I Samuel 15






                              EXECUTION BY SAUL (vs. 1-9).


1 “Samuel also said unto Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint thee to

be king over His people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou

unto the voice of the words of the LORD.”

Samuel also said. Better literally, “And Samuel said.” There is

no note of time, but probably a considerable interval elapsed before this

second trial of Saul was made. God does not finally reject a man until, after

repeated opportunities for repentance, he finally proves obdurate. David

committed worse crimes than Saul, but he had a tender conscience, and

each fall was followed by deep and earnest sorrow. Saul sinned and

repented not. Just, then, as Eli had a first warning, which, though

apparently unconditional in its terms (ch. 2:27-36), was really a

call to repentance, and was only made irrevocable by his persistence for

many years in the same sins (ch. 3:11-14), so was it with Saul.

The prophet’s words in ch. 13:13-14 were a stern warning, and

had Saul taken them to heart, God would have forgiven him his sin. He

repented not, but repeated the offence, and so the sentence was confirmed.

When, then, critics say that we have two accounts of Saul’s rejection, and

that he is represented as having been set aside first for one reason and then

for another, their objection arises entirely from a false view of God’s

dealings with mankind. Alike promises and threatenings, blessings and

punishments are conditional; for there is no heathen fatalism in Holy

Scripture, but mercy waiting to triumph over justice. God, then, was not

willing lightly to cast away so noble an instrument as Saul. His first sin too

had been committed when he was new in the kingdom, and in a position of

danger and difficulty. He waits, therefore, till Saul has had some years of

success and power, and his character has developed itself, and is taking its

permanent form; and then again gives him a trial in order to test his fitness

to be a theocratic king. The interest, then, of this chapter lies in the

unfolding of Saul’s character, and so it follows immediately upon ch. 14.,

which was occupied with the same subject, without any note of

chronology, because the historical narrative is subservient to the personal.

Hence, too, Samuel’s solemn address, reminding Saul that he was

Jehovah’s anointed one, and therefore had special duties towards Him; that

he had also been anointed by Samuel’s instrumentality, and after earnest

instruction as to his duties; and, finally, that Israel was Jehovah’s people,

and their king, therefore, bound to obey Jehovah’s commands.


2 “Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did

to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up

from Egypt.”  Amalek. The Amalekites were a fierce race of nomads who

inhabited the desert to the south of Judaea towards Egypt. They were, and

still continue to be in their descendants, the Bedouins, an untamable race of

savages, whose delight is in robbery and plunder. Between them and Israel

there was bitter hostility occasioned by their having attacked the people

immediately after the Exodus (Exodus 17:8-16), and the command

there given to exterminate them is repeated now, probably in consequence

of their raids having become more numerous and sanguinary under their

present king, as we gather from v. 33. The reference to a war with the

Amalektes in ch. 14:48 no doubt refers to this expedition, as we

have there a mere summary of Saul’s military enterprises. I remember.

Literally, “I have visited;” but the sense of remembering seems confirmed

by such passages as Genesis 21:1; 50:24; Isaiah 23:17; 26:16. The

Septuagint, however, and Aquila, give a very good sense: “I have

considered, “thought over.” How he laid wait for him in the way. There

is no idea in the Hebrew of ambuscade or treachery. It is simply, “How he

set himself in the way against him,” i.e. opposed, withstood him, tried to

bar his progress.


3 “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and

spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and

sheep, camel and ass.” Utterly destroy. Hebrew, “put under the ban.” The

word herem, ban, properly signifies a thing set apart, especially one devoted to

God; and whatever was so devoted could not be redeemed, but must be

slain. When a country was put under the ban, all living things, men and

cattle, were to be killed; no spoil might be taken, but it was to be burnt,

and things indestructible by fire, as silver and gold, were to be brought into

the treasury. Everything, in short, belonging to such a nation was looked

upon as accursed (see Numbers 21:2-3).



4 “And Saul gathered the people together, and numbered them in

Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of

Judah.” Telaim. Kimchi identifies this with Telem (Joshua 15:24), a

place on the southern border of Judah near the country of the Amalekites.

But as telaim means “lambs,” more probably beth, “house,” is to be

understood; and so it was no town, but the “place of lambs,” i.e. some

open spot where at the proper season the lambs were collected from the

pastures in the wilderness. Ten thousand men of Judah. A very small

number compared with the hosts of Israel, especially as Judah was most

exposed to the Amalekite, raids (but see on ch.11:8. A large army was

necessary, because the Bedouin race, though offering little direct

resistance, would be very difficult to overtake


5 “And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and laid wait in the valley.”

A city of Amalek. More probably Ir-Amalek, the name of their

one town. Laid wait. Many commentators follow the Syriac in rendering

this verb contended, strove; others, like the Authorized Version, with the

Septuagint and Vulgate, regard it as a contracted form of a verb signifying

to lay an ambuscade. It is not, however, a valley, but a “torrent bed,” which

was more fit for an ambush than for a strife or dispute. Rashi explains the

verb as signifying “contended with himself,” and quotes from the Talmud an

opinion that when Saul reached the torrent he called to mind the command

in Deuteronomy 21:4, to slay a heifer at a torrent in expiation of a

murder, and had misgivings whether a slaughter so indiscriminate as that

on which he was engaged could be justified. The law of the Herem was

soon softened down, but we find David in several of his wars guilty of

fearful cruelty. The translation of the Authorized Version is the more



6 “And Saul said unto the Kenites, Go, depart, get you down from

among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them: for ye shewed

kindness to all the children of Israel, when they came up out of

Egypt. So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.”

Saul said unto the Kenites. Not while he was lying in ambush

in the torrent bed, but after smiting Ir-Amalek. The Kenites were always

friendly to the Israelites, but seem, like the Amalekites, to have been a

Bedouin nation, ever wandering about without a settled home. In

Abraham’s time they were a powerful people (Genesis 15:19), but, for

some reason or other, broke up into small tribes, some, as those here

spoken of, choosing the wilderness of Judah for their home (Judges 1:16),

others living far to the north in Naphtali (ibid.  ch. 4:11, 17),

others among the rocks of Arabia Petraea. Of these last we know but little,

but the rest continued to be on friendly terms with David (ch. 30:29).



Come Out from Among Them (vs. 5-6)


The Kenites were descendants of Abraham (Genesis 25:2; Numbers 10:29; Judges 1:16)

like the Amalekites, but they were unlike the latter in character and conduct. Many of

them were incorporated with Israel; others, whilst standing in friendly relationship to

them, lived in close contact with “the sinners the Amalekites.” They may be regarded

as representing those who are “not far from the kingdom of God,” but imperil

their salvation by evil companionship. In this message (sent by Saul, perhaps,

according to the direction of Samuel) we notice:



association with irreligious persons indeed that is to be deprecated

I Corinthians 5:10), but only such as is unnecessary, voluntary, very

intimate, and formed with a view to personal convenience, profit, or

pleasure rather than to their improvement (>Genesis 13:12). This:


Ø      Destroys the good which is possessed.

Ø      Conforms to the evil which prevails (Psalm 1:1; Revelation 18:4).

Ø      Involves in the doom which is predicted — certain, terrible, and

imminent. The ban has been pronounced (I Corinthians 16:22;

II Thessalonians 1:9), and it will ere long be executed. “A companion

of fools shall be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20).




Ø      Is afforded by the mercy of God, of which the message spoken by man is

the expression.

Ø      Shows the value which He sets upon even the least measure of kindness

and piety. “Ye showed kindness,” etc. (v. 6). Moral goodness, like moral

evil (v. 2), tends to perpetuate itself. God honors it by the blessing

which He causes to follow in its track, He desires its preservation and

perfection, and hence He says, “Destroy it not” (Isaiah 65:8).

Ø      Offers a certain, great, and immediate benefit. “Come out from among

them and be separate, saith the Lord, and I will receive you”

(II Corinthians 6:14-18).




Ø      This requires decision, self-denial, sacrifice, and effort.

Ø      Nothing else can avail (Ephesians 5:11).

Ø      And every moment’s delay increases danger. (While Lot lingered in

Sodom, the angel said, “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee,

 neither stay thou in all the plain” [Genesis 19:16-17]; apparently

Lot wasn’t in any hurry but he changed his tune after he was

granted sanctuary in Zoar [vs. 18-23] for in v. 30 it is revealed

that he didn’t linger in Zoar for he feared to dwell there.  Apparently

God had gotten his attention!  CY – 2016). “Be wise today,

‘tis madness to defer.”


7 “And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur,

that is over against Egypt.”  From Havilah until thou comest to Shur. Hebrew,

“from Havilah as thou goest towards Shur.” It seems impossible that this Havilah

can be the northwestern portion of Yemen, called Chawlan, and identified

with the Havilah of Genesis 10:7, 29, as this would make Saul smite

them from southeast to northwest. Shur, which means wall, is, as

Wellhausen (Text Samuel 97) observes, originally the name of the wall

which ran from Pelusium past Migdol to Hero, and which gave to Egypt,

as Ebers thinks, its name Mizraim, the enclosed or fortified. Shur is again

mentioned in ch. 27:8 as indicating the direction towards Egypt

of the region occupied by the Amalekites. Havilah, which means circle,

must have been some spot on the route to the isthmus of Suez, lying on the

edge of the wilderness to the south of Judah, where Saul commenced his

foray. Beginning thus upon the borders of Judaea, Saul continued his

devastations up to the limits of Egypt.



God’s Terrible Acts (vs. 1-7)


The facts are:


1. Saul is reminded that though a king he is but the servant of God, and

bound to carry out His declared will.

2. Saul is commanded to utterly destroy Amalek in retribution for former sins.

3. In prosecuting his duty Saul discriminates in favor of the Kenites, then

resident among the Amalekites, in consequence of their former kindness to



It appears from ch. 14:48 that, although the sin of Amalek in bygone

times (Exodus 17:8-16) was the primary ground of the judgment about

to be inflicted, the recent annoyance and injury caused to Saul’s subjects

was the occasion for the execution of the ancient sentence at this juncture.

Those living under the mild and beneficent influences of the Christian

dispensation are conscious of a shock to their sensibilities in reading the

account of wholesale destruction brought by human instrumentality on an

entire people; and the emotional disturbance is supplemented by intellectual

perplexity on observing that the transaction was in obedience to a most

explicit command of God. It is sometimes the practice, very easy for all

who will not take pains to enter carefully into the subject, to get rid of the

emotion and the perplexity by rejecting the inspiration of the entire record,

or else by saying that Samuel and Saul sincerely but ignorantly mistook

their own views of policy and dispositions of heart for the voice of God.

The question at issue is a large one, but as it embraces in principle the

whole of what in the Psalms are called his “terrible acts”  (Psalm 145:6),

which, whenever occurring or read, tax our feelings and perplex our intellects,

we may notice a few points applicable more or less to all God’s righteous





that an unteachable, self-assertive spirit — a spirit that will not repose in a

higher wisdom and goodness than its own, or that chafes under its inability

to square human views of sin and its relations with God’s — is the moral

cause of man’s quarrel with some of the records of Old Testament history.

Our present contention is not with atheists, who to get rid of one difficulty

create many others, but with those who believe in an almighty, all-wise,

and merciful God, who is the Author of the moral and physical laws, by the

action of which the world finds bliss or woe. We cannot help finding

ourselves face to face with events bringing sorrow and shame, material and

moral desolation to multitudes, because God so willed one creature’s

condition to be affected by the conduct of another. Apart from all human

conduct, there are awful events in which, so to speak, the reputation of

God for goodness and tenderness seems to be at stake. This circumstance

should make the rejecter of Old Testament records pause ere he yields to

the spirit of unbelief. There are “clouds and darkness” round about the

throne; and he who would flee from mystery may well seek to flee from the

universe. The judgment that condemns everything of which it does not see

the reason is not qualified to exercise itself on the acts of AN INFINITE

BEING!  The cherubim and seraphim cover their faces, not presuming to

attempt to pierce even with their clear and strong vision the ineffable glory;

and so when a great burden of fear rests on our heart because of the terrible

things of God, it is for us to bow in lowliness and trustfulness, saying for our

comfort, because of what we know Him to be, and not because we can

solve the awful problems of existence, “Just and true are thy ways, thou

King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name?”

(Revelation 15:3-4; compare Psalm 36:6).




to find a perfect solution of all the acts ascribed to God, or even those

known, without question, to result from His appointments. But some light

shines around the “clouds and darkness,” and here and there a rift in the

awful covering appears.


Ø      There is an awful as well as a mild aspect of the Divine nature.

Christianity is no doubt mildness, tenderness, peace, love — all that is

precious to the sorrowing, perplexed spirit. The tendency of some,

however, is to overlook the significant fact that all this becomes real to us

in virtue of the awful sufferings and death of the Son of God. The fact, and

the evident necessity of the fact, for otherwise it would not occur, of His

unutterable woes is perhaps the most stupendous of all terrible acts known

by man. There was the love that gave Him for man; yes, and the awful

righteousness which had so originally constituted the moral relations of

men to a holy God that love could only effect its work through a

catastrophe, on which angels must have gazed with perplexity, and possibly

pain, greater than any we know when contemplating a ruined Amalek or a

world swept by deluge. It is an imperfect Christianity which eliminates the

majesty of righteousness in Law. He who said, “Come unto me, all ye that

labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28),

is the same who one day will say, “Depart.” “These shall go away into

everlasting punishment.” (ibid. ch. 25:41;46)  The “wrath of the Lamb”

(Revelation 6:16) is as real as His love.


Ø      The events which confound our thought are not confined to the

Scripture record. Who shall estimate the pains of death experienced during

the succession of catastrophes incident to the history of our globe? It is

probable that the number of Amalekites who fell under the judgment of

God was less than the sum of young and old who in one day experience the

“pains of death” by the ordination of God. The destruction caused by the

deluge, the fire on Sodom, the waters on the Egyptians, is not greater in

the number of lives cut off than what befell the thousands cut off by events

not mentioned in the Bible. What though the events — the sweeping

calamities of famine, plague, earthquake, and flood, and the daily sufferings

and death of thousands of young and old — be the outcome of law! God is

the Author of that law, and, therefore, the events are in a significant sense

His, as truly as were the ruin of Sodom and the doom of the Amalekites.

No doubt the sum of enjoyment in the lives of creatures cut off by

catastrophes was far in excess of the sum of misery experienced in the

cutting of them off, and so a philosopher can still rest in the benevolence of

God. Sudden destruction is not identical with a whole existence given up

only to anguish.


Ø      So far as we can see, the great woes that come by ordinary law and by

special command are alike subordinate to an ulterior issue. Although we

speak of some events occurring by the action of natural law, — e.g.

earthquakes, floods, famines, and plagues, — yet those in which the

specific command appears are also according to law. The difference lies in

the fact of the Divine origin of the arrangement which issues in destruction

being brought out and emphasized. The laws that work ruin in fire and

tempest and flood are subordinate to the higher laws involved in the perfect

economy of the world. Laws involving incidental disasters subserve the

conservation of the whole system of which they are a part. The laws which

bring destruction to men who have sinned, and because they have sinned,

are subordinate to the moral laws that govern man’s relation to God. They

are so interrelated, in these instances, as to be parts of one great system,

and to subserve the final supremacy of the law of righteousness on which

the health and well being of the world depend. It is A DIVINE

ORDINATION and is incorporated with the physical and mental constitution

of man, that the sin of the fathers shall be visited, not to the exclusion from

woe of the parent, but intensifying it, on the third and fourth generation.

(Exodus 34:7)  We see this law at work every day. Awful as it is, we can

even now see its value as subservient to the righteousness which alone makes

men blessed; for it is a most potent check to vice. Irrespective of their own

immoral condition, the cutting off of the Amalekites for the sin of their

ancestors is analogous to the shortened lives, the wretched health, the filthy

poverty, and other miseries which are the inevitable lot of the offspring of

the desperately vicious; and this for ulterior issues.


Ø      Nations have no posthumous existence. For individuals judgment is

often reserved till another life. Nations, if visited with judgment at all, must

suffer here. In the instruction of the individual, the fact of the coming

punishment of the individual sinner bears an important part as a deterrent.

In the instruction of nations as such, the signal and conspicuous

punishment of a people also plays an important part. This use of national

judgments is constantly recognized in the language of Scripture. “The Lord

hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations” (Isaiah 52:10):

“Put them in fear, O Lord, that the nations may know themselves

to be but men” (Psalm 9:20). At the same time the judgments which on

earth come on nations as such do not necessarily foreclose hope to the

young and innocent among them of a personal salvation from the woe due

to the personally guilty in another life.  (I Peter 4:6 – CY – 2016)


Ø      God is the only true Judge of the actual demerits of a guilty nation. We

cannot rightly estimate the intrinsic evil even of our own personal sins.

“The Judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25) must decide what is appropriate

punishment for national crime; for He only knows the degree of enmity in

the minds of Sodomites and Amalekites. None but He can see the intricate

bearings of their sin and of their continued existence as a people. He also

knows best what blessed deterrent influence will arise to mankind from the

conspicuous character of the judgment executed.


Ø      The means by which judgment is executed are determined by

conditions known to God. Judgment works inwardly through the

conscience and the mental faculties in general. They bear the curse of the

sin committed. It also works externally by the pressure against the sinner of

the order of nature, which is in league with righteousness, and ultimately

makes “the way of transgressors hard.” (Proverbs 13:15)  Nations have

not a very lively conscience. The force of Divine judgments usually comes

from without.  The instrumentality used is evidently connected with the actual

presence of forces which, acting in a natural way under the preordained

direction of the Omniscient, become “His arm.” Doubtless there were physical

conditions of earth and atmosphere which rendered destruction by a deluge

both natural and yet conspicuously of God. The Sodomites were destroyed

not by water, nor slow plague, nor famine, but by the natural combustible

materials close at hand. (I recommend looking up Sodom and Gomorrah

on the website arkdiscovery.com. – CY – 2016)  The Amalekites were not

left to die out by internal anarchy, or famine, or pestilence, but were given

up to the action of that international hostility which was as real an element

of destruction close at hand as was the volcanic force at Sodom. He who in

His vast prevision, seeing the coexistence of the vices of antediluvians with

certain fluvial conditions of a portion of the earth, and the coexistence of the

sin of Sodom with certain volcanic conditions, used them for this purpose,

may have also given full freedom to the play of national sentiment in the minds

of Israel coexisting at that juncture with the fit time for the execution of a

purpose to obliterate a guilty nation. Had pestilence or earthquake carried

them off, it would have been God’s act as truly as when the soldiers of

Saul were the executioners of a decree. The employment of an executioner

gives no right, but the reverse, to others to go and do the same.


Ø      The form of punishment on communities under the Old Testament

dispensation is evidently suggestive of the danger of antagonism to Christ.

The sin of Amalek was that of deliberate attempt to destroy the people of

God (Exodus 17:8-16; Deuteronomy 25:17-19). That means to

prevent the realization of salvation in the “seed of Abraham.” If Amalek

knew, as is certainly possible, the lofty claims of Israel, the crime was most

fearful. That in the mind of God and of Israel such was the nature of the sin

is seen in the discrimination made in favor of the Kenites because they

showed kindness to Israel (v. 6). It is at all events clear that God would

have men learn that it was the sin of obstructing His purposes of mercy for

mankind that was so obnoxious in His sight. The terrible national

destruction which this sin brought on is a clear intimation of the

“destruction from the presence of the Lord” (I Thessalonians 1:9)

which must come on the individuals who set themselves in antagonism to

Christ and His purposes of mercy to the world. A more terrible sin than

that cannot be conceived; a more terrible act of judgment cannot be imagined

than that which will come when Christ shall say, “Depart from me, ye cursed”

(Matthew 25:41). “It is a fearful thing,” even under the gospel dispensation,

“to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31) after a life of

deliberate antagonism to the very Saviour He has sent TO REDEEM US!

Although, therefore, there may be much in the recorded “terrible acts” of God

which weighs on our spirit and demands of us reverence and humility, still we

are not without some gleams of light to sustain our faith both in the sacred





Ø      We see how judgment does surely come, though for generations it seems

to linger.  (II Peter 3:10)

Ø      It becomes us to inquire whether we by any conduct of ours are

impeding the march of God’s people.

Ø      We see how God remembers, and causes His servants to remember, acts

of kindness rendered to the weary on their way to the promised rest.

Ø      It is a painful duty to have to be executors of God’s judgments; yet

when men in national and domestic affairs are really called to it, let them

subordinate personal sentiment to solemn duty.

Ø      In all our painful thoughts over the woes that come on the universe,

involving the young and old, let us seek grace to “be still,” and to wait for

the passing away of the night and the coming of the light that shall turn

weeping into joy (Psalm 30:5); FOR IT WILL COME!


8 “And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly

destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.”

He took Agag. This was the official name of the Amalekite

kings (see Numbers 24:7), as Pharaoh was that of the kings of Egypt.

For its meaning we must wait till we know more about the language of this

race. Agag, however, from v. 32, seems to have been able to speak

Hebrew. He utterly destroyed i.e. put under the ban — all the people.

They appear, however, again in ch. 27:8, and with so vast a

wilderness in which to take refuge, it would be impossible really to

exterminate a people used to lead a wandering life. Moreover, as soon as

Israel began to lay hands on the spoil the pursuit would flag, as the cattle

would be killed by over driving.


9 “But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep,

and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was

good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was

vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.”

The fatlings. So the Syriac and Chaldee render the word, but

the Hebrew literally means “the second best.” Kimchi and Tanchum give

perhaps a preferable rendering, “the second born,” such animals being

considered superior to the first born, as the dams had by that time arrived

at their full strength.



A Probationary Commission (vs. 1-9)


1. The fidelity of Saul to the principle of his appointment, viz. obedience to

the will of Jehovah, was once and again put to the test. He had been tried

by inaction, delay, and distress, which became the occasion of his being

tempted to distrust, and the use of his power for his own safety, in

opposition to the word of God (ch. 13:11). He had been tried by

enterprise, encouragement, and the expectation of brilliant success, which

became the occasion of his being tempted to presumption in entering rashly

upon his own ways, and adopting “foolish and hurtful devices” for

conquest and glory, independently of the counsel of God (ch. 14:19, 24).

He must now be tried by victory, power, and prosperity.  Having chastised his

enemies on every side )ibid. v. 47), his assured success becomes the final test

of his character and fitness to rule over Israel.


2. The temptations of Saul may be compared with those of others, and

especially with the three temptations of Christ (Matthew 4:1-10;

Luke 4:1-12), which are “an epitome of all the temptations, moral and

spiritual, which the devil has contrived for man from the day of his first sin

unto this very hour.” The antecedents in both cases, the circumstances

under which the temptations occurred, the principles to which they

appealed, the inducements which they presented, the means afforded for

their resistance, and their result, are all suggestive. Where the first king of

Israel failed the last King of Israel prevailed, and whilst Saul was rejected,

Jesus was perfected, and “crowned with glory and honour (Luke 22:28-29;

Hebrews 2:10, 18).


3. The commission of Saul to execute judgment upon the Amalekites was

brought to him by Samuel, whose authority as the prophet of the Lord he

never called in question, however much he may have acted contrary to his

directions. After Saul exhibited a determination to have his own way,

Samuel seems to have exerted little influence over him. At the battle of

Michmash the high priest Ahiah was his only spiritual counselor. It became

more and more evident that he wished to establish a “kingdom of this

world,” like the surrounding heathen kingdoms, in opposition to the design

of God concerning Israel, which the prophet represented and sought to

carry into effect; and it was inevitable that, with such contrary aims, a

conflict should arise between them. “The great prophet’s voice brings him

a new commission from his God, and preludes it by a note of very special

warning: ‘The Lord sent me,’ etc. This tone of adjuration surely tells all. It

speaks the prophet’s judgment of his character, of prayers and

intercessions, of days of watching and nights of grief for one he loved so

well, as he saw growing on that darkening countenance the deepening lines

of willfulness. The prophet sees that it will be a crisis in that life history

with which by God’s own hand his own had been so strangely entwined?

The commission was:




Ø      When a communication enjoining the performance of any action comes

unquestionably from God. it should be unhesitatingly obeyed. His authority

is supreme, His power is infinite, and His commands are right and good. It

does not follow that everything He directs men to do in one age is

obligatory on all others in every age. But some things He has undoubtedly

enjoined upon us all.


Ø      When such a communication is made with peculiar directness and

solemnity, it should be obeyed with peculiar attention and circumspection,

for important issues are involved in its faithful or faithless observance. “if

thou hast failed in other things, take heed that thou fail not in this.”


Ø      When special privilege and honor have been bestowed upon men by

God they are placed under special obligations of obedience to Him.

“Though thou wast little in thine own sight,” etc. (v. 17).


  • JUSTLY DESERVED by those against whom it was directed (v. 2)

“the sinners the Amalekites (v. 18).


Ø      Some sins are marked by an unusual degree of criminality and guilt. Like

the people of Israel, the Amalekites were descendants of Abraham (Amalek

being the grandson of Esau — Genesis 36:12, 16); but they attacked

them at Rephidim on their way through the desert, and strove to annihilate

them (Exodus 17:8-16); they lay in wait for them secretly and subtly,

and smote the hindermost, the feeble, the faint and weary, and “feared not

God” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Their conduct was ungenerous, unprovoked,

cruel, and utterly godless.


Ø      Special sins are perpetuated in families and nations and increase in

intensity. The Amalekites were hereditary, open, and deadly foes of Israel

(Numbers 14:45; Judges 3:13; 6:3). They lived by plunder, and

were guilty of unsparing bloodshed (v. 33). Some fresh act of cruelty

may have shown that they were “ripe for the judgment of extermination.”


Ø      Sinners long spared and persisting in flagrant transgression bring upon

themselves sudden, signal, and overwhelming destruction. If judgment is

pervaded and limited by mercy, mercy has also limits beyond which it does

not pass, and they who despise it must perish. Men may forget what God

has spoken (Exodus 17:14); but He remembers it, and fulfils His word at

the proper time. “Injuries done to the people of God will sooner or later be

reckoned for.” Impenitent sinners “treasure up unto themselves wrath

against the day of wrath” (Romans 2:5). It accumulates like a gathering

thundercloud or an Alpine avalanche (Luke 11:50-51), and it

frequently comes upon them by ways and means such as they themselves

have chosen. The Amalekites put others to the sword and spared not; they

must themselves be put to the sword and not be spared. The moral

improvement of inveterate sinners by their continuance on earth is

sometimes hopeless, and their removal by Divine judgment is necessary for

the moral improvement and general welfare of other people with whom

they are connected, and teaches valuable lessons to succeeding ages.


  • FULLY EXPRESSED (vs. 3, 18). The will of God is made known

in different forms and with various degrees of clearness, and some men,

whilst acknowledging their obligation to obey it, have sought to justify

themselves in the neglect of particular duties on the ground of their not

having been fully directed. But this could not be the case with Saul, whose

commission was:


Ø      Imperative; so that there could be no excuse for evasion. “Go and smite



Ø      Plain; so that its meaning could not be mistaken, except by the most

inattentive and negligent of men. “Utterly destroy (devote to destruction).

Fight against them until they be consumed.”


Ø      Minute; so that no room was left for the exercise of discretion as to the

manner or extent of its fullfilment. It required simple, literal obedience, such

as is now required in many things. “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.”


  • ZEALOUSLY COMMENCED (vs. 4-5, 7). The “journey on which

he was sent” (v. 18) was entered upon by Saul with something of the

same energy and zeal which he had formerly displayed against the

Ammonites, but the deterioration which had since taken place in his

character by the possession of power soon appeared.


Ø      The work to which men are called in the way of duty sometimes bears a

close affinity to their natural temperament and disposition.


Ø      Men may appear to others, and even to themselves, to be very zealous

for the Lord whilst they are only doing what is naturally agreeable to

themselves. “Come with me,” said Jehu, “and see my zeal for the Lord”

(II Kings 10:16, 31). “But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the

Lord God of Israel.” Saul of Tarsus, like Saul of Gibeah, appeared to be

fighting for God when he was really fighting against Him.


Ø      The real nature of their zeal is manifested when the requirements of

God come into collision with their convenience, pleasure, ambition, or

self-interest.  Then the hidden spring is laid bare.       


  • UNFAITHFULLY EXECUTED (vs. 8-9). “Spared Agag, and the best

of the sheep,” etc., “and would not destroy them.” “He hath turned back

from following me, and hath not performed my commandments” (v. 11).


Ø      There may be the performance of many things along with the neglect or

refusal to perform others of equal or of greater importance. Saul was “a

type of those who are willing to do something as against the world and on

behalf of Christ, but by no means willing to do all that they ought to do.”

Herod “did many things, and heard John gladly” (Mark 6:20), but he

would not give up his ruling passion.


Ø      Disobedience in one thing often manifests the spirit of disobedience in

all things. It shows that the heart and will are not surrendered to the Lord,

and without such a surrender all else is worthless. In Saul’s sparing Agag

and the best of the sheep, etc, we have “a melancholy example of sparing

sins and evils that should be slain, and sheltering and harboring them

under false pretences by unworthy pleas and excuses.”


Ø      The love of self is the supreme motive of those who refuse to obey God.

Saul was actuated:


o        by covetousness (v. 19),

o        worldly mindedness (Matthew 4:9; I John 2:15-16), and

o        vainglorious pride,


which are only different forms of the love of self. “Behold, he set him up a

monument, and is gone about (as in a triumphal procession), and passed

on, and gone down to Gilgal(v. 12), intending probably to make a

display of the royal captive for his own glory; perhaps to make him a

tributary prince and a source of profit. “Pride arising from the

consciousness of his own strength led him astray to break the command of

God. His sin was open rebellion against the sovereignty of the God of

Israel; for he no longer desired to be the medium of the sovereignty of

Jehovah, or the executor of His commands, but simply wanted to reign

according to his own arbitrary will” (Keil).





10 “Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying,

11 It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned

back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments.

And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.”

It repenteth me. By the law of man’s free will his concurrence

is necessary in carrying out the Divine purpose, and consequently every

man called to the execution of any such purpose undergoes a probation.

God’s purpose will be finally carried out, but each special instrument, if it

prove unworthy, will be laid aside. This change of administration is always

described in Scriptural language as God’s repentance, possibly because the

phrase contains also the idea of the Divine grief over the rebellious sinner.

But though Saul and his dynasty were thus put aside, and no longer

represented Jehovah, still Saul remained the actual king, because God

works slowly by the natural sequence of cause and effect. Saul’s ill-governed

temper, and his hatred and malice towards David, were the

means of bringing about his ruin. It grieved Samuel. Hebrew, “it burned

to Samuel,” i.e. he was angry and displeased. The same phrase occurs in

Jonah 4:1, where it is rendered “he was very angry.” But with whom

was Samuel vexed? Generally at the whole course of events, but especially

with Saul. In choosing him he had hoped that, in addition to high military

qualities, he would possess a religious and obedient heart. He had now

obtained for him a second trial, and if, warned by his earlier failure, he had

proved trustworthy all might have been well. Saul had too many noble gifts

for Samuel to feel indifferent at the perversion of so great an intellect and

so heroic a heart. But he was of a despotic temperament, and would bend

to no will but his own; and so he had saved the best of the plunder to

enrich the people, and Agag possibly as a proof of his personal triumph.

And he cried unto Jehovah all night. I.e. he offered an earnest prayer for

forgiveness for Saul, and for a change in his heart. As Abravanel says,

Samuel no doubt loved Saul for his beauty and heroism, and therefore

prayed for him; but no change came in answer to his prayer, and as

forgiveness is conditional upon man’s repentance, Saul was not forgiven. It

is remarkable how often Samuel is represented as “crying” unto God (see ch.

7:8-9; 12:18).  (Psalm 99:5 and Jeremiah 15:1 testify to the praying of

Samuel.  Saul’s sin was too great and his personal irresponsibility were

too great for even a Samuel’s intercession.  CY – 2016)



The Limits of Patience (vs. 8-11)


The facts are:


1. Saul, in disobedience to the command of God, spares Agag and the best

of the spoil.

2. God declares to Samuel that He can endure with Saul as king no longer.

3. Samuel, in his grief, cries unto God all night.


It is never said that God changes His purpose absolutely. Where promises are

given conditional on conduct they are revoked when conduct fails. We cannot

ascribe human feelings to God; yet it is only by the analogy of human feelings

that we can know anything of the mind of God. The setting aside from kingly

office of Saul was an act of the Divine mind conformable with the original

purpose of making him king, since the condition of permanence had not been

fulfilled. Saul had been borne with so long; now he is to be borne with no

longer. Patience yields to judgment.


  • THERE IS A LIMIT TO DIVINE PATIENCE. Patience bears relation

to wrongdoing, or the sufferance of ill. In God it relates to the restraint He

puts on Himself in the presence of that which merits His displeasure. That

there is such a limit to Divine patience is clear.


Ø      The language of Scripture indicates it. The heart of God is represented

as being under pressure of a moral force which can scarcely be resisted.

“How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?” (Hosea 11:8). The retrospect of

the past brings into view the overpowering considerations which withheld

good and allowed calamity to come. “He should have fed them with the

finest of the wheat” (Psalm 81:16). “O that my people had hearkened

unto me!” (ibid. v. 13). The persistence of men in sin, despite all counsel

and mercy, raises the question of the length of time during which the hand

of justice can be stayed. “How long shall I bear with this evil

congregation?” (Numbers 14:27). A reference to love, tenderness, and

care is set in sad contrast with the doom which the ingratitude so long

endured is about to bring (Matthew 23. 37-38).


Ø      Recorded facts illustrate it. The vices of the antediluvians were long

endured, and it was after the Spirit had striven long with men, and they had

refused the warnings of Noah, that patience yielded to the execution of

judgment (Genesis 6:3; I Peter 3:20). The repeated warnings given to Pharaoh

reveal a patience which terminated in the overthrow in the Red Sea.

Patience was “grieved” with the perverse generation in the wilderness, but

grief gave place to a “wrath” which barred their entrance into rest

(Hebrews 3:9-12). God endured long with some of the seven Churches

in Asia, but at last judgment came, and the candlesticks were removed

from their place.  (Revelation chapters. 2 and 3)


Ø      The close of the Christian dispensation in a day of judgment is the most

awful illustration of the limit to God’s patience. The plain teaching of that

great event is that here men have time to repent and obtain through Christ

all that will qualify for a perfect life — that for the term of our earthly life

God bears with our sins and provocations, and proves by thousands of

favors that He “is slow to anger;” but that the end of all this must come,

and judgment on the whole life ensue. His long suffering is great. But “it is

appointed to men once to die, and after this the judgment” (Hebrews




yielding of patience to judgment in the case of Saul was on the occasion of

his clear and deliberate breach of the command (vs. 1-3, 8-9), and this

too after other opportunities of obedience had been abused. But the

question arises how it is that a certain degree or persistence in wrong is the

occasion of the cessation of patience. There is a vague impression in some

minds that because God is perfectly tender and loving His patience need

and ought never to fail. This kind of thinking springs from very defective

views of the character of God and of His relation to a moral order. It may

not be possible for us to give a perfect rationale of Divine procedure; but

there is perhaps light enough to indicate the wisdom and goodness of even

a limit to God’s patience.


Ø      The privileges of responsible beings imply a probation for their use.

The primary notion of a responsible being is one blessed with privilege, and

able to use or abuse it at will But men are constituted so as to derive much

wisdom from experience, and hence failure in the use of privilege, in a few

instances, may possibly create an experience that will constrain to a more

careful observance of duty when newly imposed. Life is full of helps to

obedience as well as of hindrances. But as time is required for the

development of responsibility, so it is obvious that the possession of

privilege involves a limit to the period for use or abuse. Government

without a reckoning would be no government. Everlasting patience is

inconsistent with responsibility attendant on privilege.


Ø      In a moral order, where beings are closely interrelated, breach of duty

affects others. Saul’s conduct could not end in himself. He, as fount of

authority and influence, would damage his people by every act of

disobedience to the Divine command. The repeated sins of men are so

many attacks on the common welfare of the universe. God desireth not

the death of a sinner,” but that he should “turn and live”  (Ezekiel 33:11);

but He is the Guardian of right, of good, of peace, and of all that enters

into the true welfare of the entire universe, and hence there is a love

most deep and a wisdom unsearchable in not allowing the willful sinner

any longer to be exempt from the restraints which judgment imposes.


Ø      Repeated acts of disobedience reveal to God a state of mind which will

not benefit by further favors. Every act of sin brings man lower in the

moral scale. But while mercy and gentleness afford the sinner every

possible chance to recover what is lost, it is possible for the habit of sin to

gain such power over the entire man that to the eye of the Eternal his

LAST CHANCE of improving additional opportunities is CLEAN GONE!

Samuel’s distress at the abandonment of Saul (v. 11) was natural, and if his

cry all night was intercession, it was only what might be expected of a good

man who knows only in part. The intercession of Moses (Numbers 14:15-23)

was for pardon, and was partially successful. Samuel’s would appear to

have been for pardon in the form of Saul’s continuance in the kingly office

with the usual Divine sanctions. It is, however, obvious that the judgment

of God was based on His perfect knowledge that the heart of Saul was too

far gone to be trusted any further. It is an awful fact that a man may, by

transgression, work himself into such a condition that all is lost on him, and

will be lost. God, knowing this, may cease to be long suffering, and reject

him as “nigh unto cursing” (Hebrews 6:4-8).


Ø      The holiness of God requires vindication. Every pang which followed

Saul s earlier sins and every rebuke from Samuel was some vindication of

the holiness of God. The private and subjective recognition by the sinner of

an insulted holiness is not all that the government of God requires. He is a

jealous God; He will be honored in the eyes of all people. (Malachi 1:11)

Continued long suffering followed by judgment renders holiness more

conspicuous than when judgment forestalls long suffering.


  • General lessons:


1. We should never forget that every day affords us new opportunities of

keeping God’s commands.

2. It will repay the effort if we endeavor to form an estimate of the

privileges conferred on us in the past, and the extent to which we have

drawn on the patience of God.

3. If we are deliberately disobedient in any office of trust, we may some

day look for a grave judgment.

4. We are not always competent to see the wisdom of God’s severity, and

may possibly pray for what is not to be granted.



Samuel’s Intercession for Saul (vs. 10-11)


The recorded instances of Samuel’s praying are of an intercessory

character (ch. 7:9; 8:6, 21; 12:18, 23). The last of them is his

intercession for Saul. He appears to have been told by God in a dream of

the result of the probationary commission which had been given to the

king. Agitated and distressed, and not yet clearly perceiving it to be the

fixed purpose of God (v. 29) that Saul should no longer reign over Israel

as His recognized servant and vicegerent, Samuel gave himself unto prayer,

if thereby he might avert the calamity. Respecting his intercession, consider:


  • ON WHOSE BEHALF IT WAS MADE. Chiefly, doubtless, on behalf

of Saul, though not without regard to the nation, on which his rejection

seemed likely to produce a disastrous effect. Intercession should be made

for individuals as well as communities. “Satan hath desired to have you,”

said He who is the perfect example of intercessory prayer, “but I have

prayed for thee” (Luke 22:32). There were many things in Saul

calculated to call it forth.


Ø      His good qualities, exalted position, and intimate relationship to the



Ø      His grievous sin (vs. 11, 19, 23), exceeding his previous transgressions.


Ø      His great danger — falling from his high dignity, failing to accomplish

the purpose of his appointment, losing the favor and help of Jehovah, and

sinking into confirmed rebellion and complete ruin. “It repenteth me that I

have made Saul king; for he is turned back from following me” (vs. 11,

35). When a change takes place in the conduct of man toward God, as

from obedience to disobedience, it necessitates a change of God’s dealings

toward him (otherwise He would not be unchangeably holy), and this

“change of His dispensation” or economy (Theodoret) is called his

repentance. It is not, however, the same in all respects as repentance in

men. No change in Him can arise, as in them, from unforeseen events or

more perfect knowledge, seeing that “His understanding is infinite;” yet, on

the other hand, as in their repentance there is sorrow, so also in His —

sorrow over those who turn from Him, oppose His gracious purposes, and

bring misery upon themselves (Genesis 6:6; Judges 10:16); and of this

Divine sorrow the tears and agonies of Christ are the most affecting





Ø      Holy anger against sin, and against the sinner in so far as he has yielded

himself to its power, arising from sympathy with God and zeal for His

honour (Psalm 119:126, 136, 158).


Ø      Deep sorrow over the sinner, in his essential personality, his loss and

ruin; not unmingled with disappointment at the failure of the hopes

entertained concerning him. Sorrow over sinners is a proof of love to them.


Ø      Intense desire for the sinner’s repentance, forgiveness, and salvation.

“And he cried unto the Lord all night” with a loud and piercing cry, and in

prolonged entreaty. The old home at Ramah, which had been sanctified by

parental prayers and his own incessant supplications, never witnessed

greater fervor. Wonderful was the spirit of intercession which he

possessed. Well might the Psalmist, in calling upon men to worship the

Lord, single him out as pre-eminent among them that “call upon his name”

(Psalm 99:6). But still more wonderful was the spirit which was

displayed by the great Intercessor, who often spent the night in prayer, and

whose whole life was a continued act of intercession, closing with the cry,

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Would that more

of the same spirit were possessed by all His disciples!


“We are told

How much the prayers of righteous men avail;

And yet ‘tis strange how very few believe

These blessed words, or act as were they true.”




Ø      Not to the full extent he desired. Saul did not repent, neither was he

exempted from the sentence of rejection. The relation of the sovereignty of

God to the will of men is inexplicable. How far the Almighty may, by

special and extraordinary grace, subdue its opposition we cannot tell. But

He has conditioned the general exercise of His power by the gift of freedom

and responsibility, He does not destroy or recall the gift; and the power of

human resistance to the Divine will is a fearful endowment. There are

stages of human guilt which would be followed by the wrath of God

“though Moses and Samuel stood before him” (Jeremiah 15:1). “There

is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it” (I John 5:16).

“The sin, namely, of a willful, obstinate, Heaven daring opposition to the

ways of God and the demands of righteousness, and which, under a

dispensation of grace, can usually belong only to such as have grieved the

Spirit of God till He has finally left them — a sin, therefore, which lies

beyond the province of forgiveness” (Fairbairn, ‘Typology,’ 2:341).


Ø      Yet, doubtless, to obtain many benefits for the transgressor, in affording

him space for repentance and motives to it. Who shall say how many

blessings came upon Saul in answer to Samuel’s intercession for him?


Ø      And to calm the soul of him who prays, to make known the will of God

to him more clearly, to bring him into more perfect acquiescence with it,

and to strengthen him for the duty that lies before him. “And he arose early

to meet Saul in the morning” (v. 12).


o        How great is the privilege and honor of intercessory prayer.

o        Since we know not who are beyond the reach of Divine grace, we

should never cease to intercede for any.

o        If intercession does not avail to obtain all that it seeks, it does not

fail to obtain invaluable blessings.


12 “And when Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning, it was

told Samuel, saying, Saul came to Carmel, and, behold, he set him

up a place, and is gone about, and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal.”

Samuel rose early. If Samuel was at home at Ramah, he

would have a journey of several days before reaching Carmel, the city

mentioned in Joshua 15:55, on the road from Arad, on the borders of

the wilderness of Judah, about ten miles southeast of Hebron. The words

in the morning should be joined with rose early. Before setting out,

however, Samuel learned that Saul had already marched northward

towards Gilgal, having first set him up a place — Hebrew, “a hand,” i.e. a

monument, something to call attention to his victory. In II Samuel 18:18

Absalom’s pillar is styled Absalom’s hand.” A Hebrew trophy in

honor of a victory possibly had a hand carved upon it. Gilgal was the city

in the Jordan valley near Jericho, whither Samuel now followed Saul.


13 “And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou

of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD.”

Blessed be thou of Jehovah. Saul meets Samuel with all

external respect, and seems even to expect his approval, saying, I have

performed the commandment of Jehovah. And so he had in the half way

in which men generally keep God’s commandments, doing that part which

is agreeable to themselves, and leaving that part undone which gives them

neither pleasure nor profit. Saul probably had thought very little about the

exact terms of the command given him, and having successfully

accomplished the main point of carrying out a vast foray against the

Amalekites, regarded the captive king and the plundered cattle as proofs of

his victory. The trophy at Carmel is a token of his own self satisfaction.


14 “And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in

mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”

What meaneth then this bleating? etc. Literally, “What is

this voice of sheep in my ears, and the voice of oxen?” While Saul’s own

conscience was silent they were proclaiming his disobedience.


15 “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.

They have brought them. No doubt this was verbally true,

and very probably the excuse of holding a great sacrifice to Jehovah had

been put prominently forward. But reasons are never wanting when men

have made up their minds, and the people who so readily obeyed Saul

before (ch. 14:24, 34, 40) would have obeyed him now, had he

really wished it. For a king so willful and imperious as Saul thus to seek for

excuses, and try to throw the blame on others, marks, as has been well

observed, a thorough break down of his moral character.


16 “Then Samuel said unto Saul, Stay, and I will tell thee what the

LORD hath said to me this night. And he said unto him, Say on.”

Stay. Samuel will hear no more. Long as he had striven for

him in prayer (v. 11), he now feels that Saul has fallen too low for

recovery to be possible. This night. It is plain from this that Samuel had

not gone to meet Saul at Carmel, but on receiving information of his

movements had proceeded straight to Gilgal, distant from Ramah about

fifteen miles.


17 “And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast

thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed

thee king over Israel?”  When — rather, Though — thou wast little in thine

own sight. Before his elevation to the royal dignity Saul had deemed himself

altogether unequal to so heavy a task (ch. 9:21) now, after great

military successes, he is filled with arrogance, and will rule in open defiance

of the conditions upon which Jehovah had appointed him to the office


18 “And the LORD sent thee on a journey, and said, Go and utterly

destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until

they be consumed.  19 Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of

the LORD, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of

the LORD?”  The sinners. The Amalekites were a race of robbers, and the

command “to devote them” was the consequence of the robbery and

murder practiced by them on the Israelite borders.


20  “And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the

LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have

brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the

Amalekites.  21 But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the

chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice

unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal.”  Saul’s justifcation of himself is

remarkable, as he seems entirely unconscious of having done anything wrong.

His education had no doubt been defective (ch. 10:12), and his knowledge of

the law was probably very small; but he must have listened to Samuel’s

injunctions in a very off hand way (men still neglect God’s teaching in the

same way! – CY – 2016)  and have troubled himself about very  little more

than that he was to make war upon the Amalekites. There may even have

been the wish in his mind to let Samuel know that he was now king, and

would carry on affairs after his own fashion. The very form of his answer

requires notice; for the word rendered yea is literally in that, or because,

and may be paraphrased as follows: Do you reproach me thus because I

have obeyed you? See, there is Agag in proof of our victory; and if the

people have spared the cattle, it was with the best of intentions. The next

clause, the chief of the things which should have been utterly

destroyed, reads in the Authorized Version like an ironical parenthesis.

It is not so, but an important part of Saul’s defense. These sheep and oxen

were “the best of the devoted things,” selected as the first fruits for sacrifice.

Saul may not have known that such a sacrifice was forbidden (Deuteronomy

13:15- 17). The words, to sacrifice unto Jehovah thy God, imply that Samuel

ought to be pleased at the victorious army doing this public homage to the

Deity whose prophet he was. It was virtually a compliment to himself, and

is very much in accordance with the notions of the generality of people

now, who consider that attendance at a place of worship, or sending their

children to school, is a favor to the clergyman.



Excuses for Disobedience (vs. 12-21)


1. Samuel met Saul at Gilgal. It was a sacred spot, and a well known scene

of important events in former time and in more recent years. There the

kingdom had been established (ch. 11:15), and Saul “had solemnly pledged him

and the people to unconditional obedience.” There also he had been previously

rebuked and warned (ch.13:13).  And thither he repaired ostensibly to offer the

sacrifices of thanksgiving for victory, really to make a boastful display and

confirm his worldly power.  How strangely and intimately are particular places

associated with the moral life of individuals and nations!


2. The interview (like the former) appears to have been held in private. The

sentence of rejection was heard by Saul alone, and long kept by him as a

dreadful secret. Yet it was probably surmised by many from his breach with

Samuel, and was gradually revealed by the course of events. The sacred

history was written from a theocratic point of view, and indicates the

principles of which those events were the outcome.


3. The appearance of Samuel was an arraignment of the disobedient king

before the tribunal of Divine justice. Blinded in part and self-deceived, he

made an ostentatious profession of regard for the prophet (v. 13), and

with the assumption of perfect innocence and praiseworthy obedience

uttered “the Pharisee’s boast” — “I have performed the commandment of

Jehovah.” His subsequent confession proved the insincerity of his

declaration. His disobedience was crowned with falsehood and hypocrisy.

When formally called to account (v. 14), he forthwith began to justify

himself and make excuses for his conduct, such as transgressors are

commonly accustomed to make. They were:




Ø      Attributes to other persons what cannot be denied to have occurred, and

seeks to transfer to them the blame which is due to himself. They have

brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the

sheep and of the oxen” (v. 15). So spoke Adam and Eve at the

commencement of human transgression and human excuses (Genesis 3:13).

On a former occasion, when desirous of having his own way, he had

not been so considerate of their wishes or so compliant (ch. 14:24, 39, 45).

“If this excuse were false, where was the integrity and

honor of the monarch? If it were true, where was his devotion and

obedience? And whether true or false, how utterly unworthy did it prove

him of continuing the servant and viceroy of the King of Israel” (Le Bas).


Ø      Protests good intentions, and even religious and commendable motives.

“The people spared the best to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God;” whereby

he seeks to gain the approval of the prophet, but betrays his own inward

alienation from the Lord, for he cannot truly say “my God” (Matthew

23:14); and whilst he has regard to the outward ceremonies of the law, he

knows not (or wilfully disregards it) that by the law the sacrifices of

“devoted” things were altogether prohibited (Deuteronomy 13:15).


Ø      Professes his faithful obedience. “And the rest we have utterly

destroyed.” Again and again he declares his innocence (vs. 20-21), and

insinuates, that instead of being reproved by the prophet, he ought to be

commended by him for his zeal.


Ø      Asserts complete readiness to meet whatever charge may be preferred

against him. “Say on” (v. 16). “See how sin is multiplied by sin. The

transgressor of God’s command stands forth as the accuser of the people,

the speaker of gross falsehood. The spirit of disobedience evoked as with

the rod of an enchanter those other agents of iniquity from their lurking

place; and lo! they sprang forth to do his bidding. Verily their name was

legion, for they were many” (Anderson, ‘Cloud of Witnesses,’ 2:350).


  • FAITHFULLY EXPOSED. Samuel’s fidelity, moral courage, and

dignity, mingled with something of bitter disappointment and sorrowful

resentment, are specially noteworthy. He:


Ø      Points to incontestable fact. “What is this bleating of sheep in mine ears,

and the lowing of oxen which I hear?” (v. 14). It flatly contradicts thy

statement, reveals thy sin, and exposes thy excuses. Between it and thy

duty there is a contradiction which no explanation can remove. Sin cannot

be wholly concealed. “God knows how to bring it to light, however great

the care with which it may be cloaked.” (Luke 12:2-3)  He was convicted of

it by the voices of the animals which he had spared. And “it is no new thing

for the plausible pretensions and protestations of hypocrites to be contradicted

and disproved by the most plain and undeniable evidences.


Ø      Checks the multiplication of vain excuses. Stay (v. 16); proceed no

further in thy endeavor to justify thyself. “And I will tell thee,” etc. When

the voice of truth, of conscience, and of God speaks, it must perforce

(physical coercion) silence all other voices.


Ø      Recalls the requirements of the Divine commission (v. 18), which had

been kept out of sight and evaded in the attempts made in self-defense.

Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites (see v. 3).


Ø      Reveals the motives of outward conduct (v. 19), viz. self-will, pride

(ch. 9:21), avarice, rapacity, “love of the world” (Colossians

3:5; II Timothy 4:10), rebellious opposition to the will of Jehovah, and

daring ambition to reign independently of Him. In all this Samuel sought to

rouse the slumbering conscience of the king, and lead him to see his sin and

repent. If even yet he had fallen upon his face and given glory to God,

there might have been hope. But the reiteration of his previous assertions,

his repudiation of what was laid to his charge, and his blindly pointing to

his main offence (“and have brought Agag the king of Amalek) as an

evidence of his fidelity and zeal, showed that he was insensible to reproof.

What should have humbled him served only to harden him in rebellion and

obstinacy. And nothing was left but his rejection. His excuses were:


  • UTTERLY FUTILE, sinful, and injurious. They:


Ø      Failed of their intended effect.


Ø      Increased his delusion, and prevented the light of truth from shining into

his mind.


Ø      Deepened his guilt in the sight of Heaven.


Ø      Brought upon him heavier condemnation. “As he returned with his

victorious troops the prophet met him. That sorrow stricken countenance,

round which hung the long Nazarite locks, now whitened by the snows of

ninety years, pale and worn with the long night’s unbroken but ungranted

intercession, might have told all. Now the thundercloud, which began to

gather fourteen years before, breaks and peals over the sinner’s head.

‘Stay,’ is the sad and terrible voice as it breaks through the cobweb limits

of self-deception and excuse, ‘and I will tell thee what the Lord said to me

this night,’ etc ‘The people took of the spoil,’ etc. — the very utterance of

dark superstition and mean equivocation. Then the lightning came. The

prophet’s voice, gathering itself up into one of those magnificent

utterances which, belonging to another and a later dispensation, antedate

the coming revelation, and are evidently launched forth from the open ark

of the testimony of the Highest, 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.  (‘Heroes of Hebrews History).


22  “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.  23 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 rebuke of

Samuel contains one of those pregnant sayings which mark the high moral

tone of the teaching of the prophets, and soon became a fundamental principle

with them. To obey is better than sacrifice is a dictum reproduced by Hosea

(Hosea 6:6), the most ancient of those prophets of Israel whose lessons have been

preserved in writing; it is referred to in still earlier psalms (see Psalm 50:8-14;

51:16-17); by other prophets (Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 6:20; Micah 6:6, 8);

and finally received our Lord’s special approbation (Matthew 9:13; 12:7).

It asserts in the clearest terms the superiority of moral to ritual

worship, and that God can only be really served with the heart. Witchcraft

is in the Hebrew divination, a sin always strongly condemned in the Old

Testament. Iniquity literally means nothingness, and so is constantly used

for “an idol;” and this must be its signification here, as the word coupled

with it, and rendered idolatry, is really teraphim. These were the Hebrew

household gods, answering to the Roman Lares, and were supposed to

bring good luck. Their worship, we see from this place, was strictly

forbidden. The verse, therefore, means, “For rebellion is the sin of

divination (i.e. is equal to it in wickedness), and obstinacy (i.e.

intractableness) is an idol and teraphim.” Samuel thus accuses Saul of

resistance to Jehovah’s will, and of the determination at all hazards to be

his own master. With this temper of mind he could be no fit representative

of Jehovah, and therefore Samuel dethrones him. Henceforward he reigns

only as a temporal, and no longer as the theocratic, king.



The Sin of Rebellion (vs. 12-23)


The facts are:


1. Saul, having raised a monument in honor of his victory, meets Samuel

with a pious salutation, as though all were well.

2. On being reminded of the presence of spoil, Saul explains by saying that

it was spared for the worship of God in sacrifice.

3. Samuel, referring to the instructions received from God, presses home

upon him the fact of his guilt in disobeying the Lord.

4. Saul, in response, maintains that substantially he has obeyed the voice of

the Lord, but that the people spared the spoil for a religious purpose.

5. Samuel, therefore, urges the great truth that rigid obedience to God is

the primary and essential duty, without which all else is sinful, and that

rebellion is a sin as heinous as those which men admit to be most vile.

6. Samuel declares to Saul his rejection of God. The important interview

between the disobedient king and the prophet of God brings out several

great truths.




THE SUPREME AUTHORITY. Saul’s sin was known to himself as a

preference of his own course in dealing with the Amalekites. He thought it

best to modify the command in its detailed execution. No doubt there were

reasons which seemed to render such a course useful. It is clear that he did

not realize all that it involved, though that was his own fault. To him as a

king, whose word was supposed to be law to his subjects, there is

something very appropriate in the prophet assuring him that this preference

of his own will, however plausible the reasons for it, was not a simple

weakness or fault, but nothing less than rebellion — a term of fearful

significance under a properly constituted government. The preference was

virtually a setting up a counter authority, impeaching the wisdom of God.

Saul is not the only one to whom God has plainly declared his will. More

or less He has spoken to all men (Romans 1:20; Titus 2:11). To those blessed

with the revealed will as contained in the Scriptures He has given

commandments as precise and emphatic as that to Saul to destroy the

Amalekites. Every believer in Christianity knows as well as he knows

anything that God commands:


Ø      him to repent of sin (Acts 17:30);

Ø      to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation from the curse of sin

      (John 20:31; Acts 16:30-31; I John 5:10-13);

Ø      to exterminate all evil — all Amalekites — from the soul

(Romans 8:13; I Thessalonians 4:3; I Peter 1:16);  (I recommend:


o       Genesis 19 – Spurgeon Sermon – Little Sins

o       Jeremiah 4 – Spurgeon Sermon – Bad Lodgers and How to

Treat Them – this website – CY – 2016) and


Ø      to submit heart, will, and intellect to the authority of Christ

(Matthew 11:29; John 5:23; Acts 10:36; Philippians 2:10, 11).


Now is it not a fact that men often prefer not to do this? They do not

dispute in formal terms the authority of God, any more than did Saul;

yet for reasons known to themselves they prefer:


o        not to repent of sin,

o        not to commit themselves to Christ,

o        not to cast out sinful desires,

o        not to bow in all things to the yoke of the Saviour.


           It is possible that reasons may be forthcoming to, at least, show

that there is no violent antagonism. But when carefully looked

at it is nothing but the positive setting up of man’s will as a better,

more to be desired will THAN GOD’S; it is positive rebellion of a

subject against a king — a setting at naught of THE SUPREME




STRIKING CONTRAST WITH GOD’S. Whether Saul was self-persuaded

that he had not committed any sin (v. 13) is, as we shall yet see, doubtful.

The probability is that he was conscious of uneasiness, but had no true

conception of the enormity of his sin. His feeling was that he had no wish

to disown the authority of God, that it was a mere matter of detail, that his

general conduct was exemplary, and that he followed the inner light which

seemed just then to indicate another way of ultimately and substantially

carrying out the command. So do men tone down their sins

and regard them as venial. The prophet’s words reveal God’s estimate of

the sin of disobedience. It is the cardinal sin (vs. 22-23). It cuts at the

root of all authority. It is the assertion of a power and a wisdom over

against the power and wisdom of the Eternal. It makes man a worshipper

of himself rather than OF GOD! It ignores the solemn truth that we “cannot

serve two masters.” It does dishonor to Him whose commandments are

holy, just, and good. It sows in the moral sphere seeds of evil, which,

taking root, must widen the aberration of man from God. It claims for the

desires and dim light of a sinful creature a higher value in the determination

of actions than is to be attached to the purposes of the All-Perfect. To

render its heinous character more clear, the prophet asserts that it renders

useless and even wicked the most solemn acts of worship (v. 22; compare

Isaiah 1:11-15). No profession of religion; no self-denial in surrender of

choice property; no conformity with venerable customs, or obedience in

other particulars, will for a moment be accepted in lieu of full and implicit

obedience to the clear commands which God lays on man both in relation

to Himself and mankind. God will have no reserve of our will. Again, to

make it more impressive, the prophet assures Saul that this rebellion is in

its evil nature equal to the sins which men are led by education and custom

to regard as the most abominable and indefensible. “As the sin of

witchcraft, as iniquity and idolatry.” There are men still who shrink in

horror at heathenism and vile arts. Are they prepared to believe that not to

obey the clear command to repent, to believe on Christ, to become pure,

and to submit in all things to the yoke of Christ, is as dreadful in the sight

of God as being an idolater or a vile deceiver? It is this Divine estimate of

sin which alone explains the. “many stripes” (Luke 12:47) with which they

will be punished who, knowing the Lord’s will with respect to these matters,

nevertheless prefer their own. It will be more tolerable in the day of

judgment for Sodom than for some of our day (Matthew 11:20-24).




degrades and debases; it prevents clear vision of one’s own condition and a

true estimate of conduct. Sin is always self-apologetic. It enslaves its

victims. The opinion of a morally fallen being on matters of high spiritual

import MUST ALWAYS BE DISCOUNTED.  (This is especially noticed

in modern commentators trying to justify immoral issues and cultural decline!

CY – 2016)    Men in internal opposition to God are not safe guides in


This general effect of sin is more manifest when a man has, after enjoying

great advantages, deliberately preferred his own will to THE CLEAR

WILL OF GOD!   He then enters into DARKNESS MOST DENSE and

the fountain of moral thought and feeling becomes more corrupt. We see

this in Saul’s subsequent conduct and perverse reasoning with Samuel

(vs. 20-21).  Even when conscience began to be aroused by the impressive

language of the prophet, he found a subtle evasion in that, as a king, he had

done his part in placing Agag at the disposal of Samuel, but that the people

were to blame in the matter of the spoil. Thus it is ever. Sin does not end in

itself. It by its evil power induces self-complacency, creates ingenious

excuses, prompts to observance of outward religious acts, throws blame on

circumstances over which there is no control, and even emboldens the soul

to argue with the messengers of God.




from the personal effects of Saul’s sin, the relative effect was to unfit him

for performing the part to which he had been called in the service of God.

He was rejected from being king (v. 23). God’s sanction and blessing

were henceforth to be withheld. He was to be king in name only. The life

once promising good to Israel was to be unblessed and fruitful in sorrows.

This result follows from every preference of our own will. We cease to

hold the position and exercise the influence of God-made kings

(Revelation 1:4-5) in so far as we fail in perfect execution of the will of

the King of kings. It is possible for a man to proceed from step to step in

deliberate rebellion till, both on account of his inward moral decay and his

pernicious influence, God’sets him aside altogether. A pastor, a parent, a

professed Christian may thus be practically disowned by Providence.

However he may continue to labor in some lower departments, the higher

spiritual service of God will cease to be his.  “But I keep under my body,

and bring it into subjection:  lest that by any means, when I have

preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”  (I Corinthians 9:27)




Ø      It is very dangerous to begin to compare our wishes and plans, with the

clear will of God; every thought should at once be brought into subjection.

Ø      The folly of excuses for sin is seen by all except the sinner himself.

Ø      Participation of others in our sin is no palliation of ours (v. 21).

Ø      Deceitfulness, depravity, and idolatry are the true and ruinous

characteristics of every act of doing our own pleasure when professedly

engaged in doing only the will of God (v. 23).



The Sentence of Rejection (vs. 22-23)



“Hath Jehovah (as much) delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,

     As in obeying the voice of Jehovah?

Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,

     And to give heed than the fat of rams.

For (like) the sin of divination is rebellion,

                             And (like) an idol and teraphim is obstinacy.

Because thou hast rejected the word of Jehovah,

     He hath rejected thee from being king.”


The crisis has now fully arrived. The aged prophet confronts the self-deceived

king, whom he looks upon as no longer reigning as servant of

Jehovah, in consequence of his endeavor to rule according to his own will

and pleasure, though in connection with the outward forms of the religion

of Israel. He has striven in vain to turn him from his way, and can

henceforth only regard him as a rebel against the supreme Ruler. Inasmuch

as Saul, in seeking to justify himself, showed that he estimated moral

obedience lightly in comparison with ritual worship, Samuel first of all

asserts the incomparable superiority of the former to the latter. He then

declares that disobedience is equivalent to heathenism and idolatry, against

which Saul, in offering sacrifices to Jehovah and other ways, exhibited such

zeal. And, finally, he pronounces, as a judge upon a criminal, the sentence

of his rejection. “There is a poetical rhythm in the original which gives it

the tone of a Divine oracle uttered by the Spirit of God, imparting to it an

awful solemnity, and making it sink deep into the memory of the hearers in

all generations” (Wordsworth). Notice:


  • THE PARAMOUNT WORTH OF OBEDIENCE, considered in relation

to offerings and sacrifices and other external forms of worship (v. 22).


Ø      It is often less regarded by men than such forms. They mistake the

proper meaning and purpose of them, entertain false and superstitious

notions concerning them, and find it easier and more according to their

sinful dispositions to serve God (since they must serve Him somehow) by

them than in self-denial and submission to His will. It is indeed by no means

an uncommon thing for those who are consciously leading a sinful life to be

diligent and zealous in outward religious worship, and make use of the fruit

of their disobedience “to sacrifice unto the Lord” (Al Capone comes to my

mind – CY – 2016), imagining that it will be pleasing to Him, and make

compensation for their defects in other things.


Ø      It is absolutely necessary in order that they may be acceptable to God.

The spirit of obedience and love is the soul of external services of every

kind, and without it they are worthless. “To love Him with all the heart

..... is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33).

The one ought never to be disjoined from the other, but it is often done; and

they are set in contrast to each other. “If we were to say charity is better

than church going, we should be understood to mean that it is better than

such church going as is severed from charity. For if they were united they

would not be contrasted. The soul is of more value than the body. But it is

not contrasted unless they come into competition with one another, and

their interests (although they cannot in truth be so) seem to be separated”

(Pusey, ‘Minor Prophets,’ Hosea 6:6). “The sacrifice of the wicked is

abomination” (Proverbs 21:27).


Ø      It is incomparably superior to them, considered as needful and

appointed modes of serving God (apart from the “wicked mind” with

which they are sometimes observed). Because:


o        The one is universal; the other is partial, and really included in it.

o        The one is moral, the other ceremonial. It is a “weightier matter of

the law.”  (Matthew 23:23)

o        The one is of a man himself, the willing sacrifice of his own will; the

other of only a portion of his powers or possessions. And “how

much better is a man than a sheep!”  (ibid. ch. 12:12)

o        The one is essential, being founded upon the natural relation of man

to God; the other is circumstantial, arising from man’s earthly and

sinful condition. “Angels obey, but do not sacrifice.”

o        The one is the reality, the other the symbol.

o        The one is the end, the other the means. Sacrifice is the way of the

sinner back to obedience, and the means of his preservation therein.

Even the one perfect sacrifice of Christ would not have been needed

if man had been obedient. Its design is not merely to afford a

sufficient reason for the remission of punishment in a system of moral

government, but also to restore to obedience (Titus 2:14).

o        The one is temporary, the other is eternal. The sacrifices of the former

dispensation have now been abolished; and how much of the present

form of Divine service will vanish away when we behold the face of

God! But love and obedience will “never fail.” Since obedience is

thus the one thing, the essential, more important than anything else,

it should hold the supreme place in our hearts and lives.



In proportion to the excellence of obedience is the wickedness of



Ø      It is a common thing for men to make light of it, especially in actions to

which they are disposed, or which they have committed, being blinded by

their evil desires and passions.


Ø      In the sight of God every act of disobedience is exceedingly hateful.

“Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Habakkuk 1:13) without

punishing it.


Ø      In the light of truth it is seen to be the same in principle as those

transgressions on which the severest condemnation is pronounced, and

which are acknowledged to be deserving of the strongest reprobation. It is

probable that Saul had already taken measures to put down the “sin of

divination” (ch. 28:9), and prided himself upon his zeal against

idolatry; but he was acting in the spirit of that which he condemned, and

was an idolater at heart. For he was turning away from God, resisting and

rejecting Him, and making an idol of self, which is done by all who (in

selfish and superstitious fear or desire) seek divination (witchcraft) and

trust in an idol (“which is nothing in the world”  - I Corinthians 8:4) and

teraphim (household gods — ch, 19:13). “The declinations from religion,

besides the privative, which is atheism, and the branches thereof, are three:


o        heresies, when we serve the true God with a false worship;

o        idolatry, when we worship false gods, supposing them to be true; and

o        witchcraft, when we adore false gods, knowing them to be wicked

and false.


This is the height of idolatry. And yet we see, though these be true degrees,

Samuel teacheth us that they are all of a nature, when there is once a

receding from the word of God” (Bacon, ‘Advancement of Learning’). “All

conscious disobedience is actual idolatry, because it makes self-will, the

human I, into a god” (Keil). “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”

(I John 5:21).




Ø      The punishment of the disobedient is the appropriate fruit of his

disobedience. “Because thou hast rejected me,” etc. Saul wished to reign

without God, and have his own way; what he sought as a blessing he

obtains as a curse. Sinners say, “Depart from us,” etc. (Job 21:14; Matthew

8:34); and the most terrible sentence that can be pronounced upon them is,

“Depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Psalm 6:8; Matthew 7:23). “God

rejects no one unless He is before rejected by him.”


Ø      It involves grievous loss and misery the loss of power, honor,

blessedness; the experience of weakness, reproach, unhappiness, which

cannot be wholly avoided, even though mercy be afterwards found.


Ø      Judgment is mingled with mercy. Although Saul was uncrowned as

theocratic king, he did not cease to live or to reign as “legal king.” He was

not personally and entirely abandoned. God sought his salvation to the last.

“His rejection involved only this:


o        That God would henceforth leave him, and withdraw from him the

(special) gifts of His Spirit, His counsel through the Urim and

Thummim and by His servant Samuel; and


o        that in a short time the real deposition would be followed by tangible

consequences — the kingly ruins would be destroyed, and the

kingdom would not pass to his descendants.




                                             (vs. 24-35).


24 “And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed

the commandment of the LORD, and thy words: because I feared

the people, and obeyed their voice.  25 Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon

my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD.”

The words of Samuel struck Saul with terror. The same

authority which had first given him the kingdom now withdraws it from

him, and pronounces his offence as equal in God’s sight to crimes which

Saul himself held in great abhorrence. He humbles himself, therefore,

before Samuel, acknowledges his sin, and frankly confesses that the cause

of it had been his unwillingness to act in a manner contrary to the wishes of

the people; and we must fairly conclude that the sparing of the spoil had

been the people’s doing. But was it not the king’s duty to make the people

obedient to Jehovah’s voice? As the theocratic king, he was Jehovah’s

minister, and in preferring popularity to duty he showed himself unworthy

of his position. Nor can we suppose that his confession of sin arose from

penitence. It was the result simply of vexation at having his victory crossed

by reproaches and disapproval from the only power capable of holding him

in check. It seems, too, as if it were Samuel whom he feared more than

Jehovah; for he speaks of thy words, and asks Samuel to pardon his sin,

and to grant him the favor of his public presence with him at the sacrifice

which was about to be celebrated in honor of their triumph.


26 “And Samuel said unto Saul, I will not return with thee: for thou

hast rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD hath rejected

thee from being king over Israel.  27  And as Samuel turned about to

go away, he laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and it rent.

28 And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of

Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbor of thine,

that is better than thou.”  At first the prophet refuses the king’s request. Saul

had dishonored God, and, therefore, had no claim to public homage from

God’s minister. He turns, therefore, to go away, and Saul in his eagerness

seizes hold of Samuel’s mantle. The Authorized Version is very careless about

the exact rendering of words of this description, and seems guided in its choice

of terms simply by the ear. Now the mantle, addereth, though used of the

Shinar shawl stolen by Achan (Joshua 7:21, 24), was the distinctive

dress of the prophets, but naturally was never worn by Samuel himself.

Special dresses come into use only gradually, and Elijah is the first person

described as being thus clad. Long before his time the schools of the

prophets had grown into a national institution, and a loose wrapper of

coarse cloth made of camel’s hair, fastened round the body at the waist by

a leathern girdle, had become the usual prophetic dress, and continued so

to be until the arrival of Israel’s last prophet, John the Baptist

(Matthew 3:4). The garment here spoken of is the meil, on which see

ch. 2:19, where it was shown to be the ordinary dress of people

of various classes in easy circumstances. Now the meil was not a loosely

flowing garment, but fitted rather closely to the body, and, therefore, the

tearing of it implies a considerable amount of violence on Saul’s part.

Skirt, moreover, gives a wrong idea. What Saul took hold of was the hem,

the outer border of the garment, probably at Samuel’s neck or shoulder, as

he turned to go away. He seized him, as we should say, by the collar, and

endeavored by main force to retain him, and in the struggle the hem rent.

And Samuel, using it as an omen, said, Jehovah hath rent the kingdom

of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbor of thine,

that is better than thou. Neighbor is used in Hebrew in a very indefinite

manner, and here means generally “some one, whoever it may be,” but one

who will discharge the duties of thy office better than thou hast done

(compare Luke 10:36).


29 “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for He is not

a man, that He should repent.”  The Strength — better, as in the margin, the

Victory or Triumph — of Israel. He who is Israel’s Victory, or He in whom Israel

has victory, will not repent. In v. 11 God was said to repent, because there

was what appeared to be a change in the Divine counsels. “God gave Israel

a king in his anger, and took him away in his wrath” (Hosea 13:11).

But such modes of speaking are in condescension to human weakness.

Absolutely WITH GOD THERE IS NO CHANGE!   He is the Eternal Present,

with whom all things that were, and are, and shall be ARE ONE!   But even

looked at from below, as this finite creature man looks at his Maker’s acts,

there is no change in the Divine counsels, because, amidst all the vicissitudes

of human events, God’s will moves calmly forward without let or hindrance.

No lower or secondary motives influence Him, no rival power thwarts Him.

One instrument may be laid aside, and another chosen, because God

ordains that the instruments by which He works shall be beings endowed

with free will. Saul was the very counterpart of the Jewish people — highly

endowed with noble qualities, but headstrong, self-willed, disobedient.

Nevertheless, he laid the foundation for the throne of David, who in so

many points was the ideal of the theocratic king; and Israel in like manner

prepared the way for the coming of the true Messianic King, and gave

mankind the one Catholic, i.e. universal, religion. “He who is Israel’s

Victory does not repent.”



The Unchangeable One of Israel (v. 29) 


“And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent:

 For He is not a man, that He should repent”


The word rendered Strength in the Authorized Version (netsach, here used for the

first time) has a varied signification (splendor, victory, truth, confidence,

perpetuity, etc.), but is used in this place in the sense of steadfastness,

constancy, and unchangeableness. Jehovah, the prophet says, is the

Immutability, or unchangeable One, of Israel. He is not like man,

inconstant, unreliable, changeable. He is not such an one as Saul imagined

him to be (Psalm 50:21); does not vacillate in His thoughts, feelings, or purposes;

but acts on immutable principles, and performs the word which He has spoken;

and hence the sentence of rejection cannot be reversed. His unchangeableness

is often declared in the Scriptures. It is implied in the name of Jehovah. It

was dwelt upon by Moses (Deuteronomy 32:4, 18, 31), (I recommend

Acts 17 Dwight Moody Sermon – The Great Redemption – this website – CY –

2016) - perceived by Balsam (Numbers 23:19), and asserted by Hannah in her

song of praise (ch. 2:2).  And although it is often disbelieved or misinterpreted,

it is a source of strength and consolation to all by whom it is properly

understood and realized.  Observe that it:




Ø      The creation of the world and the varied operations of His hand. It is

not stoical indifference (without affection) nor absolute quiescence

(without activity). He is the living God, and freely exercises his boundless

power in producing infinite changes. “Over all things, animate and

inanimate, flows the silent and resistless tide of change.” But whilst He is

“in all, above all, and through all” (Ephesians 4:6), He is separate and

distinct from all; and the creation of the world and all the mutations of

matter and force are only expressions of His eternal and unchangeable

thought. The physical universe is the garment in which the Invisible

clothes Himself and manifests Himself to our apprehension (Psalm

102:25-27; 104:2).


Ø      The revelations of His character and the successive dispensations of His

grace. These are not contrary to one another. They are simply the clearer

and more perfect manifestations of Him who is always “THE SAME”

adapted to the need and capacity of men. God deals with them as a parent

with his children, affording them instruction as they are able to bear it.

(I recommend Dispensational Truth by Clarence Larkin – CY – 2016)


Ø      The relations in which He stands to men, and His diversified dealings

with them. They sometimes appear the opposite of each other. At one time

He approves of individuals and nations, and promises them manifold

blessings, whereas at another He condemns and punishes them. Hence He is

said to repent. But the change arises from a change in men themselves. The

Glory of Israel always shines with undimmed luster; but they shut their

eyes and turn their backs upon the light, so that to them it becomes

darkness. And it is His unchangeable holiness that necessitates this result;

for if He were “altogether such an one as themselves” (Psalm 50:21), they

might expect (like Saul) to enjoy His favor whilst they continued in sin.

“With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure; and with the froward thou

wilt show thyself froward (ibid. ch. 18:26).




Ø      The perfections of His character. Change is an element of imperfection,

and no such element can exist in the absolutely perfect One. With Him

“there is no variableness, neither shadow caused by turning” (James

1:17). “In Him there is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5). And it is

“impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18).


Ø      The principles of His government: wisdom, truth, equity, goodness, etc.

In these things He delights, and from them He never departs. They stand like

rocks amidst a sea of perpetual change. They are more immutable than the

laws of nature, being the foundation on which those laws rest, and

inseparable from the Divine character. “The word of our God” (in which

they are expressed) “shall stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8; 51:6). “Till

heaven and earth pass,” etc. (Matthew 5:18; 24:35).


Ø      The purposes of His heart, formed in perfect knowledge of all that will

take place, and effected in harmony with the principles before mentioned.

Some of these purposes are hidden (Deuteronomy 29:29). Others are

revealed, and include the general conditions of peace and happiness, and

the results of their observance or neglect (promises and threatenings), also

particular events, occurring either independently of the free action of men,

or in connection with it, whether in the way of opposition or cooperation,

as, e.g., the setting up of a theocratic kingdom, the advent and death of the

Messiah (Acts 4:27-28), and His universal reign. “The counsel of the

Lord standeth forever” (Psalm 33:10-11; Proverbs 19:21; Isaiah 46:10;

Jeremiah 4:28). “I am Jehovah, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob

are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6). “When we find predictions in Scripture

not executed, we must consider them not as absolute, but conditional, or,

as the civil law calls it, an interlocutory sentence. God declared what would

follow by natural causes, or by the demerit of man, not what He would

absolutely do Himself. And though in many of these predictions the

condition is not expressed, it is understood” (see Jeremiah 18:7-10;

Ezekiel 33:13-16; Jonah 3:4; 4:2).




Ø      Faith. He never disappoints the trust that is reposed in Him. His

covenant with His people is firm and sure; “for the mountains shall depart,

and the hills be removed,” etc. (Isaiah 54:10). “All the promises of God

in Him are yea, and in Him Amen” (II Corinthians 1:20). What an

incentive is thus afforded to each believer, and the whole Church, to “abide

in Him”! “Whose faith follow, etc. Jesus Christ (is) the same yesterday,

and today, and forever; (therefore) be not carried about (like a ship driven

by varying winds) with divers and strange doctrines; for it is a good thing

 that the heart be established with grace” (Hebrews 13:7-9).


Ø      Love. Only the unchangeable One can be a true, satisfying, and enduring

rest of the affections; for all earthly objects change and pass away, and

must leave the immortal spirit desolate. His unchanging love should keep

our love to Him and to each other burning with a steady flame (John

13:1, 34; Jude 1:21).


Ø      Righteousness.


o        Which consists in conformity to the constant obedience of Christ

to the righteous and unalterable will of the Father.


o        Which is faithfully assured of enduring blessedness (Revelation

22:14). “He that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (I John 2:17).


o        But without which there will be an irrevocable loss of the most

glorious crown and kingdom. The persistently rebellious dash

themselves to pieces against the unchangeable holiness and

justice of God.


30 “Then he said, I have sinned: yet honor me now, I pray thee, before

the elders of my people, and before Israel, and turn again with me,

that I may worship the LORD thy God.  31 So Samuel turned again after

Saul; and Saul worshipped the LORD.”  Then he said, I have sinned. We

have here no real confession of guilt. Even in v. 24 the words were rather an

expression of vexation at the strictness with which he was held to the letter

of the command, than an acknowledgment that he really had done wrong. Here

Saul’s meaning seems to be, Well, granting that I have sinned, and that this

sentence of exclusion from the kingdom is passed upon me, yet at least pay

me the honor due to the rank which I still continue to hold. And to this

request Samuel accedes. Saul was de facto king, and would continue to be

so during his lifetime. The anointing, once bestowed, was a consecration

for life, and so generally it was in the days of the son that the consequences

of the father’s sin came fully to pass (I Kings 11:34-35; 14:13, etc.).

Had Samuel refused the public honor due to Saul’s rank, it would have

given an occasion for intrigue and resistance to all who were disaffected

with Saul’s government, and been a step towards bringing back the old

anarchy. Jehovah thy God. See on v. 13.



Conviction of Sin not Repentance (vs. 24-31)


The facts are:


1. Saul, alleging fear of the people, admits his sin, and seeks Samuel’s

presence while he worships the Lord.

2. On Samuel refusing and turning away, Saul seizes and rends his

garment, which circumstance is used as a sign that so the Lord had rent the

kingdom from Saul and given it to another.

3. On being assured that God’s purpose was irrevocable. Saul entreats, for

the sake of his credit among the people that Samuel would join him in an

act of worship, to which Samuel complies.


The decisive language of the prophet, given in a tone which admitted of no mistake,

aroused the slumbering conscience of Saul, and brought about his remarkable

pleading for pity and help. We have here the case of a man guilty of a great sin,

concerned for its forgiveness, but sternly assured that he shall not have it.

The apparent severity of the prophet is not based on any arbitrary decree of

God, nor on an unchangeableness in the “Strength of Israel irrespective of

human character and conduct, but upon God’s knowledge of Saul’s actual

condition. The repentance which Saul thinks to be adequate, and which

many men would recognize, is known by the Searcher of hearts not to be

true repentance, but only a bare conviction of sin, attended with a

consequent dread of the outward temporal consequences attached to it, as

just indicated by Samuel. Bare conviction of sin is not true repentance.



  • ITS REAL NATURE. Conviction of sin is a matter only of an aroused

conscience, brought about by the evidence of facts being set before the

understanding and the presence of penalties consequent on the evidence.

There was no resisting Samuel’s argument. The common understanding

saw that a human will in opposition to a Divine was necessarily sin, and the

uneasiness of conscience thus naturally aroused was aggravated by the

emphatic announcement of a great penalty — loss of the kingdom. The

mental operation was that of a pure logical progression from admitted

premises to an irresistible conclusion. Conscience does not disturb a man in

working out a syllogism in formal logic or a demonstration in mathematics;

but it does when the question reasoned on is the man’s own conduct. This

is the general nature of the conviction of sin which many experience. Here,

observe, is an absence of all that fine spiritual discernment which sees in sin

essential unholiness, and that corresponding feeling which loathes it

because of what it is in the sight of God. There is no change in the spirit

towards sin itself, no detestation of the self-preference which rose against

the supreme will.


  • ITS MANIFESTATIONS. The manifestation of Saul’s conviction of

sin is a remarkable illustration of the enormous difference between bare

conviction and true repentance. The force of evidence and pressure of

penalty extorted the admission, “I have sinned:” yet, owing to the lack of

the spirit of repentance, the mere generality of that admission was revealed

by the immediate palliation, “I feared the people.” Pardon, consisting in the

removal of penalty, was the only pardon cared for, and even this was

sought by a superstitious trust in the prayers of another. A zealous and

prompt observance of some outward act of worship was thought to be a

sure means of recovering lost favor. The slightest movement of Samuel

indicative of the non-reversal of the penalty only excited a spasmodic

dread, without the slightest trace of any changed sentiment towards sin

itself. And when no hope of avoiding the penalty remains, the only thought

is to break his fall before his elders, and so save some civil advantage. This

analysis, expressed in terms suitable to our times, will be found to hold

good of multitudes whose conviction of sin is unattended with the spirit of

a true repentance. How different the conviction that accompanies true

repentance! Then, “I have sinned” has a deep, unutterable meaning.

Forgiveness is then not the mere release of life from suffering and loss, but

a restoration of the soul to the joy of personal reconciliation with A HOLY

FATHER!  No thought of excuse is ever entertained, but “against thee, and

thee only, have I sinned and done this evil”  (Psalm 51:4), is the sincere

confession of a broken and contrite heart. The soul is so filled with self-loathing,

and so agonized in being FAR FROM GOD that it thinks not of punishment and

position among men, and can only go direct to God and plead, “Create in

me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (ibid. v. 10)

Contrast Simon Magus (Acts 8:24) and Felix (Acts 24:25; Psalm 51; Luke 15).


  • ITS CONSEQUENCES. Saul, though convinced of sin, was

practically an unchanged man. He was, after his pleading with Samuel, and

after Samuel’s kindly act of consoling his poor blind heart by joining in

worship, as fond of his own self-will as before. No spiritual change being

wrought, no remission of penalty was ever possible. On his knowledge of

what was Saul’s radical evil — a heart out of all sympathy with GOD’S

HOLINESS — and of its continuance, did God resolve to provide for Israel

another king. The Strength of Israel is not dependent on existing

arrangements or human beings for the maintenance of His authority and

accomplishment of His purposes. Saul as a king was ruined. His defective

conviction was of no avail. It should be urged on all that a mere admission

of sin and effort to be free from its punishment are of no avail. Loss of all

that is deemed precious MUST ensue. Only repentance of the heart will

serve. This is sure to lead away from all false means of deliverance to Him

who is exalted to give remission of sins.



Insincere Confession of Sin (vs. 24-31)


“I have sinned” (vs. 24, 30). On hearing the sentence of his rejection,

Saul at length confesses his sin. The words of Samuel have some effect

upon him, but not the full effect they should have had. For his confession

does not proceed from a truly penitent heart (see ch. 7:6), and it

is not followed either by the reversal of his sentence or the forgiveness of

his sin. It was like that of Pharaoh (Exodus 9:27), of Balaam

(Numbers 22:34), and of Judas (Matthew 27:4) — springing from

“the sorrow of the world, which worketh death” (II Corinthians 7:10).





Ø      Under the pressure of circumstances, rather than as the free expression

of conviction. Confession comes too late when it is extorted by the

demonstration of sin which can no longer be denied. Some men, like Saul,

conceal their sin so long as they can, and confess it only when they are



Ø      From the fear of consequences (vs. 23, 26), and not from a sense of

the essential evil of sin. This is the most common characteristic of

insincerity. As Saul confessed his sin from the fear of losing his kingdom,

so do multitudes from fear of death, and live to prove their insincerity by

their return to disobedience. “There are two views of sin: in one it is

looked upon as a wrong; in the other as producing loss — loss, for

example, of character. In such cases, if character could be preserved before

the world, grief would not come; but the paroxysms of misery fall upon our

proud spirit when our guilt is made public. The most distinct instance we

have of this is in the life of Saul. In the midst of his apparent grief, the thing

still uppermost was that he had forfeited his kingly character; almost the

only longing was that Samuel should honor him before the people. And

hence it comes to pass that often remorse and anguish only begin with

exposure” (Robertson).


Ø      To the servant of God, and to gain his approval, and not to God, and to

obtain his favour. “Thy words” (v. 24). “Now therefore” (as if on the

ground of his confession he could justly claim pardon), “I pray thee,

pardon my sin” (v. 25). Many confess their sin to men without confessing

it to God, and attach to their confession a worth that does not belong to it.


Ø      With an extenuation of guilt, rather than with a full acknowledgment of

its enormity. “I feared the people, and obeyed their voice” (vs. 24, 15).

He returns to his first excuse, which he puts in a different form. If what he

said was true, what he had done was wrong (Exodus 23:2). There is a

higher law than the clamor of a multitude. True penitents do not seek to

palliate their sin, but make mention of its greatness as a plea for Divine

mercy (Psalm 25:11).


Ø      With an entreaty for public honor, rather than in deep humiliation

before God and man. Honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of

the people, and before Israel (v. 30) “If Saul had been really penitent, he

would have prayed to be humbled rather than to be honored” (Gregory).


Ø      With repeated promises of rendering worship before the Lord, rather

than a serious purpose to obey His voice (vs. 25, 30). He does not seem

even yet to have laid to heart the truth which had been declared by the

prophet; and he probably looked upon public worship by sacrifice as

something peculiarly praiseworthy, and sought, by urging Samuel to

remain and offer it, to promote his own honor in the sight of the people,

and not as the expression of penitence and the means of forgiveness.

“The most prominent feature in the character of Saul was his insincerity.”

And yet, in his repeated promises to worship the Lord, and his urgent

entreaties of Samuel, there was doubtless an element of good that might

not be despised (I Kings 21:27-29).



“The blackest night that veils the sky,

     Of beauty hath a share;

The darkest heart hath signs to tell

     That God still lingers there.”


  • ITS CONSEQUENCES. In the language and conduct of Samuel there



Ø      A reiteration of the sentence of rejection. Thrice it was declared that

Jehovah had determined that Saul should no longer reign under His

sanction and by His aid (vs. 26, 28). Although he may not have known all

that the sentence involved, he felt that its import was alarming. An insincere

confession of sin darkens the gathering cloud instead of dispersing it.


Ø      A confirmation of it by an impressive sign, the occasion of which is

afforded by the sinner himself (v. 27). Thereby it comes home to him

with greater force.


Ø      An intimation of the transfer to a better man of the dignity which has

been forfeited by sin. This was the second time that an announcement of a

truly theocratic king was given (ch. 12:14); and whilst it showed

that the Divine purpose could not be defeated, however it might be striven

against, it must have been peculiarly painful to Saul. The dreadful secret

was a constant burden to him, and when he recognized the man in whom

the prediction was about to be fulfilled, it excited his envy and hatred

toward him. When any one is not right with God, every favor shown to

another fills him with grief and wrath (Genesis 4:5).


Ø      A declaration of the unchangeable purpose of God. “The Strength”

(Perpetuity, Confidence, Refuge, Victory) “of Israel will not lie nor

repent,” etc. (v. 29). Saul evidently thought of Him as capable of acting in

an arbitrary, capricious, and inconstant manner, like himself (see Psalm 50:21);

but, inasmuch as He formed His purposes with perfect knowledge, and acted

on immutable principles, and there was no real change in the heart of the

transgressor, there could be no reversal of His sentence. “He cannot deny

Himself” (II Timothy 2:13). If in some things His purposes toward men

appear to change because men alter their relative position toward Him (as

the sun appears to change by the rotation of the earth, causing day and

night), in others they abide the same forever, and he who sets himself

against them must be overthrown. It is now certain that he cannot again be

a theocratic king; but his renewed importunity, in which, perchance,

notwithstanding its apparent selfishness, the prophet sees a gleam of hope,

is followed by:


Ø      An indication of pity toward the foolish and fallen king. “And Samuel

returned after Saul; and Saul worshipped Jehovah” (v. 31). May he not

even yet be led to true repentance? Although the birthright is given to

another, there is a blessing for him who weeps and prays (Genesis

27:38-40). His request is granted. He has what he desires and is prepared

to receive. He is still the king after the people’s heart. He shall continue

such. The sentence shall not be published, nor any special effort be put

forth for his dethronement. It would result in general confusion. The just

and merciful purposes of God toward the people in giving him for their

king are not yet fulfilled, and they will slowly ripen to their accomplishment.


Ø      An exhibition of judgment upon an obstinate offender (v. 32). One of

the reasons, doubtless, why Samuel “turned again after Saul” was that he

might execute on Agag the Divine sentence which he had faithlessly

remitted. “The terrible vengeance executed on the fallen monarch by

Samuel is a measure of Saul’s delinquency.” It is also a solemn warning to

him of the doom which sooner or later comes upon every impenitent and

persistent transgressor.



Tried Again and Rejected (v. 31)


God proves His servants, and does not show them the fullness of His favor

and confidence till they have been tested. Abraham was tried and found

faithful; so was Moses; so was David; so was Daniel. Abraham, indeed,

was not without fault, nor Moses either. David once sinned grievously. But

all of these were proved true at heart and trustworthy. Saul is the

conspicuous instance in the Old Testament of one who, when called to a

high post in Jehovah’s service, and tested therein again and again, offended

the Lord again and again, and was therefore rejected and disowned.


1. The question on which the king was tested was the same as before.

Would he obey the voice of the Lord, and rule as His lieutenant, or would

he be as the kings of the neighboring nations and tribes, and use the

power with which he was invested according to his own will and pleasure?

On this critical question the prophet Samuel had exhorted both Saul and

the people when the monarchy was instituted. If the king erred, he could

not plead that he had not been forewarned. The accepted principle of

modern constitutional government is that the ruler exists and is bound to

act for the public good, and not for his own aggrandizement or pleasure.

At root this is the very principle which Samuel inculcated 3000 years ago.

The Old Testament required a king to reign in the fear of the Lord, and

loyally execute His will. The New Testament describes the ruler as a

“minister of God for good.” (Romans 13:4)  Now THE DIVINE WILL


advanced political principle of modern intelligence is no other than the

old doctrine of the Bible. There is no Divine right of kings to rule as they

think proper. That doctrine of base political subservience is opposed to both

the spirit and the letter of the sacred writings. The king is FOR GOD, not God

for the king. The king is for the people, not the people for the king. The voice

of the people may not always be the voice of God (in our day, it is more like

the voice of the courts IS NOT THE VOICE OF GOD – CY – 2016), but the

good of the people is always THE WILL OF GOD! 


2. The test to which the king was newly subjected was, like the former one,

specific, and publicly applied. Would he obey the Lord in the extermination

of Amalek or no? And he disobeyed. If there was one of all the Amalekite

race who deserved to forfeit his life, it was the king, Agag, a ruthless chief,

whose sword, as Samuel expressed it, had “made women childless;” yet

him Saul spared when he showed no mercy to others. It was not at all from

a feeling of humanity or pity. To have scrupled about shedding the blood of

a hereditary foe would not have occurred to any Oriental warrior of the

period. But Saul would reserve the royal captive to grace his triumph, and

be a household slave of the king of Israel. It was the pride of the chiefs and

kings of that age to reduce the princes whom they had conquered to

slavery in their courts. Adonibezek is said to have kept seventy such

captives, whose hands and feet he had mutilated to unfit them for war, and

who, as slaves, gathered from his table. Besides Agag, the best of the sheep

and cattle belonging to Amalek were spared by Saul and his army. They

used their success to enrich themselves, and forgot that the sentence of

God against that nation was the only justification of the war.


3. The Divine censure on the disobedient king was pronounced by Samuel.

The prophet was deeply grieved. He had loved the young man on whose

lofty head he had poured the sacred oil, and whose failure to fulfill the early

promise of his reign had already caused him, if not much surprise, distress

unfeigned. And Samuel was concerned for the nation. If the new

government was so soon discredited, and Saul forfeited his kingly seat,

what but anarchy could come upon Israel, and with anarchy, subjection, as

before, to the Philistines or some other warlike nation of the heathen? The

prophet fulfilled his commission, however painful; gravely reproved the

king, brushed aside his excuses and evasions, and refused, not without a

touch of scorn, his offered bribe of animals for sacrifice.


4. Samuel took occasion to declare that “to obey is better than sacrifice,

and to hearken than the fat of rams.” These words contain the very

quintessence of the testimony of the prophets; not Samuel only, but Moses,

Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and in fact all the great teachers whom Jehovah

sent to His ancient people. Sacrificial oblations could never be accepted in

lieu of practical obedience, and a rebellious, willful temper was as offensive

to the Lord as any kind of idolatry. Priests and Levites were appointed for

religious ceremonial, but the great function of the prophets was to maintain

the supremacy of what is moral over what is ceremonial, and to lift up

fearless voices for mercy and truth, judgment and righteousness, integrity

and probity, reverence for Jehovah, and obedience to his revealed will.

Such was the testimony of the Lord Jesus Himself, as the greatest of

prophets. He recognized and respected the sacrifices appointed in the law,

but did not in His conversations or discourses dwell on them. His aim was

to cause men to hear the word of God, and do it. And such is the message

or burden of all New Testament prophets, and of those who know how to

guide and teach Christians. To be lax and indulgent on questions of moral

conduct, while strict about services and offerings to God and the Church,

is the part of a false prophet. The true prophet, while witnessing to free

forgiveness in the blood of Christ, will enjoin all who seek that forgiveness

to cease to do evil and learn to do well, will faithfully declare to them that

they cannot be kept in the love of God if they are not obedient to His word.


5. The behavior of Saul under reproof betrayed a shifty, superficial

character. He showed no real sense of sin, or desire of Divine forgiveness.

David, during his reign, committed a more heinous offence against

domestic and social morality than anything that Saul as yet had done; but

he was pardoned and restored because when charged with the sin —

“Thou art the man” (II Samuel 12:7) — he confessed it, and excused not himself.

And then he cried to God, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” (Psalm

51:7)  But Saul, when charged with disobedience, showed no shame or sorrow on

its account. He at once:


a.      put himself in a defensive attitude,

b.      stooped to subterfuge,

c.       laid the blame on others, and

d.      had no feeling but a desire to escape consequences.


He would propitiate the Lord and His prophet by sacrifices; but his former

religious sensibility was now almost quite gone from him, and he was becoming,

like Esau, a “profane person” (Hebrews 12:16), hard and godless. It is

pitiful to see that the king looked no higher than to Samuel, and asked no

more than that the prophet would pardon him, and favor him so far as to

join with him while he publicly worshipped the Lord. Evidently his object

was to have his credit upheld by the venerated presence of Samuel; and, on

his repeating the request, the prophet thought fit to yield to his wish,

probably to avoid the weakening of the royal influence, and the premature

fall of the monarchy.


6. The rejection of Saul took no sudden effect. Gravely and sadly it was

pronounced by Samuel; but it brought about no immediate catastrophe.

None the less was it a sure and fatal sentence. We know that Saul was not

dethroned. He had a long reign, and died on the battle field. But the

process was already begun which led him to dark Gilboa, which led one

better than him to Hebron and to Jerusalem; and the remainder of this book

is occupied in showing how:


a.      the Divine rejection of Saul took effect, and

b.      how the Lord brought forward and trained the son of Jesse for the



It is a thought full of solemnity, that a man may long keep his

place and hold his own in Christian society who yet is rejected by the Lord,

and is growing at heart more and more profane, till at last the evil spirit

rules him instead of the good, and he dies as one troubled and God

forsaken. The process may be long, but it is none the less tragical. May

God keep us:


a.      from the beginnings of declension,

b.      from all excusing of our sins, and

c.       from laying of the fault upon others!


Lord, take not thy Holy Spirit from us!  (Psalm 51:11)


32 “Then said Samuel, Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites.

And Agag came unto him delicately. And Agag said, Surely the bitterness of

death is past.”  Delicately. The Septuagint and Vulgate translate this word

trembling, and the Syriac omits, probably from inability to give its

meaning. Most commentators render cheerfully, joyfully, forming it from

the same root as Eden, the garden of joy (compare Psalm 36:8, where

Eden is translated pleasure). The very word, however, occurs in Job 38:31,

where the Authorized Version renders it bands, and this seems the right sense:

Agag came unto him in fetters.” The idea that Agag came cheerfully is

contradicted by the next clause — Surely the bitterness of death is

passed. Though put affirmatively, there is underlying doubt. It is no

expression of heroic contempt for death, nor of real confidence that, as

Saul had spared him hitherto, his life was in no danger. He had been

brought to the national sanctuary, and a great festival in honor of the

success of the army was to be held. It was entirely in accordance with the

customs of ancient times that his execution should be the central feature of

the spectacle. Agag’s words show that this fear was present in his mind,

though they are put in such a form as to be a protest against his life being

taken after so long delay. Samuel’s reply treats Agag’s assertion as being

thus at once a question and a protest. The bitterness of death has still to be

borne, and the cruelty of Agag’s past life makes the shedding of his own

blood just. The Syriac translates, “Surely death is bitter;” the Septuagint,

“If death be so bitter,” with which the Vulgate agrees. Thus they all

understood that Agag came trembling for his life.


33 “And Samuel said, As the sword hath made women childless, so

shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed

Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.  34  Then Samuel went to

Ramah; and Saul went up to his house to Gibeah of Saul.”

As thy sword hath made women childless. Agag’s life had

been spent in freebooting expeditions, in which he had shed blood

ruthlessly, and so justice required his execution in requital of his deeds to

others. Samuel hewed Agag in pieces. The verb occurs only here, and

probably refers to some particular method of execution, like the quartering

of the middle ages. Being in the Piel conjugation, it would mean not so much

that Samuel put Agag to death himself as that he commanded it to be done.



The Execution of Agag (vs. 32-33)


Agag was put to death, perhaps, by the hand of Samuel: more probably by

other hands under his order, for it is common to speak of official persons

doing what they simply command to be done (John 19:1). “In ancient

time persons of the highest rank were employed to execute the sentence of

the law (Jether, the eldest son of Gideon, Doeg, Benaiah). Sometimes the

chief magistrate executed the sentence of the law with his own hands”

(Paxton’s ‘Illustrations,’ 4:171). The act was one of great severity. It

should, however, be remembered that:


1. The Amalekite king had committed great atrocities (v. 33), and was

the chief representative of cruel and irreconcilable enemies of Israel.

2. Amalek lay under a ban of extermination which had been pronounced

by Jehovah (Exodus 17:14; Numbers 24:20), and was now required

to be fully carried into effect. Samuel acted in obedience to a higher will

than his own; not from personal revenge, but in his public capacity, doing

what Saul (from no feelings of humanity) had failed to do, and giving

honor to Jehovah before his altar. “There must indeed have been

inadequate ideas of the individuality of man and of the rights of human life

before a dispensation could have been received which enforced wars of

extermination — wars which would now be contrary to morality; for the

reason that our ideas on the subject of human individuality and the rights of

life are completely changed, and that we have been enlightened on these

subjects, upon which the early ages of mankind were in the dark” (Mozley,

‘Ruling Ideas in Early Ages,’ p. 161).

3. The peculiar circumstances of the case necessitated some such exhibition

of the authority and justice of Jehovah for the maintenance of the

theocracy, and the reproof and warning of the people who had shared in

the sin of their king. “Such a sinking age could be saved from imminent

dissolution only by extreme severity. He who, however kindly disposed in

other respects, was most direct and inexorable in carrying out what seemed

urgently needed, he alone could now become the true physician of the

times, and the successful founder of a better age” (Ewald). We have here:




Ø      Although sentence upon an evil work is not speedily executed, it is not

reversed. The long suffering of God waits, “as in the days of Noah”

(II Peter 3:20), when judgment was suspended for 120 years; but

“He spared not the old world” (ibid. ch. 2:5).


Ø      Justice requires that incorrigible sinners should be punished with

significant severity. “As” (in the same manner as) “thy sword,” etc.


Ø      Death is naturally bitter to men, and especially to those who have heavy

guilt upon their consciences. The last words of Agag were, “Surely the

bitterness of death is past.”


Ø      When sinners deem themselves most secure, then “sudden destruction

cometh upon them.” (I Thessalonians 5:3)  Having been spared so long,

he imagined that the danger was over, and little thought that the venerable

prophet was the messenger of wrath.




Ø      The more a man loves righteousness, the more intensely does he hate

sin. Ye that love the Lord, hate evil.”  (Psalm 97:10)  What woes were

ever so terrible as those that fell from the lips of Christ?


Ø      A good man may inflict punishment on the wicked without feelings of

personal revenge against them “Our Lord declared the inferiority of the

legal position of the Old Testament not because the desire of retribution

ought to be excluded from the religion of reconciliation, but because it

ought not to predominate in it” (Thohlck).


Ø      When some fail to carry out the purposes of God, others are bound to

make up for their defect, and sometimes to do things for which they do not

seem well adapted, and which do not harmonize with their general

character (I Kings 18:40). “When kings abandoned their duty God often

executed His law by the prophets” (Grotius).


Ø      That which is severity to one must often be done, provided it be not

contrary to justice, for the good of all.




Ø      No excuse can justify disobedience to the commands of God. Doubtless

the people, if called to account, would have been as ready as Saul to offer

excuses for the part they took in sparing Agag and the best of the sheep.


Ø      They who fail to obey these commands deprive themselves of invaluable

blessings. The sunshine of heaven is beclouded, and the sentence of

rejection on their king, although at present little known, will ere long

produce disastrous effects in them.


Ø      God’s work must be done, and if one refuses to do it, another is raised

up for the purpose. As with individuals, so with nations (Numbers 14:21;

Romans 11:22).


Ø      Those who, although the professed people of God, contend against His

purposes must share the fate of His open enemies. “If ye shall still do

wickedly ye shall be consumed, both you and your king”  (ch.12:25).


35 “And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death:

nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented

that he had made Saul king over Israel.”  Samuel came no more to see Saul.

The friendly relations  which had previously existed was now broken off, and

though they met again (ch.19:24), it was neither in an amicable manner, nor

was their interview of Samuel’s seeking. But the words have a higher meaning

than the mere seeing or meeting one with the other. They involve the

cessation of that relation in which Samuel and Saul had previously stood to

one another as respectively the prophet and king of the same Jehovah.   Saul

was no longer the representative of Jehovah, and consequently Samuel no

more came to him, bearing messages and commands, and giving him

counsel and guidance from God. Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul.

There was so much in him that was good and admirable, and he had

wrought such brave services in delivering Israel from its many enemies,

that Samuel loved him. Now he saw all his high qualities perverted, the

man fallen, his powers of usefulness destroyed. Already, too, there was

probably the beginning of that darkening of Saul’s intellect which filled so

many of his future years with melancholy, bursting out from time to time

into fits of madness. All this would end in the expulsion of himself and his

dynasty from the throne, for Jehovah repented that He had made Saul

king over Israel. See on v. 11



Painful Duties (vs. 32-35)


The facts are:


1. Samuel summons Agag into his presence and hews him in pieces.

2. Samuel departs from Saul, and though mourning for him, no longer

holds any official connection with him.


The effect of Saul’s disobedience on the people would have been disastrous were the

original command to be in any way evaded; and, therefore, though it was no part of

the prophet’s ordinary functions to act as executioner, Samuel so far deviated from

his usual course, and put his feelings under restraint, as to slay the captive

king. There could be no mistake of the imperativeness of the Divine

command when the people saw Samuel perform on the body of the king an

act symbolical of the utter destruction of the enemies of God. The act

itself, as also the occasion of it, must have given pain to the prophet’s

mind. The subsequent suspension of relations with Saul was the natural

result and formal expression of God’s rejection of him. Any other line of

conduct would be open to serious misinterpretation. Samuel naturally was

grieved in thus setting his ban on one for whom he had taken such pains,

and in whose successful career he himself was deeply interested. But duty

is above personal feeling.



DISCHARGE OF PAINFUL DUTIES. Samuel is not the only one

who has had to discharge solemn duties with a sorrowful heart.


Ø      There are instances recorded in Scripture.


o        Of men. It was not without pain that Moses broke away from the

associations of the home of Pharaoh’s daughter, where he had from

childhood been treated with consideration and kindness. Nathan

could not but put constraint on his feelings when he exposed the sin

of one for whom he had cherished the profoundest respect (II Samuel

12:7-14). See the case of the apostles (Acts 5:1-10; 9:23-29; Romans

9:1-3; Philippians 3:5-8).


o        Of Christ. It was as much beside his usual course as for Samuel to

slay Agag when the gentle Saviour made a scourge and drove the

money changers from the temple (John 2:15). There was evident

sorrow of heart running through the terrible denunciations and

forebodings which duty required Him to utter over Capernaum,

Jerusalem, and the scribes and Pharisees. His leaving Nazareth and

never returning, after the cruel rejection of His word, must have been,

considering His associations with the place, a duty as painful almost

as the revelation to His disciples that one of their number would betray

Him (Luke 4:28-30; 22:21-23). And may we not say that it will not be

without a tone of sadness, more marked than any that entered into

Samuel’s demand for Agag, that Christ, the great Judge, will on the

day of judgment say to those who once heard His call of mercy

and scorned it, “Depart from me.”


Ø      There are instances recurring, in modern life. On some is imposed the

sorrowful duty of rebuking friends for disgraceful deeds, or of

administering chastisements which cause more pain to the chastiser than to

the chastised, or of enforcing with bleeding heart the rigorous rules of

Church discipline upon persons once honored and beloved. Samuel is but

one of a host who have to assert Divine authority, moral order, and the

interests of the community at the cost of much personal suffering.




is strong in life. Personal considerations have, wisely and usefully, great

weight in regulating actions. But it was profound regard for right that enabled

Samuel to rule every feeling of his nature and subordinate it to the ends of

justice, and therefore of benevolence. The same is seen in every kindred

instance. It is indicative of a healthful moral condition where REGARD

FOR RIGHT IS DOMINANT!   Love, tenderness, pity are useful, powerful

elements in a moral character; but they cease to be strictly moral when they

operate as mere feelings apart from the guidance and control of righteousness.

This looking high above personal relations to the requirements of a universal

equity is the sublimest form of conduct.



A Melancholy Parting (vs. 34-35)


The interview between Samuel and Saul was now ended. “It was a fearful

meeting; it was followed by a lifelong parting.” The earlier course of Saul

(from the time the prophet met him in the gate at Ramah) was marked by

modesty, prudence, generosity, and lofty spiritual impulses, and was one of

brilliant promise. His subsequent course (from his first wrong step before

the war of Michmash), although distinguished by external prosperity, was

marked, by self-will, presumption, disobedience, and selfishness, and was

one of rapid degeneracy. How must the prophet have lamented as he saw

the wreck of that early brightened life!” On his part, more especially, the

separation was:


  • NEEDFUL. A good man is compelled to separate from those to whom

he has given his counsel and aid:


Ø      When from lack of sympathy and opposition of aim he can no longer

effectively cooperate with them.


Ø      When he cannot hope to exert a beneficial influence upon them.


Ø      When his continuance with them affords a sanction to a course which he

cannot approve. His parting’ is a condemnation of it, and is rendered

necessary by truth and righteousness. “God’s ambassador was recalled

from him; the intercourse of the God of Israel came to an end because

Saul, sinking step by step away from God, had by continued disobedience

and increasing impenitence given up communion with God” (Erdmann).

“Had he spared this spiritual child, when to spare him would have been

contrary to the fundamental law of the theocracy, the worst possible

precedent would have been afforded for future ages by this first king”



  • RESPECTFUL. Samuel acceded to the request of Saul to honor him

before the people; and although it is not stated how far he participated with

him in worship, yet he evidently avoided an open and violent rupture with

him, and gave him honor, as civil ruler, to the last. Respect is due “not

only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward (I Peter 2:18),

on account of:


Ø      The authority and power that may be entrusted to them in the providence

of God (Romans 13:1).


Ø      The natural dignity of man — great in ruin, capable of restoration, and

susceptible to the influence of kindness or contempt. Jesus did not resent

the kiss with which Judas betrayed him, but said, “Friend, wherefore

comest thou hither?”


Ø      The requirements of social order and peace. Saul was even yet the best

king the people were fit to receive, and the conduct of Samuel indicated

the duty of submission, which, in the spirit of their king, they were not

always disposed to render (v. 24; ch. 14:45).


  • SORROWFUL. “Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul.” With heavy

heart and weary feet the old prophet took his way up from Gilgal to

Ramah, and mourned for Saul, who, on the opposite hill of Gibeah,

pursued his wilful way, bringing upon himself and Israel inevitable and

overwhelming woe; alive, yet dead; so near, yet so completely lost.


Ø      What object is more mournful than a soul “going astray” from God?


Ø      What sorrow is too great at such a sight?


Ø      How vast is that Divine sorrow of which the human is the product and

reflection! “And the Lord repented,” etc. The prophetic spirit is one of

wide and deep sympathy at once with God and man, and it was perfectly

possessed by “the Man of sorrows”  (Isaiah 53:3)  “Samuel mourned

for Saul, but we do not hear that Saul mourned for himself.”


  • FINAL. He “came no more to see Saul” — gave him counsel no more

as aforetime, which indeed was not desired; and he only saw him once

again, when he forced himself into his presence (ch. 19:24). When good

men are compelled by the conduct of the wicked to separate from them,

the partin:


Ø      Deprives the latter of incalculable benefits, however lightly they may be

estimated at the time.


Ø      Tends to increase the moral distance between them, and render the

restoration of their relationship more and more impossible.


Ø      Is certain to be hereafter bitterly but vainly regretted (ch. 28:15,18). Oh,

the sad and perpetual separations that are caused BY SIN!  The paths of

Samuel and Saul (like those of Moses and Pharaoh, Paul and Demas) may

be compared to the courses of two ships that meet on the ocean, and sail

near each other for a season, not without danger of collision, and then part



o        the one to reach a “desired haven,”

o        the other to make shipwreck and become a castaway.



Samuel a Man of Sorrows (v. 35)


“Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul.” There are many kinds of sorrow

in the world. One is natural, such as is felt by men in temporal affliction.

Another is spiritual, such as is felt by a penitent for his sin. A third is

sympathetic, benevolent, Divine, such as is felt by a godly man over the

ungodly. “I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved.” Of this last Samuel

had experience throughout his life (ch. 3:15;. 4:11; 7:2; 8:3, 6), and more

especially at the persistent transgression and irrevocable rejection

of Saul. Observe of such sorrow, that:



A soul:


Ø      Failing to fulfill the purpose for which it was made, and “coming short

of the glory of God.”


Ø      Falling into degradation, misery, and woe. A ruined temple! A

wandering star! (Jude 1:13). A dethroned monarch! A despairing

spirit! Oh, what a contrast between what it might have been and what

it is here and will be hereafter!


“Of all the words of tongue or pen,

the saddest are these, what might have been!”

                                    (John Greenleaf Whittier)


3. Inciting others to pursue the same path.


  • IT IS AN EVIDENCE OF EXALTED PIETY, inasmuch as it shows:


Ø      Genuine zeal for the honor of God, whose law is “made void,” whose

goodness is despised, and whose claims are trampled in the dust.


Ø      Tender compassion toward men. “Charity to the soul is the soul of



Ø      Intense sympathy with the noblest of men, with the Son of God, and

with the eternal Father Himself. “I have great heaviness and continual

sorrow in my heart,” etc. (Romans 9:1-3). “O that thou hadst known,”

etc. (Luke 19:42). “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments!”

(Isaiah 48:18).




Ø      When it is mingled with feelings of personal disappointment and

mortification, and of dissatisfaction with the ways of God.


Ø      When it is allowed to become a prolonged and all-absorbing emotion, to

the exclusion of those considerations and feelings by which it ought to be

modified and regulated.


Ø      When it produces despondency and fear (ch. 16:2), weakens

faith, and hinders exertion.



means of —


Ø      Gentle rebuke, indicating that it is useless, unreasonable, and



Clear and deep conviction of the over-ruling purpose of God, and

unreserved submission to it. At that time Jesus answered and said,

I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou

has hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed

them unto babes.” etc. (Matthew 11:25).


Ø      Renewed, benevolent, and hopeful activity.




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