1 Samuel 15 Commentary: Saul’s Defiance and Divine Judgment

1 Samuel 15 commentary

1 Samuel 15 Commentary

1 Samuel 15 presents a consequential episode in the history of Israel’s monarchy. In this chapter, King Saul faces a test of divine obedience as he receives explicit instructions from Samuel, the prophet. The task is clear yet daunting: to completely destroy the Amalekites, a longstanding enemy of Israel. However, Saul’s actions during this mission reveal a deeper struggle with obedience and divine authority.

This chapter not only explores the complex relationship between Saul and Samuel but also sets the stage for a significant turn in Saul’s reign as king, highlighting the weight of disobedience and the gravity of divine judgment.

1 Samuel 15:1-3, Samuel’s Command to Saul to Destroy Amalek

God’s instructions to Saul through Samuel in this segment are pivotal; it sets a tone of obedience and divine justice. Samuel reminds Saul of his anointed status, establishing the gravity of the command he is about to give.

And Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

1 Samuel 15:1-3, ESV

The command to utterly destroy Amalek is harsh, reflecting a historical enmity and divine judgment.

It’s vital to understand this in the context of previous conflicts between Israel and Amalek. The complete destruction, including women, children, and animals, is a form of divine retribution, an aspect that might seem difficult to reconcile with modern views on morality and warfare.

1 Samuel 15:4-9, Saul’s Attack on Amalek and His Disobedience

Saul’s response to Samuel’s command reveals both his leadership and his flaws. He mobilizes his army, demonstrating his ability to lead. However, his actions soon diverge from the instructions given by Samuel.

Saul’s decision to spare Agag, the king of Amalek, along with the best of the livestock, directly contradicts God’s command through Samuel. It’s an act of disobedience that will have significant repercussions, highlighting a recurring theme in Saul’s kingship – partial obedience and the inclination to follow his own judgment.

And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction.

1 Samuel 15:7-9, ESV

This deviation from God’s command can be seen as a mixture of Saul’s personal judgment and possibly a desire for public approval, hinting at a deeper issue of prioritizing human judgment over divine directive.

1 Samuel 15:10-12, The Lord Regrets Making Saul King

In this section, we encounter a profound and somewhat perplexing statement: the Lord regrets making Saul king. It’s a moment of divine reconsideration that speaks volumes about the relationship between God and His chosen leaders.

The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night.

1 Samuel 15:10-11, ESV

The regret expressed by God is not an indication of a mistake or lack of foresight. Rather, it’s a way to underscore the severity of Saul’s disobedience and its impact on his role as the king of Israel.

This narrative device highlights the dynamic nature of God’s interaction with human free will and choices.

1 Samuel 15:13-21, Samuel Confronts Saul

Samuel’s confrontation with Saul is marked by a dramatic exchange, where Saul initially claims to have carried out God’s command. However, the evidence of disobedience is undeniable.

And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?”

1 Samuel 15:13-14, ESV

Samuel’s questioning and Saul’s responses reveal a crucial aspect of Saul’s character – his inability to fully grasp the gravity of his disobedience. Saul attempts to justify his actions by claiming the spared animals were for sacrifice to the Lord, a rationale that fails to address the core issue of disobedience.

1 Samuel 15:22-23, Samuel’s Rebuke and Declaration of Saul’s Rejection

Samuel’s response to Saul’s justification is one of the most quoted lines in the Old Testament. He emphasizes that obedience is better than sacrifice, a principle that goes beyond mere religious rituals to the heart of a relationship with God.

And Samuel said,

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
    and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has also rejected you from being king.”

1 Samuel 15:22-23, ESV

This segment is pivotal, as it lays out a fundamental biblical principle: God values obedience and a heart aligned with His will over ritualistic observances.

Samuel’s declaration of Saul’s rejection as king is a direct consequence of Saul’s failure to adhere to this principle.

1 Samuel 15:24-31, Saul Admits His Sin and Pleads for Forgiveness

Saul admits his sin and pleads for forgiveness. His admission, however, seems driven more by the fear of losing his honor before the elders and people of Israel than by a genuine repentance.

Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord.”

1 Samuel 15:24-25, ESV

Saul’s request for Samuel to honor him before the elders and people of Israel reveals his concern for his public image and status. This contrasts with the earlier portrayal of Saul as a humble individual, indicating a shift in his character and priorities.

1 Samuel 15:32-33, The Execution of Agag

The execution of Agag by Samuel is a stark and dramatic moment, symbolizing the fulfillment of God’s command that Saul failed to execute. Samuel’s action underscores the seriousness of obeying God’s commands and the consequences of failing to do so.

Then Samuel said, “Bring here to me Agag the king of the Amalekites.” And Agag came to him cheerfully. Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” And Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.

1 Samuel 15:32-33, ESV

This act by Samuel also serves as a symbolic closure to the mission against Amalek, a task that Saul was appointed to complete but failed.

1 Samuel 15:34-35, The Break in the Relationship Between Samuel and Saul

The final verses of this chapter depict the severing of the relationship between Samuel and Saul. This break is not just personal but signifies a shift in divine favor and guidance.

Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

1 Samuel 15:34-35, ESV

The narrative ends on a somber note, with Samuel grieving for Saul.

This grief is not just for Saul as an individual but for what his kingship could have been under obedience to God and is a poignant reminder of the consequences of failing to align with divine will.