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Bible Commentaries

Simeon's Horae Homileticae

1 Samuel 15

Verse 11


1 Samuel 15:11. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the Lord all night.

NEVER can we be weary of contemplating the scripture history; so diversified are its incidents, and so instructive the examples it sets before us. The whole life of Samuel, from his first dedication to God by his mother to the very hour of his death, was one uniform course of piety. That particular part of it which I propose at present to consider, is his conduct in reference to Saul, when God declared his purpose to rend the kingdom from him, and to transfer it to another who should shew himself more worthy of it: we are told, “it grieved Samuel: and he cried unto the Lord all night.”
In discoursing on these words, we shall notice,


The pious grief of Samuel—

Respecting this we shall distinctly consider,


The grounds of it—

[Saul had disobeyed the commandment of the Lord, in sparing Agag the king of the Amalekites, together with all the best of the spoil, when he had been strictly enjoined to destroy every thing, “man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”
This, at first sight, might appear a venial fault, inasmuch as he had leaned to the side of mercy, and had acted in conformity with the wishes of his people; and had even consulted, as he thought, the honour of God, to whom he intended to offer all the best of the cattle in sacrifice.
But he had received a specific commission, which it was his duty to execute. He was not left at liberty to act according to circumstances: his path was marked out, and should have been rigidly adhered to.
It does not appear that he stopped short of his purpose, because he thought that the command itself was too severe: for, in the first instance, he set himself to execute it fully: but, if he had felt some reluctance on account of its severity, he had no alternative left him: it was his duty simply to obey. When Abraham was called to come out from his country and from his kindred, he obeyed, though he knew not which way he was to direct his steps. And, when he was enjoined to offer up upon an altar his own son Isaac, he hesitated not to do it; notwithstanding he knew that on the life of Isaac, to whose lineal descendants all the promises were made, the coming even of the Messiah himself essentially depended. Had he judged it right to listen to carnal reasonings of any kind, or to put his own feelings in competition with his duty, he might have easily found enough to satisfy his own mind. But he knew what was the duty of a creature: and he obeyed it without reserve. And so should Saul have done. We will take for granted that all his excuses were true; (though we doubt much whether covetousness was not the true source of his conduct:) still they were of no real weight: and his listening to them was nothing less than an act of rebellion against God.
And was not this a sufficient ground for grief? Yes: and Samuel did well in that he was grieved with it.
Doubtless Samuel was also grieved on account of the judgment which Saul had brought on himself and on his family, by this act of disobedience. He pitied the man who had subjected himself so grievously to the divine displeasure: and pitied his children also, who were involved both in his guilt and punishment. When he himself, indeed, had been dispossessed of the kingdom, we do not find that he was grieved either for himself or his children: but for Saul and his children he deeply grieved. In his own case, Samuel had nothing to deplore: whilst he fell a victim to the ingratitude of man, he had a testimony from the whole nation, and from God himself, that he had discharged his duty towards them with fidelity: but in the case of Saul, he saw the man who had been specially called by God to the kingdom, now dispossessed of it by that very God who had appointed him, and under his heavy and merited displeasure. In a word, the sin and the punishment of Saul formed in the mind of Samuel one ground of deep and undissembled grief.]


The expression of it—

[By God the sentence against Saul had been pronounced; and none but God could reverse it. But so often, and in such astonishing instances, had God condescended to the prayers of his servants, yea, to the prayers of Samuel himself, that this holy man did not despair of yet obtaining mercy for his unhappy prince. He, therefore, betook himself to prayer, and continued in it all the night, hoping that, like Israel of old, he should at last prevail. With what “strong crying and tears” may we suppose he urged his suit! And what an extraordinary measure of compassion must he have exercised, when he could continue in supplication for a whole night together! Such had been his feelings towards the people at large, after they had rejected him: “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord, in ceasing to pray for you [Note: 1 Samuel 12:23.].” And such is the proper expression of love, whether towards God or man: for God it honours as a merciful and gracious God; whilst it seeks to benefit man, by bringing down upon him the blessing of the Most High.]

But, in contemplating his example, we are chiefly called to notice,


The instruction to be derived from it—

In this record we may see what should be our conduct,


In reference to the sins of others—

[It is amazing with what indifference the universal prevalence of sin is beheld by the generality of mankind. Those evils which tend to the destruction of all social comfort are indeed reprobated by men of considerate minds: but it is in that view alone that they are reprobated. As offending God, they are scarcely thought of: men may live altogether as “without God in the world,” and no one will lay it to heart, or shew the least concern about the dishonour which is done to God.
The eternal interests of men too, it is surprising how little they are thought of. Men are dying all around us, and no one inquires whether they are prepared to die: and, when they are launched into eternity, no one feels any anxiety about their state, or entertains any doubt about their happiness before God. It is taken for granted that all who die are happy. Whether they sought after God or not, all is supposed to be well with them: and to express a doubt respecting it would be deemed the essence of uncharitableness and presumption.
But widely different from this should be the state of our minds. We are not indeed called to sit in judgment upon men: but to feel compassion towards them, and to pray for them, is our bounden duty. David tells us that “horror seized hold upon him,” and “rivers of waters ran down his cheeks, because men kept not God’s Law.” The Prophet Jeremiah exclaimed, “O that mine head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” Thus was it also with Samuel, in relation to Saul; and thus should it be with us, in reference to all around us. To see them dishonouring God and ruining their own souls, ought to create in us the same emotions as were felt by the Apostle Paul, when he declared that he had “great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart for his brethren’s sake.” Even though we have no hope of doing them good, yet should we, like our blessed Saviour, weep over them, saying, “O that thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things that belong unto thy peace!” Nor should we ever cease to pray for them, in hope that God may be gracious unto them, and make them distinguished monuments of his grace.]


In reference to our own sins—

[Here is reason for the very same complaint. Men can violate every command of God, and feel no fear, no compunction. As for such a sin as Saul’s, it would not even be deemed a sin. ‘True, they have not strictly adhered to the divine command; but the command itself was too strict; and they complied with the solicitations of their friends; and they meant no harm.’ Hence, in their prayers, if they pray at all, there is no fervour, no importunity, no continuance. A transient petition or two is quite as much as their necessities require.

But did Samuel feel such grief for another, and should not we for ourselves? Did he cry to God all night for another, and should we scarcely offer a petition for ourselves? Should the deposing of another from an earthly kingdom appear a judgment to be deprecated, and shall we not deprecate the loss of heaven for ourselves? Verily, in neglecting to pray for ourselves, we not only sin against God, but grievously sin also against our own souls.]

Let me then address myself,

To those who are in a state of careless indifference—

[Alas! What a large proportion of every assembly does this comprise! What then shall I say unto you? To Samuel, whose grief for Saul was inconsolable, God said, “How long wilt thou mourn for Saul [Note: 1 Samuel 16:1.]?” But to you I must say, How long will ye refuse to mourn for yourselves? Has not your impenitence continued long enough? Many, of you have sinned against God, not in one act only, but in the whole course of your lives; and that, too, not in a way of partial obedience only, like Saul, but in direct and wilful disobedience. Will not ye, then, weep and pray? Remember, I entreat you, that if you will not humble yourselves before God, you must be humbled ere long; and if you will not weep now, you must ere long “weep, and wail, and gnash your teeth for ever” in that place where redemption can never come, nor one ray of hope can ever enter. I beseech you, Brethren, reflect on this; and now, whilst the sentence that is gone forth against you may be reversed, cease not to cry unto your God for mercy day and night.]


To those who are desirous of obtaining mercy from God—

[Great as was Samuel’s interest with God, he could not prevail for Saul. But you have an Advocate, whose intercessions for you must of necessity prevail, if only you put your cause into his hands. This “Advocate is the Lord Jesus Christ, who is also the propitiation for your sins.” To him St. John directs you: and, if you go to him, it is impossible that you should ever perish: for he has expressly said, “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” To have a praying friend or minister is a great comfort to one who feels his need of mercy: but to have One who “ever liveth on purpose to make intercession for us,” and “whom the Father heareth always,” this is a comfort indeed. Commit then your cause, Brethren, into the Saviour’s hands; and you may rest assured, that, whatever judgments you may have merited at God’s hands, “you shall never perish, but shall have eternal life.”]

Verses 13-16


1 Samuel 15:13-16. And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord. And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear? And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed. Then Samuel said unto Saul, Stay, and I will tell thee what the Lord hath said to me this night.

IF the Holy Scriptures exhibit to us the most perfect patterns of righteousness, they also bring to our view men devoid of righteousness, and living characters of wickedness under all its diversified forms and operations. In truth, if we read them only as records of past events, without an application of them to our own business and bosoms, we may be amused and instructed by them, but we shall not be greatly edified. But if we view them as mirrors, in which our own countenance, and the countenances of those around us, are reflected, then, indeed, do we reap from them the benefit which they were intended to convey. Let us, then, take this view of the history before us, and see in it the state of the ungodly world at this time. Let us see in it,


Their presumptuous confidence—

Saul had been commanded to destroy the whole nation of Amalek, and every thing belonging to them: but he spared the best of their cattle; and yet boasted to Samuel, that he had “performed the commandment of the Lord.” In this we see the conduct of multitudes around us.
We all have received a commandment to wage war with our spiritual enemies, and to “destroy the whole body of sin [Note: Romans 6:6.]”—

[Not only is “our reigning lust” to be mortified [Note: Romans 6:12.], but every sinful disposition, though it be dear to us as “a right eye,” or apparently necessary to us as “a right hand [Note: Matthew 5:29-30.].”]

But, whilst much remains unmodified, we take credit to ourselves as having fulfilled the will of God—
[The great majority of men, if not living in very flagrant iniquity, think, and wish others to think, that they have fulfilled the will of God, so far at least as not to leave them any material ground for shame and sorrow on account of their iniquities. See the self-complacent state of all around us. In the habit of their minds, they plainly say, “We have performed the commandment of the Lord,” and have ground for commendation on that account — — —]
But they stand reproved, one and all of them, by,


Their glaring inconsistency—

The very beasts which Saul had spared, convicted him of falsehood—
[It was impossible for him to resist the evidence which the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen gave of his disobedience.]
And is there not equal evidence of the self-deceit of those around us?
[You say you have obeyed the voice of the Lord. Let me then ask, What means that worldliness which is so visible to all who behold you? Is it not clear and manifest, that the great mass of those who take credit to themselves on account of their obedience to God, are as much addicted to the world as any other persons whatever? They may be free from its grosser vices; but their cares, their pleasures, their company, their entire lives, shew indisputably whose they are, and to whom they belong. They are altogether “of the earth, earthly.”

And what means their impenitence, which is as manifest as the sun at noon-day? Who ever sees their tears, or hears their sighs and groans on account of indwelling sin? Who ever beholds them crying to God for mercy; and fleeing, like the man-slayer, with all possible earnestness, to the hope set before him in the Gospel? Does the heart-searching God behold any more of this in the secret chamber, than man beholds in the domestic circle, or in the public assembly?

I say, then, What means all this indifference to heavenly things? It is as clear a demonstration of their disobedience to God, as were “the bleating of the sheep, and the lowing of the oxen,” of Saul’s hypocrisy.]

But in the reply of Saul to his reprover, we see,


Their vain excuses—

Saul cast the blame of his misconduct upon the people—
[Not only does he speak of them as the agents whom he could not control, but he declares that they were the authors of his disobedience, inasmuch as he was constrained to sanction their conduct through fear of their displeasure [Note: ver. 21, 24.].]

This is the very rock on which all self-complacent Pharisees are wont to stumble—
[It is not owing to any want of inclination in themselves, that they do not serve God more perfectly, they will say, but to their situation and circumstances in life. It would be in vain for them to stem the torrent that carries all before it. Were they to follow the Lord fully, and to carry into effect the commands of God according to their full import, they should be altogether singular: and therefore they conform to the will of others, not from inclination, but necessity.
But let me ask, Are we to obey man in opposition to God? Are we to “follow a multitude to do evil?” Even Saul himself acknowledged, that in such a compliance “he had greatly sinned [Note: ver. 21, 24.]:” and we may be sure that no such excuses will avail us at the judgment-seat of Christ.]

Let me, then, declare to you,


Their impending fate—

Saul was rejected of his God—
[He might have urged in his behalf, that the command which had been given him, left him a discretion to exercise mercy: and, at all events, his desire had been to honour God with sacrifices which must otherwise have been withheld. But the commands of God leave nothing to our discretion. We are not at liberty to restrict any one of them; but are bound to execute them all in their full extent. And as Saul, in deviating from God’s command, had, in fact, “rejected the word of the Lord, God, in righteous indignation, rejected him [Note: ver. 23.].”]

And what better fate awaits us who limit the commands of God?
[It is in vain for us to dispute against the commands of God, as too strict, or too difficult. We are not called to dispute, but to obey. Nor is it a partial obedience that will suffice: nor are we at liberty to commute obedience for sacrifice. Nothing is left to us, but to obey: and, if we would please the Lord, we must “follow him fully:” our obedience must be entire and unreserved: and, if it be not unreserved, we are guilty of direct and positive “rebellion, which is declared by God himself to be, in his sight, even as idolatry:” for, whatever we may think to the contrary, there is little to choose between disobedience to the true God, and obedience to a false one [Note: ver. 23.].

I declare, then, to all of you, my Brethren, that, to whatever privileges you have been exalted by God himself, you will have reason to curse the day wherein you ever listened to man in opposition to God, or withheld from God the entire obedience of your souls. By whatever excuses you may palliate such conduct, I declare to you, before God, that it is rebellion against him, and that, as rebels, he will reject you in the day of judgment.]

As an improvement of this subject, there is one thing only which I would say; and that is, Take the Holy Scriptures, in every thing, for your guide

[Call not any thing “A hard saying [Note: John 6:60.].” You may not be able to understand the reasons of God’s commands, or to appreciate his reasons aright, if they were stated to you. Doubtless, to study their real import is your duty: but when that is once ascertained, you have nothing to do but to obey them. You are not to sit in judgment upon them, or to lower their demands. If the whole world urge you to depart from them, you are in no wise to comply. For God you are to live: and, if need be, for God you are to die. It is on these terms alone that you can ever be acknowledged as Christ’s disciples [Note: Matthew 10:38-39.]. If, then, “you have been called to God’s kingdom and glory,” see that you “walk worthy of your high calling.” “Be faithful unto death, and God will give you the crown of life.”]

Verses 22-23


1 Samuel 15:22-23. And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

THE sins of God’s enemies, and especially of those who obstruct his people in their way to Canaan, will certainly be punished: God indeed may bear long with them, even so long as to make them tauntingly exclaim, “Where is the promise of his coming?” but he will surely come at last, to their utter confusion and their eternal condemnation.
The Amalekites had very cruelly attacked the Israelites in the wilderness, and without any just occasion. God therefore gave them up to the sword of Joshua, and commanded that his people should in due time inflict upon them far more extensive judgments [Note: Deuteronomy 25:17-19.]. The time was now come that their iniquities were full: and therefore God commanded Saul to execute upon them the threatening which had been denounced several hundred years before. This command Saul neglected to execute as he should have done; and thereby brought upon himself the heavy displeasure of his God. We behold in our text,


The sin reproved—

It might appear a small thing in Saul to spare Agag and the best of the cattle, when he had been enjoined to destroy all; and his vindication of himself to Samuel has an air of plausibility about it, which might almost reconcile us to this act as not very exceptionable: but Samuel, in the words before us, characterises the conduct of Saul,


As rebellion—

[The command which had been given was exceeding plain and strong. The solemnity with which it was given, “Hearken thou,” &c.; the reason assigned for it, “What Amalek did to Israel in the way from Egypt;” the minuteness to which the order descended, “Go, smite Amalek, and destroy—utterly—all that they have—and spare them not—but slay man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass:” all this shewed that there was no option left him, no discretion; but that the whole was to be executed according to the command. Yet behold, through pride and covetousness he departed from the command, sparing Agag, to grace his triumph; and preserving the best of the flocks and herds, to enrich himself and his people. Thus by executing the command in part, and violating it in part, he shewed, that he made his own will, and not the will of God, the rule of his conduct. And what was this but rebellion against the Most High? It was justly so characterised by Samuel: and such is the interpretation which God will surely put on such conduct, wheresoever it be found. To be “partial in the law” is, in fact, to set aside the law; and to “offend against it willingly in any one point, is to be guilty of all [Note: James 2:10.]” — — —]


A stubbornness—

[Saul, on meeting Samuel, took credit to himself for having fulfilled the will of God [Note: ver. 13.]. Thus it is that sin blinds the eyes of men, and puffs them up with a conceit of having merited the divine approbation by actions which in their principle and in their measure have been radically wrong.

Samuel, to convince him of his sin, appealed to “the bleating of the sheep, and the lowing of the oxen:” but Saul, with stubbornness of heart, persisted in avowing his innocence: yea, after the strongest remonstrances on the part of Samuel, authorized as they were, and commanded, by God himself, he still maintained, that he had done his duty, and that the people only were to blame; nor were they materially wrong, since they had consulted no interest of their own, but only the honour of their God [Note: ver. 14–21.].

Here we see how sin hardens the heart also, and disposes men to resist conviction to the uttermost. Thus it was with our first parents at the first introduction of sin into the world: both of them strove to cast off the blame from themselves, the man on his wife, and the woman on the serpent [Note: Genesis 3:12-13.]: and how ready we are to tread in their steps, every day’s observation and experience will teach us — — —]

Let us next turn our attention to,


The reproof administered—

In our eyes perhaps this act of Saul may appear to have been only a slight and well-intentioned error; but in the sight of God it was a very grievous sin: for “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” Whatever we may imagine, the neglecting to serve the true God is but little different, in the estimation of our Judge, from the engaging in the service of a false god. Hence we find that the reproof administered was precisely such as the occasion called for.
We shall consider it in two points of view;


As exposing his sin—

[We are not to imagine that Samuel intended to disparage the sacrifices which God had commanded. The many testimonies which God had given of his favourable acceptance of them sufficiently shewed, that, when offered in a becoming manner, with humility of mind and a view to the Sacrifice which should in due time be offered, they were highly pleasing in his sight. But, if put in competition with moral duties, and substituted for obedience, they are hateful in the sight of God [Note: Isaiah 1:11-16.]. He “requireth truth in the inward parts;” and more values the tribute of a thankful or contrite heart, than the cattle on a thousand hills [Note: Psalms 50:8-14; Psalms 51:16-17.]. The excuse therefore that was offered by Saul was only a mockery and an insult to his God. And whoever shall attempt a commutation of outward services for inward integrity of heart and life, or shall think to atone for the want of one by the abundance of the other, will deceive himself to his eternal ruin [Note: Matthew 23:23.] — — —]


As denouncing his punishment—

[God had before threatened to deprive him of the kingdom for presuming to offer sacrifices without waiting for Samuel according as he had been enjoined; and now that punishment was irreversibly decreed [Note: ver. 26.]. A sign too was now given him, that it should in due time be executed: as he rent the garment of Samuel, whom he endeavoured to detain, so would God rend from him that kingdom, which he was so unworthy to possess [Note: ver. 27, 28.]. This itself was indeed but a slight punishment: but it was emblematic of the loss of God’s eternal kingdom; a loss which no finite intellect can appreciate. Yet is that the loss which every creature shall sustain, who by his rebellion offends God, and by stubborn impenitence cuts off himself from all hope of mercy — — —]

We will conclude the subject with some advice arising from it:

Learn how to estimate the path of duty—

[We are very apt to think that right which is most agreeable to our own wishes; and to lean rather to that which will gratify our pride or interest, than to that which calls for the exercise of self-denial. But we should be aware of the bias that is upon our own minds, and of our proneness to make the law of God bend to our prejudices and our passions. And we maybe sure, that if a doubt exist about the path of duty, moral duties must be preferred to ceremonial; and, in general, it will be found safer to lean to that which thwarts our natural inclinations, than to that which gratifies them.]


Be open to conviction respecting any deviations from it—

[There is an extreme aversion in us all to acknowledge that we have done amiss. But to be “stout-hearted is to be far from righteousness;” and wherever God sees such a disposition, he will surely abase it [Note: James 4:6.]. We all see in others how ready they are to justify what is wrong, and to extenuate what they cannot justify. Let us remember that we also have this propensity; and let us guard against it to the utmost of our power. Let us rather, if we have erred, desire to find it out, and not rest till we have discovered it. We would not, if an architect were to warn us that our house were likely to fall, go and lie down in our beds without carefully inquiring into the grounds of his apprehension: a sense of danger would make us open to conviction. Let us therefore not be averse to see and acknowledge our guilt before God, lest our conviction of its existence come too late to avert its punishment.]


Let your humiliation be candid and complete—

[Saul confessed his sin, but still shewed his hypocrisy by his anxiety to be honoured before men [Note: ver. 30.]. Hence, though Samuel so far complied as to go with him, and to execute on Agag the judgment that had been denounced [Note: ver. 32, 33.], yet he left him immediately afterwards, and never visited him more [Note: ver. 35.]. Oh, fearful separation! The friend who just before had wept and prayed for him all night, forsook him now for ever. From henceforth Saul was given up to sin and misery, till at last the vengeance of an incensed God came upon him to the uttermost. Would we escape his doom? let our humiliation be deep, and our repentance genuine: let us be willing to take shame to ourselves both before God and man; and be indifferent about the estimation of man, provided we may but obtain the favour of a reconciled God [Note: Saul desired Samuel to “pardon him,” ver. 25.].]

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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 15". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.