1 Samuel 15
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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.
Ch. 1 Samuel 15:1-9. Saul’s commission to destroy Amalek

1. Samuel also said] And Samuel said. How long after the repulse of the Philistines this happened, we are not told. Some years at least must be allowed for the evident development of that wilfulness which was Saul’s ruin.

The Lord sent me] Me did Jehovah send. The pronoun stands emphatically at the head of the sentence. The prophet appeals to his former commission to anoint Saul as accrediting him to be God’s messenger on the present occasion. “The note of special warning” with which he prefaces the command indicates that he felt that “the discipline of Saul’s life was gathering itself up into a special trial,” and that this would be “a crisis in that life-history, with which by God’s own hand his own had been so strangely intertwined.” Wilberforce’s Heroes of Hebrew History, p. 219.

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.
2. I remember] Rather, I have reviewed, or, considered. Vulg. recensui.

that which Amalek did to Israel] The origin of the powerful tribe of the Amalekites is uncertain. According to one view they had migrated from the East: according to another they were the descendants of Esau’s grandson Amalek (Genesis 36:12). They were a nomad people, roaming over the wilderness which lies to the south and south-west of Palestine and stretches down into the peninsula of Sinai. They disputed the passage of the Israelites, but were signally defeated at Rephidim (Exodus 17:8). Upon a later occasion they joined with the Canaanites, and were victorious in a battle near Hormah (Numbers 14:45). In league with the Moabites (Jdg 3:13) and Midianites (Jdg 6:3) they continued to harass the Israelites alter their entrance into Canaan. As the first of the heathen nations who opposed the progress of God’s people after the Exodus they were doomed to utter destruction (Exodus 17:16; Numbers 24:20; Deuteronomy 25:17-19), and the time had now come for the execution of this sentence.

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.
3. utterly destroy all that they have] The word translated “utterly destroy” means “to ban,” or “to devote,” and hence since that which was cherem or “devoted” might not be taken as spoil, it comes to signify “utterly destroy.” See Leviticus 27:28-29; Joshua 6:17 ff. The word is used in Samuel only in this chapter.

On the “moral difficulty” involved in this command see Note V. p. 240.

And Saul gathered the people together, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah.
4. in Telaim] Nowhere else mentioned, unless it is the same as Telem (Joshua 15:24), the position of which in the southern border of Judah suits the circumstances. The name means “lambs,” and was probably derived from the pastures in the neighbourhood.

ten thousand men of Judah] This implies that the 200,000 foot-soldiers were from the other tribes. See note on 1 Samuel 11:8.

And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and laid wait in the valley.
5. a city of Amalek] Perhaps the capital or chief settlement was simply called Ir-Amalek = “the city of Amalek,” as Rabbah was called Ar or Ir-Moab = “the city of Moab” (Numbers 21:28; Numbers 22:36).

in the valley] Heb. nachal, which signifies a ravine or torrent-bed. See Sinai and Palestine, p. 505.

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.
6. the Kenites] This tribe, as may be inferred from the fact that Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, the priest of Midian (Exodus 3:1), is called a Kenite in Jdg 1:16, was an offshoot from the Midianites. The services done to Israel by Jethro and his son Hobab (Exodus 18; Numbers 10:29-32) led to a firm alliance. The Kenites accompanied the Israelites on their march as far as Jericho (Jdg 1:16), and then went and dwelt among the Amalekites in the desert to the south of Judah. They are mentioned again in 1 Samuel 27:10, 1 Samuel 30:29, as the friends of Israel. Famous among the Kenites was Jael, whose husband Heber had migrated into northern Palestine (Jdg 4:11); and the Rechabites who belonged to this tribe (1 Chronicles 2:55) long preserved the nomad habits of their ancestors (Jeremiah 35:7-10).

And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur, that is over against Egypt.
7. from Havilah until thou comest to Shur] The region occupied by the Ishmaelites is described in the same terms in Genesis 25:18. Havilah is supposed to be a district of Arabia, but its position cannot be fixed with any certainty. Shur is repeatedly mentioned in connexion with the route from Palestine to Egypt, and appears to be the part of the Arabian desert bordering on Egypt. See Genesis 16:7; Genesis 20:1; Exodus 15:22; 1 Samuel 27:8. Shur means wall, and the name may have been derived from the wall which anciently defended the north-eastern frontier of Egypt.

over against Egypt] In front of Egypt, looking towards it from Palestine; or, eastward of Egypt.

And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.
8. Agag] Agag perhaps means “fiery.” As the name is found in Numbers 24:7, it was probably an hereditary title, like Pharaoh among the Egyptians.

utterly destroyed all the people] All who fell into their bands. Some survived, and continued a guerilla warfare against the Israelites (1 Samuel 27:8, 1 Samuel 30:1; 2 Samuel 8:12). The last remnant of them was destroyed by a band of Simeonites in the reign of Hezekiah (1 Chronicles 4:43).

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.
9. spared Agag] Perhaps to grace his triumph and to be an evidence of his victory (Jdg 1:7): perhaps from a feeling of sympathy with a fellow king (1 Kings 20:32).

and the best of the sheep, &c.] In direct violation of the Divine command. It was to be a sacred war from which the people were to take no gain of spoil, in token that it was undertaken in the execution of a Divine vengeance and not for their own profit.

fatlings] See note on p. 246.

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.
10–23. Saul’s disobedience and its penalty

11. It repenteth me] “God’s repentance is the change of His dispensation.” In the language of the O. T. God is said to repent when a change in the character and conduct of those with whom He is dealing leads to a corresponding change in His plans and purposes towards them. Thus (a) upon man’s penitence God repents and withdraws a threatened punishment (Exodus 32:14; 2 Samuel 24:16): (b) upon man’s faithlessness and disobedience He cancels a promise or revokes a blessing which He had given. The opposite is also true, “God is not a man that he should repent” (1 Samuel 15:29). His repentance is not to be understood as though He who foreknows all things regretted His action, nor is it a sign of mutability. A change in the attitude of man to God necessarily involves a corresponding change in the attitude of God to man.

it grieved Samuel] This rendering is probably right, though the word more commonly means “to be angry.” Samuel was grieved at the failure of one from whom he had hoped for so much advantage to the nation.

he cried unto the Lord all night] Interceding for Saul if perchance he might he forgiven. For Samuel’s intercessions see ch. 1 Samuel 7:5, and compare Moses’ pleading for Israel (Exodus 32:11-13). Our Lord “continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).

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.
12. to Carmel] Carmel (= “park” or “garden”) was a city in the mountainous country of Judah, about seven miles S.S.E. of Hebron. Saul would naturally pass through it in returning from the war. The site is marked by the ruins of a large town bearing the name Kurmul (Robinson, Bibl. Res. I. 495 ff). Here dwelt Nabal (ch. 25), and in its neighbourhood much of David’s outlaw life was spent.

he set him up a place] He erected for himself a monument, or trophy of his victory. The Vulg. has “fornicem triumphalem;” and according to Jerome it was an arch of myrtles, palms, and olives. The Heb. word, literally meaning “hand,” is applied to Absalom’s pillar, which was called “Absalom’s place” or “monument” (2 Samuel 18:18).

The Sept. has some doubtful additions, which partly appear in the ordinary text of the Vulgate. “And Samuel rose early and went to meet Israel in the morning. And it was told [Samuel] saying, [Saul] came to Carmel, and hath set him up a monument, and he turned his chariot and went down to Gilgal. [And Samuel came to Saul], and behold he was offering a burnt-offering to the Lord, the first-fruits of the spoil, which he brought from Amalek.” The names Saul and Samuel have been confused in the text of B, and the clause “And Samuel came to Saul” must be transposed to make sense.

to Gilgal] In the same place where Saul’s kingdom had been confirmed it was to be taken from him: and where the warning of the consequences of disobedience had been uttered (1 Samuel 13:13-14), the sentence on disobedience was to be pronounced.

And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD.
13. Blessed be thou of the Lord] Cp. Genesis 14:19; Genesis 24:31; Ruth 3:10; 2 Samuel 2:5. Saul attempts to conciliate Samuel with a friendly greeting. His conscience can scarcely have been so hardened that he was insensible of his sin.

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.
15. And Saul said, &c.] Saul tries (a) like Aaron at Sinai (Exodus 32:22), to shift the blame from himself on to others; (b) to palliate the offence by alleging a good motive. But “the king who heeded the voice of his army in such a matter shewed that he was not their leader, but their tool and their slave. The king who pretended to keep the booty for the purpose of offering sacrifice to the Lord his God, was evidently beginning to play the hypocrite;—to make the service of God an excuse for acts of selfishness, and so to introduce all that is vilest in king-craft as well as in priest-craft.” Maurice, Prophets and Kings, p. 26.

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.
16. Stay] Forbear! cease these flimsy excuses!

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?
17. When thou wast little] Is it not the case that though thou wast little in thine own eyes, thou hast been made head of the tribes of Israel? There is a reference to Saul’s own words of astonishment that he should be chosen as king (1 Samuel 9:21). The prophet desires to remind him that as his elevation came solely from God, obedience was due to God. There is a curious tradition preserved in the Targum, that Saul’s elevation was a reward for the courage of the tribe of Benjamin at the passage of the Red Sea, when they sought to pass over first.

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.
18. the sinners the Amalekites] Sin was the ground of their doom. The special sin which singled them out for punishment was their opposition to the will of God as regards the destiny of his people Israel.

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.
20. Yea, I have obeyed] Saul still persists in justifying his conduct. (a) He had fulfilled his mission and destroyed the Amalekites, and brought Agag with him in proof thereof. (b) The people had brought home the spoil for sacrifice, not for themselves.

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.
21. the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed] The chief of the devoted things (cherem). It might seem a praiseworthy act to reserve the spoil for sacrifice: but since it was “devoted,” it did not belong to the Israelites, and no offering could be made of it.

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.
22. With a burst of prophetic inspiration Samuel rends asunder Saul’s tissue of excuses, and lays bare his sin. His words are the key-note of the long remonstrance of the prophets in subsequent ages against the too common error of supposing that external ceremonial can be of any value in the sight of God when separated from the true devotion of the worshipper’s heart which it symbolizes. See Psalm 40:6-8; Psalm 50:8 ff; Psalm 51:16-17; Isaiah 1:11-15; Jeremiah 6:20; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7. The rhythmical form of the original adds force and solemnity.

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.
23. rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, &c.] Opposition to the will of God is as bad as divination by the help of evil spirits, which is tantamount to apostasy from God: obstinate resistance to Him is no better than worshipping idols (vanity or emptiness) and images (teraphim: see note on 1 Samuel 19:13). Disobedience is in fact idolatry, because it elevates self-will into a god.

There seems to be an allusion to Saul’s zeal in abolishing the practice of witchcraft (1 Samuel 28:3). Samuel charges him with being not less guilty than those whom he had been so eager to condemn.

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.
24–31. The rejection of Saul

24. I have sinned] Though a formal confession of his sin is extorted from Saul, he does not humble himself before God in genuine penitence. He still tries to shift the blame on to the people, and his chief anxiety is lest the breach between Samuel and himself should become a public scandal and weaken his authority (1 Samuel 15:30). Contrast David’s heart-felt repentance (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 51:4).

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.
And as Samuel turned about to go away, he laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and it rent.
27. the skirt of his mantle] Some kind of a lappet or flap hanging down behind, which could be easily torn or cut off, seems to be meant. Cp. 1 Samuel 24:4. As Samuel turned to go, Saul seized it to detain him, and it was torn off. The accident served Samuel as an emblem of the complete severance of the sovereignty from Saul. Compare Ahijah’s symbolical action (1 Kings 11:30-31).

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.
And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.
29. the Strength of Israel] This word, which occurs here only as a title of God, combines the ideas of stability, permanence, constancy: the Strength or Confidence of Israel does not change as men do.

will not lie nor repent] The words closely resemble Numbers 23:19. There is a verbal contradiction between this utterance and 1 Samuel 15:11, which is usually explained by saying that in 1 Samuel 15:11 the historian uses language according to the manner of men (ἀνθρωποπαθῶς), while here the prophet speaks as befits the nature of God (θεοπρεπῶς). This is only a partial solution. It is precisely because God is unchangeable, that in His dealing with men He must seem to change His action as they change their conduct. This is one aspect of the great problem which runs through all religion, how human free-will can coexist with the Divine Sovereignty. Scripture is content to state both sides of the question, and leave conscience rather than reason to reconcile them.

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.
30. honour me now, &c.] John 5:44; John 12:43 point to the radical defect in Saul’s character.

So Samuel turned again after Saul; and Saul worshipped the LORD.
31. So Samuel turned again] Changing his purpose in order to maintain the honour of the reigning king, for although Saul had forfeited his position as Jehovah’s chosen representative, he must still rule the nation.

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.
32–35. The execution of Agag. Samuel’s departure

32. delicately] Rather, cheerfully: not fearing any harm from the aged prophet, as the king had spared his life. But the meaning of the word is very doubtful. The Sept. has “trembling;” the Vulg. a curious double rendering, “sleek and trembling” (pinguissimus et tremens).

Surely the bitterness of death is past] This was what Agag said to himself, expecting to be spared. But the Sept. (from a different reading) gives: “Is death so bitter?” Vulg. “Does bitter death thus sever [me from life]?” (Siccine separat amara mors?) representing Agag as afraid.

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.
33. As thy sword, &c.] By the law of retaliation Agag’s life was forfeit. Cp. Jdg 1:7.

hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord] A solemn execution of the Divine sentence which Saul had neglected. The word rendered “hewed in pieces” is a different one from that used in 1 Samuel 11:7, and occurs nowhere else. It may perhaps mean no more than “executed” (Sept. ἔσφαξε). The E. V. follows the Vulg.: “in frusta concidit.”

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.
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