Samuel also said unto Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD.1 Samuel 15:1-2. Hearken thou unto the voice of the Lord — Thou hast erred already; now regain God’s favour by thy exact obedience to what he commands. Thus saith the Lord, I remember, &c. — Now I will avenge those old injuries of the Amalekites on their children, who continue in their parents’ practices. God here refers to that most notorious instance of cruelty, inhumanity, and impiety, their invading and destroying, as far as in them lay, by treachery and surprise, and that uninjured and unprovoked, the people of Israel, when they were coming out of Egypt, and were manifestly under the immediate and miraculous protection of Almighty God. “This was a sin,” says Dr. Delaney, “at once so inhuman and so atheistical, as perhaps cannot be paralleled in any one instance from the foundation of the world, and therefore it is no wonder if this flagrant act of villany and impiety produced that dreadful decree against them, recorded Exodus 17:14, I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven: and again, 1 Samuel 15:16, The Lord hath sworn that he will have war with Amalek, from generation to generation. To reconcile this severe decree with the principles of justice, and God’s own declaration, (Ezekiel 18.,) of his limiting the vengeance of guilt to the person of the offender, we need only to reflect upon one plain observation, with which every day’s experience sufficiently furnishes us, that nothing is more common than for children to be unrepentant, and, it may be, improved and inveterate in the sins of their ancestors: and that nothing is more easy to the divine prescience than to foresee this, and to pronounce upon it. And that this was the case of the Amalekites, sufficiently appears from their history. For, as their fathers attempted upon the Israelites, when under the manifest protection of God, their sons continued to do the same upon every occasion, though the same protection became every day more and more conspicuous by many and repeated instances.” When he came out of Egypt — When he was newly come out of cruel and long bondage, and was now weak, and weary, and faint, and hungry, Deuteronomy 25:18; and therefore it was barbarous, instead of that pity which even nature prompted them to afford, to add affliction to the afflicted; it was also horrid impiety to fight against God himself, and to lift up their hand in a manner, against the Lord’s throne, while they struck at that people which God had brought forth in so stupendous a way.
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt.
Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.1 Samuel 15:3. Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, &c. — This heavy sentence was pronounced against them long before, (Exodus 17:14,) and renewed at the Israelites’ entrance into Canaan, with a charge not to forget it, (Deuteronomy 25:19,) and now ordered to be put in execution. Slay both man and woman, infant and suckling — We are to consider these orders of God, given in Scripture, for the slaying the innocent with the guilty, even children and sucklings, who could have done no harm, in the same light as we do a plague or earthquake, or any other of God’s judgments in the earth, whereby the guiltless are cut off with the guilty; the reason of which, perhaps, may be, that the guilty, in such calamities, are more grievously afflicted and punished, by the cutting off their harmless children, than they would be by any thing that could befall themselves. And God can, and certainly does, crown elsewhere the innocent with happiness, great enough to reward them amply for the evils that fall upon them here. And, without doubt, every infant, however much its death may be lamented by its parents, receives a great favour and blessing from God by having death bestowed upon it in its infancy; as it is taken away from all the miseries of this life, in order to be made perfectly and eternally happy.
The reason, perhaps, of God’s ordering the beasts to be all killed, upon this and some other occasions of this sort, was, that the neighbouring nations might know that these terrible executions of the Israelites upon some particular nations, did not proceed from any views of profit or interest to themselves, but were done in obedience to the commands of the Lord of all, to punish those whose iniquity was full. For, had the Israelites been allowed to spare the cattle (which were then the chief riches of the nations) on these occasions, they would have appeared rather as the murderers of these people, for the sake of their riches, than the ministers of God’s wrath, to punish nations whose abominations made them ripe for destruction.
And Saul gathered the people together, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah.
And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and laid wait in the valley.1 Samuel 15:5. Saul came to a city of Amalek — Or, to the city of Amalek. For the metropolis of the kingdom seems to be here meant, the name of which some have thought was Amalek. And laid wait in the valley — Or fought them in the valley; for they came out to give him battle.
And Saul said unto the Kenites, Go, depart, get you down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them: for ye shewed kindness to all the children of Israel, when they came up out of Egypt. So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.1 Samuel 15:6. Saul said unto the Kenites — A people descended from, or nearly related to, Jethro, who anciently dwelt in rocks near the Amalekites, (Numbers 24:21,) and afterward some of them dwelt in Judah, (Jdg 1:16,) whence it is probable they removed (which, dwelling in tents, they could easily do) and retired to their old habitation, because of the wars and troubles wherewith Judah was annoyed. Ye showed kindness — Some of your progenitors did so, and, for their sakes, all of you shall be spared and kindly treated. You were not guilty of that sin for which Amalek is now to be destroyed. When destroying judgments are abroad, God takes care to separate the precious from the vile. It is then especially dangerous to be found in the company of God’s enemies. The Jews have a saying, Wo to a wicked man and to his neighbour.
And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur, that is over against Egypt.1 Samuel 15:7-8. To Shur — That is, from one end of their country to the other; he smote all that he met with: but a great number of them fled away upon the noise of his coming, and secured themselves in other places, till the storm was over. Destroyed all — Whom he found. Now they paid dear for the sins of their ancestors. They were themselves guilty of idolatry and numberless sins, for which they deserved to be cut off. Yet, when God would reckon with them, he fixes upon this as the ground of his quarrel.
And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed 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 fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.1 Samuel 15:9. Would not utterly destroy them — As they had been commanded of God, but took them as a prey to themselves. Every thing that was vile, they destroyed — All that was not worth the keeping. Thus they obeyed God as far as they could, without inconvenience and loss to themselves, which is a striking instance of the baseness of human nature, when governed by covetousness, or any such like grovelling affection or appetite.
Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying,
It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.1 Samuel 15:11. It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king — Repentance, properly speaking, implies grief of heart, and a change of counsels. Understood in which sense, it can have no place in God. But it is often ascribed to him in the Scriptures when he alters his method of dealing with persons, and treats them as if he did indeed repent of the kindness he had shown them. He is turned back from following me — Therefore he did once follow God, otherwise it would have been impossible he should turn back from following him. He cried unto the Lord all night — To implore his pardoning mercy for Saul and for the people.
And when Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning, it was told Samuel, saying, Saul came to Carmel, and, behold, he set him up a place, and is gone about, and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal.1 Samuel 15:12-13. Behold, he set him up a place — That is, a monument or trophy of his victory; perhaps a column, or barely a large heap of stones, as was the custom of those early ages. I have performed the commandment of the Lord — He makes so little account of the fault he had committed, that he even boasts of his performance.
And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD.
And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?
And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.1 Samuel 15:15. They — That is, the people; have brought them from the Amalekites — Thus he lays the blame upon the people, whereas they could not do it without his consent, and he should have used his power to overrule them. To sacrifice unto the Lord thy God — This was a plausible pretence; but as the Lord had given express command that nothing should be saved, no more for himself than for them, this excuse could be no more than an instance of mean hypocrisy.
Then Samuel said unto Saul, Stay, and I will tell thee what the LORD hath said to me this night. And he said unto him, Say on.
And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?
And the LORD sent thee on a journey, and said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed.1 Samuel 15:18-19. The Lord sent thee on a journey — So easy was the service, and so certain the success, that it was rather to be called a journey than a war. Wherefore didst thou not obey the voice of the Lord? — The command was as plain as words could make it; and there was no reason but his own base covetousness why it was not obeyed.
Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the LORD, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the LORD?
And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.1 Samuel 15:20-21. Have brought Agag the king — To be dealt with as God pleaseth. Strange stupidity! to imagine such a partial obedience could be pleasing unto God. But the people took of the spoil — It was a mean thing to throw all the blame on the people, whom he ought to have governed better; and it was worst of all to pretend religion for his disobedience. The things which should have been utterly destroyed — Here he shows that he was conscious he had not done as he was commanded.
But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal.
And Samuel said, Hath 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 hearken than the fat of rams.1 Samuel 15:22. Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice — A most divine admonition this, and inculcated by all the following inspired writers, by David, Solomon, and the prophets; as the reader may see by consulting the margin. Obedience to God is a moral duty, constantly and indispensably necessary; but sacrifice is but a ceremonial institution, sometimes unnecessary, as it was in the wilderness; and sometimes sinful, when it is offered by a polluted hand, or in an irregular manner. Therefore thy gross disobedience to God’s express command is not to be compensated with sacrifice. To hearken — That is, to obey. The fat of rams — Then the choicest part of all the sacrifice.
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.1 Samuel 15:23. For rebellion — Disobedience to God’s command; is as the sin of witchcraft — Or the using divinations, and consulting familiar spirits, is as plainly condemned, and as certainly damnable and destructive. Stubbornness — Contumacy, persisting in sin, justifying it, and pleading for it; is as iniquity and idolatry — Or, rather, the iniquity of idolatry, the highest degree of wickedness. The meaning is, that as Saul had wilfully disobeyed the command of God, he was guilty of rebellion against him; and that wilful, peremptory disobedience to any command of God is, for the nature of it, a most heinous sin, though the matter in which it is manifested be ever so small. The Lord hath rejected thee from being king — That is, hath pronounced the sentence of rejection; for that he was not now actually deposed by God, plainly appears in that not only the people, but even David, after this, owned him as king. Indeed, he continued to be king till the day of his death. He was only actually rejected and deposed when he was slain in battle. But the expression may chiefly respect his posterity, to whom God would not suffer the kingdom to descend.
And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.1 Samuel 15:24-25. I have sinned — It does by no means appear that Saul acts the hypocrite herein, in assigning a false cause of his disobedience. Rather, he nakedly declares the thing as it was. Pardon my sin — Neither can it be proved that there was any hypocrisy in this. Rather, charity requires us to believe, that he sincerely desired pardon, both from God and man, as he now knew he had sinned against both.
Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD.
And Samuel said unto Saul, I will not return with thee: for thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD hath rejected thee from being king over Israel.1 Samuel 15:26. I will not — This was no lie, though he afterward returned, because he spoke what he meant; his words and his intentions agreed together, though afterward he saw reason to change his intentions. Compare Genesis 19:2-3. This may relieve many perplexed consciences, who think themselves obliged to do what they have said they would do, though they see just cause to change their minds. Hath rejected thee, &c. — But he does not say, he “hath rejected thee from salvation.” And who besides hath authority to say so?
And as Samuel turned about to go away, he laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and it rent.
And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou.1 Samuel 15:28-29. The Lord hath rent the kingdom from thee — Hath declared his firm resolution of laying aside thy family, and will soon actually take away thy life and thy kingly power. Also the Strength of Israel — Who is perfectly able to bring to pass all his purposes, and to make good all his declarations; will not lie — He gives God his title, to show the reason why he neither can nor will lie. For lying generally proceeds from a man’s weakness and inability to accomplish his designs, as he thinks, without it. But God needs no such artifices: he can do whatsoever he pleaseth by his absolute power. Nor repent — Change his counsel and purpose, which is also an effect of weakness and imperfection, either of wisdom or power. So that this word is not here used in the sense it is 1 Samuel 15:11, and in several other passages, as Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:14; 2 Samuel 24:16; Jeremiah 26:19; in all which, and many others, it signifies a change of God’s proceedings, and of his method of dealing with persons.
And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.
Then he said, I have sinned: yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD thy God.
So Samuel turned again after Saul; and Saul worshipped the LORD.1 Samuel 15:31. So Samuel turned again — 1st, That the people might not, upon pretence of this sentence of rejection, withdraw their obedience from their sovereign; whereby they would both have sinned against God, and have been as sheep without a shepherd. 2d, That he might rectify Saul’s error, and execute God’s judgment upon Agag.
Then said Samuel, Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites. And Agag came unto him delicately. And Agag said, Surely the bitterness of death is past.1 Samuel 15:32-33. Agag came unto him delicately — Hebrew, מעדנת, magnadannoth, in delights, or ornaments; that is, he came not like an offender, expecting the sentence of death, but in the garb, and gesture, and majesty of a king. And Agag said — Or, For Agag said; this being mentioned as the reason why he came so. Surely the bitterness of death is past — I, who have escaped death from a warlike prince and his soldiers in the fury of battle, shall certainly not suffer it from a prophet in time of peace. As thy sword hath made women childless — By this it appears that he had been a tyrant; and guilty of many bloody actions; and was now cut off, not merely for the sins of his ancestors four hundred years ago, but also for his own merciless cruelty. Samuel hewed Agag in pieces — This he doubtless did by a divine instinct, and in pursuance of God’s express command, which had been sinfully neglected and disobeyed by Saul, but is now executed by Samuel. It is not said that Samuel cut Agag in pieces with his own hand; perhaps he only commanded him to be slain by proper officers. In those days, however, it was no unusual thing for the greatest persons to perform these executions. But no private persons are authorized to make such instances as these precedents for taking the sword of justice into their own hands. For we must be governed in our own conduct by the laws of God, and not by extraordinary examples. Before the Lord in Gilgal — That is, before the altar of the Lord, where they had been praying and offering sacrifices.
And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.
Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house to Gibeah of Saul.
And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.1 Samuel 15:35. Samuel came no more to see Saul — That is, to visit him, in token of respect or friendship; or, to seek counsel from God for him. Otherwise he did see him afterward, 1 Samuel 19:24. Though indeed it was not Samuel that came thither with a design to see Saul, but Saul went thither to see Samuel, and that accidentally. Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul — For his impenitence and rejection. He still had so much love to him, or to his country, as to lament the sad condition into which he was fallen.