The focus of last week’s chapter was on Saul’s foolishness. Remember the foolish oath and curse he put his men under, preventing them from eating anything on the day they needed all their strength to attack the Philistines? And remember too how he was determined to kill his son because of another oath he made? Because of his foolish oaths, Saul only made trouble for his people.
Today’s chapter highlights for us his disobedience. Back in Deuteronomy 17, the Lord said to the Israelites through Moses that whenever a king is appointed to rule over God’s people, the king must carefully obey all the words of God’s law and all his decrees. Whereas the kings of the nations regarded themselves as being above the law, the king of Israel was duty-bound to keep God’s law and to do his will. Well, in today’s chapter, Samuel had to rebuke Saul for disobeying the Lord’s clear command. And Samuel announced to Saul that the Lord was going to take the kingdom from Saul and give it to another man, one better than Saul. He was referring to David, who is anointed as king over God’s people in the very next chapter. But, of course, David and all the other kings of Israel and Judah were to make do until the coming of the true king, who is Jesus Christ the Lord, the one king who was obedient in all things and who did all that was necessary to save his people from their sin and misery and to give his people everlasting life in his everlasting kingdom.
Verses 1 to 7
So, let’s study this chapter today. And in verses 1 to 7 we have God’s judgment on the Amalekites, which is a foretaste of the day of judgment to come. According to verse 1, Samuel said to Saul that the Lord sent him to anoint Saul as king over his people; and now the Lord is sending Saul to punish the Amalekites. I was telling the children about the Amalekites and how they attacked the Israelites after they had left Egypt and when they were weary and worn out. But the Lord helped his people to stand firm against the Amalekites. And afterwards, the Lord told Moses to write it down on a scroll as something to be remembered that the Lord was going to blot out the memory of the Amalekites from under heaven. Then, 40 years later, when the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, God commanded the Israelites through Moses to remember what the Amalekites did to them on that previous occasion. And the Lord said to them through Moses that once they’re settled in the Promised Land, they must destroy the Amalekites once and for all. So, that’s what happened in the past. And now, here in 1 Samuel 15, the Israelites are settled in the land. And so, the Lord commanded Saul through Samuel to attack the Amalekites and to ‘totally destroy’ everything that belongs to them. Don’t spare any of them, Samuel said, but put to death the men and women, the children and infants, and all their animals.
The words ‘totally destroy’ are a translation of one Hebrew word: haram. It’s a kind of technical term which meant that whatever was named had to be devoted to the Lord. And it was devoted to the Lord by destroying it. For instance, years before, when the Israelites crossed the River Jordan, the city of Jericho was to be haramed, or devoted to the Lord. The city and everything in it was to be destroyed; and Achan and his family were punished because he took some of what should have been destroyed.
So, that’s what Saul was commanded to do. Instead of sparing the Amalekites, he was to devote them to the Lord by destroying them. And according to verse 4, Saul summoned his army for battle. Before beginning the attack, he warned the Kenites, who were presumably living nearby, so that they were able to escape unharmed; and he attacked the Amalekites and chased them all the way to the border with Egypt.
Now, this attack on the Amalekites is not a case of ethnic cleansing or genocide. It was not a racially-motivated attack; and it was not an act of terrorism. It was an act of justice. The Lord was using the Israelites to punish the Amalekites for their sin. And, in years to come, the Lord would use the Assyrians and the Babylonians to punish the Israelites for their sin. As Paul tells us in the book of Romans, every day, in different ways, God reveals his wrath from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men and women and children who suppress the truth by their wickedness. The destruction of the Amalekites was one of the ways God reveals his wrath from heaven. And their destruction points forward to that great and terrible day of judgment, when the Lord Jesus Christ will come again in glory and with power to judge the living and the dead — everyone who has every lived — and he will condemn and punish forever all those who never trusted in him. He will punish them for their wickedness.
Right now, he’s being patient with everyone, withholding the full force of his judgment, and giving sinners time to repent and be saved. But the day is coming, when the Lord will send his angels to gather the people from every nation, so that he can judge and condemn the wicked once and for all.
So, all of these wars in the Old Testament, when God used one nation to punish another nation, are a foretaste of the great and terrible day of judgment which is coming on the whole world. And God is speaking to us through these events to say to us that we need to turn from our sin in repentance and ask him for forgiveness. And God is willing and able to forgive all who seek it, because Christ the Saviour bore the punishment we all deserve for our sins and shortcomings, so that all who believe in him may be forgiven. And so, God is saying to you today, if you have not already done so: turn from your sins in repentance and ask God to forgive you for the sake of Christ the Saviour.
Verses 8 to 23
But in the verses which follow, we see God’s judgment on Saul, because — look! — Saul did not obey the word of the Lord. God told Saul to destroy totally all of the Amalekites. Spare no one. But according to verse 8 Saul spared the king of the Amalekites. And according to verse 9 Saul and his men spared the best of the livestock. They totally destroyed whatever was despised and weak, but they were unwilling to destroy whatever was good.
And so, the Lord said to Samuel that he was grieved that he made Saul king. Now, God doesn’t feel grief or sorrow or have regrets the way we feel grief or sorrow or have regrets. Our emotions change all the time; and we’re affected by all kinds of situations and circumstances and by what people do to us. We change; and our emotions change all the time because of what other people do to us. But God does not change; he’s eternally the same; and he’s not affected by anything outside of himself. And so, when it says here that he was grieved that he made Saul king, the Bible is using human language to convey to us God’s judgment on Saul: that he is not fit to be the king of God’s people; and the kingdom will be given to someone else, because Saul has turned away from the Lord, when he should have followed the Lord; and he has not carried out God’s instructions, when he should have obeyed the word of the Lord.
And so, the next day, Samuel went to see Saul. And he was told in verse 12 that Saul had built a monument in his own honour. Well, back in Exodus 17, after the Israelites defeated the Amalekites, Moses also built a monument, but he built it to honour the Lord. Well, instead of honouring the Lord, Saul honoured himself. And that’s not a good sign, is it? And when Samuel met Saul, Saul went out and said to Samuel: ‘I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.’ Really? Really? ‘Then what is that sound I hear?’ asks Samuel — the sound of sheep and cows.
And Saul proceeded to do what he did back in chapter 13 when he had disobeyed the Lord previously. At that time, he blamed his men for his own disobedience. And he does the same again. Look at verse 15: ‘The soldiers spared the animals….’ And then he justified their behaviour, because he says they spared the animals in order to sacrifice them to the Lord. And in any case, while they spared some, they destroyed the rest. But Samuel is not there to listen to his excuses; he’s there to pronounce the judgment of the Lord who had made Saul king over the people and who had sent him on a mission to destroy the Amalekites completely. So why, Saul, did you not obey the Lord? Why, Saul, did you do evil in his sight?
Saul insists that he had obeyed the Lord. ‘I went on the mission’, he said. ‘I totally destroyed them’, he said. ‘Apart from the king’, he said. ‘And apart from the animals which the soldiers spared in order to sacrifice them to the Lord.’ Do you see what he’s doing? Instead of confessing his sin and guilt, he’s trying to persuade Samuel that he’s done nothing wrong. But here’s the Lord’s judgment in verses 22 and 23:
Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Now, the Lord did delight in sacrifices, because he commanded the Israelites to offer sacrifices. He gave them instructions on what sacrifices to make and when to offer them. The Old Testament sacrificial system was God’s idea. But on this occasion, the Lord did not want a sacrifice; on this occasion, he wanted Saul to do what he was commanded to do. On this occasion, he didn’t ask Saul for an offering, but for obedience to his command. Therefore, on this occasion, to obey is better than sacrifice. ‘That’s what the Lord required from you today, Saul.’ ‘And so, because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.’ God was going to take the kingdom from Saul and give it to someone else, because the first duty of God’s anointed king is to obey the Lord and to walk in his ways.
And I wonder, did you notice the pronouns in this passage? Look at verse 15 where Saul said to Samuel: ‘they [the soldiers] spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God….’ Not ‘the Lord my God’ or ‘the Lord our God’, but ‘the Lord your God’. And it’s there in verse 21 as well: ‘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….’ Is that why Saul was not interested in obeying the Lord? Was he not willing to obey the Lord, because he did not regard the Lord as his God? Well, the Lord was no longer willing to regard Saul as his king.
Verses 24 to 35
In the verses which follow we have Saul’s confession. But it doesn’t seem a genuine confession, does it? Look at verse 30 where, after confessing his sin, he went on to plead with Saul to honour him before the elders and the people. Instead of thinking about his standing before the Lord, he was more worried about his reputation before the people. And though it says in verse 31 that Saul worshipped the Lord, the Hebrew word merely means ‘bow before’; and it doesn’t tell us whether he bowed before the Lord in genuine worship from the heart, or whether he did it for show.
Well, my time is short, but I must mention this dramatic scene, when Saul grabbed hold of Samuel’s robe and tore it. And Saul said to him: ‘The Lord has torn the kingdom from you….’ And then he added in verse 29: ‘He who is the Glory of Israel [that is, the Lord] does not lie or change his mind….’ This puzzles people, because it seems that God has changed his mind about Saul, first giving him the kingdom and then taking the kingdom from him. But all Samuel meant is that on this occasion, God’s mind was made up about taking the kingdom from Saul. He had made up his mind to take the kingdom from Saul and there was nothing Saul could say or do which would make the Lord change his mind about giving the kingdom to someone else.
In the very next chapter, the Lord sent Samuel to anoint David king over his people. David wasn’t going to take over the kingdom immediately; and Saul would remain king for a long time yet. But the writing was on the wall: Saul’s reign would end; and David would replace him.
And David was better than Saul, because David trusted the Lord and sought to obey him. However, we all know that David was also disobedient, and in due course, he would commit adultery with Bathsheba and arrange for her husband to be killed on the battlefield. And every other king who followed David was the same: all of them were disobedient, because all of them were sinners. Some of them sinned a lot; and some of them sinned a little. But all of them were sinners who disobeyed the Lord.
However, when the time was right, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce to her that she would have a son; and the Lord God will give her son the throne of David; and he will reign forever and his kingdom will never end. And her son, who is Jesus Christ the King, was obedient to the Lord God in all things and he never once disobeyed his Heavenly Father, so that no one could ever say to him as Samuel said to Saul: Why did you not obey the Lord? No one could say that to him, because he was always obedient. And he was obedient to death, even to death on a cross, because it was God’s will that he should give up his life on the cross as the ransom price to pay for the sins of his people. And in obedience to God’s will, Jesus Christ the King suffered and died for sinners.
And because Jesus Christ the King was obedient, God exalted him to the highest place, to sit at his right hand in heaven, where he is enthroned above all rule and authority, power and dominion and every title that can be given, not only in this present age, but in the age to come. He now rules as king over all; and he calls on sinners everywhere to believe in him and to leave their life of sin and shame and to come into his kingdom where there is the joy of forgiveness and the hope of everlasting life. And if you have never believed, then he’s calling on you today to believe in him and to come into his kingdom. And he’s calling on those who already believe not to turn away from him or to give up your faith, but to keep believing in him no matter what troubles you face because of him. And he has promised — hasn’t he? — to be with his people by his Spirit and to remain with us always, so that we can always look to him for the help we need each day to love and serve him. And one day, Christ our King will come again in glory and with power to destroy his enemies once and for all — all who have never believed in him — and to bring his people into his everlasting kingdom, where they shall reign with him forever and forever in the new and better world to come.