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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

1 Samuel 15

Verse 2

1 Samuel 15:2. I remember Literally, I visit, or have my eyes upon; God hereby signifying, that he observed with attentive eyes what Israel had suffered by means of the Amalekites. Houb. See Exodus 17:14. Deu 25:19 and the Reflections at the end of the 20th chapter of Deuteronomy.

Verse 12

1 Samuel 15:12. Behold, he set him up a place Where he erected a monument or trophy of victory to himself. That the word יד, iad, signifies a monument, we learn from 2Sa 18:18 where Absalom is said to have erected a pillar, and to have called it אבשׁלום יד iad Abshalom, the monument of Absalom: by which is signified either the space or area where the monument was erected, or the thing itself which was erected; as מצב matzab, a pillar; which name, in the above-quoted place, is synonimous with יד iad. Houbigant. St. Jerome says, that Saul erected a triumphal arch.

Verse 14

1 Samuel 15:14. What meaneth then this bleating, &c.— There can be no excuse for swerving from the precise rule which God has prescribed to us: to obey, is better than sacrifice; and to hearken, than the fat of rams: 1Sa 15:22 nor must we compound a religion out of the good purposes and intentions of piety and devotion for our convenience, whilst, for the present, we decline a fundamental point of our religion, obedience to what he has enjoined. It will be no answer to God, that we have ransomed our lives and estates with good resolutions to employ both in his service; that we hope to be useful to our country or the church of Christ, and that we resolve charitably to assist with our fortune others who are in danger of starving. We are not judges, independent of his Providence, what is to be preserved, or which is the way of preserving. It may be, that God thinks it fit that our estates, our liberties, and lives, should be sacrificed to his truth, and for the defence of it; and then the redeeming either by our artifices and compliances is no less than sacrilege; defrauding him of his due, and presuming to think ourselves wiser than his all-seeing Providence. What he has determined shall be destroyed, or utterly lost to us, must not be kept for sacrifices; and what he has appointed for sacrifice to him must not be preserved for ourselves. What inconveniences may probably flow from our punctual and severe prosecution of our duty, and the resolute observation of the dictates of our conscience; or what advantage and benefit may result to God's service, from our temporary receding from that which is abstractedly just, are considerations of too sublime a nature for our cognizance. It is well for us that we are not trusted with a latitude for these decisions.

Verses 22-26

1 Samuel 15:22-26. And Samuel said, Hath the Lord, &c.— The excision of the Amalekites, and the rejection of Saul for omitting to fulfil the commission given to him, have been objected to by free-thinkers. I. With respect to the first, there was God's express order for it: and what can we desire more than an order from heaven? As to God's dealings with nations in the way of vindictive justice, we are not competent judges of every case, because we have not the whole of the matter laid before us to form a judgment by; for we fall infinitely short of that large comprehensive view of all circumstances which the great Governor of the universe has before him. But this we may presume to say, as to the case of the Amalekites, that, considering how they had all along been inveterate adversaries towards the people of God (raised up to reform the world), and how they had very probably been wicked also in other respects, like the Canaanites: it was a great instance of God's long-suffering that he bore with them so long, and that he waited four hundred years for their repentance before he destroyed them; so far is it from being any imputation upon his goodness, that he at length did so. It may be noted of the Amalekites, that they were descendants of Esau (Genesis 36:12.), and therefore were by pedigree allied to the Israelites of the stock of Abraham. They seem to have broken off very early from the other Edomites, joining with the old Horites, idolaters of mount Seir, so that the Amalekites soon apostatised from the religion of Abraham. These apostates were the first that drew the sword against the Israelites, their brethren in blood; and they did it unprovoked, barbarously taking advantage of them at a time when they were feeble, faint, and weary; which was great inhumanity. Deuteronomy 25:18-19. Besides, their impiety is particularly taken notice of in Scripture, that they feared not God, (Deuteronomy 25:19.) but that their hand was lifted up against the throne of the Lord; (so I understand the text Exodus 17:16.) against the throne of the God of Abraham their father; which was an aggravating circumstance. Seeing, therefore, that there was such a complication of ill-nature, inhumanity, treachery, and flagrant impiety, in what the Amalekites did, it pleased God to set a brand of the highest infamy upon them, and take the most exemplary vengeance of them, to create the utmost abhorrence of such practices in the minds of all men. Their descendants seem to have inherited the like temper and principles with their fathers, the same rancour against Israel, and the same opposition to God's great and glorious designs by Israel. It does not follow from God's assigning one reason only for destroying the Amalekites, that that was the sole reason; but that was sufficient to be mentioned to the Israelites, as they had concern in no more: the rest he might reserve to himself among the arcana imperii, (the secrets of his government,) which he was not obliged to divulge, either to Israel his own people, or to any other creature whatever. II. No prince who has not such a divine command as Saul had, can make any just pretence, from this instance, for so invading, or so extirpating a nation: but vain or wicked pretences may be always made, either from any thing, or for any thing. The historian says, Saul spared Agag, and all the best of the sheep, &c. Saul would, indeed, have ungenerously thrown the blame upon the people, and pretended religion as an excuse for it, 1 Samuel 15:21. But the history is express, that it was Saul and the people: the people, by Saul's order, or by mutual consent, spared Agag and all the best of the prey; and, indeed, the thing speaks for itself: for the disposal of the prisoners and of the prey could be in no one's power but the king's; and the sparing every thing which was good, shews that he was actuated by a very different spirit from that of piety. The sin, therefore, of which Saul was guilty, was a capital offence: the sparing an enemy and the prey of an enemy, which the God and king of Israel had commanded him to extirpate; and Samuel expressly calls it rebellion and stubbornness, and therefore the sentence pronounced on him was just: because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king; i.e. he will not establish thy throne, nor make it hereditary in thy family. Let me add, that Saul, notwithstanding his prevarication, his shifting of the blame from himself to his people, and excusing himself by the pretence of devotion, at last acknowledges his crime, I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words, (1 Samuel 15:24; 1 Samuel 15:30.) and thereby owns his punishment to be just. See Waterland's Vindication, p. 92 and Chandler's Review, p. 58.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Though Saul had been threatened, he had not yet been utterly rejected; but now the critical moment comes when his fate is to be determined.

1. Samuel is sent from God, to remind him by whose favour he reigned, and to exhort him to dutiful obedience, particularly in the expedition for which he must now prepare. The Amalekites had behaved cruelly to God's Israel when they came from Egypt, and God had long threatened to blot out their remembrance from under heaven. And now God remembers their old iniquities, and Saul must be the executioner of divine justice, nor spare any thing which breathed, but utterly destroy man and beast. Note; (1.) God will certainly remember the injuries done to his people, especially the discouragements put in the way of young converts. (2.) The Almighty will not want executioners of justice when the measure of a nation's sins is full.

2. Saul instantly proceeds, and is followed by a numerous army of two hundred thousand men, besides ten thousand of Judah, whose small proportion some ascribe to envy, others to the necessity of guarding their borders, as most exposed during the absence of the army. When he arrived in the enemies' country, he sent a friendly message to the Kenites, who for the convenience of pasturage had gone thither, to come up, lest they should fall in the promiscuous ruin; which they immediately did: and the reason of this kindness he gives in the friendship they had shown to Israel when they came from Egypt. Note; (1.) Kindnesses done to God's people shall often be recompensed in this world, but certainly in the resurrection of the just. (2.) They are in danger of sharing with sinners in their plagues, who by choice take up their residence among them. (3.) We cannot make too much haste to separate ourselves from the communion of the ungodly.

3. No sooner are the Kenites in safety, than the Amalekites begin to feel the sword. The ambush in the valley succeeds, their army is routed, the capital taken, the country ravaged from end to end, and the king himself a prisoner. But Saul, through covetousness, and perhaps false piety, spared him from death, with the best of the cattle, and utterly destroyed the rest, though some, it seems, with their effects, escaped by flight, and for a little while longer preserved the dying name of Amalek. Note; (1.) Partial obedience detects the hypocrite. (2.) Covetousness is often its own punishment. He made a bad bargain, who, to secure the cattle of Amalek, lost the kingdom of Israel.

2nd, We have the interview between Samuel and Saul returning from his victory, which made his bright day close with darkness.
1. God informs Samuel of Saul's disobedience, his repentance that he had made him king, and the removal of the crown from his family determined thereupon. Note; Repentance, when spoken of God, signifies, not a change of mind, but of his methods of dealing with men.

2. Samuel is bitterly afflicted herewith, and spends the night in prayers, and tears, to gain the reversion of the sentence, but in vain. Note; The ruin of sinners is the bitter grief of God's faithful ministers.

3. According to appointment, he goes to Carmel to meet Saul; and not finding him there, where he had stayed no longer than to erect a trophy of his victory, he follows him to Gilgal.
4. Saul comes to meet him, with great confidence boasting his obedience, and blesses Samuel for the prosperous undertaking on which he had sent him. Note; They who are trumpeters of their own good works, will soon discover the vanity of their pretences.

5. Samuel's ears are more attentive to the bleating of the sheep, than the boasting of the king; and he upbraids him for the falseness, and folly of his conduct of which his spoils afforded such incontestable evidence.
6. Saul seeks to excuse the fact which he cannot deny, by laying the fault on the people, pretending to design God's glory in the sacrifice of the cattle, and the honour of Israel in shewing them the captive king; but his plea was as false as frivolous: none would have dared to act without his orders, and his own profit and glory was at the bottom of his pretended piety. Note; (1.) In vain do we vaunt our expensive sacrifices, and keep up the outward pomp and form of religion, if pride, lust, and covetousness, are in possession of the heart; our very boasted services are an abomination. (2.) They who seek to exculpate themselves by accusing others who were partners or tempters in their guilt, shew themselves utterly unhumbled under it.

7. His plea is rejected, and his excuses confuted. Samuel, as commanded of God, delivers his message, and, having his authority, claims an audience. He reminds him of the exaltation to which, from his low estate, God had brought him, and which should, in gratitude, have kept him obedient: the orders he received, on the present occasion, were plain and express, so that the offence must be wilful and deliberate; wherefore he expostulates with him on the inexcusableness of his conduct, and the greatness of his sin. Note; (1.) Though it be a terrible message that God gives us against the sinner, we must not fear to deliver it plainly and faithfully. (2.) The more God's mercy has been shewn to us, the more ungrateful are our ill returns.

8. Saul interrupts the prophet in his message, with repeated assertions of his obedience, though his own acknowledgments give the lie to his professions. Note; They who are hardened in sin and formality, will not be beaten out of their vain confidence by the plainest refutation.

Lastly, Samuel silences him with an appeal to his own conscience: the most costly services bear no proportion to dutiful obedience; rebellion against God's express command was as criminal as witchcraft, and stubbornness in maintaining his innocence an aggravation of his iniquity like unto idolatry itself. Therefore, as the just reward of such transgression, he denounces his doom, God has rejected him from being king, and cut off the entail of the government from his family. Note; (1.) Obedience to God is the most acceptable sacrifice we can offer; a heart submissive to his holy will is better than a hecatomb. (2.) All disobedience is spiritual idolatry, as it sets up the will of the creature above the will of God.

Verse 29

1 Samuel 15:29. And also the Strength of Israel According to the original, and the Margin of our Bibles, it is, he who gives victory, and disposes of kingdoms, or, the triumphant king of Israel. Houbigant renders it, he who is the leader of, or who presides over, Israel.

Verses 32-33

1 Samuel 15:32-33. And Agag came unto him delicately, &c.— Houbigant renders this, Agag came to him from his bonds, and said, How bitter is death! for his justification of which version we refer to his note. It is uncertain whether Samuel himself put Agag to death, or commanded it to be done by the public executioner. See Judges 8:20. Samuel, however, is very justifiable in the affair; for Agag was a cruel prince, whose sword had made havock among the people, and whose barbarity called for public justice. He, therefore, ordered him to be slain before the Lord; that is, before the altar of the Lord, which was at Gilgal: thus showing that he destroyed him by the express authority and command of God. See 1Ki 18:40 and Chandler as above, p. 29. Some writers, willing to lay hold of the least shadow of objection against the Scriptures, have inferred from this passage and some others, that human sacrifices were offered to God: but they have been clearly and fully refuted by Dr. Sykes, in his Examination into the Connection of Natural and Revealed Religion, vol. 2: p. 109.

Note; 1. Death is bitter to the sinner; but to the believer in Jesus, sin being removed from his conscience, the bitterness of death is past. 2. Many promise themselves life and peace, who do not see the dart of death, like this sword of Samuel, ready to pierce them to the heart.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 15". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.