1 Samuel 15
1 Samuel 15
Shawn Bumpers / General
The Hebrew word for King is melek.
In scripture it is translated “governor” or “chief” or even “prince” in addition to king.
Israel’s kings, however, were themselves to be subject to God’s Law, and to rule in harmony with that Law.
But not all did … in fact, most did not, and Biblical history shows the powerful moral influence of both good and evil kings on the nations of Israel and Judah.
Even those kings who were good can only be said that “they were for the most part good kings” because they were all deeply flawed.
Psalm 51:1–2 NKJV
Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
But the narrative of Saul, Israel’s first king is a tragic one.
At the same time, it is filled with important spiritual lessons.
As you may remember from our study a few chapters back, as a young man, Saul was an attractive personality.
BUT, under the pressures of leadership Saul’s heart showed fatal flaws.
At one point Samuel calls Saul “foolish.”
But it actually refers to “A lack of moral and spiritual insight.”
• A foolish person is impetuous.
• He or she tends to rebellion, and insists on their own way.
Proverbs 22:15 NKJV
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child;
The rod of correction will drive it far from him.
All this being said, … Saul’s story is not designed to frighten us.
It’s not meant to make us think that we are like him and need to change before the inevitably tragic end.
That is because, unlike Saul, we will maintain a trust in God that enables us to triumph where he failed.
Saul had been remarkably foolish in his actions.
He made unlawful sacrifices, tried to lie to God’s prophet, Samuel, had claimed for himself his own son’s victories, had committed his army to a superstitious vow, and even sought to kill his own son, Jonathan.
The Amalekites were descendents of Esau through his son Eliphaz.
They settled in the Negeb desert (the dry desert region of southern Israel) and allied themselves with the Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites, Ishmaelites, and Midianites.
Amalek became enemies of Israel, inheriting the feud that had begun with Esau’s anger toward Jacob, who had through unscrupulous means received the blessing of Isaac and the birthright instead of his older brother Esau.
And, here in 1 Samuel, Saul will send his armies against the Amalekites, having received an order from God to destroy them and their possessions.
But we will find that Saul did not obey the Lord.
Instead, Saul kept the best of the spoils for himself and failed to kill Agag, the king.
The king WILL confess his sins, but his confession is not one of repentance and true sorrow for sin.
At the end of our chapter, we find that Saul was more concerned about what the people thought than what God thought.
Saul had lost his best friend; he had lost the Lord’s blessing; he had lost the kingdom.
This was a message from the spiritual leader of Israel to the political and military leader of Israel …. from Samuel to Saul … a message from God Himself through Samuel.
It was God’s timing for the Amalekites to be punished.
The Hebrew word פקד pā-qăd means to “visit upon” and in this context it is God saying that it is time to “visit vengeance upon.”
Exodus 17:14–16 NKJV
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-LORD-Is-My-Banner; for he said, “Because the LORD has sworn: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”
Deuteronomy 25:17–19 NKJV
“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall be, when the LORD your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget.
God hates it when the strong take cruel advantage over the weak, especially when the weak are His people.
But all this happened more than four hundred years before Saul.
Why was God holding it against the Amalekites?
But with God, sin must be atoned for, and with God, time cannot atone for sin.
With God, only the blood of Jesus Christ can erase sin, not time.
So God promised to bring judgment against the Amalekites.
Adam Clarke in his commentary wrote of God’s command here, “Nothing could justify such an exterminating decree but the absolute authority of God. This was given: all the reasons of it we do not know; but this we know well, The Judge of all the earth doth right. This war was not for plunder, for God commanded that all the property as well as the people should be destroyed.” (Clarke)
2 Peter 3:9 NKJV
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
So, here’s another question … If God wanted to judge the Amalekites, why didn’t He just do it Himself?
He complete destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah without any help from man.
Why not just do the same here?
John 18:36 NKJV
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
Ephesians 6:12 NKJV
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Telem is way south of Gibeah and Gilgal … down in the Negeb, the land in which the Amalekites dwelt.
There is no doubt that when Saul was not caught up in his superstitions, he was a very capable military leader.
And here we see that he was able to gather together a very large army, conceal their presence and time an attack.
The Kenites lived in Canaan all the way back to Abraham’s time.
Scripture seems to indicate that the Kenites were not an organized group of people, but were scattered, living among various other people groups in the land.
That Saul attacked the Amalekites according to God’s order was good.
But Saul was selective in his obedience.
First, verse 8 records that Saul took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.
Secondly, verse 9 says that Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them.
In a normal war in that time, armies were freely permitted to plunder whomever they conquered.
So, why was it wrong here?
The answer is that it was wrong for anyone in Israel to benefit from the war against the Amalekites, because it was an appointed judgment from God.
Notice that they were careful to keep the best for themselves, but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.
Alexander Maclaren, a late 19th century Baptist preacher said about this, “Partial obedience is complete disobedience. Saul and his men obeyed as far as suited them; that is to say, they did not obey God at all, but their own inclinations, both in sparing the good and destroying the worthless. What was not worth carrying off was destroyed, – not because of the command, but to save trouble.” (Maclaren)
In regards to how this applies to you and me, F.B. Meyer says, “We are prepared to obey the Divine commands up to a certain point, and there we stay. Just as soon as ‘the best and choicest’ begin to be touched, we draw the line and refuse further compliance. We listen to soft voices that bid us to stay our hand, when our Isaac is on the altar.” (Meyer)
There is a picture we need to pick up on here and consider.
It is interesting that the words, “and all that was good” are used here when talking about that which God has called wicked.
If the LORD says something is condemned, how can we say it’s “good?”
Isaiah 5:20 NKJV
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
It’s not like Saul didn’t have an army large enough to get the job done … and done right.
But Saul decided to do it his own way.
It grieved him greatly … in fact, the Hebrew word Charah means “to burn” and suggests holy anger.
Notice in verse 11 that God says, “I greatly regret.”
Does this mean that God did not know what would happen?
This is the use of what is called anthropomorphism.
God knew Saul’s heart from the beginning.
In the eyes of the soldiers and the Jewish people, Saul had won a great victory over a long-time enemy.
But in God’s eyes Saul was a failure.
But King Saul was so impressed with himself that he went to Mount Carmel and erected a monument for himself.
After setting up the monument in Carmel, Saul then went to Gilgal, where Saul had first failed the LORD.
In verse 13, Saul’s greeting to Samuel is pure hypocrisy.
And so he greets Samuel, who was there to rebuke Saul, by saying, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.”
The answer is that Saul was self-deceived because of his pride.
I found one commentary to be particularly insightful on Saul’s false boast.
It read, “If Saul had done it, he would have been slower to boast of it.”
Saul’s monument was meant to proclaim the victory AND Saul’s supposed obedience to the LORD.
At the same time, the evidence of his disobedience was could be heard, even as he spoke! The livestock that God clearly commanded to be killed could be heard, seen, and even smelt.
As soon as Samuel called him out in verse 14, Saul start to come up with excuses.
• First, he blames the people, rather than himself.
• Then, he includes himself in the obedience … he says, “The rest WE have utterly destroyed.”
Of course, this was not even true.
Saul, in fact, did not even do what he said he did.
• And, perhaps expecting that Samuel was wondering why Saul has not had the things “the people” spared destroyed, he justifies it because of its fine quality.
• And, of course, being the great spiritual pretender that he was, Saul claims to have done it “to sacrifice to the LORD your God.”
With this excuse Saul reveals the real problem.
He has a poor relationship with God.
All of these excuses made perfect sense to Saul in his self-deception.
Samuel is done with Saul’s excuses..
The truth is known and now it is time for Saul to be quiet, and to listen to the word of the LORD through Samuel.
And so Samuel calls Saul out on his disobedience.
Saul first insists that he is innocent.
But they did so by following Saul’s example (he spared Agag king of Amalek), and with Saul’s allowance (he did nothing to stop or discourage them).
Samuel rejected all of Saul’s lies and explained why God couldn’t accept the animals as legitimate sacrifices.
It is because the LORD wants living obedience from the heart … not dead animals on the altar.
Psalm 51:16–17 NKJV
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.
Romans 12:1 NKJV
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
In sacrifice we offer the flesh of another creature; in obedience we offer our own will before God.
Regarding Saul … In his empty religious practice, rebellion, and stubbornness against God, Saul was rejecting God’s word.
So God rightly rejected him as king over Israel.
Now, Saul goes from “I have obeyed the LORD” to “I have sinned.”
We might think … well, so far, so good.
Saul’s statement begins like a genuine confession, reflecting a genuinely repentant heart.
In verse 26, Samuel refused to join Saul at the altar because he knew the Lord wouldn’t receive the Saul’s worship … Saul had been rejected.
Saul might have thought there was a way out of this.
He was trying to think of anything that he could do to “fix” the situation.
In verse 29, Samuel uses a title for the LORD found only here in the whole Bible: The Strength of Israel.
Saul was more concerned with his reputation among the people than he was being right with the LORD.
It is not known why Samuel changed his mind and worshipped with Saul.