1 Samuel 15:1 Samuel said to Saul, I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord.
Kings of other nations were free to do as they pleased, since they were the highest authority. But God was the highest authority in Israel, and the king was to be his servant. Since the prophet Samuel spoke for God, he had authority over King Saul. Saul was to take his orders from God, through the prophet Samuel.
1 Samuel 15:3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.
The Amalekites were the sworn enemies of God’s people, and the time had come for their destruction. This was a perfect opportunity for Saul to recover from his failure, since he came under God’s disfavor just two chapters earlier. By fully obeying the Lord’s command, he could show that he wanted nothing more than to please the Lord. This could be a turning point in the right direction.
1 Samuel 15:7 Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt.
The attack was very successful. But instead of inflicting total destruction, Saul spared the Amalekite king, and all the best livestock. Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions (1 Samuel 15:10-11).
Saul was guilty of incomplete obedience. He did most of what God commanded, but not all of what God commanded. This was a serious problem.
Some think God is pleased with them because they keep a few of his commands. Others think God is pleased with them because they keep most of his commands. But if you are brought into court for stealing, it will not matter if you have never committed murder. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10), wrote James. Partial obedience is a violation of God’s law, and makes us guilty in his sight.
1 Samuel 15:12 Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor.
Instead of giving glory to God, Saul set up a monument to himself. This is a key distinction between those who belong to God, and those who do not. Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory (Psalm 115:1), wrote the Psalmist. By setting up a monument to himself, Saul revealed he was more committed to his own glory than to God’s glory.
1 Samuel 15:13-14 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions. But Samuel said, What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?
Saul tried to convince Samuel that he truly obeyed God, and that the livestock were for sacrifice. But Samuel replied: Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king (1 Samuel 15:22-23).
These are among the strongest words in the Bible, and they strike at one of our deepest fears: rejection by God. But Saul rejected God before God rejected Saul. By rejecting God’s word, Saul rejected God himself.
Some are bold in their rejection of God’s word, while others are more subtle. Many remain ignorant of the Bible, so they will not feel obligated to keep it at every point. But their willful ignorance proves they do not really love the Lord. The more we love the Lord, the more we will love his word.
Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long (Psalm 119:97). I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold (Psalm 119:127). And, I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly (Psalm 119:167), wrote the Psalmist. Likewise, Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me (John 14:21), said Jesus. We should not claim to love God, unless we also love his word.
1 Samuel 15:24 I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them.
To help explain his disobedience, Saul admitted fearing his own men. They fought valiantly, and wanted to keep some of the livestock for themselves. Saul did not want to seem unreasonable, so he allowed his men to do what God had forbidden. But any leader of God’s people must be more afraid of God than of God’s people. Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe (Proverbs 29:25), says Proverbs. Saul wanted his men’s approval more than he wanted God’s approval. This made him unqualified to lead the people of God.
1 Samuel 15:30 Saul replied, I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.
Since it was no longer possible to deny his guilt, Saul confessed his sin with the hope of regaining Samuel’s favor. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins (1 John 1:9), wrote John. But Saul was less concerned about God’s forgiveness than Samuel’s support. If word spread that Samuel disapproved of Saul, Saul would lose much of his authority. So he begged Samuel to publicly worship God with him. And for the good of the nation, Samuel agreed.
1 Samuel 15:32 Then Samuel said, Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites.
This was the king that Saul failed to kill. Since he refused to carry out the Lord’s command, Samuel would do it for him. As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless (1 Samuel 15:33), he said. Then he killed the Amalekite king in the presence of the Lord.
The Old Testament is filled with blood; much of it spilt at God’s command. The New Testament seems better at first, until we get near the end. There we learn that many will be trampled in the winepress of God’s wrath until the blood flows as high as the horses’ bridles (Revelation 14:19-20), wrote John.
This would be bad enough if the blood only flowed for a mile or two, but it will flow for one hundred eighty miles (Revelation 14:20). The God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are one and the same. He should not be taken lightly.
Reflection and Review
Why did Saul build a monument to himself?
Why do some believers avoid God’s word?
Should we think of Jesus as gentle or violent?