Matthew Poole's Commentary
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.Samuel sendeth Saul to destroy the Amalekites: his army, 1 Samuel 15:1-5. He favoureth the Kenites; spareth Agag, and the best of the spoil: God rejects Saul from being king, 1 Samuel 15:6-11. This Samuel declares to Saul; he commendeth, excuseth, at last humbleth himself, 1 Samuel 15:12:25. Samuel is unmoved herewith; his mantle rent is a sign to Saul of his ruin: God cannot lie, 1 Samuel 15:26-29. Samuel killeth Agag; goeth from Saul, and mourneth for him, 1 Samuel 15:30-35.
The Lord made thee king, and therefore thou art highly obliged to serve and obey him. Thou hast committed one error already, for which God hath severely rebuked and threatened; now therefore make amends for thy former error, and regain God’s favour by thy exact obedience to what he now commands.
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.I seem to have forgotten, but now I will show that I remember, and now will revenge, those old injuries done four hundred years ago, which now I will punish in their children; which was the more just, because they continued in their parents’ cruel practices, below, 1 Samuel 15:33. In the way when he came up from Egypt; when he was newly come out of cruel and long bondage, and was now weak, and weary, and faint, and hungry, Deu 25:18; and therefore it was barbarous and inhuman, instead of that pity which even nature prompted them to afford, to add affliction to the afflicted; it was also horrid impiety to fight against God himself, and to lift up their hand in a manner against the Lord’s throne, as some translate these words, Exodus 17:16, whilst they struck at that people which God had brought forth in so stupendous and miraculous a way.
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.All that they have, both persons and goods; kill all that live, and consume all things without life; for I will have no name nor remnant of that people, whom long since I have cursed and devoted to utter destruction.
Spare them not; show no compassion or favour to any of them. The same thing repeated to prevent mistake, and oblige Saul to the exact performance hereof; or, to leave him without excuse, in case of neglect.
Infant and suckling; for their parents’ crime and punishment; which was not unjust, because God is the supreme Lord and giver of life, and can require his own when he pleaseth; infants also are born in sin, Psalm 51:5, and therefore liable to God’s wrath, Ephesians 2:3, and to death, Romans 5:12,14. Their death also was rather a mercy than a curse to them, as being the occasion of preventing the vast increase of their sin and punishment.
Ox and sheep, camel and ass; which being all made for man’s benefit, it is not strange nor unjust if they suffer with him, and for him and for the instruction of mankind.
And Saul gathered the people together, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah.Who are particularly noted here, as also Zechariah 11:8, either as select persons of extraordinary strength and courage; or to commend that tribe, which, though the kingdom had been promised to their own tribe, yet were forward in serving and obeying a king of another, and that a far meaner tribe.
And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and laid wait in the valley.A city of Amalek; their chief city, where their king was, as is probable from 1 Samuel 15:8.
Laid wait, intending to draw them forth of their city by some pretence, like that of Joshua, Jos 7, and then to intercept them, and so surprise their city: which haply they did, though it be not here recorded, it being not worth while to mention all the minute circumstances of such matters.
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.The Kenites; a people descending from or nearly related unto Jethro, who anciently dwelt in rocks near the Amalekites, Numbers 24:21, and afterwards some of them dwelt in Judah, Judges 1:16, whence it is probable they removed, (which, dwelling in tents, they could easily do,) and retired to their old habitation, because of the wars and troubles wherewith Judah was annoyed.
Ye showed kindness; some of your progenitors did so, Exodus 18:12 Numbers 10:31, and for their sakes all of you shall fare the better. You were not guilty of that sin for which Amalek is now to be destroyed.
And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur, that is over against Egypt.i.e. From one end of their country to the other; he smote all that he met with; but a great number of them fled away upon the noise of his coming, as is usual in such cases, and secured themselves in other places, until the storm was over, when they returned again; of whom we read before, 1 Samuel 13:6 14:22.
And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.Saul spared
Agag, either out of foolish pity for the goodliness of his person, which Josephus notes; or for his respect to his royal majesty, in the preservation of which he thought himself concerned; or for the glory of his triumph: compare 1 Samuel 15:12.
All the people, to wit, the body of the people, but not every individual person, as hath been showed. Universal particles are commonly thus understood, as is confessed.
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.Saul and the people; the one proposed to do so, and the other consented to it, and so both were guilty.
All that was good; which it is more than probable they reserved for their own use, rather than for sacrifice, because they knew God would not accept a sacrifice contrary to his own command. Thus they obey God only so far as they could without inconvenience to themselves; they destroyed only what was not worth keeping, nor fit for their use.
Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying,No text from Poole on this verse.
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.It repenteth me: repentance properly notes grief of heart, and change of counsels, and therefore cannot be in God, who is unchangeable, most wise, and most blessed; but it is ascribed to God in such cases, when men give God cause to repent, and when God alters his course and method of dealing, and treats a person as if he did indeed repent of all the kindness he had showed to him.
He cried unto the Lord all night, to implore his pardoning mercy for Saul, and for the people; so far was he from rejoicing in their calamities, as an envious and self-seeking person would have done.
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.Carmel; not Mount Carmel, of which Joshua 12:22, but another mountain or town in the tribe of Judah, of which see Joshua 15:55. A place, i.e. a monument or trophy of his victory, as the same Hebrew word is used, 2 Samuel 18:18. And this may be here noted by way of censure, that he set it not to God’s honour, but to himself, i.e. to his own praise; which he minded in the first place, and afterwards went to Gilgal, as it here follows, to offer sacrifice to God.
And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD.Blessed be thou of the Lord; I thank thee, and I beg that God would bless thee, for sending me upon this employment, and giving me this opportunity of manifesting my obedience to God.
I have performed the commandment of the Lord, to wit, for the main and substance of it, to wit, the extirpation of that wicked people; for he thought the sparing of Agag and the cattle very inconsiderable in the case, though indeed it was expressly contrary to God’s command; but self-interest made him exceeding partial in his own cause: or else, like a bold hypocrite, he pretends that for his part he had obeyed God; resolving, it seems, to cast the blame upon the people, as he did.
And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?How can this evidence of guilt consist with the profession of thy innocency?
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.They, i.e. the people. Thus, after the manner of all hypocrites, he excuseth himself, and lays the blame upon the people; whereas they could not do it without his privity and consent; and he should have used his power and authority to overrule them for God’s sake, as he had done formerly for his own sake. But the truth is, he was zealous for his own honour and interest, but lukewarm where God only was concerned.
To sacrifice unto the Lord: it is not likely that this was his and the people’s design; but this he now pretends, and ascribes that to his piety, which was indeed the effect of his impiety and avarice.
Thy God, whom thou lovest and servest, and therefore must needs be pleased with our pious respect to him and his service.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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?Little in thine own sight, i.e. modest, humble, and submissive, as 1 Samuel 9:21 10:22; whereby he implies that now he was grown proud, and stubborn, and impudent, both to commit sin and justify it.
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.The sinners; so called by way of eminency, as that word is used, Genesis 13:13 Matthew 9:10 John 9:24,31.
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?Who cannot be deceived by thy fair professions of religion, but knows very well that thou didst not seek sacrifices for God, but prey for thyself.
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.He addeth obstinacy and impenitency to his crime, and justifies his fact, though he hath nothing of any moment to say but what he said before. So he gives Samuel the lie, and reflects upon him as one that had falsely accused him.
Have brought Agag to be dealt with as God pleaseth, and as thou thinkest fit.
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.Heb. the chief of the devoted things; which being devoted to destruction, I thought it most proper to destroy them by way of sacrifice to God. But God had commanded Saul himself to smite and slay all upon the place, above, 1 Samuel 15:3.
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.To obey is better than sacrifice, because obedience to God is a moral duty, constantly and indispensably necessary; but sacrifice is but a ceremonial institution, sometimes unnecessary, as it was in the wilderness; and sometimes sinful, when it is offered by a polluted hand, or in an irregular manner; therefore thy gross disobedience to God’s express command is not to be compensated with sacrifice.
To hearken, i.e. to obey, as hearing is oft used in Scripture. Than the fat of rams; than the choicest part of all the sacrifice, to wit, the fat, which was appropriated to God, Leviticus 3:16; whereas the offerer might partake of other parts of it.
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.Rebellion, i.e. disobedience to God’s express precept, which was Saul’s case.
Is as the sin of witchcraft; is, though not so great, yet as inexcusable and impudent a sin as witchcraft; as plainly condemned, and as certainly destructive and damnable.
Stubbornness; either wilful and presumptuous sin, whereby a man violently breaks loose from God’s command, and resists his authority; or rather, perseverance or contumacy in sin, justifying it, and pleading for it, which was Saul’s present crime.
Is as iniquity and idolatry, or, the iniquity of idolatry; this being an hendiadis; as judgment and justice, Deu 16:18, is put for the judgment of justice, or just judgment. Or, idolatry, (for so the Hebrew word aven signifies, as Jeremiah 10:15 Hosea 4:15 10:5, compared with 1 Kings 12:29) even the teraphim, which is here mentioned as one of the worst kinds of idolatry.
Hath also rejected thee from being king, i.e. hath pronounced the sentence of rejection; for that he was not actually rejected or deposed by God plainly appears, because not only the people, but even David, after this, owned him as king; and Samuel, at Saul’s desire, did honour him, i.e. own him as king, before the people, 1 Samuel 15:30.
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.I have sinned; which confession proceeded not from true repentance, but from the sense of his great danger, and from a desire of recalling that dreadful sentence denounced against him.
The commandment of the Lord, and thy words, i.e. the commandment of the Lord delivered to me by thy words; another hendiadis. I feared the people; who, as thou knowest, are set upon mischief, and would probably have broken forth into a mutiny or rebellion, had I done otherwise. But how little he feared the people, may be seen by 1 Samuel 11:7 14:24. But this was a false cause; nor doth he acknowledge the true cause, which was his covetousness, and because he did not fear God.
Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD.Pardon my sin; use thy great interest with God to obtain the pardon of my sin. Or, do thou pardon my sin against thee; for he had sinned not only against God, but against Samuel also, as God’s prophet; and therefore needed a pardon both from God and man.
And turn again with me, to Gilgal, whence Saul was gone forth to meet Samuel; and Samuel is here said to turn again to Gilgal, not properly, for he had not now been there; but by way of concomitancy, because he accompanied Saul, who was come thence, and returned thither: see the like expression Ruth 1:10,22 2:6.
That I may worship the Lord; that I may offer further sacrifices to God; partly to praise him for the past victory; and partly to implore his mercy, and the taking off of my sin and punishment. This was a politic device of Saul’s, that Samuel might at least seem to countenance his design, in reserving the cattle for sacrifice; which Samuel seeing, refused to do it. Heb. and I will worship the Lord, i.e. I will seek his pardon and favour.
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.I will not return with thee: this was no lie, though he afterwards returned, because he spoke what he meant; his words and intentions agreed together, though afterwards he saw reason to change his intentions: compare Genesis 19:2,3: which may relieve many perplexed consciences, who think themselves obliged to do what they have said they would do, though they see just cause to change their minds.
And as Samuel turned about to go away, he laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and it rent.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Samuel makes use of the emergent occasion, as a sign, to signify and confirm his former prediction.
A neighbour of thine; either another man, or another Israelite; for the word neighbour is used both ways; or rather, one of the neighbouring tribe, even Judah, whose inheritance did not only join to that of Benjamin, but was partly mixed with it.
And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.He calls God
the Strength of Israel; partly, to show the reason why God neither will nor can lie; because lying is a weakness, and proceeds from the sense of a man’s weakness, because he cannot many times accomplish his design without lying and dissimulation; which therefore many princes have used for this very reason. But, saith he, God needs no such artifices; he can do whatsoever he pleaseth by his absolute power, and hath no need to use lies to accomplish his will. Partly, to show that Israel should be no loser by Saul’s loss, as he might vainly imagine, because he had saved them from their enemies on every side, 1 Samuel 14:47. For not Saul, but God, was the Strength and Protector of Israel, and he would continue to save them when Saul was lost and gone. And partly, to assure Saul that God would execute this threatening, because he wanted not strength to do it, and none could hinder him in it.
Nor repent, i.e. nor change his counsel; which also is an effect of weakness and imperfection, either of wisdom or power.
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.Here he plainly discovers his hypocrisy, and the true motive of this and his former confession; he was not solicitous for the favour of God, but for his honour and power with Israel.
So Samuel turned again after Saul; and Saul worshipped the LORD.Samuel turned again after Saul; not to worship the Lord with him, for that he did not; and therefore it is here mentioned that Saul only worshipped the Lord; but for two other reasons: first, that people might not upon pretence of this sentence of rejection immediately withdraw all respect and obedience to their sovereign; whereby they would both have sinned against God, and have been as sheep without a shepherd. Secondly, That he might rectify Saul’s error, and execute God’s judgment upon Agag.
Then said Samuel, Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites. And Agag came unto him delicately. And Agag said, Surely the bitterness of death is past.Delicately, or in delights, or in his ornaments, i.e. he came not like an offender, expecting the sentence of death, but in that garb and gesture which became his quality.
And Agag said, or, for Agag said; this being the reason why he came so.
The bitterness of death is past: I who have escaped death from the hands of a warlike prince in the fury of battle, shall certainly never suffer death from an old prophet in time of peace.
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.Thy sword hath made women childless; whereby it appears that he was a cruel tyrant, and guilty of really bloody actions, and that towards God’s people, though it be not related elsewhere. And this seems to be added for the fuller vindication of God’s justice, and to show, that although God did at this time remember and revenge a crime committed by this man’s ancestors four hundred years ago, yet he did not punish an innocent son for his father’s crimes, but one that allowed and persisted in the same evil courses.
Samuel hewed Agag in pieces by Divine instinct, and in pursuance of God’s express and particular command, above, 1 Samuel 15:3, which being sinfully neglected by Saul, is now executed by Samuel. See the like example 1 Kings 18:40. But these are no precedents for private persons to take the sword of justice into their hands; for we must live by thee laws of God, and not by extraordinary examples.
Before the Lord; either before the ark, which, it seems, Saul carried with him in this, as he did in his former expedition, 1 Samuel 14:18; or before God’s altar; or in the public assembly.
Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house to Gibeah of Saul.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.To see Saul, i.e. to visit him, either in token of respect or friendship; or to seek counsel from God for him, or to give counsel to him. Seeing is put for visiting here, and 2 Kings 8:29. Otherwise he did see him afterwards, 1 Samuel 19:24. Though indeed it was not Samuel that came thither with design to see Saul, which is implied in the phrase here; but Saul went thither to see Samuel, and that accidentally.
Samuel mourned for Saul; partly for Saul’s sake, whose sad condition he lamented; and partly for Israel’s sake, whose estate he feared might by this means be doubtful and dangerous.