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    “See to it no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

    « Sin and Redemption in “The Epic of Gilgamesh” and the “Bible” | 1 Samuel Commentary: Part 3 »

    1 Samuel Commentary: Part 4

    1 Samuel 15

    Not sure how much farther into the future (from chapter 14) this occurs, but God tells Saul through Samuel to completely wipe out the Amalekites, down to the last woman, child, infant, and all animals. Saul sets forth to complete the task and wipes them all out save for the king, Agag and the best animals. Not sure why he spared Agag, but as for the animals…


    At first, it seems reasonable to save the best. Why waste them? Waste not, want not. More animals means more riches, more food for the people, and (perhaps) more sacrifices for the Lord-though I doubt Saul was thinking along these lines. But God is angry with Saul for disobeying Him.


    Haughty Saul, whether he was being logical or not, was given explicit instructions and instead carried them out on his terms, not God’s. My Bible puts it, “But Saul…spared…everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak the totally destroyed.” (verse 9).


    Did you catch that? All the crappy, weak stuff they got rid of, but kept the best. This was Cain’s sin too-giving God the leftovers and keeping the best for himself. It is easier to throw out garbage-not so easy to sacrifice the good stuff.


    Again, while it seems reasonable to do this, the problem lies with trust. When we give our first fruits and tithes to God, we are trusting Him in our obedience. We are telling God that we believe He will take care of us, and it doesn’t totally fall on our shoulders. Obedience often requires sacrifice in one form or another.


    (the following is from  http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/0904.htm)

    b. Why? What did the Amalekites do that was so bad? Samuel explained that to Saul also: how he laid wait for him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Centuries before this, the Amalekites were the first peoples to attack Israel after their escape from Egypt (Exodus 17).

    i. Hundreds of years before, the Lord said He would bring this kind of judgment against Amalek: 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.” (Exodus 17:14-16)

    ii. Deuteronomy 25:17-19 repeats the point: 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.

    iii. The Amalekites committed a terrible sin against Israel. When the nation was weak and vulnerable, the Amalekites attacked the weakest and most vulnerable of the nation (attacked your rear ranks, all the strangers at your rear, when you were tired and weary). They did this with no provocation, no reason except violence and greed. God hates it when the strong take cruel advantage over the weak, especially when the weak are His people. So God promised to bring judgment against the Amalekites.

    iv. But all this had happened more than four hundred years before! Why did God hold it against the Amalekites? This shows us an important principle: time does not erase sin before God. Before man, time should erase sin. The years should make us forgiving to one another. But before God, time cannot atone for sin. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can erase sin, not time. In fact, the time was time that the Amalekites were mercifully given opportunity to repent. And they did not repent! The hundreds of years of hardened unrepentant hearts made them more guilty, not less guilty! “Though it be four hundred years since, and I may seem to have forgotten it. It is ill angering the Ancient of Days; his forbearance is no quittance.” (Trapp)

    v. “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)


    a. Saul attacked the Amalekites: This was good, and in obedience to the Lord. But it was a selective, incomplete obedience. First, Saul took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. God commanded Saul to bring His judgment on all the people, including the king.

    i. Whey did Saul take Agag king of the Amalekites alive? “Saul spared Agag, either out of a foolish pit for the goodliness of his person, which Josephus notes; or for his respect to his royal majesty, in the preservation of which he thought himself concerned; or for the glory of his triumph.” (Poole)

    ii. “If Saul spare Agag, the people will take liberty to spare the best of the spoil . . . the sins of the great command imitation.” (Trapp)

    b. As well, 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. God had clearly commanded in 1 Samuel 15:3, that every ox and sheep, camel and donkey was to be destroyed also, and Saul didn’t do this.

    i. In a normal war in the ancient world, armies were freely permitted to plunder their conquered foes. This is how the army was often paid. Why was it wrong here? It was wrong for anyone in Israel to benefit from the war against the Amalekites, because it was an appointed judgment from God. This was just as wrong if a hangman were to empty the pockets of the man he has just executed for murder.

    c. As well, they were careful to keep the best for themselves, but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed. They took the care to make sure that they took home the best, and we can imagine they were all pleased with what they had gained after the battle.

    i. This perhaps was worst of all, because Israel was not reflecting God’s heart in His judgment. When they came home happy and excited because of what they gained from the battle, they implied there was something joyful or happy in the midst of God’s judgment. This dishonored God, who brings His judgment reluctantly and without pleasure, longing that men would have repented instead.

    ii. “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)

    iii. “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)

    iv. “But an even deeper reading of this story is permissible. Throughout the Bible Amalek stands for the flesh, having sprung from the stock of Esau, who, for a morsel of meat, steaming fragrantly in the air, sold his birthright. To spare the best of Amalek is surely equivalent to sparing some root of evil, some plausible indulgence, some favourite sin. For us, Agag must stand for that evil propensity, which exists in all of us, for self-gratification; and to spare Agag is to be merciful to ourselves, to exonerate and palliate our failures, and to condone our besetting sin.” (Meyer)


    (me, again)

    The next day, Saul wastes no time going to Carmel (Mt. Carmel? The mountain where God gave Moses the 10 commandments?) where he has already “set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.” (verse 12).


    Is this perhaps Saul’s victory march as well? No altar building here, no psalms of praise to God. Samuel finally catches up to Saul (who I imagine is surprised to find Samuel there) who first attempts flattery “The Lord bless you!” and then lies to the prophet (yeah, good luck with that) about the “good” intentions of the animals.


    “Because of his pride, Saul is self-deceived” (enduring word.com)

    ii. “He addeth obstinacy and impenitency to his crime, and justifies his fact, though he hath nothing of any moment to say but what he said before. So he gives Samuel the lie, and reflects upon him as one that had falsely accused him.” (Poole)

    c. But the people took of the plunder: After insisting he is innocent, Saul then blames the people for the sin. His statement is a half-truth that is a whole lie. It is true that the people took of the plunder. 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).

    i. Saul certainly could be zealous in commanding his army when it suited him to be so. In the previous chapter, he commanded a death sentence on anyone who ate anything on the day of battle. He was willing to execute his own son in his zeal to have his command obeyed. Saul was full of fire and zeal when it came to his own will, but not when it came to the will of God

    b. Saul’s excuses are revealing. First, he blames the people, not himself (They have brought them . . . the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen). Second, he includes himself in the obedience (the rest we have utterly destroyed). Third, he justifies what he has kept because of its fine quality (the best of the sheep and the oxen). Fourth, he claims to have done it for a spiritual reason (to sacrifice to the Lord your God).

    i. Of course, while all this made perfect sense to Saul (in his proud self-deception), it meant nothing to God and Samuel. In fact, it was worse than nothing - it showed that Saul was desperately trying to excuse his sin by word games and half-truths.

    ii. But even in his excuse, Saul reveals the real problem: he has a poor relationship with God. Notice how he speaks of God to Samuel: “to sacrifice to the Lord your God.” The Lord was not Saul’s God. Saul was Saul’s God. The Lord was the God of Samuel, not Saul. In his pride, Saul has removed the Lord God from the throne of his heart.

    iii. “O sinners, you do miscalculate fearfully when you give to God’s servants such false explanations of your sins!” (Blaikie)

    c. The rest we have utterly destroyed: As it turned out, this was not even true. Saul, in fact, did not even do what he said he did. There were still Amalekites he left alive. David later had to deal with the Amalekites (1 Samuel 27:8, 30:1, 2 Samuel 8:12). Haman, the evil man who tried to wipe out all the Jewish people in the days of Esther, was in fact a descendant of Agag! (Esther 3:1). Most ironic of all, when Saul was killed on the field of battle, the final thrust of the sword was from the hand of an Amalekite! (2 Samuel 1:8-10). When we don’t obey God completely, the “left over” portion will surely come back and trouble us, if not kill us!

    d. Then Samuel said to Saul, “Be quiet!” Samuel has had enough. He will listen to no more from Saul. The excuse was revealed for what it was - just a lame excuse. Now it is time for Saul to be quiet, and to listen to the word of the Lord through Samuel.

    i. But even in this, Saul can’t shut up. He shows his proud desire to retain some control by replying, “Speak on.” As if the prophet of God Samuel needed Saul’s permission! He would speak on, but not because Saul had given him permission. He would speak on because he was a messenger of God.


    (me, again)

    Whether Saul truly meant the animals for God is another debate, but the point is that Saul at least claims disobedience (keeping the animals) for a noble purpose (sacrificing them to God). How many of us have fallen into that trap? I know I have.


    Anyway, Saul missed the point and went back to religiosity-he has things to sacrifice to God, God likes sacrifices, therefore Saul is being good. Samuel tells Saul it’s not about the religious ceremony of animal sacrifice, its about the heart, the attitude, and the willingness to obey that God cares about.



    “a. Has 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 heed than the fat of rams. Religious observance without obedience is empty before God. The best sacrificial offering we could bring to God is a repentant heart (Psalm 51:16-17), and our bodies surrendered to His service for obedience (Romans 12:1).

    i. One could make a thousand sacrifices unto God; work a thousand hours for God’s service; or give millions of dollars to His work. But all of those sacrifices mean little if there is not a surrendered heart to God, shown by simple obedience.

    ii. In sacrifice we offer the flesh of another creature; in obedience we offer our own will before God. Luther used to say, “I had rather be obedient, than able to work miracles.” (Cited in Trapp)



    Now Samuel drops the bomb-God has rejected Saul as king. Saul next either lies or is more concerned about how it will look if Samuel leaves him, proving Saul still doesn’t get it. Saul is great for talking the talk, but his heart is far from wanting to understand God’s.


    Samuel doesn’t buy it and prepares to leave when Saul grabs Samuel’s robe so hard that it tears (was Saul attempting to attack Samuel?). Samuel tells Saul, in essence he believes Saul is lying or changing his mind (not his heart) when Saul begs Samuel (seemingly on the basis of vanity and looks again) to stay with him, “please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel…” (verse 30).


    Samuel agrees this time, (which is to be his last time with Saul) and shockingly puts Agag to death. One wonders if Agag, instead of strutting boldly and vainly to meet the famed Samuel, had instead been humble and repentant of his awful crimes (he led his people on savage raids and murdered many Israelites), he might have lived.  

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