Saul’s Failure to Obey
Text: I Samuel 14:47-15:35
Summary of Saul’s Reign - I Samuel 14:47-52
Saul’s reign became noted for its constant battles. It seems that all the nations surrounding Israel were trying to make inroads: Moab, Ammon, Edom, Zobah, and the Philistines. Saul was able to inflict damage on all of Israel’s enemies.
We are also given a breakdown of Saul’s family. Saul’s sons are listed as Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malchi-shua. In I Samuel 31:2 and I Chronicles 10:2, three of Saul’s sons who were killed in battle with him were Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchi-shua. Abinadab had an alternative name (Ishvi). I Chronicles 8:33 and 9:39 lists a fourth son, Eshbaal (“man of Baal”). His other name was Ishbosheth (“man of the shameful thing”) (II Samuel 2:8). Why the fourth son was not listed is unknown. Some suspect that it was accidentally dropped by a copyist. Merab and Michal, Saul’s two daughters are also listed. Saul also had sons by a concubine, but they are not listed here.
We are also introduced to Saul’s cousin, Abner who became the captain of Saul’s army. The lineage between I Samuel and I Chronicles is confusing.
|I Samuel 9:39; 14:51
|I Chronicles 8:33; 9:39
|Jeiel married to Maacah
Either there was a skipped generation in I Samuel’s account (which would not be unusual) or there was an accidental duplication of a generation in I Chronicles.
Saul’s wife’s name was Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz. It is noted that the prefix “Ahi” (brother) is frequently found in the names of people in the lineage of the High Priests. Whether that is significant here is unknown.
As Samuel predicted (I Samuel 8:11-12), Saul was heavily building up his army because of the constant battles with the Philistines. Saul never was able to stop the Philistine threat during his entire rule.
Saul Tasked with Eliminating the Amalekites - I Samuel 15:1-3
After an unspecified period of time, Samuel comes to Saul and reminds Saul that he is king because Samuel had anointed him at the request of God. God now has commands for Saul, which he needs to heed. Back when the Israelites were heading to the promised land, the Amalekites were attacking the rear of the Israelite people where the weaker and older people would generally travel (Exodus 17:8-16; Deuteronomy 25:17-19). God promised to wipe out the Amalekites after Israel settled into their land. It wasn't because God was seeking to destroy people that this war occurred. You have a nation of bullies who thought they could take advantage of travel-weary people. They learned the hard way that God was protecting Israel. But God also sat in judgment on this nation and declared that such evil cannot continue and that He would remove this nation. The Amalekites continued to harass Israel by joining forces with various enemies of Israel, such as the Canaanites (Numbers 14:45), the Moabites (Judges 3:13), and the Midianites (Judges 6:3). The time has come to fulfill God’s promise.
I Samuel 15:3 invokes a ban (Leviticus 27:28-29). God has devoted these people to destruction and thus, those carrying out God’s order cannot be seen as profiting from the destruction. The same was done in the destruction of Jericho (Joshua 6:17-19). God’s order comes roughly 500 years after the Amalekites attacked Israel. Why is God punishing these people for what their forefathers had done? The answer is simple. This nation had never changed. God gave them hundreds of years to repent and they never did.
The order was for the complete destruction of Amalek’s capital city. It didn’t cover the entire nation as there were still Amalekites mentioned later in the Scriptures (I Samuel 30:1-18; II Samuel 1:8).
Side Topic: Why Does God Have Children Killed?
Orders like this one upset people. After all, the order includes children. Sometimes an order like this is used as proof that Christianity is wrong or that God doesn’t exist.
First, we must note that such arguments are emotionally based. The focus is on the children, while the adults are ignored. This is done on purpose because people don’t think clearly when they are emotional (James 1:20).
Behind the argument is an assumption that we have a right to live and that God doesn’t have the right to take away life. Yet, God has the right as the owner of the universe (Ezekiel 18:4). Death exists because man violated God’s command and let death in with his sins (Genesis 2:17). Thus, we all have to deal with death (Hebrews 9:27). If God cannot take life, then all deaths would be wrong, not just the lives of children. Yet, we accept that everyone dies and not everyone lives to old age (Job 1:21). We need to realize that death isn’t a punishment; instead, life is a blessing from God (II Peter 3:9). God doesn’t want the wicked to die because it ends the hope of repentance (Ezekiel 18:21-23).
Sin is contagious and has to be controlled. The world before the flood was extremely wicked (Genesis 6:5-6). God’s destruction of the world was not arbitrary or done in a fit of rage. As evil as mankind had become, God gave them 120 years to change (Genesis 6:3). Noah taught God’s message (II Peter 2:4-9). People were offered salvation. They did not have to die. Why did children die in the flood? Because their evil parents did not believe God. Despite the parents’ bad choices, God doesn’t hold those choices against the children. They will have eternal life despite their parents’ sins. The same argument can be made about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Nineveh gives a counter-example. God sent Jonah to warn the evil people that they had 40 days (Jonah 3:4) but they repented and God did not destroy Nineveh (Jonah 3:10). These people saved themselves and their children by changing.
The Amalekites had 500 years to change, but they had not. God chose to destroy the adults and bring the children home to Him. Of all involved, the children received the greatest mercy because if they had grown up in that culture, they would have died in their sins. They were spared the fate of their parents.
The destruction of corrupt cultures was relatively rare. There are only a few cases over thousands of years of human history. It only was done when sin was really out of control and even then, God gave those destined for destruction a chance to repent.
Saul Only Partially Fulfills God’s Order - I Samuel 15:4-9
Saul summons an army and 210,000 people respond. They gathered at Telaim, which is believed to be the same place as Telem mentioned in Joshua 15:24. It was a town just south of Judah’s borders. As before, the number from Judah is listed separately from the rest of Israel. As Saul approached the capital, he gave the Kenites, who were living among the Amalekites, a chance to leave before the battle began.
The Amalekites were thoroughly defeated throughout their borders. Some did escape destruction and had to be dealt with later (I Chronicles 4:43). However, Agag, the Amalekite king, was spared. Saul and the people also kept the best animals but anything unwanted was destroyed. In doing this, God’s execution of justice was changed into one nation raiding its neighbor for profit.
- Why do you suppose the king was spared?
Samuel Confronts Saul for Failing - I Samuel 15:10-23
Samuel is informed by God that Saul disobeyed His commands. God now regrets having made Saul king. The problem is not that God has changed but that Saul changed. Saul had stopped carrying out God’s commands. Samuel spent the night pleading with God and then set out in the morning to confront Saul. God informs Samuel that Saul has set up a monument to himself in the town of Carmel and is now currently at Gigal.
When Samuel met Saul, Saul exclaimed a blessing in God’s name and declared that he had done the Lord’s command. Samuel pointed out that Saul lied. He could hear the noise of the animals that should have been destroyed. Saul excused the animals that were saved by claiming that they were going to be offered up to God as sacrifices. This, again, was a lie. God doesn’t allow human sacrifices, so why was Agag spared? Nor is it proper to claim that it is acceptable to change God’s commands in order to worship God.
Instead of repentance, Saul becomes more insistent that he had obeyed God’s command, including the bringing back of Agag. If there was any disobedience, it was the people’s fault but Saul again claims that they had good intentions.
Samuel interrupts Saul’s excuses and asks him to listen to what God told him. Samuel reminds Saul of his humble beginnings and how God lifted him up to be king. The mission that God sent Saul on was clear and straightforward. Instead, Saul turned the command into an opportunity to gather spoils. He turned a righteous punishment into a sinful raid.
Saul repeats his excuses. He doesn’t show any remorse or consideration that he is in the wrong.
Samuel points out that God hasn’t been looking for more sacrifices. He delights when people obey Him. Because Saul had rejected God’s rule over him, God has rejected Saul as king. The prior time, Saul was told that his family would not retain the throne (I Samuel 13:13-14). This time Saul was personally rejected.
- Didn’t God know that Saul would disobey? Why would God have regrets?
- What does the fact that Saul set up a monument to himself tell us about Saul? How does it change God’s order to destroy the Amalekites?
- Why do think Saul lied to Samuel about fulfilling God’s command?
- If the people had insisted on bringing the animals back, then who was actually leading Israel?
- Look at I Samuel 28:3. Why might Samuel have compared Saul’s disobedience to witchcraft?
Saul Loses His Kingdom - I Samuel 15:24-31
Saul apologizes and admits he had sinned against God and Samuel through his disobedience, but it only came after God’s rejection of him. Notice that Saul only asks Samuel to forgive him. There is no request to beseech God. But even in his apology, Saul continued to deflect responsibility for his actions. He claimed to have feared the people and that it was the people who had demanded the animals to be spared. Yet, all through I Samuel the people have been shown to be willing to obey their king, even when Saul’s orders harmed them (I Samuel 11:7; 14:24). Thus, what seems like a sincere apology wasn’t really an apology.
Samuel makes it clear that he will not support Saul since he has rejected God’s commands. Despite Saul’s apology, Samuel knows that Saul hasn’t changed. As he turned to go, Saul grabbed Samuel’s robe to stop him and the robe tore. Samuel pointed out that Saul’s kingdom has been torn from Saul and will be given to a better person, implying that Saul would see his replacement.
The events here in I Samuel 15 were a chance for Saul to redeem himself from his earlier mistake (I Samuel 13:8-14); however, Saul failed again. Thus, we can understand why God said He would not change His mind about Saul and his lineage being kings over Israel. God does not bend to accommodate men. Men must bend to the will of God.
Again Saul apologizes and you might think that Saul was upset that he could no longer worship God with Samuel. But notice that what is upsetting Saul is that the elders of Israel might reject him if Samuel doesn’t worship with Saul. Saul was more concerned about keeping up his appearance. Samuel relents and goes with Saul this time.
- Is there a conflict between I Samuel 15:11 and 15:29?
Samuel Finishes What Saul Failed to Do - I Samuel 15:32-35
After the sacrifices to God, Samuel commands for Agag to be brought. Agag was in good spirits, thinking that since he had survived thus far, he would not be killed. But Samuel reminds Agag that he had killed many men and that he too would die. Samuel then chopped Agag into pieces.
Afterward, Samuel returned to Ramah and Saul returned to Gibeah. Samuel did not go to see Saul again. He grieved over what Saul had become. It wasn’t just Samuel who was sorrowful. God Himself regretted that He made Saul king.