1 Samuel 15 (NRSV)
Saul Defeats the Amalekites but Spares Their King
Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. 2Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. 3Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”
Think that command is clear enough? Anything Saul couldn’t understand?
4So Saul summoned the people, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand foot soldiers, and ten thousand soldiers of Judah. 5Saul came to the city of the Amalekites and lay in wait in the valley. 6Saul said to the Kenites, “Go! Leave! Withdraw from among the Amalekites, or I will destroy you with them; for you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites withdrew from the Amalekites.
7Saul defeated the Amalekites, from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. 8He took King Agag of the Amalekites alive, but utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 9Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep and of the cattle and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was valuable, and would not utterly destroy them; all that was despised and worthless they utterly destroyed.
But it seems that Saul thought he knew better than God what to save and what to destroy.
Saul Rejected as King
10The word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11“I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands.” Samuel was angry; and he cried out to the Lord all night.
12Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul, and Samuel was told, “Saul went to Carmel, where he set up a monument for himself, and on returning he passed on down to Gilgal.”
13When Samuel came to Saul, Saul said to him, “May you be blessed by the Lord; I have carried out the command of the Lord.”
14But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears, and the lowing of cattle that I hear?”
Saul is BUSTED!! — Samuel hears and sees (and probably smells) Saul’s disobedience.
15Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the cattle, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.”
As it turned out, not even this was true. There were still Amalekites left alive. David later had to deal with the Amalekites (1 Samuel 27:8, 30:1, 2 Samuel 8:12). Haman, the evil man who tried to wipe out all the Jewish people in the days of Esther, was a descendant of Agag (Esther 3:1). Most ironic of all, when Saul was killed on the field of battle, an Amalekite claimed to deliver the final thrust of the sword (2 Samuel 1:8-10). When we don’t obey God completely, the “left over” portion will surely come back and trouble us, if not kill us.
16Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”
He replied, “Speak.”
17Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ 19Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”
20Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21But from the spoil the people took sheep and cattle, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”
Poor Saul. He is living in his own world of self-deception. He tells Samuel “I have obeyed the Lord” and then goes on to explain how he did NOT obey the Lord!
22And Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed than the fat of rams.
23For rebellion is no less a sin than divination,
and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has also rejected you from being king.”
Saul is REJECTED!! — God will find another man to rule his people.
24Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.
It’s not really my fault, Samuel! I was just doing what the people wanted!
“This was the best excuse he could make for himself, but had he feared GOD more, he could have feared the PEOPLE less.”
25Now therefore, I pray, pardon my sin, and return with me, so that I may worship the Lord.”
26Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”
But it will be over 20 years before God has finished training the new king to take the throne.
27As Samuel turned to go away, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. 28And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this very day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. 29Moreover the Glory of Israel will not recant or change his mind; for he is not a mortal, that he should change his mind.”
30Then Saul said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.”
Here is Saul’s real problem: his honor before others is of more importance to him than his obedience to God.
31So Samuel turned back after Saul; and Saul worshiped the Lord.
32Then Samuel said, “Bring Agag king of the Amalekites here to me.”
Watch the old prophet take care of unfinished business!
And Agag came to him haltingly. Agag said, “Surely this is the bitterness of death.”
33But Samuel said,
“As your sword has made women childless,
so your mother shall be childless among women.”
And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.
All those priestly sacrifices had taught Samuel very well how to kill and butcher a living animal. He did it in front of the Israelites, and in front of Saul, for their instruction — but more importantly, he did it before the Lord as obedience.
34Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.
Martin Luther said, “I had rather be obedient, than able to work miracles.”
HERE is a kind of modern-day prophet: Keith Green (1953-1982) in a live performance of “To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice.”
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.