1 Samuel 15

1 SAMUEL CHAPTER 15

Yahweh Rejects Saul as King

      • Samuel told Saul, “I am the one Yahweh sent to anoint you as king over His people Israel. Now, therefore, listen to the words of Yahweh. Yahweh of Hosts says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they were coming out of Egypt. Now go attack the Amalekites and devote everything they have to destruction. Don’t spare them. Kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

        • This is another one of those passages that is quite uncomfortable to read- God instructing the Israelites to kill every man, woman, child, infant, and animal of a particular group. We’ve talked about this before in previous chapters, but we’ll do a little review here. There are a few points to make and one of them is extremely controversial, but I’m convinced by the evidence that it’s accurate.

          • As Semitic scholar Michael Heiser points out, the Hebrew word used here to denote “devote to destruction” (kharam/kherem/herem) is different than other Hebrew words used in the context of the conquest of the Promised Land. This is not debated.

          • Kharam on the other hand is a call for complete destruction. As NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The Hebrew word kharam (‘completely destroy’) often means dedicating something or someone completely to the Lord, either by destroying it (1 Sam 15:3; Josh 6:17-18) or by giving it as an offering (see Lev 27:28-29; Josh 6:19).”

        • Other commentaries, such as HCSB, also point out that this particular command is reserved for a small number of passages, “This passage is one of a handful in the OT where God explicitly ordered the Israelites to eliminate an entire population (see also Deut 7:2; 13:15; 20:16-17; 25:19).”

        • The “why” that everyone agrees on is summed up well by the HCSB:

          • …The problem with the few groups of individuals whom God ordered to be completely destroyed was that they had incorporated grave sins into the fabric of their society and continued in their sins over a considerable period of time. The Amalekites, for example, had created a culture that had no qualms about killing frail Israelites and kidnapping children for the sake of material gain (Dt 25:17-18; see also Jdg 6:3-6; 1 Sm 14:48; 30:1-3). Likewise, to be a Canaanite entailed being a supporter of a polytheistic religion that practiced child sacrifice, prostitution, bestiality, and homosexuality. These cultures had become spiritually gangrenous and had been that way for hundreds of years (see Gn 15:16; Dt 25:17-18)…the only way to keep their deadly influences from spreading to other societies was through complete elimination of every object (Ex 22:24; 34:13; Dt 7:5; 12:3; Jdg 2:2) and person (Dt 7:2; Dt 13:15; 20:16-17). In summary, God ordered the violent elimination of the Amalekites and certain other social groups for two main reasons: as a punishment for the accumulated sins of those societies…and the elimination of their influence on other societies…”

        • The certainly less than universal and often controversial additional reasoning has to do with another commonality between these people groups: direct ties with Genesis 6:1-4, the sons of God and the nephilim.

          • For a short explanation of this connection, the interested reader can refer to Heiser’s article “The Giant Clans and the Conquest.” I’ve excerpted the summary of the position below, which the article goes on to support Scripturally:

          • My view is that it [the command to annihilate certain inhabitants of Canaan] wasn’t indiscriminate at all, and that wholesale genocide wasn’t the point of the conquest. Rather, the command of to ‘devote to destruction’…was focused on the giant clans (denoted by words like Anakim, Rephaim, and, occasionally, Amorites). That is, I believe the rationale for the ḥerem was to eliminate the Anakim, the vestiges of the nephilim (Num 13:32-33), since those peoples were perceived to be (and were, in some way, according to the OT) raised up by rival gods hostile to Yahweh (and thus their own purpose was to prevent Yahweh’s people from kickstarting the kingdom of God on earth). Other people were certainly killed, since the giant clans were scattered among the general population, but I contend the conquest rationale was framed by the urgency to eliminate the nephilim bloodlines…”

          • The reason many Christians have a knee jerk reaction to reject this view should be apparent. As, I mentioned, we’ve discussed all of this before and there is extremely compelling biblical evidence to support it (which is why I do). The interested reader can find links to much additional information and more a clear explanation of related topics in my notes for Deuteronomy chapter 32.

          • HCSB explains why animals were included in this total destruction, “In a land without money or banks…livestock- oxen, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys- was a major form of wealth. But God did not want the Israelites to go to war in order to enrich themselves at their enemies’ expense. This solemn task was to be done to carry out a divine death sentence, not for personal gain.”

        • Another very important point made by the NLT Illustrated Study Bible, “…in the new covenant, Christians are not called to be agents of such judgment. God calls us to exercise his mercy toward those who wrong us (cp Luke 9:51-56)…we must overcome the enemies of Christ by our faith, by the Good News, and by our love (Eph 6:10-20; 1 Jn 2:9-17). God will mete out judgment according to his justice and in his time (Rom 12:19; 2 Thes 1:6-10).”

      • So Saul assembled the troops and counted them at Telaim. There were 200,000 foot soldiers and 10,000 men from Judah. Saul went to the city of Amalek and set up an ambush in the wadi. Then he told the Kenites, “Go on and leave the Amalekites so that you don’t get destroyed along with them, because you showed kindness to the Israelites when they came out of Egypt.” So the Kenites left the Amalekites.

        • NET Bible’s text critical notes explain that a wadi is a “dry stream bed.”

      • Then Saul struck down the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is east of Egypt. He took the Amalekites’ king, Agag, alive, but he devoted all the people to destruction with the sword. Saul and the troops spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs, as well as everything else that was good. They weren’t willing to destroy them, but they did destroy all the worthless, unwanted things.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Saul and his men directly disobeyed the Lord’s command to ‘completely destroy’ the Amalekites (15:3). Though the entire army participated in the disobedience of God’s command, Saul alone was responsible as their leader.”

        • HCSB adds, “If Saul destroyed all of the Amalekites (except Agag), why did Israel have to fight them later on (see 27:8; 30:1, 16-17; 2 Sm 1:8, 13; 1 Ch 4:43)? In the context of Israelite history as a whole, it is clear that Saul killed all the Amalekites that he found, not all those that existed. Many Amalekites would have abandoned their homes and become temporary war refugees in surrounding regions…David later did the same thing, going into temporary exile (1 Sm 21:10) to avoid Saul’s army.”

        • HCSB also notes a prophecy fulfilled here, “An oracle uttered by Balaam in Nm 24:7 indicated that Israel’s king would be ‘greater than Agag’; in the present passage Saul captured Agag, apparently fulfilling this prophecy. The term Agag could either be a personal name or a title (compare with the Bible’s use of ‘Pharaoh’). If Agag is a person, Balaam foresaw his defeat at the hands of Saul; Agag did not live during the time of Moses. If Agag is a title, Balaam spoke of the superiority of Israel’s kings to Amalekite kings.”

      • Then the word of Yahweh came to Samuel, “I regret that I made Saul king because he has turned away from Me and has not carried out My instructions.” Samuel became angry and cried out to Yahweh all that night.

        • On Yahweh’s “regret,” HCSB writes, “God chose Saul to be Israel’s king (9:15-16), then according to this verse regretted His action, and afterward chose David in his place (15:28; 16:12). Yet the prophet Samuel told Saul that God does not change His mind (15:29). While this may appear contradictory, Scripture elsewhere supports Samuel’s statement (Ps 15:4; Mal 3:6; Jms 1:17). God’s will and purpose remain the same, but the free response of people to His commands may lead to a modification of His actions on the human scene (see Jr 18:8; Ezk 18:24; Jnh 3:10). At least from a human perspective, His relationships with people are authentic and personal, not pre-programmed.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible contains a very useful section on the topic titled “God’s Change of Mind”:

        • Thirty-four times in the OT, God is said to ‘change his mind’ or ‘be sorry’ (Hebrew nakham). What could this mean? Did he relent, or did he have pity? Was he sorry, or did he grieve? One thing is clear: God never repents of sin or moral failure, because he is perfect (see 1 Sam 15:29; Num 23:19). He may ‘change his mind’ regarding calamity or judgment that he initiated- that is, he may decide to stop it- in response to prayers of repentance (Jer 18:7-10; Joel 2:14; Jon 3:9-10), a human intercessor (Exod 32:11-14; Amos 7:2-6), or with no apparent human mediation (Judg 2:18; 2 Sam 24:16). On a few occasions, God is ‘sorry’ about something he has already done, such as choosing Saul to be king (1 Sam 15:11, 35; cp Gen 6:6). God is not admitting past mistakes; he is expressing anguish over lives gone awry. Theologians debate the degree to which God, who is all-wise and all-powerful, can ‘change his mind.’ In the Bible, any language that refers to a change in God’s mind reflects a human perspective on God’s activity. Any change in God, therefore, is a change as humans experience him- a reflection of his unchanging love, mercy, faithfulness, and holy will. It does not suggest a change in God’s power, omnicience, foreknowledge, wisdom, or holiness.”

      • Samuel got up early in the morning to go meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul went to Carmel where he set up a monument for himself, and upon returning he crossed over and went to Gilgal.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “It was common practice in the ancient Near East for victorious kings to set up monuments, or victory steles, with inscriptions celebrating their glorious achievements and crediting their success to their god(s)…Saul’s monument may have been such a victory stele. Absalom will later honor himself similarly with a monument (2 Sa 18:18).”

      • When Samuel came to Saul, Saul said to him, “May Yahweh bless you! I have carried out Yahweh’s instructions!” But Samuel replied, “Then what is this sound of sheep and cattle that I hear?” Saul answered, “They brought them from the Amalekites. The troops spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to Yahweh your God, but we devoted the rest to destruction.”

        • Guzik notes, “This is the first of a series of excuses from Saul – he blamed the people, not himself. Second, he included himself in the obedience (the rest we have utterly destroyed). Third, he justified what he kept because of its fine quality (the best of the sheep and the oxen). Fourth, he claimed to do it for a spiritual reason (to sacrifice to the LORD your God)…But even in his excuse, Saul revealed the real problem: he had a poor relationship with God. Notice how he spoke of God to Samuel: “to sacrifice to the LORD your God.” The LORD was not Saul’s God. Saul was Saul’s God. The LORD was the God of Samuel, not Saul. In his pride, Saul removed the LORD God from the throne of his heart.”

      • Stop!” Samuel exclaimed. “I will tell you what Yahweh told me last night.” “Speak.” Saul replied. Samuel said, “Even though you were once insignificant in your own eyes, didn’t you become head of all the tribes of Israel? Yahweh anointed you king over Israel and then sent you on a mission saying, ‘Go and devote the sinful Amalekites to destruction, fight against them until you have wiped them out.’ Why, then, didn’t you obey Yahweh? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do what is evil in the eyes of Yahweh?”

      • Saul replied, “But I have obeyed Yahweh! I went on the mission Yahweh sent me. I brought the Amelikite king, Agag, and I devoted the Amalekites to destruction. The troops took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of the things devoted to destruction, in order to sacrifice to Yahweh your God in Gilgal.”

        • Guzik writes, “Saul first insists that he is innocent. But he is so self-deceived he can say, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD and then immediately describe how he did not obey the voice of the LORD saying that he brought back Agag king of Amalek…After insisting he is innocent, Saul then blamed the people for the sin. His statement was a half-truth that was actually a whole lie. It was true that the people took of the plunder. But they did so by following Saul’s example (he spared Agag king of Amalek), and with Saul’s allowance (because he did nothing to stop or discourage them).”

      • And Samuel said, “Does Yahweh take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of Yahweh? Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance is like iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of Yahweh, He has rejected you from being king.”

        • HCSB explains, “God gladly accepted the sacrifices of His worshipers during the OT era, as long as their gifts were accompanied by a proper attitude of the heart. People had offered sacrifices since the days of Cain and Abel, and God received them (Gn 4:3-4). In the law given at Mount Sinai, the Lord required the Israelites to bring burnt offerings and a variety of sacrifices to Him as part of their regular worship. But as Cain learned (Gn 4:5-6), a sacrifice that was not matched with a life in submission to God was not acceptable (see Is 1:11-17; Ps 51:16-17; Pr 21:27; Jr 6:19-20; Am 5:21-24). Samuel, in the present verse, gives voice to that truth.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible sums up briefly, “God values obedience more than ritual.”

        • On rebellion and arrogance NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “…sins of the heart, are as bad as the sinful practices of idolatrous pagans.”

        • Guzik adds, “Saul’s rejection was final, but it was not immediate. God used almost 25 years to train up the right replacement for Saul.”

      • Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I have disobeyed Yahweh’s commands and your words as well because I was afraid of the troops, so I obeyed them. Now please forgive my sin. Go back with me so that I can worship Yahweh.”

        • Guzik writes, “Saul’s statement begins like a genuine confession but that changes as he continues as he said, ‘because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.’ Saul refused to own up to his sin and instead blamed the people who ‘made him do it.’”

      • Samuel answered Saul, “I won’t go back with you because you have rejected the word of Yahweh and Yahweh has rejected you from being king over Israel.”

      • As Samuel turned to leave, Saul grabbed the hem of his robe and it tore. And Samuel said to him, “Yahweh has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it one of your neighbors who is better than you. Furthermore, He who is the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind, for He is not a human that He should change His mind.”

        • See the NLT Illustrated Study Bible citation above titled “God’s Change of Mind.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “No amount of cajoling or manipulation will succeed in mitigating the sentence that has been pronounced against Saul, for it has been issued by Yahweh, whose judgment is supreme.”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “Samuel spoke prophetically of God’s commitment to make David king and to preserve his dynasty. God had rejected Saul, but he would never reject David (see 2 Sam 7:8-17).”

      • Saul responded, “I have sinned. Yet, please honor be now in front of the elders of my people and in front of Israel. Go back with me so that I can worship Yahweh your God.” So Samuel followed Saul back and Saul worshiped Yahweh.

        • Guzik writes, “Did this do any good? It did no ‘good’ in gaining the kingdom back for Saul. That was a decision God had made and it was final. But it may have done Saul good in moving his proud, stubborn heart closer to God for the sake of saving his soul. At least it had that opportunity, so Samuel allowed Saul to come with him and worship the LORD.”

      • Then Samuel said, “Bring me Agag, the king of the Amalekites.” Agag came to him trembling and said, “Surely this is the bitterness of death.”

        • NET Bible’s text critical notes explains the textual difficulty with Agag’s words, “With the LXX, two Old Latin MSS, and the Syriac Peshitta it is probably preferable to delete sar (‘is past’) of the MT; it looks suspiciously like a dittograph of the following word mar (‘bitter’). This further affects the interpretation of Agag’s comment. In the MT he comes to Samuel confidently assured that the danger is over (cf KJV, NASB, NIV ‘surely the bitterness of death is past,’ along with NLT and CEV.) However, it seems more likely that Agag realized his fortunes had suddenly taken a turn for the worse and that the clemency he had enjoyed from Saul would not be his lot from Samuel. The present translation thus understands Agag to approach not confidently but in the stark realization that his death is imminent (‘Surely death is bitter!’). Cf. NAB ‘So it is bitter death!’; NRSV ‘Surely this is the bitterness of death!’; TEV ‘What a bitter thing it is to die!’”

      • And Samuel said, “Just as your sword has made women childless, so your mother will be the most bereaved among women.” Then Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before Yahweh in Gilgal.

      • Then Samuel went to Ramah and Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. Even until the day of his death, Samuel never went to see Saul again, but he grieved over Saul. And Yahweh regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.

        • On Samuel grieving over Saul the NLT Illustrated Study Bible says, “The verb phrase…is usually used for grieving over someone’s death. Although Saul was still living, his royalty was coming to an end. Samuel might have been grieving out of personal attachment to Saul, a sense of failure, or concern that Israel’s condition would be worse.”

      • HCSB adds, “Didn’t Samuel see Saul again before he died? In the Hebrew text and in some English versions of the Bible an apparent contradiction exists between this verse and 19:24, where Saul went to Samuel and spent the day prophesying before him. The HCSB translation, however, preserves the intent of the Hebrew phrase, which states literally ‘Samuel did not again to see.’ Samuel never again sought out Saul, though Saul would go to see him.”

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