning for these latter days.—Wordsworth.

When the Lord expressly says “Thou shalt,” and His rational creature dares to persist in saying “I will not,” whether the contest be about an apple or a kingdom, it is stubbornness and rebellion.—Scott.

May we then take good care that, even when we mean to render the Lord service or obedience, we yet beware of our choice and fancy, and follow only the traces of the Divine will. Obedience is the mother-grace, the parent of all virtues. It makes the eye see, the ear hear, the heart think, the memory remember, the mouth speak, the foot go, the hand work, and the whole man do that, yea that alone, which is conformed to the will of God … It is impossible for him who is not obedient to God to lay any command upon men. That is what these words (“The Lord hath rejected thee,”) and the aim of God therein mean. The authorities must not proceed from their own will and notion, but in everything must take God’s word and will for their rule. If He does not drive apostate rulers from their position, like as He did Nebuchadnezzar, but leaves them ruling, as He also did Saul for a while, yet they are and remain rejected in His sight, and vainly write themselves “by the grace of God,” when He Himself does not so acknowledge them.—Berlenberger Bible.

God rejects Saul from being king over Israel who had rejected God from being King over Saul.—T. Adams.

Every ceremonial law is moral; the outward act is never enjoined but for the sake of the inward thing, what it pictures—represents. Never is there body without spirit. But the fleshly sense would have none of the spirit, and laid hold solely of the body, which, thus isolated, became a corpse.—Hengstenberg.

It is a holier and a better thing to do one’s duty, than to make duties for one’s self and then set about them.—Spurgeon.

Why was sacrifice good, but because it was commanded? What difference was there betwixt slaughter and sacrifice but obedience?—Bp. Hall.

Saul lived to give in his own person the painful but the clearest evidence of the identity, as far as concerns a common origin and principle of action, which may exist between two very different crimes … The same disposition which evinced itself in those acts of rebellion, which he committed all the while he was crying down witchcraft, induced him to do the very thing which he censured when occasion pressed … The security against our being guilty of any particular form of transgression is not that we condemn it, but that the evil principle within us which excites to its commission, is subdued and removed by Divine grace.—Miller.

1 Samuel 15:4-9.15.23. The fall of King Saul shows:

(1) How unrepented and only whitewashed sin at the first severe temptation breaks out as manifest and criminal self-seeking.
(2) How this self-seeking is so blinding as to tell itself and others the lie that it is a labour for the Lord.—J. Disselhoff.

We may see in the history of Saul how important it is that we should make the most of the opportunities which God sets before us. There came to the son of Kish a tidal time of favour, which, if he had only recognised and improved it might have carried him, not only to greatness, but to goodness. But he proved faithless to the trust committed to him, and became in the end a worse man than he would have been if no such privileges had been conferred upon him.… His career is a melancholy illustration of the truth of the Saviour’s words: “From him that hath not, shall be taken away even that he hath.”—Dr. W. M. Taylor.

Verses 10-12

CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—

1 Samuel 15:10. “It repenteth me.” “The anthropopathic expression for the change of the Divine procedure into the opposite of what the holy and righteous will of God had determined under the condition of holy and righteous conduct by men when on man’s side there has been a change to the opposite of this condition without repentance.” (Erdmann.) See also comments on this verse. “It grieved Samuel and he cried unto the Lord,” etc. Literally “It burned (in) him,i.e., his wrath was kindled. “Many grave thoughts seem to have presented themselves at once to Samuel and disturbed his mind, when he reflected upon the dishonour which might be heaped upon the name of God, and the occasion which the deposition and rejection of Saul would furnish to wicked men for blaspheming God. For Saul had been anointed by the ministry of Samuel, and he had been chosen by God Himself from all the people, and called by Him to the throne. If, therefore, he was nevertheless deposed, it seemed likely that so much would be detracted from the authority of Samuel and the confidence of the people in his teaching, and moreover that the worship of God would be overturned, and the greatest disturbance ensue; in fact, that universal confusion would break in upon the nation. These were probably the grounds upon which Samuel’s great indignation rested.” (Calvin.) “The object of Saul’s prayer was doubtless not release from the fulfilment of the Divine command, but the exemption of Saul from the sentence of rejection and the forgiveness of his disobedience.” (Erdmann).

1 Samuel 15:12. “When Samuel rose.” “It does not appear clearly where Samuel was, but probably at his own home.” (Biblical Commentary.) “Carmel.” A city south-east of Hebron, on the mountains of Judah (Joshua 15:55), now called Kurmul. “A place.” “Rather, a monument or trophy. The Hebrew word yad means a hand, but we have a certain clue to the meaning, monument or trophy, not only in the verb here used, ‘set up,’ but in 2 Samuel 18:18, where we are told that the marble pillar which Absalom set up was called Yad Absalom.” (Biblical Commentary.)

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 15:10-9.15.12

SAMUEL’S PRAYER

I. There is a strong conviction in the mind of the best men that prayer has an influence upon the Divine mind. This arises, first, from their knowledge of the Divine character and the Divine command. They know that God has commanded His creatures to draw near to Him and pour out their hearts before Him, and they know also that He is infinitely just and good. They therefore conclude that He would not require them to perform any unmeaning act—that if He commands them to pray He is open to influence from their prayers. Secondly, their own past experience and the record of the experience of other praying souls confirms this conviction. If a man has waited upon God in the past and has received into his life the blessings which he has asked of God, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to convince him that there was not a conviction between his prayer and the blessing. And the records of the Church of God in all ages are full of the testimonies of God’s servants that they have cried unto the Lord and He has heard them and given them their heart’s desire. Samuel was evidently governed by a conviction that prayer was a power with God. His own name was to him a constant testimony of the power of prayer—his whole life had been a life of prayer, and he had in times past received blessings, both for himself and others, in answer to his petitions. In looking back, also, upon the history of Israel in the past, he could recall many times when judgments had been turned aside and blessings had descended in answer to the prayer of the people as a whole or to the request of one man on behalf of the entire nation. He would especially remember how, more than once, the prayer of Moses for rebellious and disobedient Israel had prevailed with God, and his whole soul was penetrated by a conviction that prayer had an influence upon the mind of the Eternal. When, therefore, God made known to him the new offence of which Saul had been guilty, and His purpose concerning him, Samuel did not think it useless to supplicate God long and earnestly to avert the sentence which He had passed on the offender or in some degree to mitigate its severity. The best men in all ages have done the same in similar circumstances under the influence of the same strong conviction of the power of prayer.

II. There are characters for whom the prayers of the best men cannot prevail. The man who begs a physician to restore his friend to health must remember that all does not rest with the physician. If his prescriptions were infallible, there must be co-operation on the part of the patient if they are to be of any avail. If he declines to fall in with the healer’s method of cure, he makes his friend’s prayer powerless by his own wilfulness. God Himself implies that Samuel and Moses were most powerful intercessors with Him on behalf of His ancient people (Jeremiah 15:1), yet there were times when even their pleadings failed, not because the Divine arm was shortened or the Divine ear deaf to their intercessions, but because the wilfulness of those for whom they prayed rendered it impossible to answer their supplications. God has often broken through the laws of His material universe in answer to the requests of His servants, but the laws of His moral kingdom are unalterable and cannot be broken through. If Saul in his unrepentant condition had been permitted to go unpunished, a moral law would have been broken. Samuel’s prayers had done much for him in the past, and if there had been any disposition on his part to turn to God and again submit to His will, they might have even now prevailed for him, but his own persistent obstinacy and self-will made even the petitions of this mighty intercessor with God powerless in his case.

III. When the servants of God become convinced that their prayers cannot be answered, they ought to become fully enlisted on the side of God’s purpose although it is not on the side of their desire. Samuel earnestly desired that the purpose of God concerning Saul should not be carried out, and he prayed fervently that his desire might be granted; but when he found that it could not be, although his grief was long and deep (see 1 Samuel 15:35 and 1 Samuel 16:1), he gave himself unreservedly into the hand of God, and prepared himself to carry to Saul the Divine message which he delivered with the authority and faithfulness which befitted his prophetic office. The fervent intercessor is changed into the inflexible judge when he becomes convinced that it is not consistent with the Divine will to grant him his heart’s desire. It should be so with God’s servants at all times and under all circumstances. They are not forbidden—they are indeed encouraged—to make known their requests unto God with fervour; they may plead with Him with all their heart for the person or the plan that lies near their heart, but when they become convinced that their prayer can not be answered, they ought to cheerfully accept the position, and be willing to lend themselves, heart and soul, to the purpose and plan of God, although it is directly opposed to their previous desires.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

1 Samuel 15:11. Wilfulness, the sin of Saul. Saul’s temptation and fall consisted in a certain perverseness of mind, founded on some obscure feelings of self-importance, very commonly observable in human nature, and sometimes called pride—a perverseness which shows itself in a reluctance absolutely to relinquish its own independence of action, in cases where dependence is a duty, and which interferes a little, and alters a little, as if with a view of satisfying its own fancied dignity, though it is afraid altogether to oppose itself to the voice of God. Should this seem at first sight to be a trifling fault, it is more worth while to trace its operation in the history of Saul. If a tree is known by its fruit, it is a great sin.… In contemplating the miserable termination of a history which promised well in the beginning, it should be observed how clearly the failure of the Divine purpose is attributable to man.… No one could be selected in talents and conduct more suitable for maintaining political power at home than the reserved, mysterious monarch whom God gave to His people; none more suitable for striking terror into the surrounding nations than a commander gifted with his coolness and promptness in action. But he fell from his election because of unbelief—because he would take another part, and not the very part which was actually assigned him in the decrees of the Most High.—J. H. Newman.

“Samuel cried unto the Lord all night.” Was this warrantable? It was a mistaken, but surely not a criminal, urgency; for might he not with reason be supposed to receive the dreadful announcement as a frowning barrier over which faith had to wrestle?… He might not arrest the evil of Saul’s fate; the erring monarch must himself be a penitent suppliant ere that can be remedied. He might not keep the crown in the family of Saul; the season of probation was over for that. But he might mitigate the consequences of the sin to Saul and his people. The soul of the king might be brought to repentance and be saved, though with the loss of his dynasty.… Who can tell how much Saul was indebted to that prayer of Samuel for the mercies and escapes and successes of his subsequent career.—Steel.

Verses 13-23

CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—

1 Samuel 15:4. “Telaim.” Most likely the same as Telem (Joshua 15:21; Joshua 15:24), a city lying on the eastern border of Judah, and therefore near the territory of the Amalekites. “Ten thousand men of Judah.” “This implies that the two hundred thousand were from the other tribes.” (Keil.) “The separate mention of the men of Judah shows how little union there was between Judah and Ephraim even at this time; a circumstance which throws light upon the whole after history. (See 2 Samuel 11:11). The presence of these men arose, no doubt, from their tribe being the chief sufferers from the inroads of the Amalekites.” (Biblical Commentary.)

1 Samuel 15:6. “Kenites.” A tribe first mentioned in Genesis 15:19. “Their origin is hidden from us, but we may fairly infer that they were a branch of the larger nation of Midian, from the fact that Jethro, who in Exodus 2:15, etc., is represented as priest or prince of Midian, and is in Judges 1:16; Judges 4:11, as distinctly said to have been a Kenite … They were therefore descended immediately from Abraham by his wife Keturah, and in this relationship and the connection with Moses we find the key to their continued alliance with Israel. The important services rendered by the sheikh of the Kenites to Moses during a time of great pressure and difficulty, were rewarded by a promise of firm friendship between the two nations (Numbers 10:32). And this promise was gratefully remembered long after (1 Samuel 15:6). The connection then commenced lasted as firmly as a connection could last between a settled people like Israel and one whose tendencies were so nomadic as the Kenites. They seem to have accompanied the Israelites in their wanderings (Numbers 24:21-4.24.22, etc.) … But these over, they forsook the neighbourhood of the towns and betook themselves to freer air—to ‘the wilderness of Judah, which is to the south of Arad’ (Judges 1:16), where ‘they dwelt among the people’ of the district—the Amalekites, who wandered in that dry region, and among whom they were living when Saul made his expedition there.” (Smith’s Biblical Dictionary.)

1 Samuel 15:7. “Havilah—Shur.” “Havilah, according to Genesis 25:18, the boundary of the Ishmaelites, probably therefore in the south-east on the border of Arabia Petrea and Arabia Felix.… Shur is the present wilderness of Jifar, the portion of the Arabian desert bordering on Egypt, into which the Israelites entered after the exodus (Exodus 15:22). Saul thus smote the Amalekites through their territory from south-east towards the west and north-west.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 15:8. “Agag.’ “Evidently a reduplicate variety of the Egyptian Hak (ruler). This was the common title of the Amalekite king. Saul spared him probably to enjoy the glory of displaying so distinguished a captive. Josephus distinctly asserts that the beauty and tallness of his body made so fine an appearance, and Saul admired it so much, that he thought him worthy of preservation (cf. 1 Kings 20:32-11.20.34).” (Jamieson.) “All the people.” “That is, speaking generally, some survived, of course; the Amalekites appear afterwards, 1 Samuel 27:8; 1 Samuel 30:1; 2 Samuel 8:12. Their complete annihilation is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 4:43.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 15:9. “Fatlings.” Literally of the second tort. Kimchi and others understand the word to denote animals of the second birth, which were thought better than others.

1 Samuel 15:13. “Samuel came to Saul.” “In the place (Gilgal) where he had solemnly pledged Saul and the people to unconditional obedience, he now executes judgment for disobedience to the Divine will.” (Erdmann.) “I have performed,” etc. “Self-will and rashness have hitherto been Saul’s chief faults. He now seems to add falsehood and hypocrisy.” (Biblical Commentary.)

1 Samuel 15:15. “The people spared,” etc. “The falsehood and hypocrisy of these words lay upon the very surface; for even if the cattle spared were really intended as sacrifices to the Lord, not only the people, but Saul also, would have had their own interests in view (vid. 1 Samuel 15:9), since the flesh of thank-offerings was appropriated to sacrificial meals.” (Keil.) “Every word uttered by Saul seems to indicate the breaking down of his moral character. There is something thoroughly mean in his attempt to shift the responsibility of what was done from his own kingly shoulders to those of the people, One feels that after the scene so forcibly described in this chapter, Saul must have forfeited his own self-respect, and that his downward career was henceforth almost inevitable.” (Biblical Commentary.)

1 Samuel 15:17. “When thou wast little.” “The reference here to Saul’s own words (1 Samuel 9:21), is beyond doubt. It is the humiliating reminder to the haughty Saul of the low position whence he had been elevated to the headship of Israel, and of the modesty and humility which he then possessed.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 15:18. “Sinners.” “As though God would justify his commission to destroy them. So it is said of the men of Sodom, that they were sinners before the Lord.” (Biblical Commentary.)

1 Samuel 15:19. “Fly upon.” “Expressive of eagerness, passionate craving.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 15:21. “The Lord thy God.” “As if he had been showing honour to Samuel, as well as to God, when he was disobeying both.” (Wordsworth.) “As if he had more zeal for the glory of God than was felt by Samuel.” (Biblical Commentary.)

1 Samuel 15:22. “Hath the Lord,” etc. “This fundamental ethical truth is affirmed, with unmistakable reference to these words of Samuel, in the classical passages Psalms 50:8-19.50.14; Psalms 51:18-19.51.19; Isaiah 1:11; Micah 6:6-33.6.8; Hosea 6:6; Jeremiah 6:20.” (Erdmann.) “There is a poetical rhythm in the original, which gives it the tone of a Divine oracle uttered by the Spirit of God, imparting to it an awful solemnity, and making it sink deep in the memory of the hearers in all generations.” (Wordsworth.)

1 Samuel 15:23. Literally, “Rebellion is the sin of soothsaying, and opposition is heathenism and idolatry.”

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPHS.—1 Samuel 15:4-9.15.9; 1 Samuel 15:13-9.15.23

SAUL’S SECOND ACT OF DISOBEDIENCE

I. God will not accept a partial obedience to any of His commands. There is nothing strange or unreasonable in this. If a human ruler gives a command, he will not be satisfied if the person to whom he gives it obeys it just so far as it suits his convenience or agrees with his fancy and no farther. Anything less than a whole obedience is no obedience in the estimation of a fellow-creature. If a soldier receives an order from his general to execute a certain military movement, he is not expected to consult his own wishes or his own judgment, but he must sink his own will entirely in the will of his superior, and fulfil his command to the very letter. However stern may be the work to be done, whatever sacrifice of personal feeling may be involved, anything less than an observance of the commandment in its entirety will be counted as grave a crime as the non-observance of the whole. If a father directs his son to perform a given task, and the son executes about half of that which is required of him, the father will consider that his command has been disobeyed. If this is the case with human superiors, it cannot be expected that the Holy and All-wise God, whose commands—however stern they may sometimes seem—are always perfectly just and good, will be satisfied with less than an entire obedience to His commands. He is surrounded by ten thousand faithful and mighty angelic servants, who render to him a perfect and unquestioning service, and although imperfect and sinful creatures cannot offer to Him a service equal to theirs, yet there are Divine commands which men are able to carry out to the letter, and which they must so carry out if they would not incur the penalty of disobedient servants of the Most High. Such a command was that which was here given to Saul—it was one which he could obey—one for the non-observance of which he could not plead inability—one which he did not attempt to say he was unable to perform. His partial obedience was rejected—his non-observance of all the details of the Divine command was accounted as direct an act of defiance of God’s directions as if he had taken no action whatever against the Amalekites. And so God will ever account compliance with His commands, which is measured not by His requirements but by man’s inclinations.

II. Where the condition is not fulfilled which is included in the Divine plan of blessing, God repents, not by changing His mind, but by changing His method in relation to the sinner. It is obvious that God cannot undergo a change of disposition or of motive. He is perfect in goodness, and therefore, in all His dealings with His creatures He must always have their welfare in view. He must always be willing to do for them that which is best for their highest interests. It is not possible for the Ruler of the world to act from any of the unworthy motives which sometimes influence men in their conduct towards each other. And being as infinite in wisdom as He is in goodness, He can have no better plans than His original plans, no second thoughts which are better than His first. When, therefore, God speaks of Himself as repenting, He speaks of a change of His dealings with a man, which are the result of a change in that man’s attitude towards Himself. Such a change is quite compatible with an unchangeable character and disposition, and is, indeed, the result of it. To men of the same character God’s attitude is the same now as it was ages ago, and it will be the same to the end of time, and when a man’s relations to God are altered it is in consequence of a change in himself, and not in the unchangeable God. There was no change in God when, in consequence of Saul’s non-compliance with the conditions of kingship, God rejected him from being king over Israel. He had been anointed by “the Lord to be captain over His inheritance” (1 Samuel 10:1)—in other words to be His vicegerent in Israel, and when he refused to act in that capacity God proved His own unchangeableness by changing His method of dealing with him. A purpose of blessing on the part of God towards men always includes a condition to be fulfilled on their part, and a purpose of judgment always includes a continuance on the part of the sinner of the conduct which has provoked the judgment. This is the explanation of the repentance of God in relation to the men of the old world, and in relation to the Ninevites. In the first case God sent judgment because the offenders refused to repent, and in the second instance He revoked His sentence of judgment because the men of Nineveh were willing to forsake their sins and return to Him for pardon. (See Genesis 6:5-1.6.6; Jonah 3:10).

III. Obedience is better than the offering to God of any other sacrifice.

1. Because it is a sacrifice of far higher value. Obedience is the giving up of the will to the will of another—it is therefore the sacrifice of the whole man. When a man has given himself thus to God, he has offered to Him all that he has to offer—all his powers of soul and body as well as all his material possessions. This was the sacrifice which Adam offered to his Maker before he sinned, and this is the offering which has been for ages offered to God by His sons who have never at any time resisted His will. This is far more precious, and therefore far more acceptable to the Lord, than “thousands of rams, or ten thousand rivers of oil” (Micah 6:7), because it is a spiritual and moral sacrifice.

2. It is a sacrifice which can be offered at any time and in any place. The sacrifices of the Levitical law were required to be offered in certain places. A man who desired to sacrifice to the Lord could only do so by coming up to the place appointed, and hence his offerings could only be made at intervals. But obedience is a sacrifice which can always be rendered to God—an expression of love to Him which can be made everywhere and always.

3. It is a sacrifice which every man can offer for himself. Even in Israel there might have been men at times too poor to be able to bring the least costly material offering to the altar of the Lord; but none is ever too poor to offer his will to God—to give himself up to His guidance and submit to His commands. And this is a sacrifice in which there is no need of the intervention of a third person—an offering in which every man can be his own priest.

4. It is the sacrifice which alone can make any other sacrifice acceptable. All other offerings without this are “vain oblations,” and even “an abomination” (Isaiah 1:13) unto Him who owns “every beast of the forest and the cattle upon a thousand hills” (Psalms 50:10). To expect a Holy and Spiritual Being to be willing to accept anything less than the offering of the heart, is to expect Him to be satisfied with less than would often content a fellow-creature. Many a man would spurn a gift which was not an outcome of inward feeling, and yet God’s creatures sometimes act as if they thought their Maker could be bribed by such an offering.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

1 Samuel 15:6. Thus does every good thing reward itself; nothing remains forgotten; often in later centuries the seed sown in an old past yet everywhere comes up gloriously, and children and children’s children derive advantage from the good done by their fathers.—Schlier.

He that is not less in mercy than in justice, as he challenged Amalek’s sin of their succeeding generations so he derives the recompense of Jethro’s kindness unto his far descended issue.
… If we sow good works, succession shall reap them, and we shall be happy in making them so.… It is the manner of God, first to separate before He judge, as a good husbandman weeds his corn ere it be ripe for the sickle, and goes to the fan ere he goes to the fire.… Why should we not imitate God, and separate ourselves, that we may not be judged; separate not one Kenite from another, but every Kenite from among the Amalekites, else if we will needs live with Amalek we cannot think much to die with him.—Bp. Hall.

1 Samuel 15:13. Here is a proof that a man may be blinded by his own self-will, and that he may imagine that his own way is right, while it is leading him to the gates of death.—Wordsworth.

Could Saul think that Samuel knew of the asses that were lost, and did not know of the oxen and sheep that were spared?… Much less, when we have to do with God Himself, should dissimulation presume either of safety or of secresy. Can the God that made the heart not know it? Can He that comprehends all things be shut out of our close corners? Saul was otherwise crafty enough, yet herein his simplicity is palpable. Sin can besot even the wisest man; and there was never but folly in wickedness … No man brags so much of holiness as he who wants it. True obedience is joined ever with humility and fear of unknown errors. Falsehood is bold, and can say, “I have fulfilled the commandment of the Lord.”—Bp. Hall.

1 Samuel 15:14. Let us aim after such a walk and conversation as that we can be natural in our demeanour, and not artificial and forced; such a life as will bear inspection behind the scenes, and as will not compel those who watch for souls to ask, as they look around, What meaneth this or that?… and while asking the question to feel the sad truth of the matter to be, that the thing which calls forth the question is in our own case, as it was in Saul’s, only so much spared of that which God has commanded us to subdue and destroy, so much permitted to live which God had required us to conquer and to slay.—Miller.

1 Samuel 15:16. We must not look to what hypocrites say of themselves, but to what God’s word says of them.—S. Schmid.

1 Samuel 15:17. Observe the contrast between Saul and Paul. Saul of Gibeah lost an earthly kingdom by pride, but Saul of Tarsus gained a heavenly kingdom by humility (1 Corinthians 15:10).—Wordsworth.

There is an ingratitude in every sin, and that is to be considered. Good turns aggravate unkindness, and our offences are increased by our obligations.—Trapp.

1 Samuel 15:20. Men are apt to cry out with Saul, “I have obeyed the commandment of the Lord; but, alas, when it comes to be examined, how have they obeyed Him?… Possibly they have, with Saul, destroyed the Amalekites; have constantly and openly opposed the declared enemies of religion. Moreover, perhaps, whatever was vile and refuse that they have destroyed utterly. Whatever sins did not easily beset them, nor offer them strong temptations, these sins they have both heartily avoided themselves, and severely condemned in other men. But the best of the sheep and of the oxen, the things which were dear to them, like a right hand or a right eye, these they could not spare.… And yet, as Saul endeavoured to transfer the blame upon the people, so, in the other case also, it is not the men themselves, it is not their reason and judgment, that chooses the sin, but their inferior appetites, their passions and affections choose it for them, and drive them into it, even perhaps in a manner against their wills.—Dr. S. Clark.

1 Samuel 15:22-9.15.23. It was as much as to say that the sum and substance of Divine worship consisted in obedience, with which it should always begin, and that sacrifices were, so to speak, simple appendices, the force and worth of which were not so great as obedience to the precepts of God.—Calvin.

All conscious disobedience is actually idolatry, because it makes self-will, the human I, into a God. So that all manifest opposition to the word and commandment of God is, like idolatry, a rejection of the true God.—Keil.

This saying of Samuel came literally true in Saul’s case. Through disobedience he was forsaken of God, and became a prey to the Evil Spirit, and was led on in time to resort to witchcraft (1 Samuel 27:7), and perhaps to consult seraphim (see 1 Samuel 19:13). Here is a solemn warning for these latter days.—Wordsworth.

When the Lord expressly says “Thou shalt,” and His rational creature dares to persist in saying “I will not,” whether the contest be about an apple or a kingdom, it is stubbornness and rebellion.—Scott.

May we then take good care that, even when we mean to render the Lord service or obedience, we yet beware of our choice and fancy, and follow only the traces of the Divine will. Obedience is the mother-grace, the parent of all virtues. It makes the eye see, the ear hear, the heart think, the memory remember, the mouth speak, the foot go, the hand work, and the whole man do that, yea that alone, which is conformed to the will of God … It is impossible for him who is not obedient to God to lay any command upon men. That is what these words (“The Lord hath rejected thee,”) and the aim of God therein mean. The authorities must not proceed from their own will and notion, but in everything must take God’s word and will for their rule. If He does not drive apostate rulers from their position, like as He did Nebuchadnezzar, but leaves them ruling, as He also did Saul for a while, yet they are and remain rejected in His sight, and vainly write themselves “by the grace of God,” when He Himself does not so acknowledge them.—Berlenberger Bible.

God rejects Saul from being king over Israel who had rejected God from being King over Saul.—T. Adams.

Every ceremonial law is moral; the outward act is never enjoined but for the sake of the inward thing, what it pictures—represents. Never is there body without spirit. But the fleshly sense would have none of the spirit, and laid hold solely of the body, which, thus isolated, became a corpse.—Hengstenberg.

It is a holier and a better thing to do one’s duty, than to make duties for one’s self and then set about them.—Spurgeon.

Why was sacrifice good, but because it was commanded? What difference was there betwixt slaughter and sacrifice but obedience?—Bp. Hall.

Saul lived to give in his own person the painful but the clearest evidence of the identity, as far as concerns a common origin and principle of action, which may exist between two very different crimes … The same disposition which evinced itself in those acts of rebellion, which he committed all the while he was crying down witchcraft, induced him to do the very thing which he censured when occasion pressed … The security against our being guilty of any particular form of transgression is not that we condemn it, but that the evil principle within us which excites to its commission, is subdued and removed by Divine grace.—Miller.

1 Samuel 15:4-9.15.23. The fall of King Saul shows:

(1) How unrepented and only whitewashed sin at the first severe temptation breaks out as manifest and criminal self-seeking.
(2) How this self-seeking is so blinding as to tell itself and others the lie that it is a labour for the Lord.—J. Disselhoff.

We may see in the history of Saul how important it is that we should make the most of the opportunities which God sets before us. There came to the son of Kish a tidal time of favour, which, if he had only recognised and improved it might have carried him, not only to greatness, but to goodness. But he proved faithless to the trust committed to him, and became in the end a worse man than he would have been if no such privileges had been conferred upon him.… His career is a melancholy illustration of the truth of the Saviour’s words: “From him that hath not, shall be taken away even that he hath.”—Dr. W. M. Taylor.

Verses 24-35

CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—

1 Samuel 15:25. “Pardon my sin.” “He offers this prayer to Samuel, not to God.” “Turn again with me.” “According to 1 Samuel 15:30, to show him honour before the elders of the people, and before Israel, that his rejection might not be known.” (Keil.)

1 Samuel 15:29. “The strength of Israel.” A phrase which occurs only here. It means glory, perpetuity, trust. “The Hebrew word, Netsah, signifies what is bright or shines continually, and therefore what may be relied upon—as the sun, or stars.” (Wordsworth.)

1 Samuel 15:31. “So Samuel turned again.” “Not, of course, to yield to his selfish opposition to God’s honour, but to preserve unimpaired in the eyes of the people the position of Saul’s kingdom, which, though theocratically rejected, yet still in fact by God’s will remained, and especially not to be wanting in the sacrifice of the people.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 15:32. “And Agag came unto him delicately.” The phrase is obscure. The last word is derived from a verb, meaning to live daintily, softly. Wordsworth translates, ‘joyfully.’ Can it mean fawningly, flatteringly, with a view of appeasing Samuel?” (Biblical Commentary. “The bitterness of death is passed.” Some commentators see in these words of Agag a heroic contempt of death, and others an assumed courageousness. Most, however, think that Agag, not having been slain by Saul, felt sure that Samuel would spare his life.

1 Samuel 15:33. “As thy sword,” etc. “From these words it is very evident that Agag had carried on his wars with great cruelty, and had therefore forfeited his life according to the lex Talionis.” (Keil.) “Before the Lord,” i.e., before the altar of Jehovah there; for the slaying of Agag, being the execution of a ban, was an act performed for the glory of God.” (Keil.)

1 Samuel 15:35. “And Samuel came no more.” “The Hebrew is, “saw him no more,’ i.e., did not visit him, which does not contradict 1 Samuel 19:24.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 15:24-9.15.35

SAUL’S CONFESSION

I. Saul’s confession of sin was satisfactory as to word. “I have sinned,” is the acknowledgement of responsibility and accountability. “I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord,” is an acknowledgment on the part of man that there is a Being who has a right to lay down laws for the guidance of His creatures. There are men in the world who deny that there is such a thing as sin—who affirm that they are creatures of necessity, and are therefore undeserving of blame for any action. But Saul here admits his personal responsibility, and allows that his negative sin—his non-observance of a plain command—was a positive transgression. True it is that he admits this with reluctance, and that he involves the people in the act of disobedience. But whether he speaks the truth or not in relation to them, he does not now attempt to palliate his sin by laying the blame directly on them. He acknowledges his own personal guilt in the same words as David used to express his deep and heartfelt repentance, and as the prodigal uttered when he came first to himself and then to his father’s home. So far as the language of the confession goes it leaves nothing to be desired.

II. It is possible to use words which express true repentance and yet lack the spirit of it. A dead body is complete so far as the form goes, no limb is wanting, and all the beauty of the most perfect symmetry of form may be there. But it is only a corpse notwithstanding, and because the living spirit is wanting even the form will vanish after a time. So a man may use a “form of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13) which in language may leave nothing to be desired. He may acknowledge that he is a sinner, and that he merits punishment, and his language may be that of general humility, and yet the spirit of true repentance may be absent. But the wear and tear of human life will soon make apparent whether the outward form is inhabited by a living soul or whether it is only a lifeless body. If it is a true repentance the actions proper to it will follow, but if it is not, the very form will cease to exist, and the man who once had the form of repentance without the power will cease even to possess the form, and become more and more subject to the law of sin and death. Even Pharaoh said, “I have sinned” (Exodus 9:27), but in his mouth the words were not the outcome of a sense of sin, and he soon became too hardened even for such a formal confession. So was it with Saul. We here see him preserving some outward form of godliness although he was “denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5), and later on in his life he repeats this confession (1 Samuel 26:21), but as on neither occasions it was dictated by the spirit of true and godly sorrow for sin, there came a time in his life when even the formal confession vanished from his lips. The words of repentance were not wanting, but there was no correspondence between the language and the deeds—it was left to another to carry into effect the Divine commandment which Saul here confesses he had transgressed, but which it does not appear that he now made any attempt to obey. It was left to Samuel to do the work of Saul, and thus to prove that there was one man in Israel who would carry out to the letter the bidding of Jehovah.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

Beware of a Saul’s confession. That you may do this, it is necessary to know two things.

1. What a Saul’s confession is.

2. What a Saul’s confession works.—J. Disselhoff.

He confesseth not till the sin be wrung from his mouth; he seeks his peace out of himself, and relies more upon another’s virtue than upon his own penitence; he would cloak his guiltiness with the holiness of another’s presence; he is more tormented with the danger and damage of the sin than with the offence; he cares to hold in with men, in what terms soever he stands with God.—Bp. Hall.

1 Samuel 15:29. The heathen saw God as a passionate, capricious, changeable Being, who could be angered and appeased by men. The Jewish prophets saw Him as a God whose ways were equal, who was unchangeable, whose decrees were perpetual, who was not to be bought off by sacrifice, but by righteous dealing, and who would remove the punishment when the causes which brought it on were taken away. In their own words, when men repented, God would repent.… A boat rows against the stream, the current punishes it.… The boat turns and goes with the stream, the current assists it.… But the current is the same, it has not changed—only the boat has changed its relationship to the current. Neither does God change. We change, and the same law which executed itself in punishment now expresses itself in reward.—Brooke.

1 Samuel 15:30. If Saul had been really penitent, he would have prayed to be humbled rather than to be honoured.—St. Gregory.

Many men pass (i.e., care) so little for their consciences, yet stand so much upon their credit. As Saul, who using no diligence to regain the favour of God, was yet very solicitous that his honour might be preserved in the opinion of the people.—Bp. Sanderson.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 15". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/1-samuel-15.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.