All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Rejected as King
Based on 1 Samuel 15

In 1 Samuel 13 Saul offers an unauthorized sacrifice to the Lord that results in the prophet Samuel’s stern rebuke. Two chapters later, in 1 Samuel 15, Saul has the future intention to offer an unauthorized sacrifice that will result in the Lord’s final rejection of him as king.

Samuel approaches Saul and speaks to him the word of the Lord. He begins by reminding Saul that the Lord had sent him earlier to anoint him king. But now, the Lord wants Saul to go to battle against the Amalekites—a nomadic tribe descended from Esau that is now living in the southern part of Canaan.

Many years before, they ambushed the Hebrews on their way out of Egypt, and now the Lord has given the order for their total destruction, using the Hebrew word cherem, often translated as “to ban.” Total destruction includes all living things, both human and animal; only the silver and gold is to be saved for the treasury of the Lord.

Utter Destruction

To understand the significance of this Hebrew verb, it helps to understand that some types of sacrifices belong entirely to the Lord, while others are shared by the priest and the one bringing the offering. In the same way, the spoils of this war are to be set aside as belonging solely to the Lord. By His command, they are mandated to be totally destroyed, similar to the whole burnt offering that is entirely consumed on the altar.

Since this war represents the Lord’s final judgment, Saul is sent on a divine mission—with the Lord as his Commander. Because it is His war, and not Saul’s, He is the victor, and the spoil belongs entirely to Him.

To understand why God orders the total destruction of everything and everybody, we must approach this story in the context of the unpardonable sin. The Amalekites have made their final decision to reject the Lord. They are not destroyed earlier because of their evil acts against the Lord’s people; but when they ambush the Hebrews during their exodus, it is the final straw. It is equivalent to final rejection by the Lord.

We can only understand this sort of annihilation by understanding the ancient context. To start with, this all happens in a holy war context. All wars in the ancient Middle East have a religious dimension, since the battlefield is an arena of divine retribution. Secondly, the Lord will destroy entire families and nations if their corporate representatives are willfully and incorrigibly wicked and irredeemable. However, the Lord is patient and slow to anger, “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness,” but by “no means clearing the guilty.” Exodus 34:6–7.

Greatly Displeased

Saul musters an army in Telaim, but before attacking the Amalekites, he warns the Kenites who are living among or close to the enemy, to leave or be destroyed. The Kenites, also called Midianites, are members of the family Moses married into. They are descendants of Abraham through his wife Keturah, and blood relatives of both the Israelites and Amalekites. They had been spared centuries before because they showed kindness to the Hebrew spies.

Now, Saul attacks the Amalekites throughout their homeland, from Havilah to Shur. He destroys everyone and everything—except king Agag, whom he captures, and the best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings, and lambs, which he saves for sacrifices.

This greatly displeases the Lord, who informs Samuel that He regrets making Saul king because he hasn’t followed His commandments. The King James Version translates the Hebrew verb nacham as “repent,” but it has more the idea of regret, to be sorry, grieve, or lament. The same verb is used in 1 Samuel 15:29, where the Bible states that the Lord, “will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.” This indicates that God’s so-called “repentance” is an expression that refers to the Lord’s deep sorrow brought on by Saul’s sin.

Samuel is greatly grieved when the Lord says He regrets making Saul king, and consequently spends the night wrestling with Him in prayer. In the morning, he goes to meet Saul, but is informed that he’s traveled to the nearby town of Carmel to set up a monument to commemorate his victory, and then has left for Gilgal. Earlier, Samuel has rebuked Saul for offering an unauthorized sacrifice at Gilgal, but in Saul’s mind, that city is associated with sacrifice.

Saul’s Excuse

When Samuel approaches him, Saul exclaims, “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” But Samuel asks, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”

Saul replies, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.” Notice how he immediately casts the blame on someone else—just as Adam and Eve did when they first sinned.

Samuel cuts him off, saying, “Be quiet! And I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”

“Speak on,” Saul answers.

“When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel?” Samuel asks. “Now the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the Lord?”

Saul has no better defense to Samuel’s last words than to repeat in detail what he has already said. Again, he stresses his own obedience by stating what he has done, but he also tries to justify the actions of his troops by attributing to them the worthy intention to sacrifice the animals they have spared to the Lord.

Samuel’s next words are recorded in poetry—showing they are the most important words of the whole story. They show not only the Lord’s attitude to what Saul has done, but also the results:

“Has 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 heed than the fat of rams.

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,

And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.

Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,

He also has rejected you from being king.”

The impact of Samuel’s words finally bring Saul to his senses. “I have sinned,” he confesses, “for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord.” His confession seems to echo Pharaoh’s when He stated, “I have sinned.”

Samuel answers, “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.” From Samuel’s response, it appears that he does not believe that Saul’s sorrow for his sin is genuine. Later, Saul bears this out in his life.

.sub A Nation Torn Away

As Samuel turns to leave, Saul seizes the edge of the prophet’s robe in anguish and tears it, implying an irreparable breech between Saul and Samuel, as well as the separation of Saul from his national rulership. Samuel then elaborates more fully as to what this all means by saying, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.”

Saul cries out, “I have sinned; yet honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord your God.” Please notice that Saul refers to the Lord in this story as “your God,” not “our God.” After Saul’s second confessional statement, Samuel returns with Saul while he worships the Lord. However, one wonders how repentant he is, because he does not kill Agag or destroy the animals he saved.

Finally, Samuel asks for Agag to be brought to him, and as he approaches, Agag cautiously says, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” However, Samuel cries out, saying, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women,” and hacks Agag to pieces before the Lord, fulfilling His command to Saul.

At that point, Samuel permanently parts ways with Saul, but does mourn for him at his death.

.sub A Tragic End

pThe saga of Saul’s kingship has both high points and low points; the history of his kingship closely parallels his relationship with the Lord, but ultimately ends in tragedy.

His relationship before becoming king is weak, but when the people insist on a king, the Lord chooses him and gives the order to Samuel, His prophet, to anoint him. Saul is humbled when he is appointed king, and even prophesizes with the sons of the prophets. He begins his kingship by relying on the Lord as his Ruler and Commander, and has great success in warfare; but unfortunately, he begins to think success comes from his own wisdom and military skill.

When Samuel arrives late to offer a sacrifice, Saul takes it upon himself to do the work of the prophet, violating the command of the Lord by offering the sacrifice himself. He is reproved by the Lord through Samuel, but this seems to have no long-term effect.

Later, when the Lord gives the order through Samuel to utterly destroy both man and beast, he spares king Agag and the best of the animals; and when he is confronted by Samuel, he justifies himself and casts the blame on his soldiers.

Finally, when Samuel declares that the Lord has taken his kingship away, he confesses that he’s sinned, but still wants to receive honor for his victory.

Saul has completely and finally rejected the Lord as his Ruler and military Commander, but although the Lord rejects him as king, He does not reject him as a person until he makes his final rejection of the Lord as his God.

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