1 Samuel 15
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1 Samuel 15:1-9. (GIBEAH.)

1. The fidelity of Saul to the principle of his appointment, viz. obedience to the will of Jehovah, was once and again put to the test. He had been tried by inaction, delay, and distress, which became the occasion of his being tempted to distrust, and the use of his power for his own safety, in opposition to the word of God (1 Samuel 13:11). He had been tried by enterprise, encouragement, and the expectation of brilliant success, which became the occasion of his being tempted to presumption in entering rashly upon his own ways, and adopting "foolish and hurtful devices" for conquest and glory, independently of the counsel of God (1 Samuel 14:19, 24). He must now be tried by victory, power, and prosperity. Having chastised his enemies on every side (1 Samuel 14:47), his assured success becomes the final test of his character and fitness to rule over Israel.

2. The temptations of Saul may he compared with those of others, and especially with the three temptations of Christ (Matthew 4:1-10; Luke 4:1-12), which are "an epitome of all the temptations, moral and spiritual, which the devil has contrived for man from the day of his first sin unto this very hour." The antecedents in both cases, the circumstances under which the temptations occurred, the principles to which they appealed, the inducements which they presented, the means afforded for their resistance, and their result, are all suggestive. Where the first king of Israel failed the last King of Israel prevailed, and whilst Saul was rejected, Jesus was perfected, and "crowned with glory and honour" (Luke 22:28, 29; Hebrews 2:10, 18).

3. The commission of Saul to execute judgment upon the Amalekites was brought to him by Samuel, whose authority as the prophet of the Lord he never called in question, however much he may have acted contrary to his directions. After Saul exhibited a determination to have his own way, Samuel seems to have exerted little influence over him. At the battle of Michmash the high priest Ahiah was his only spiritual counsellor. It became more and more evident that he wished to establish a "kingdom of this world," like the surrounding heathen kingdoms, in opposition to the design of God concerning Israel, which the prophet represented and sought to carry into effect; and it was inevitable that, with such contrary aims, a conflict should arise between them. "The great prophet's voice brings him a new commission from his God, and preludes it by a note of very special warning: 'The Lord sent me,' etc. This tone of adjuration surely tells all. It speaks the prophet's judgment of his character, of prayers and intercessions, of days of watching and nights of grief for one he loved so well, as he saw growing on that darkening countenance the deepening lines of willfulness. The prophet sees that it will be a crisis in that life history with which by God's own hand his own had been so strangely entwined? The commission was -


1. When a communication enjoining the performance of any action comes unquestionably from God. it should be unhesitatingly obeyed. His authority is supreme, his power is infinite, and his commands are right and good. It does not follow that everything he directs men to do in one age is obligatory on all others in every age. But some things he has undoubtedly enjoined upon us all.

2. When such a communication is made with peculiar directness and solemnity, it should be obeyed with peculiar attention and circumspection, for important issues are involved in its faithful or faithless observance. "if thou hast failed in other things, take heed that thou fail not in this."

3. When special privilege and honour have been bestowed upon men by God they are placed under special obligations of obedience to him. "Though thou wast little in thine own sight," etc. (ver. 17).

II. JUSTLY DESERVED by those against whom it was directed (ver. 2) - "the sinners the Amalekites" (ver. 18).

1. Some sins are marked by an unusual degree of criminality and guilt. Like the people of Israel, the Amalekites were descendants of Abraham (Amalek being the grandson of Esau - Genesis 36:12, 16); but they attacked them at Rephidim on their way through the desert, and strove to annihilate them (Exodus 17:8-16); they lay in wait for them secretly and subtly, and smote the hindermost, the feeble, the faint and weary, and "feared not God" (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Their conduct was ungenerous, unprovoked, cruel, and utterly godless.

2. Special sins are perpetuated in families and nations and increase in intensity. The Amalekites were hereditary, open, and deadly foes of Israel (Numbers 14:45; Judges 3:13; Judges 6:3). They lived by plunder, and were guilty of unsparing bloodshed (ver. 33). Some fresh act of cruelty may have shown that they were "ripe for the judgment of extermination."

3. Sinners long spared and persisting in flagrant transgression bring upon themselves sudden, signal, and overwhelming destruction. If judgment is pervaded and limited by mercy, mercy has also limits beyond which it does not pass, and they who despise it must perish. Men may forget what God has spoken (Exodus 17:14); but he remembers it, and fulfils his word at the proper time. "Injuries done to the people of God will sooner or later be reckoned for." Impenitent sinners "treasure up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath" (Romans 2:5). It accumulates like a gathering thundercloud or an Alpine avalanche (Luke 11:50, 51), and it frequently comes upon them by ways and means such as they themselves have chosen. The Amalekites put others to the sword and spared not; they must themselves be put to the sword and not be spared. The moral improvement of inveterate sinners by their continuance on earth is sometimes hopeless, and their removal by Divine judgment is necessary for the moral improvement and general welfare of other people with whom they are connected, and teaches valuable lessons to succeeding ages.

III. FULLY EXPRESSED (vers. 3, 18). The will of God is made known in different forms and with various degrees of clearness, and some men, whilst.acknowledging their obligation to obey it, have sought to justify themselves in the neglect of particular duties on the ground of their not having been fully directed. But this could not be the case with Saul, whose commission was -

1. Imperative; so that there could be no excuse for evasion. "Go and smite Amalek."

2. Plain; so that its meaning could not be mistaken, except by the most inattentive and negligent of men. "Utterly destroy (devote to destruction). Fight against them until they be consumed."

3. Minute; so that no room was left for the exercise of discretion as to the manner or extent of its fulfilment. It required simple, literal obedience, such as is now required in many things. "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it."

IV. ZEALOUSLY COMMENCED (vers. 4, 5, 7). The "journey on which he was sent" (ver. 18) was entered upon by Saul with something of the same energy and zeal which he had formerly displayed against the Ammonites, but the deterioration which had since taken place in his character by the possession of power soon appeared.

1. The work to which men are called in the way of duty sometimes bears a close affinity to their natural temperament and disposition.

2. Men may appear to others, and even to themselves, to be very zealous for the Lord whilst they are only doing what is naturally agreeable to themselves. "Come with me," said Jehu, "and see my zeal for the Lord" (2 Kings 10:16, 31). "But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel." Saul of Tarsus, like Saul of Gibeah, appeared to be fighting for God when he was really fighting against him.

3. The real nature of their zeal is manifested when the requirements of God come into collision with their convenience, pleasure, ambition, or self-interest. Then the hidden spring is laid bare.

V. UNFAITHFULLY EXECUTED (vers. 8, 9). "Spared Agag, and the best of the sheep," etc., "and would not destroy them." "He hath turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments" (ver. 11).

1. There may be the performance of many things along with the neglect or refusal to perform others of equal or of greater importance. Saul was "a type of those who are willing to do something as against the world and on behalf of Christ, but by no means willing to do all that they ought to do." Herod "did many things, and heard John gladly" (Mark 6:20), but he would not give up his ruling passion.

2. Disobedience in one thing often manifests the spirit of disobedience in all things. It shows that the heart and will are not surrendered to the Lord, and without such a surrender all else is worthless. In Saul's sparing Agag and the best of the sheep, etc, we have "a melancholy example of sparing sins and evils that should be slain, and sheltering and harbouring them under false pretences by unworthy pleas and excuses."

3. The love of self is the supreme motive of those who refuse to obey God. Saul was actuated by covetousness (ver. 19), worldly mindedness (Matthew 4:9; 1 John 2:15, 16), and vainglorious pride, which are only different forms of the love of self. "Behold, he set him up a monument, and is gone about (as in a triumphal procession), and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal" (ver. 12), intending probably to make a display of the royal captive for his own glory; perhaps to make him a tributary prince and a source of profit. "Pride arising from the consciousness of his own strength led him astray to break the command of God. His sin was open rebellion against the sovereignty of the God of Israel; for he no longer desired to be the medium of the sovereignty of Jehovah, or the executor of the commands of the God king, but simply wanted to reign according to his own arbitrary will" (Keil). - D.

Go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite.

1. The greatest and best of men experience seasons of sorrow, depression, and doubt, and sometimes fail in the fulfilment of duty. It was thus with Abraham, Moses, and Elijah, and with others in later ages. It was the same with Samuel, though to a less extent than almost any other. His grief for Saul was excessive. He surrendered himself to it without seeking the consolation and help by which it might be mitigated, and suffered it to interfere with the work which he might yet accomplish on behalf of Israel; and hence he was reproved by God. "The excellent prophet here displays something of human weakness. Samuel here looked on the vessel, made by the invisible hand of God himself, utterly broken and minished, and his emotion thereat shows his pious and holy affection; yet he is not without sin" (Calvin).

2. The failure of good men often appears in those things in which they are pre-eminently excellent. Samuel exhibited extraordinary sympathy with the purposes of God concerning his people, unquestioning obedience to every indication of his will, and strong faith, and hope, and dauntless courage in its fulfilment. Yet here we find him a prey to "the grief that saps the mind," apparently hopeless and desponding, and smitten with fear like Elijah when "he arose and went for his life" on hearing the threat of Jezebel. "Such things would seem designed by God to stain the pride of all flesh, and to check all dependence upon the most eminent or confirmed habits of godliness" (A. Fuller). The strongest are as dependent on God as the feeblest.

3. A higher voice than that of their own troubled and fearful hearts speaks to men of sincerity, and in communing with it they are led into a clearer perception of duty and to gird themselves afresh for its performance. The "spirit of faith" regains its ascendancy over them. And in going forth to active service they find new strength and hope at every step. The night gives place to the morning dawn, and

"They feel, although no tongue can prove,
That every cloud that spreads above
And velleth love, itself is love

(Tennyson, 'The Two Voices') Consider the way of duty, trodden by the good man, as -

I. PRESCRIBED BY GOD, whose will is the rule of human life, and is -

1. Indicated in many ways - the word of truth, providential circumstances, reason, and conscience, and "that awful interior light which the dying Saviour promised, and which the ascending Saviour bestowed - the Spirit of God."

2. Sometimes obscured by frustrated effort, grievous disappointment, immoderate grief, desponding and doubtful thoughts (Matthew 11:2, 3; Acts 18:9; Acts 23:11).

3. Never long hidden from those who are sincerely desirous of doing it, and seek for the knowledge of it with a view to that end (vers. 2, 3; 1 Kings 19:15).

II. BESET BY DANGER. "How can I go? If Saul hear of it, he will kill me." The question was not simply an inquiry for direction, but also an expression of fear; and it may possibly have arisen from indications of Saul's wilfulness such as afterwards appeared (ch. 19:22).

1. Danger is sometimes formidable, even to the bravest of men.

2. It is exaggerated by despondency, doubt, and fear.

"Thy soul is by vile fear assailed, which oft
So overcasts a man, that he recoils
From noblest resolution, like a beast
At some false semblance in the twilight gloom"


3. No danger in the way of duty is equal to that which will be certainly found in departing from it. "In the way of righteousness there is life, and in the pathway thereof there is no death."

III. PURSUED WITH FIDELITY. "And Samuel did that which the Lord spake" (ver. 4). His hesitation was only for a moment, and with further light his faith revived and was displayed in fearless devotion. Fidelity to duty -

1. Demands the renunciation of self and many cherished plans and purposes.

2. Appears in trustful, practical, and unreserved obedience. Samuel went in dependence upon the promise, "I will show thee what thou shalt do," etc.

3. Sometimes necessitates a prudent reserve. There was no deception in withholding a reason for the action directed, beyond that which lay on the surface of the action itself. To reveal it would be to defeat the end designed. And fidelity is sometimes best shown by silence.


1. Threatened danger is averted.

2. Promised guidance is obtained.

3. A brighter day dawns, and

"God's purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour." Samuel returns to Ramah in peace, and with renewed zeal devotes his remaining days to the work of training a body of younger prophets (ch. 19:20), whose influence, together with a change of dynasty, will save the nation and promote the establishment of the kingdom of God. "Let us ask ourselves whether the Jewish nation would have played any part as a 'main propelling agency of modern cultivation,' if its monarchy had been allowed to take the form which Saul would have given it, if he had made religion a creature of the kingly power, and war an instrument of rapine, and not of justice, and we shall see that Samuel's view of the matter was the true one, and in accordance with the proper vocation of a prophet" (Strachey, 'Jewish Hist. and Politics'). - D.

1 Samuel 15:5, 6. (THE WILDERNESS OF JUDAS.)
The Kenites were descendants of Abraham (Genesis 25:2; Numbers 10:29; Judges 1:16) like the Amalekites, but they were unlike the latter in character and conduct. Many of them were incorporated with Israel; others, whilst standing in friendly relationship to them, lived in close contact with "the sinners the Amalekites." They may be regarded as representing those who are "not far from the kingdom of God," but imperil their salvation by evil companionship. In this message (sent by Saul, perhaps, according to the direction of Samuel) we notice -

I. THE PERIL OF UNGODLY ASSOCIATION. It is not every association with irreligious persons indeed that is to be deprecated (1 Corinthians 5:10), but only such as is unnecessary, voluntary, very intimate, and formed with a view to personal convenience, profit, or pleasure rather than to their improvement (Genesis 13:12). This -

1. Destroys the good which is possessed.

2. Conforms to the evil which prevails (Psalm 1:1; Revelation 18:4).

3. Involves in the doom which is predicted - certain, terrible, and imminent. The ban has been pronounced (1 Corinthians 16:22; 2 Thessalonians 1:9), and it will ere long be executed. "A companion of fools shall be destroyed" (Proverbs 13:20).


1. Is afforded by the mercy of God, of which the message spoken by man is the expression.

2. Shows the value which he sets upon even the least measure of kindness and piety. "Ye showed kindness," etc. (ver. 6). Moral goodness, like moral evil (ver. 2), tends to perpetuate itself. God honours it by the blessing which he causes to follow in its track, he desires its preservation and perfection, and hence he says, "Destroy it not" (Isaiah 65:8).

3. Offers a certain, great, and immediate benefit. "Come out from among them and be separate, saith the Lord, and I will receive you" (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).


1. This requires decision, self-denial, sacrifice, and effort.

2. Nothing else can avail (Ephesians 5:11).

3. And every moment's delay increases danger. Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain (Genesis 19:17). "Be wise today, 'tis madness to defer." - D.

The recorded instances of Samuel's praying are of an intercessory character (1 Samuel 7:9; 1 Samuel 8:6, 21; 1 Samuel 12:18, 23). The last of them is his intercession for Saul. He appears to have been told by God in a dream of the result of the probationary commission which had been given to the king. Agitated and distressed, and not yet clearly perceiving it to be the fixed purpose of God (ver. 29) that Saul should no longer reign over Israel as his recognised servant and vicegerent, Samuel gave himself unto prayer, if thereby he might avert the calamity. Respecting his intercession, consider -

I. ON WHOSE BEHALF IT WAS MADE. Chiefly, doubtless, on behalf of Saul, though not without regard to the nation, on which his rejection seemed likely to produce a disastrous effect. Intercession should be made for individuals as well as communities. "Satan hath desired to have you," said he who is the perfect example of intercessory prayer, "but I have prayed for thee" (Luke 22:32). There were many things in Saul calculated to call it forth.

1. His good qualities, exalted position, and intimate relationship to the prophet.

2. His grievous sin (vers. 11, 19, 23), exceeding his previous transgressions.

3. His great danger - falling from his high dignity, failing to accomplish the purpose of his appointment, losing the favour and help of Jehovah, and sinking into confirmed rebellion and complete ruin. "It repenteth me that I have made Saul king; for he is turned back from following me" (vers. 11, 35). When a change takes place in the conduct of man toward God, as from obedience to disobedience, it necessitates a change of God's dealings toward him (otherwise he would not be unchangeably holy), and this "change of his dispensation" or economy (Theodoret) is called his repentance. It is not, however, the same in all respects as repentance in men. No change in him can arise, as in them, from unforeseen events or more perfect knowledge, seeing that "his understanding is infinite;" yet, on the other hand, as in their repentance there is sorrow, so also in his - sorrow over those who turn from him, oppose his gracious purposes, and bring misery upon themselves (Genesis 6:6; Judges 10:16); and of this Divine sorrow the tears and agonies of Christ are the most affecting revelation.


1. Holy anger against sin, and against the sinner in so far as he has yielded himself to its power, arising from sympathy with God and zeal for his honour (Psalm 119:126, 136, 158).

2. Deep sorrow over the sinner, in his essential personality, his loss and ruin; not unmingled with disappointment at the failure of the hopes entertained concerning him. Sorrow over sinners is a proof of love to them.

3. Intense desire for the sinner's repentance, forgiveness, and salvation. "And he cried unto the Lord all night" with a loud and piercing cry, and in prolonged entreaty. The old home at Ramah, which had been sanctified by parental prayers and his own incessant supplications, never witnessed greater fervour. Wonderful was the spirit of intercession which he possessed. Well might the Psalmist, in calling upon men to worship the Lord, single him out as pre-eminent among them that "call upon his name" (Psalm 99:6). But still more wonderful was the spirit which was displayed by the great Intercessor, who often spent the night in prayer, and whose whole life was a continued act of intercession, closing with the cry, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Would that more of the same spirit were possessed by all his disciples!

"We are told
How much the prayers of righteous men avail;
And yet 'tis strange how very few believe
These blessed words, or act as were they true."


1. Not to the full extent he desired. Saul did not repent, neither was he exempted from the sentence of rejection. The relation of the sovereignty of God to the will of men is inexplicable. How far the Almighty may, by special and extraordinary grace, subdue its opposition we cannot tell. But he has conditioned the general exercise of his power by the gift of freedom and responsibility, he does not destroy or recall the gift; and the power of human resistance to the Divine will is a fearful endowment. There are stages of human guilt which would be followed by the wrath of God "though Moses and Samuel stood before him" (Jeremiah 15:1). "There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it" (1 John 5:16). "The sin, namely, of a wilful, obstinate, Heaven daring opposition to the ways of God and the demands of righteousness, and which, under a dispensation of grace, can usually belong only to such as have grieved the Spirit of God till he has finally left them - a sin, therefore, which lies beyond the province of forgiveness" (Fairbairn, 'Typology,' 2:341).

2. Yet, doubtless, to obtain many benefits for the transgressor, in affording him space for repentance and motives to it. Who shall say how many blessings came upon Saul in answer to Samuel's intercession for him?

3. And to calm the soul of him who prays, to make known the will of God to him more clearly, to bring him into more perfect acquiescence with it, and to strengthen him for the duty that lies before him. "And he arose early to meet Saul in the morning" (ver. 12).

1. How great is the privilege and honour of intercessory prayer.

2. Since we know not who are beyond the reach of Divine grace, we should never cease to intercede for any.

3. If intercession does not avail to obtain all that it seeks, it does not fail to obtain invaluable blessings. - D.

1. Samuel met Saul at Gilgal. It was a sacred spot, and a well known scene of important events in former time and in more recent years. There the kingdom had been established (1 Samuel 11:15), and Saul "had solemnly pledged him and the people to unconditional obedience." There also he had been previously rebuked and warned (1 Samuel 13:13). And thither he repaired ostensibly to offer the sacrifices of thanksgiving for victory, really to make a boastful display and confirm his worldly power. How strangely and intimately are particular places associated with the moral life of individuals and nations!

2. The interview (like the former) appears to have been held in private. The sentence of rejection was heard by Saul alone, and long kept by him as a dreadful secret. Yet it was probably surmised by many from his breach with Samuel, and was gradually revealed by the course of events. The sacred history was written from a theocratic point of view, and indicates the principles of which those events were the outcome.

3. The appearance of Samuel was an arraignment of the disobedient king before the tribunal of Divine justice. Blinded in part and self-deceived, he made an ostentatious profession of regard for the prophet (ver. 13), and with the assumption of perfect innocence and praiseworthy obedience uttered "the Pharisee's boast" - "I have performed the commandment of Jehovah." His subsequent confession proved the insincerity of his declaration. His disobedience was crowned with falsehood and hypocrisy. When formally called to account (ver. 14), he forthwith began to justify himself and make excuses for his conduct, such as transgressors are commonly accustomed to make. They were -


1. Attributes to other persons what cannot be denied to have occurred, and seeks to transfer to them the blame which is due to himself. "They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen" (ver. 15). So spoke Adam and Eve at the commencement of human transgression and human excuses (Genesis 3:13). On a former occasion, when desirous of having his own way, he had not been so considerate of their wishes or so compliant (1 Samuel 14:24, 39, 45). "If this excuse were false, where was the integrity and honour of the monarch? If it were true, where was his devotion and obedience? And whether true or false, how utterly unworthy did it prove him of continuing the servant and viceroy of the King of Israel" (Le Bas).

2. Protests good intentions, and even religious and commendable motives. "The people spared the best to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God;" whereby he seeks to gain the approval of the prophet, but betrays his own inward alienation from the Lord, for he cannot truly say "my God" (Matthew 23:14); and whilst he has regard to the outward ceremonies of the law, he knows not (or wilfully disregards it) that by the law the sacrifices of "devoted" things were altogether prohibited (Deuteronomy 13:15; Numbers 31:48).

3. Professes his faithful obedience. "And the rest we have utterly destroyed." Agam and again he declares his innocence (vers. 20, 21), and insinuates, that instead of being reproved by the prophet, he ought to be commended by him for his zeal.

4. Asserts complete readiness to meet whatever charge may be preferred against him. "Say on" (ver. 16). "See how sin is multiplied by sin. The transgressor of God's command stands forth as the accuser of the people, the speaker of gross falsehood. The spirit of disobedience evoked as with the rod of an enchanter those other agents of iniquity from their lurking place; and lo! they sprang forth to do his bidding. Verily their name was legion, for they were many" (Anderson, 'Cloud of Witnesses,' 2:350).

II. FAITHFULLY EXPOSED. Samuel's fidelity, moral courage, and dignity, mingled with something of bitter disappointment and sorrowful resentment, are specially noteworthy. He -

1. Points to incontestable fact. "What is this bleating of sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of oxen which I hear?" (ver. 14). It flatly contradicts thy statement, reveals thy sin, and exposes thy excuses. Between it and thy duty there is a contradiction which no explanation can remove. Sin cannot be wholly concealed. "God knows how to bring it to light, however great the care with which it may be cloaked." He was convicted of it by the voices of the animals which he had spared. And "it is no new thing for the plausible pretensions and protestations of hypocrites to be contradicted and disproved by the most plain and undeniable evidences.

2. Checks the multiplication of vain excuses. Stay (ver. 16); proceed no further in thy endeavour to justify thyself. "And I will tell thee," etc. When the voice of truth, of conscience, and of God speaks, it must perforce silence all other voices.

3. Recalls the requirements of the Divine commission (ver. 18), which had been kept out of sight and evaded in the attempts made in self-defence. "Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites" (see ver. 3).

4. Reveals the motives of outward conduct (ver. 19), viz. self-will, pride (1 Samuel 9:21), avarice, rapacity, "love of the world" (Colossians 3:5; 2 Timothy 4:10), rebellious opposition to the will of Jehovah, and daring ambition to reign independently of him. In all this Samuel sought to rouse the slumbering conscience of the king, and lead him to see his sin and repent. If even yet he had fallen upon his face and given glory to God, there might have been hope. But the reiteration of his previous assertions, his repudiation of what was laid to his charge, and his blindly pointing to his main offence ("and have brought Agag the king of Amalek") as an evidence of his fidelity and zeal, showed that he was insensible to reproof. What should have humbled him served only to harden him in rebellion and obstinacy. And nothing was left but his rejection. His excuses were -

III. UTTERLY FUTILE, sinful, and injurious. They -

1. Failed of their intended effect.

2. Increased his delusion, and prevented the light of truth from shining into his mind.

3. Deepened his guilt in the sight of Heaven.

4. Brought upon him heavier condemnation. "As he returned with his victorious troops the prophet met him. That sorrow stricken countenance, round which hung the long Nazarite locks, now whitened by the snows of ninety years, pale and worn with the long night's unbroken but ungranted intercession, might have told all. Now the thundercloud, which began to gather fourteen years before, breaks and peals over the sinner's head. 'Stay,' is the sad and terrible voice as it breaks through the cobweb limits of self-deception and excuse, 'and I will tell thee what the Lord said to me this night,' etc 'The people took of the spoil,' etc. - the very utterance of dark superstition and mean equivocation. Then the lightning came. The prophet's voice, gathering itself up into one of those magnificent utterances which, belonging to another and a later dispensation, antedate the coming revelation, and are evidently launched forth from the open ark of the testimony of the Highest, said, 'Hath the Lord,'" etc. ('Heroes of Hebrews Hist.'). - D.

"Hath Jehovah (as much) delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of Jehovah?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to give heed than the fat of rams.

For (like) the sin of divination is rebellion,
And (like) an idol and teraphim is obstinacy.
Because thou hast rejected the word of Jehovah,
He hath rejected thee from being king." The crisis has now fully arrived. The aged prophet confronts the self-deceived king, whom he looks upon as no longer reigning as servant of Jehovah, in consequence of his endeavour to rule according to his own will and pleasure, though in connection with the outward forms of the religion of Israel. He has striven in vain to turn him from his way, and can henceforth only regard him as a rebel against the supreme Ruler. Inasmuch as Saul, in seeking to justify himself, showed that he estimated moral obedience lightly in comparison with ritual worship, Samuel first of all asserts the incomparable superiority of the former to the latter. He then declares that disobedience is equivalent to heathenism and idolatry, against which Saul, in offering sacrifices to Jehovah and other ways, exhibited such zeal. And, finally, he pronounces, as a judge upon a criminal, the sentence of his rejection. "There is a poetical rhythm in the original which gives it the tone of a Divine oracle uttered by the Spirit of God, imparting to it an awful solemnity, and making it sink deep into the memory of the hearers in all generations" (Wordsworth). Notice -

I. THE PARAMOUNT WORTH OF OBEDIENCE, considered in relation to offerings and sacrifices and other external forms of worship (ver. 22).

1. It is often less regarded by men than such forms. They mistake the proper meaning and purpose of them, entertain false and superstitious notions concerning them, and find it easier and more according to their sinful dispositions to serve God (since they must serve him somehow) by them than in self-denial and submission to his will. It is indeed by no means an uncommon thing for those who are consciously leading a sinful life to be diligent and zealous in outward religious worship, and make use of the fruit of their disobedience "to sacrifice unto the Lord," imagining that it will be pleasing to him, and make compensation for their defects in other things.

2. It is absolutely necessary in order that they may be acceptable to God. The spirit of obedience and love is the soul of external services of every kind, and without it they are worthless. "To love him with all the heart is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mark 12:33). The one ought never to be disjoined from the other, but it is often done; and they are set in contrast to each other. "If we were to say charity is better than church going, we should be understood to mean that it is better than such church going as is severed from charity. For if they were united they would not be contrasted. The soul is of more value than the body. But it is not contrasted unless they come into competition with one another, and their interests (although they cannot in truth be so) seem to be separated" (Pusey, 'Minor Prophets,' Hosea 6:6). "The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination" (Proverbs 21:27).

3. It is incomparably superior to them, considered as needful and appointed modes of serving God (apart from the "wicked mind" with which they are sometimes observed). Because -

(1) The one is universal; the other is partial, and really included in it.

(2) The one is moral, the other ceremonial. It is a "weightier matter of the law."

(3) The one is of a man himself, the willing sacrifice of his own will; the other of only a portion of his powers or possessions. And "how much better is a man than a sheep!"

(4) The one is essential, being founded upon the natural relation of man to God; the other is circumstantial, arising from man's earthly and sinful condition. "Angels obey, but do not sacrifice."

(5) The one is the reality, the other the symbol.

(6) The one is the end, the other the means. Sacrifice is the way of the sinner back to obedience, and the means of his preservation therein. Even the one perfect sacrifice of Christ would not have been needed if man had been obedient. Its design is not merely to afford a sufficient reason for the remission of punishment in a system of moral government, but also to restore to obedience (Titus 2:14).

(7) The one is temporary, the other is eternal. The sacrifices of the former dispensation have now been abolished; and how much of the present form of Divine service will vanish away when we behold the face of God! But love and obedience will "never fail." Since obedience is thus the one thing, the essential, more important than anything else, it should hold the supreme place in our hearts and lives.

II. THE IDOLATROUS CHARACTER OF DISOBEDIENCE (ver. 22). In proportion to the excellence of obedience is the wickedness of disobedience.

1. It is a common thing for men to make light of it, especially in actions to which they are disposed, or which they have committed, being blinded by their evil desires and passions.

2. In the sight of God every act of disobedience is exceedingly hateful. "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil" (Habakkuk 1:13) without punishing it.

3. In the light of truth it is seen to be the same in principle as those transgressions on which the severest condemnation is pronounced, and which are acknowledged to be deserving of the strongest reprobation. It is probable that Saul had already taken measures to put down the "sin of divination" (1 Samuel 28:9), and prided himself upon his zeal against idolatry; but he was acting in the spirit of that which he condemned, and was an idolater at heart. For he was turning away from God, resisting and rejecting him, and making an idol of self, which is done by all who (in selfish and superstitious fear or desire) seek divination (witchcraft) and trust in an idol ("which is nothing in the world") and teraphim (household gods - ch, 19:13). "The declinations from religion, besides the privative, which is atheism, and the branches thereof, are three - heresies, idolatry, and witchcraft. Heresies when we serve the true God with a false worship; idolatry when we worship false gods, supposing them to be true; and witchcraft when we adore false gods, knowing them to be wicked and false - the height of idolatry. And yet we see, though these be true degrees, Samuel teacheth us that they are all of a nature, when there is once a receding from the word of God" (Bacon, 'Advancement of Learning'). "All conscious disobedience is actual idolatry, because it makes self-will, the human I, into a god" (Keil). "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).


1. The punishment of the disobedient is the appropriate fruit of his disobedience. "Because thou hast rejected me," etc. Saul wished to reign without God, and have his own way; what he sought as a blessing he obtains as a curse. Sinners say, "Depart from us," etc. (Job 21:14); and the most terrible sentence that can be pronounced upon them is, "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Psalm 6:8; Matthew 7:23). "God rejects no one unless he is before rejected by him."

2. It involves grievous loss and misery - the loss of power, honour, blessedness; the experience of weakness, reproach, unhappiness, which cannot be wholly avoided, even though mercy be afterwards found.

3. Judgment is mingled with mercy. Although Saul was discrowned as theocratic king, he did not cease to live or to reign as "legal king." He was not personally and entirely abandoned. God sought his salvation to the last. "His rejection involved only this -

(1) That God would henceforth leave him, and withdraw from him the (special) gifts of his Spirit, his counsel through the Urim and Thummim and by his servant Samuel; and

(2) that in a short time the real deposition would be followed by tangible consequences - the kingly ruins would be destroyed, and the kingdom would not pass to his descendants (Hengstenberg, 'Kingdom of God,' 2:89). - D.

I have sinned (vers. 24, 30). On hearing the sentence of his rejection, Saul at length confesses his sin. The words of Samuel have some effect upon him, but not the full effect they should have had. For his confession does not proceed from a truly penitent heart (see 1 Samuel 7:6), and it is not followed either by the reversal of his sentence or the forgiveness of his sin. It was like that of Pharaoh (Exodus 9:27), of Balaam (Numbers 22:34), and of Judas (Matthew 27:4) - springing from "the sorrow of the world, which worketh death" (2 Corinthians 7:10). Notice -


1. Under the pressure of circumstances, rather than as the free expression of conviction. Confession comes too late when it is extorted by the demonstration of sin which can no longer be denied. Some men, like Saul, conceal their sin so long as they can, and confess it only when they are compelled.

2. From the fear of consequences (vers. 23, 26), and not from a sense of the essential evil of sin. This is the most common characteristic of insincerity. As Saul confessed his sin from the fear of losing his kingdom, so do multitudes from fear of death, and live to prove their insincerity by their return to disobedience. "There are two views of sin: in one it is looked upon as a wrong; in the other as producing loss - loss, for example, of character. In such cases, if character could be preserved before the world, grief would not come; but the paroxysms of misery fall upon our proud spirit when our guilt is made public. The most distinct instance we have of this is in the life of Saul. In the midst of his apparent grief, the thing still uppermost was that he had forfeited his kingly character; almost the only longing was that Samuel should honour him before the people. And hence it comes to pass that often remorse and anguish only begin with exposure" (Robertson).

3. To the servant of God, and to gain his approval, and not to God, and to obtain his favour. "Thy words" (ver. 24). "Now therefore" (as if on the ground of his confession he could justly claim pardon), "I pray thee, pardon my sin" (ver. 25). Many confess their sin to men without confessing it to God, and attach to their confession a worth that does not belong to it.

4. With an extenuation of guilt, rather than with a full acknowledgment of its enormity. "I feared the people, and obeyed their voice" (vers. 24, 15). He returns to his first excuse, which he puts in a different form. If what he said was true, what he had done was wrong (Exodus 23:2). There is a higher law than the clamour of a multitude. True penitents do not seek to palliate their sin, but make mention of its greatness as a plea for Divine mercy (Psalm 25:11).

5. With an entreaty for public honour, rather than in deep humiliation before God and man. "Honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of the people, and before Israel" (ver. 30) "If Saul had been really penitent, he would have prayed to be humbled rather than to be honoured" (Gregory).

6. With repeated promises of rendering worship before the Lord, rather than a serious purpose to obey his voice (vers. 25, 30). He does not seem even yet to have laid to heart the truth which had been declared by the prophet; and he probably looked upon public worship by sacrifice as something peculiarly praiseworthy, and sought, by urging Samuel to remain and offer it, to promote his own honour in the sight of the people, and not as the expression of penitence and the means of forgiveness "The most prominent feature in the character of Saul was his insincerity." And yet, in his repeated promises to worship the Lord, and his urgent entreaties of Samuel, there was doubtless an element of good that might not be despised (1 Kings 21:29).

"The blackest night that veils the sky,
Of beauty hath a share;
The darkest heart hath signs to tell
That God still lingers there."

II. ITS CONSEQUENCES. In the language and conduct of Samuel there was -

1. A reiteration of the sentence of rejection. Thrice it was declared that Jehovah had determined that Saul should no longer reign under his sanction and by his aid (vers. 26, 28). Although he may not have known all that the sentence involved, he felt that its import was alarming. An insincere confession of sin darkens the gathering cloud instead of dispersing it.

2. A confirmation of it by an impressive sign, the occasion of which is afforded by the sinner himself (ver. 27). Thereby it comes home to him with greater force.

3. An intimation of the transfer to a better man of the dignity which has been forfeited by sin. This was the second time that an announcement of a truly theocratic king was given (1 Samuel 12:14); and whilst it showed that the Divine purpose could not be defeated, however it might be striven against, it must have been peculiarly painful to Saul. The dreadful secret was a constant burden to him, and when he recognised the man in whom the prediction was about to be fulfilled, it excited his envy and hatred toward him. When any one is not right with God, every favour shown to another fills him with grief and wrath (Genesis 4:5).

4. A declaration of the unchangeable purpose of God. "The Strength" (Prerpetuity, Confidence, Refuge, Victory) "of Israel will not lie nor repent," etc. (ver. 29). Saul evidently thought of him as capable of acting in an arbitrary, capricious, and inconstant manner, like himself; but, inasmuch as he formed his purposes with perfect knowledge, and acted on immutable principles, and there was no real change In the heart of the transgressor, there could be no reversal of his sentence. "He cannot deny himself" (2 Timothy 2:12). If in some things his purposes toward men appear to change because men alter their relative position toward him (as the sun appears to change by the rotation of the earth, causing day and night), in others they abide the same forever, and he who sets himself against them must be overthrown. It is now certain that he cannot again be a theocratic king; but his renewed importunity, in which, perchance, notwithstanding its apparent selfishness, the prophet sees a gleam of hope, is followed by -

5. An indication of pity toward the foolish and fallen king. "And Samuel returned after Saul; and Saul worshipped Jehovah" (ver. 31). May he not even yet be led to true repentance? Although the birthright is given to another, there is a blessing for him who weeps and prays (Genesis 27:38-40). His request is granted. He has what he desires and is prepared to receive. He is still the king after the people's heart. He shall continue such. The sentence shall not be published, nor any special effort be put forth for his dethronement. It would result in general confusion. The just and merciful purposes of God toward the people in giving him for their king are not yet fulfilled, and they will slowly ripen to their accomplishment.

6. An exhibition of judgment upon an obstinate offender (ver. 32). One of the reasons, doubtless, why Samuel "turned again after Saul" was that he might execute on Agag the Divine sentence which he had faithlessly remitted. "The terrible vengeanca executed on the fallen monarch by Samuel is a measure of Saul's delinquency." It is also a solemn warning to him of the doom which sooner or later comes upon every impenitent and persistent transgressor. Observations: -

1. It is not confession of sin, but the spirit in which it is made, that renders it acceptable to God.

2. Sincerity is the foundation of a truly religious character.

3. Though mercy long lingers over the sinner, yet if it be despised doom comes at last. - D.

1 Samuel 15:29. (GILGAL.)

"And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent:
For he is not a man, that he should repent" The word rendered Strength in the A.V. (netsach, here used for the first time) has a varied signification (splendour, victory, truth, confidence, perpetuity, etc.), but is used in this place in the sense of steadfastness, constancy, and unchangeableness. Jehovah, the prophet says, is the Immutability, or unchangeable One, of Israel. He is not like man, inconstant, unreliable, changeable. He is not such an one as Saul imagined him to be; does not vacillate in his thoughts, feelings, or purposes; but acts on immutable principles, and performs the word which he has spoken; and hence the sentence of rejection cannot be reversed. His unchangeableness is often declared in the Scriptures. It is implied in the name of Jehovah. It was dwelt upon by Moses (Deuteronomy 32:4, 18, 31), perceived by Balsam (Numbers 23:19), and asserted by Hannah in her song of praise (1 Samuel 2:2). And although it is often disbelieved or misinterpreted, it is a source of strength and consolation to all by whom it is properly understood and realised. Observe that it -


1. The creation of the world and the varied operations of his hand. It is not stoical indifference (without affection) nor absolute quiescence (without activity). He is the living God, and freely exercises his boundless power in producing infinite changes. "Over all things, animate and inanimate, flows the silent and resistless tide of change." But whilst he is "in all, above all, and through all," he is separate and distinct from all; and the creation of the world and all the mutations of matter and force are only expressions of his eternal and unchangeable thought. The physical universe is the garment in which the Invisible clothes himself and manifests himself to our apprehension (Psalm 102:25-27; Psalm 104:2).

2. The revelations of his character and the successive dispensations of his grace. These are not contrary to one another. They are simply the clearer and more perfect manifestations of him who is always "the same;" adapted to the need and capacity of men. God deals with them as a parent with his children, affording them instruction as they are able to bear it.

3. The relations in which he stands to men, and his diversified dealings with them. They sometimes appear the opposite of each other. At one time he approves of individuals and nations, and promises them manifold blessings, whereas at another he condemns and punishes them. Hence he is said to repent. But the change arises from a change in men themselves. The Glory of Israel always shines with undimmed lustre; but they shut their eyes and turn their backs upon the light, so that to them it becomes darkness. And it is his unchangeable holiness that necessitates this result; for if he were "altogether such an one as themselves," they might expect (like Saul) to enjoy his favour whilst they continued in sin. "With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt show thyself froward" (Psalm 18:26).


1. The perfections of his character. Change is an element of imperfection, and no such element can exist in the absolutely perfect One. With him "there is no variableness, neither shadow caused by turning" (James 1:17). "In him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). And it is "impossible for God to lie" (Hebrews 6:18).

2. The principles of his government: wisdom, truth, equity, goodness, etc. In these things he delights, and from them he never departs. They stand like rocks amidst a sea of perpetual change. They are more immutable than the laws of nature, being the foundation on which those laws rest, and inseparable from the Divine character. "The word of our God" (in which they are expressed) "shall stand forever" (Isaiah 40:8; Isaiah 51:6). "Till heaven and earth pass," etc. (Matthew 5:18).

3. The purposes of his heart, formed in perfect knowledge of all that will take place, and effected in harmony with the principles before mentioned. Some of these purposes are hidden (Deuteronomy 29:29). Others are revealed, and include the general conditions of peace and happiness, and the results of their observance or neglect (promises and threatenings), also particular events, occurring either independently of the free action of men, or in connection with it, whether in the way of opposition or cooperation, as, e.g., the setting up of a theocratic kingdom, the advent and death of the Messiah (Acts 4:27, 28), and his universal reign. "The counsel of the Lord standeth forever" (Psalm 33:10, 11; Proverbs 19:21; Isaiah 46:10; Jeremiah 4:28). "I am Jehovah, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed" (Malachi 3:6). "When we find predictions in Scripture not executed, we must consider them not as absolute, but conditional, or, as the civil law calls it, an interlocutory sentence. God declared what would follow by natural causes, or by the demerit of man, not what he would absolutely do himself. And though in many of these predictions the condition is not expressed, it is understood" (see Jeremiah 18:7, 8; Ezekiel 33:13, 14; Jonah 3:4; Jonah 4:2).


1. Faith. He never disappoints the trust that is reposed in him. His covenant with his people is firm and sure; "for the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed," etc. (Isaiah 54:10). "All the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen" (2 Corinthians 1:20). What an incentive is thus afforded to each believer, and the whole Church, to "abide in him"! "Whose faith follow, etc. Jesus Christ (is) the same yesterday, and today, and forever; (therefore) be not carried about (like a ship driven by varying winds) with divers and strange doctrines; for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace" (Hebrews 13:7-9).

2. Love. Only the unchangeable One can be a true, satisfying, and enduring rest of the affections; for all earthly objects change and pass away, and must leave the immortal spirit desolate. His unchanging love should keep our love to him and to each other burning with a steady flame (John 13:1, 34; Jude 1:21).

3. Righteousness.

(1) Which consists in conformity to the constant obedience of Christ to the righteous and unalterable will of the Father.

(2) Which is faithfully assured of enduring blessedness (Revelation 22:14). "He that doeth the will of God abideth forever" (1 John 2:17).

(3) But without which there will be an irrevocable loss of the most glorious crown and kingdom. The persistently rebellious dash themselves to pieces against the unchangeable holiness and justice of God. - D.

God proves his servants, and does not show them the fulness of his favour and confidence till they have been tested. Abraham was tried and found faithful; so was Moses; so was David; so was Daniel. Abraham, indeed, was not without fault, nor Moses either. David once sinned grievously. But all of these were proved true at heart and trustworthy. Saul is the conspicuous instance in the Old Testament of one who, when called to a high post in Jehovah's service, and tested therein again and again, offended the Lord again and again, and was therefore rejected and disowned.

1. The question on which the king was tested was the same as before. Would he obey the voice of the Lord, and rule as his lieutenant, or would he be as the kings of the neighbouring nations and tribes, and use the power with which he was invested according to his own will and pleasure? On this critical question the prophet Samuel had exhorted both Saul and the people when the monarchy was instituted. If the king erred, he could not plead that he had not been forewarned. The accepted principle of modern constitutional government is that the ruler exists and is bound to act for the public good, and not for his own aggrandisement or pleasure. At root this is the very principle which Samuel inculcated 3000 years ago. The Old Testament required a king to reign in the fear of the Lord, and loyally execute his will. The New Testament describes the ruler as a "minister of God for good." Now the Divine will and the public weal are really the same, and the most advanced political principle of modern intelligence is no other than the old doctrine of the Bible. There is no Divine right of kings to rule as they think proper. That doctrine of base political subservience is opposed to both the spirit and the letter of the sacred writings. The king is for God, not God for the king. The king is for the people, not the people for the king. The voice of the people may not always be the voice of God, but the good of the people is always the will of God.

2. The test to which the king was new subjected was, like the former one, specific, and publicly applied. Would he obey the Lord in the extermination of Amalek or no? And he disobeyed. If there was one of all the Amalekite race who deserved to forfeit his life, it was the king, Agag, a ruthless chief, whose sword, as Samuel expressed it, had "made women childless;" yet him Saul spared when he showed no mercy to others. It was not at all from a feeling of humanity or pity. To have scrupled about shedding the blood of a hereditary foe would not have occurred to any Oriental warrior of the period. But Saul would reserve the royal captive to grace his triumph, and be a household slave of the king of Israel. It was the pride of the chiefs and kings of that age to reduce the princes whom they had conquered to slavery in their courts. Adonibezek is said to have kept seventy such captives, whose hands and feet he had mutilated to unfit them for war, and who, as slaves, gathered from his table. Besides Agag, the best of the sheep and cattle belonging to Amalek were spared by Saul and his army. They used their success to enrich themselves, and forgot that the sentence of God against that nation was the only justification of the war.

3. The Divine censure on the disobedient king was pronounced by Samuel. The prophet was deeply grieved. He had loved the young man on whose lofty head he had poured the sacred oil, and whose failure to fulfil the early promise of his reign had already caused him, if not much surprise, distress unfeigned. And Samuel was concerned for the nation. If the new government was so soon discredited, and Saul forfeited his kingly seat, what but anarchy could come upon Israel, and with anarchy, subjection, as before, to the Philistines or some other warlike nation of the heathen? The prophet fulfilled his commission, however painful; gravely reproved the king, brushed aside his excuses and evasions, and refused, not without a touch of scorn, his offered bribe of animals for sacrifice.

4. Samuel took occasion to declare that "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." These words contain the very quintessence of the testimony of the prophets; not Samuel only, but Hoses, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and in fact all the great teachers whom Jehovah sent to his ancient people. Sacrificial oblations could never be accepted in lieu of practical obedience, and a rebellious, wilful temper was as offensive to the Lord as any kind of idolatry. Priests and Levites were appointed for religious ceremonial, but the great function of the prophets was to maintain the supremacy of what is moral over what is ceremonial, and to lift up fearless voices for mercy and truth, judgment and righteousness, integrity and probity, reverence for Jehovah, and obedience to his revealed will. Such was the testimony of the Lord Jesus himself, as the greatest of prophets. He recognised and respected the sacrifices appointed in the law, but did not in his conversations or discourses dwell on them. His aim was to cause men to hear the word of God, and do it. And such is the message or burden of all New Testament prophets, and of those who know how to guide and teach Christians. To be lax and indulgent on questions of moral conduct, while strict about services and offerings to God and the Church, is the part of a false prophet. The true prophet, while witnessing to free forgiveness in the blood of Christ, will enjoin all who seek that forgiveness to cease to do evil and learn to do well, will faithfully declare to them that they cannot be kept in the love of God if they are not obedient to his word.

5. The behaviour of Saul under reproof betrayed a shifty, superficial character. He showed no real sense of sin, or desire of Divine forgiveness. David, during his reign, committed a more heinous offence against domestic and social morality than anything that Saul as yet had done; but he was pardoned and restored because when charged with the sin - "Thou art the man" - he confessed it, and excused not himself. And then he cried to God, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean." But Saul, when charged with disobedience, showed no shame or sorrow on its account. He at once put himself in a defensive attitude, stooped to subterfuge, laid the blame on others, had no feeling but a desire to escape consequences. He would propitiate the Lord and his prophet by sacrifices; but his former religious sensibility was now almost quite gone from him, and he was becoming, like Esau, a "profane person," hard and godless. It is pitiful to see that the king looked no higher than to Samuel, and asked no more than that the prophet would pardon him, and favour him so far as to join with him while he publicly worshipped the Lord. Evidently his object was to have his credit upheld by the venerated presence of Samuel; and, on his repeating the request, the prophet thought fit to yield to his wish, probably to avoid the weakening of the royal influence, and the premature fall of the monarchy.

6. The rejection of Saul took no sudden effect. Gravely and sadly it was pronounced by Samuel; but it brought about no immediate catastrophe. None the less was it a sure and fatal sentence. We know that Saul was not dethroned. He had a long reign, and died on the battle field. But the process was already begun which led him to dark Gilboa, which led one better than him to Hebron and to Jerusalem; and the remainder of this book is occupied in showing how the Divine rejection of Saul took effect, and how the Lord brought forward and trained the son of Jesse for the kingdom. It is a thought full of solemnity, that a man may long keep his place and hold his own in Christian society who yet is rejected by the Lord, and is growing at heart more and more profane, till at last the evil spirit rules him instead of the good, and he dies as one troubled and God forsaken. The process may be long, but it is none the less tragical. May God keep us from the beginnings of declension, and from all excusing of our sins, or laying of the fault upon others I Lord, take not thy Holy Spirit from us! - F.

Agag was put to death, perhaps, by the hand of Samuel: more probably by other hands under his order, for it is common to speak of official persons doing what they simply command to be done (John 19:1). "In ancient time persons of the highest rank were employed to execute the sentence of the law (Jether, the eldest son of Gideon, Doeg, Benaiah). Sometimes the chief magistrate executed the sentence of the law with his own bands" (Paxton's 'Illustrations,' 4:171). The act was one of great severity. It should, however, be remembered that -

1. The Amalekite king had committed great atrocities (ver. 33), and was the chief representative of cruel and irreconcilable enemies of Israel.

2. Amalek lay under a ban of extermination which had been pronounced by Jehovah (Exodus 17:14; Numbers 24:20), and was now required to be fully carried into effect. Samuel acted in obedience to a higher will than his own; not from personal revenge, but in his public capacity, doing what Saul (from no feelings of humanity) had failed to do, and giving honour to Jehovah before his altar. "There must indeed have been inadequate ideas of the individuality of man and of the rights of human life before a dispensation could have been received which enforced wars of extermination - wars which would now be contrary to morality; for the reason that our ideas on the subject of human individuality and the rights of life are completely changed, and that we have been enlightened on these subjects, upon which the early ages of mankind were in the dark" (Mozley, 'Ruling Ideas in Early Ages,' p. 161).

3. The peculiar circumstances of the case necessitated some such exhibition of the authority and justice of Jehovah for the maintenance of the theocracy, and the reproof and warning of the people who had shared in the sin of their king. "Such a sinking age could be saved from imminent dissolution only by extreme severity. He who, however kindly disposed in other respects, was most direct and inexorable in carrying out what seemed urgently needed, he alone could now become the true physician of the times, and the successful founder of a better age" (Ewald). We have here -


1. Although sentence upon an evil work is not speedily executed, it is not reversed. The long suffering of God waits, "as in the days of Noah" (2 Peter 3:20), when judgment was suspended for 120 years; but "he spared not the old world" (2 Peter 2:5).

2. Justice requires that incorrigible sinners should be punished with significant severity. "As" (in the same manner as) "thy sword," etc.

3. Death is naturally bitter to men, and especially to those who have heavy guilt upon their consciences. The last words of Agag were, "Surely the bitterness of death is past."

4. When sinners deem themselves most secure, then "sudden destruction cometh upon them." Having been spared so long, he imagined that the danger was over, and little thought that the venerable prophet was the messenger of wrath. "The feet of the avenging deities are shod with wool, but they strike with iron hands."


1. The more a man loves righteousness, the more intensely does he hate sin. "Ye that love the Lord, hate evil." What woes were ever so terrible as those that fell from the lips of Christ?

2. A good man may inflict punishment on the wicked without feelings of personal revenge against them "Our Lord declared the inferiority of the legal position of the Old Testament not because the desire of retribution ought to be excluded from the religion of reconciliation, but because it ought not to predominate in it" (Thohlck).

3. When some fail to carry out the purposes of God, others are bound to make up for their defect, and sometimes to do things for which they do not seem well adapted, and which do not harmonise with their general character 1 Kings 18:40). "When kings abandoned their duty God often executed his law by the prophets" (Grotius).

4. That which is severity to one must often be done, provided it be not contrary to justice, for the good of all.


1. No excuse can justify disobedience to the commands of God. Doubtless the people, if called to account, would have been as ready as Saul to offer excuses for the part they took in sparing Agag and the best of the sheep, etc.

2. They who fail to obey these commands deprive themselves of invaluable blessings. The sunshine of heaven is beclouded, and the sentence of rejection on their king, although at present little known, will ere long produce disastrous effects in them.

3. God's work must be done, and if one refuses to do it, another is raised up for the purpose. As with individuals, so with nations (Numbers 14:21; Romans 11:22).

4. Those who, although the professed people of God, contend against his purposes must share the fate of his open enemies. "If ye shall still do wickedly ye shall be consumed, both you and your king" (1 Samuel 12:25). - D.

The interview between Samuel and Saul was now ended. "It was a fearful meeting; it was followed by a lifelong parting." The earlier course of Saul (from the time the prophet met him in the gate at Ramah) was marked by modesty, prudence, generosity, and lofty spiritual impulses, and was one of brilliant promise. His subsequent course (from his first wrong step before the war of Michmash), although distinguished by external prosperity, was marked, by self-will, presumption, disobedience, and selfishness, and was one of rapid degeneracy. How must the prophet have lamented as he saw the wreck of that early brightened life!" On his part, more especially, the separation was -

I. NEEDFUL. A good man is compelled to separate from those to whom he has given his counsel and aid

1. When from lack of sympathy and opposition of aim he can no longer effectively cooperate with them.

2. When he cannot hope to exert a beneficial influence upon them.

3. When his continuance with them affords a sanction to a course which he cannot approve. His parting' is a condemnation of it, and is rendered necessary by truth and righteousness. "God's ambassador was recalled from him; the intercourse of the God of Israel came to an end because Saul, sinking step by step away from God, had by continued disobedience and increasing impenitence given up communion with God" (Erdmann). "Had he spared this spiritual child, when to spare him would have been contrary to the fundamental law of the theocracy, the worst possible precedent would have been afforded for future ages by this first king" (Ewald).

II. RESPECTFUL. Samuel acceded to the request of Saul to honour him before the people; and although it is not stated how far he participated with him in worship, yet he evidently avoided an open and violent rupture with him, and gave him honour, as civil ruler, to the last. Respect is due "not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward," on account of -

1. The authority and power that may be intrusted to them in the providence of God (Romans 13:1).

2. The natural dignity of man - great in ruin, capable of restoration, and susceptible to the influence of kindness or contempt. Jesus did not resent the kiss with which Judas betrayed him, but said, "Friend, wherefore comest thou hither?"

3. The requirements of social order and peace. Saul was even yet the best king the people were fit to receive, and the conduct of Samuel indicated the duty of submission, which, in the spirit of their king, they were not always disposed to render (ver. 24; 1 Samuel 14:45).

III. SORROWFUL. "Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul." With heavy heart and weary feet the old prophet took his way up from Gilgal to Ramah, and mourned for Saul, who, on the opposite hill of Gibeah, pursued his wilful way, bringing upon himself and Israel inevitable and overwhelming woe; alive, yet dead; so near, yet so completely lost.

1. What object is more mournful than a soul "going astray" from God?

2. What sorrow is too great at such a sight?

3. How vast is that Divine sorrow of which the human is the product and reflection! "And the Lord repented," etc. The prophetic spirit is one of wide and deep sympathy at once with God and man, and it was perfectly possessed by "the Man of sorrows." "Samuel mourned for Saul, but we do not hear that Saul mourned for himself."

IV. FINAL. He "came no more to see Saul" - gave him counsel no more as aforetime, which indeed was not desired; and he only saw him once again, when he forced himself into his presence (ch. 19:24). When good men are compelled by the conduct of the wicked to separate from them, the parting -

1. Deprives the latter of incalculable benefits, however lightly they may be estimated at the time.

2. Tends to increase the moral distance between them, and render the restoration of their intercourse more and more impossible.

3. Is certain to be hereafter bitterly but vainly regretted (ch. 28:15, 18). Oh, the sad and perpetual separations that are caused by sin! The paths of Samuel and Saul (like those of Moses and Pharaoh, Paul and Demas) may be compared to the courses of two ships that meet on the ocean, and sail near each other for a season, not without danger of collision, and then part asunder, the one to reach a "desired haven," the other to make shipwreck and become a castaway. - D.

1 Samuel 15:35. (RAMAH.)
Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul. There are many kinds of sorrow in the world. One is natural, such as is felt by men in temporal affliction. Another is spiritual, such as is felt by a penitent for his sin. A third is sympathetic, benevolent, Divine, such as is felt by a godly man over the ungodly. "I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved." Of this last Samuel had experience throughout his life (1 Samuel 3:15;. 4:11; 7:2; 8:3, 6), and more especially at the persistent transgression and irrevocable rejection of Saul. Observe of such sorrow, that -


1. Failing to fulfil the purpose for which it was made, and "coming short of the glory of God."

2. Falling into degradation, misery, and woe. A ruined temple! A wandering star! (Jude 1:13). A discrowned monarch! A despairing spirit! Oh, what a contrast between what it might have been and what it is here and will be hereafter!

3. Inciting others to pursue the same path.

II. IT IS AN EVIDENCE OF EXALTED PIETY, inasmuch as it shows -

1. Genuine zeal for the honour of God, whose law is "made void," whose goodness is despised, and whose claims are trampled in the dust.

2. Tender compassion toward men. "Charity to the soul is the soul of charity."

3. Intense sympathy with the noblest of men, with the Son of God, and with the eternal Father himself. "I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart," etc. (Romans 9:1-3). "O that thou hadst known," etc. (Luke 19:42). "O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments!" (Isaiah 48:18).


1. When it is mingled with feelings of personal disappointment and mortification, and of dissatisfaction with the ways of God.

2. When it is allowed to become a prolonged and all-absorbing emotion, to the exclusion of those considerations and feelings by which it ought to be modified and regulated.

3. When it produces despondency and fear (1 Samuel 16:2), weakens faith, and hinders exertion.


1. Gentle rebuke, indicating that it is useless, unreasonable, and reprehensible.

2. Clear and deep conviction of the over-ruling purpose of God, and unreserved submission to it. "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father," etc. (Matthew 11:25).

3. Renewed, benevolent, and hopeful activity. - D.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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