1 Samuel 15


‘Samuel said to Saul, ‘I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim—two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand from Judah. Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine. Then he said to the Kenites, ‘Go away, leave the Amalekites so that I do not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.’ So the Kenites moved away from the Amalekites.’ 1 Samuel 15:1-6

The Lord Rejects Saul As King

Samuel’s words to Saul are a sharp reminder that God is the One who anointed Saul. God was going to punish the Amalekites because of what they did to Israel, this would happen 400 years after the events of Israel coming out of Egypt, Exodus 17:8-13 / Deuteronomy 25:17-18.

The Amalekites also attacked Israel at Hormah, Numbers 14:43-45, and they also joined forces with Eglon, the king of Moab to attack Israel, Judges 3:13, later still they joined forces with the Moabites when they raided Israel’s fields and crops, Judges 6:3-5 / Judges 6:33 / Judges 7:12 / Judges 10:12.

Samuel tells Saul to totally destroy the Amalekites, this was God’s way of wiping them from the face of the earth, it was now time for them to be punished. God tells Saul he must spare no one but totally destroy every living thing, and take no spoils, Joshua 6:17-21. The reason God’s punishment is so harsh is because of the way they treated God’s people in the past.

Notice that Saul summoned the men at Telaim, this appears to be the same place as Telem in the land of Judah in southern Israel, Joshua 15:24. Telaim was the closest part of Israel to the Amalekites. The Kenites were related to the Midianites and lived among the Amalekites, Numbers 24:21, they were to be spared if they moved away, Numbers 24:9 / Genesis 12:3.

‘Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.’ 1 Samuel 15:6-9

Although Samuel had warned Saul that God wanted no one spared, and all the living creatures should be totally destroyed, Saul ignored God’s commands again. He spared the life of Agag, the king of the Amalekites and they spared the lives of some sheep, cattle, calves and lambs and they kept everything which was good, which was the spoils of war.

Later in 1 Chronicles 4:43, we find that some of the Amalekites actually managed to escape and wage war against Judah again during the reign of Hezekiah.

‘Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel: ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.’ Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the LORD all that night. Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, ‘Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honour and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.’ When Samuel reached him, Saul said, ‘The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.’ But Samuel said, ‘What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?’ Saul answered, ‘The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.’ ‘Enough!’ Samuel said to Saul. ‘Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.’ ‘Tell me,’ Saul replied.’ 1 Samuel 15:10-16

Although God knew what kind of King Saul would become, he deeply regretted making him king, because of his disobedience to the Lord, 1 Samuel 15:35. Samuel too became very angry and cried out to the Lord all night, Jonah 4:1, but please note his anger was aimed at Saul, not God.

Slowly but surely, we see how Saul was failing as a king, he started off so humble, from the lowly tribe of Benjamin, he was started off willing to obey God and please Him in every way, but now he’s become arrogant and self-reliant, and totally disobeys God in whatever he does.

Saul, full of pride, tells Samuel he has carried out the Lord’s instructions concerning the Amalekites, but he must have known that he didn’t, 1 Samuel 15:3. Notice also how he didn’t even take responsibility for his actions, he tells Samuel it wasn’t him but the soldiers who spared the best livestock.

‘Samuel said, ‘Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?’ ‘But I did obey the LORD,’ Saul said. ‘I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.’ But Samuel replied: ‘Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.’ 1 Samuel 15:17-23

Samuel tells Saul what God told him the evening before, he tells him that even though he was nothing, God anointed him to become king. God sent him on that mission to totally destroy the Amalekites but he totally disobeyed God.

He then tells him that ‘to obey God is better than sacrifice’, this phrase is repeated throughout the Scriptures and carries a lot of importance with it, Hosea 6:6 / Psalm 50:8-14 / Psalm 51:16-17 / Isaiah 1:11 / Jeremiah 6:20 / Micah 6:6-8 / Matthew 9:13 / Matthew 12:7.

There’s no doubt that sacrifice was commanded by the Lord but not on this occasion, what was required here by the Lord was obedience. Although Saul obeyed the law to sacrifice, he was disobedient to the law to destroy the Amalekites.

Many people today fall into the trap of thinking if they just sacrifice many things for the Lord, whether it be their time or money or personal material goods, that their sacrificial acts will someone save them. The truth is, none of these things counts for anything, if they aren’t living obediently to the Lord’s commands, Isaiah 64:6 / John 14:15.

‘Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD.’ But Samuel said to him, ‘I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!’ As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbours—to one better than you. He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.’ Saul replied, ‘I have sinned. But please honour me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD your God.’ So Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshiped the LORD. Then Samuel said, ‘Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites.’ Agag came to him in chains. And he thought, ‘Surely the bitterness of death is past.’ But Samuel said, ‘As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women.’ And Samuel put Agag to death before the LORD at Gilgal. Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.’ 1 Samuel 15:24-35

I don’t doubt for one moment that Saul’s confession of sin was genuine, Psalm 51:1-8, but it does appear he’s more concerned about his reputation as king among the people, rather than his standing before the Lord. As a result of his disobedience, Samuel tells Saul that the Lord is going to remove the kingdom from him, this is illustrated in the tearing of Samuel’s robe.

Notice how God is described as the Glory of Israel, in other words, if it wasn’t for God, Israel as a nation would never have existed in the first place, Ezekiel 16:1-14. And God is not about to change His mind, He isn’t going to lie concerning Saul’s fate.

Samuel then tells Saul that the kingdom will be given to someone better than him, this is an obvious reference to David, who would be a man after God’s own heart. The main difference between Saul and David is that David when sinned, would take full responsibility for his actions, He always wanted to please God and be obedient to Him, he would rather please God than please people.

It’s difficult to tell what Saul’s motives were for worshipping the Lord, maybe he genuinely wanted to make things right but it is possible knowing the character of Saul that he simply wanted to pay lip service to the Lord, Mark 7:1-9.

A few people often wonder why Samuel went back with Saul to worship in the first place.

Coffman suggests the following ideas.

1. Samuel sincerely desired to help Saul in the presence of the people, for he dearly loved the man.

Had Samuel refused the honour due to Saul’s rank; it would have given an occasion of intrigue and resistance against Saul’s government and could well have been a step toward bringing back the old anarchy.

2. Another possibility is that Saul might have threatened to take Samuel’s life if he refused.

His seizing Samuel’s robe was in itself an act of violence; and Saul was certainly capable of killing anyone whom he considered to be a threat to himself.

3. The third alternative is that Samuel’s action here constituted a sin on the prophet’s part. We consider this to be the least likely of the reasons cited here, and that the first reason is probably correct.

After worshipping the Lord, Samuel requests that Agag, the king of the Amalekites be brought to him, Agag appears to think that his life is going to be spared, but Samuel put him to death. Samuel fulfilled the Lord’s command, 1 Samuel 15:3 / Leviticus 27:28-29 and did what Saul refused to do.

After this event Saul returns home and was never to see Samuel again, and notice that Samuel mourned for Saul, this tells us how much he truly loved him. we can still love someone even though they sin, much like God still loved Saul but regretted making him king, 1 Samuel 15:10.

Go To 1 Samuel 16