Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 15

Verse 1

1.The Lord sent me to anoint thee — The same Divine authority that made him king now commissions him to destroy the fierce, wicked Amalekites. 1 Samuel 14:48, suggests that this war on Amalek was not without fresh provocation. Those spoilers had probably made a predatory incursion into the southern borders, like that mentioned 1 Samuel 30:1.

Verses 1-9

SAUL’S WAR WITH AMALEK, 1 Samuel 15:1-9.

Jehovah deigns to give Saul’s obedience one more test. He has already warned him that, because of disobedience, his kingdom shall not be established in his posterity, (1 Samuel 13:14;) but ere he utters the final oracle of rejection he affords him one more trial. Occasion for this is found in the war with the Amalekites, those ancient enemies whose wanton hostility to the chosen people had, even in the days of Moses, drawn down upon them the curse of God. See Exodus 17:8-16; Deuteronomy 25:17-19.

Verse 2

2.I remember — The bitter wars and ancient wrongs against the people of Jehovah are not forgotten by him. And shall he not avenge his own elect? Luke 18:7.

Verse 3

3.Man and woman, infant and suckling — Who dares question the right of God to inflict such judgments upon a wicked and idolatrous nation? Jehovah is governor among the nations, and in order to chastise and destroy a wicked people he may with equal justice use the wasting pestilence or the armies of Israel. See note on Joshua 6:21.

Ox and sheep, camel and ass — Such utter destruction of all the spoil would show that the Israelites fought not to enrich themselves with the possessions of their enemies, but simply as the ministers of God’s wrath to execute his judgments. Saul’s sparing of the best of the spoils was, therefore, a rash and offensive meddling with the Divine judgments. Like Achan’s offence, it was appropriating a part of the accursed thing to private use.

Verse 4

4.Telaim — Probably the same as Telem, mentioned, Joshua 15:24, among the cities in the extreme south of Judah. Its site has not been identified. The Targum and Vulgate translate the word, and read lambs. The Septuagint and Josephus strangely read Gilgal.

Two hundred thousand footmen — A very large army was necessary in order to fight successfully the powerful Amalekites, for they were spread over a large district, and were chief of the hostile nations. Numbers 24:20.

Verse 5

5.Laid wait in the valley — That is, set an ambush (from ארב ) in one of the great wadies of the Negeb, or south country. Strategic warfare was likely to be most successful with those wild sons of the desert.

Verse 6

6.The Kenites — The descendants of Jethro, Moses’ father in law, who is called a Kenite in Judges 1:16. For the kindness shown to the Israelites by this ancestor of the Kenites, see Exodus 18.

Verse 7

7.From Havilah until thou comest to Shur — From the eastern to the western boundaries of the desert south of Palestine. This territory was formerly occupied by the sons of Ishmael. See Genesis 25:18.

Verse 8

8.Agag — This was the common title of the Amalekite, as Pharaoh was of the Egyptian, and Abimelech of the Philistine kings.

Utterly destroyed all the people — “That is, all that fell into the hands of the Israelites; for it follows from the very nature of the case that many escaped, and consequently there is nothing striking in the fact that Amalekites are mentioned again at a later period. 1 Samuel 27:8; 1 Samuel 30:1; 2 Samuel 8:12.” — Keil.

Verse 9

9.Spared Agag, and the best of the sheep — The one for the purpose of gratifying his vainglory by leading captive so illustrious a slave; the other to gratify his covetousness. Thus he repeated the sin of Achan. Joshua 7:21.

Of the fatlings משׁנים, of the second sort, as margin correctly reads. The reference is, probably, to the age of the animals: those of the second birth, or later born, and therefore tender and particularly desirable, either for food or sacrifice.

Verse 10

SAMUEL’S LAST WORDS TO SAUL, 1 Samuel 15:10-35.

10.Then came the word of the Lord unto Samuel — Either by a dream or a vision of the night. See Numbers 12:6.

Verse 11

11.It repenteth me — Repentance in God does not imply changeableness in the Divine nature, like the changes oft involved in human life and action; for such a supposition is forbidden by such passages as 1 Samuel 15:29, where see note, and Numbers 23:19. But the Divine nature is emotional. Indignation and grief over the sins of men are passions as true and pure as love. The emotionality of anger, grief, or pity no more implies imperfection in God than does the emotionality of love. Can we for a moment think of a personal God destitute of feeling? And when his creatures suffer and fall through sin, what feelings but indignation and grief might be expected to move his holy nature? By repentance in God we are, therefore, to understand the change of feeling which must needs occur in the Divine nature towards any of the children of his grace when they turn from his truth, and presumptuously sin against him. Compare Genesis 6:6, and note on Judges 2:18.

It grieved Samuel — Literally, It burned him. It thrilled his great soul to its profoundest depths, for he saw that this rejection of Saul must result in great calamity to Israel. So Jehovah and his holy prophet both were grieved.

He cried unto the Lord all night — He probably prayed that this cup might pass from him, and that Saul might be forgiven and established in the kingdom.

Verse 12

12.Carmel — This was one of the cities of Judah, (see on Joshua 15:55,) and has been identified with the modern Kurmul, six miles south of Hebron.

Set him up a place — That is, say some, for the purpose of giving his army rest and dividing the spoils. The Vulgate translates, He erected for himself a triumphal arch. But the word translated place means a hand, (יד,) and is used of Absalom’s pillar. 2 Samuel 18:18. Such is its meaning here. Saul erected at Carmel a monument as a memorial of his victory over the Amalekites. It may have been an elevated hand, serving as an index to attract the attention of the passing traveller.

Gilgal — Here Samuel had before solemnly announced to the disobedient king his fall. 1 Samuel 13:14.

Verse 13

13.I have performed the commandment of the Lord — This is the language of hypocrisy, by which the disobedient warrior presumes to hide his guilt.

Verse 15

15.The people spared the best of the sheep — He lays the fault upon the people, and thereby criminally insinuates that the thing was done against his will.

The Lord thy God — These words, in this connexion, are full of significance. They seem to have flowed from a desire to compliment Samuel on the honour and sanctity of his personal intercourse with Jehovah, and also from a feeling that Jehovah was not his own God. “Every word,” says Hervey, “uttered by Saul seems to indicate the breaking down of his moral character. 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.”

Verse 16

16.Stay — Leave off these false pretences, desist from such hypocritical apologies, whilst, by the revelation of Him whom thou callest my God, I lay open the iniquities of thy heart and the disobedience of thy life.

Verse 17

17.Little in thine own sight — As was manifested in his modest response to Samuel’s first salutation. 1 Samuel 9:21.

Verse 20

20.Yea, I have obeyed — Still the guilty spirit seeks to justify itself. Strange stupidity! Sullen perversity! How prone are sinners to throw their guilt on others, or else to plead for it a religious motive! Saul did both.

Verse 22

22.To obey is better than sacrifice — For all the sacrifices and ceremonies of religion are to aid and promote obedience, not to be made a substitute for it. Disobedience can never be made a virtue even though attended by thousands of sacrifices. Samuel’s words here “rise far above the special occasion, and contain the key-note of the long remonstrance of the prophets in all subsequent times against an exaggerated estimate of ceremonial above obedience. The very flow of the words recalls to us the form, as well as the spirit, of Amos and Isaiah.” — Stanley.

Verse 23

23.For rebellion’ the sin of witchcraft — This gives the sense, but it would be as well to transpose these words and follow the order of the Hebrew, thus: For the sin of witchcraft is rebellion, and iniquity and idolatry are stubbornness. That is, Saul’s rebellious and stubborn opposition to the word of God is as bad as the sins of witchcraft and idolatry; for these sins, in their inmost nature and essence, are refractoriness against the Divine law.

Verse 24

24.I have sinned — The announcement of his rejection suddenly subdues his haughty spirit, and brings him to the acknowledgment of his disobedience; but his palliating words, I feared the people, and obeyed their voice, show that his penitence was more the result of alarm over the thought of being rejected than of any deep consciousness of sin.

Verse 27

27.He laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle — The solemn words and manner of the seer, and his turning to depart, thrilled Saul with sudden emotions of fear; and that stern image of the mantled Samuel seemed ever after to haunt the monarch’s soul. Compare 1 Samuel 28:14.

Verse 29

29.Strength of Israel — Jehovah, thus called not only because of his omnipotence, but also because of his constancy and truth — the glorious object of Israel’s confidence.

Will not lie nor repent — Compare 1 Samuel 15:11 and note there. Jehovah has feelings of love and anger: love for the righteous and anger towards the wicked. If the righteous man turn from his righteousness, or the wicked from his wickedness, towards him correspondingly Jehovah’s feelings change. This is often called repentance in God. But beyond this the divine Nature is not subject to change. In man, however, repentance implies sinfulness and fallibility, and involves a moral and religious change, so that it is never after the manner of man that God repents.

Verse 31

31.Samuel turned again after Saul — He finally yielded to Saul’s pleading, but not until he had, by his stern and solemn acts and words, made on his mind deep and lasting impressions of God’s anger against him. It was also one object of his turning with Saul to execute the judgment of God upon the king of the Amalekites.

Verse 32

32.Delicately — We render the passage thus: Agag came unto him in fetters. And Agag said, Terrible and bitter is the death. The majority of interpreters, ancient and modern, have understood by the word delicately that Agag came to Samuel cheerfully and with delight, and supposed that he was not to be put to death. But it is difficult to conceive how or why such a part should be acted by this captive king. The only other place where this plural form, מעדנות, occurs is in Job 38:31, and it is there translated sweet influences. But this translation makes no sense, and both Gesenius and Furst render it bands, in accordance with the Septuagint and Chaldee. According to this etymology the word is to be derived from עֶנד to bind; and מעדנת is formed by transposition of the letters נ and ד, and is to be regarded as an adverbial accusative — in fetters. We render then — Agag came unto him in fetters.

Surely the bitterness of death is past — Thus rendered, this passage also is difficult to explain satisfactorily. Accordingly we prefer, with Furst, to render סר is terrible, rather than is past; deriving it from סור, to be bad, corrupt. The passage then becomes literally an exclamation — Surely loathsome and bitter the death!

Verse 33

33.As thy sword hath made women childless — These words indicate that Agag had been given to cruelties, and that both he and his people had kept up the old practice of destroying the weak and feeble that might fall in their way. Deuteronomy 25:19. His punishment was retributive, like that of Adoni-bezek. Judges 1:7.

Verse 35

35.Samuel came no more to see Saul — At a later time, when in pursuit of David, Saul came before Samuel, (1 Samuel 19:24,) but we do not find that Samuel had any intercourse with him. So this interview at Gilgal was the last the prophet had with the disobedient king.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 15". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/1-samuel-15.html. 1874-1909.