1 Samuel 13:5-14, 15:1-23
We cannot look at the life of Samuel without considering the life of Saul. The coronation of Saul marked a transition in the life of Samuel. Samuel was judge over Israel until Saul became king. With Saul’s ascension to the throne, Samuel’s role changed, but he continued to serve as prophet to the king, speaking God’s word so that the king would know the will of the Lord. In this way, Samuel’s life and work became closely connected to Saul’s.
The ideal man for the job soon revealed that he was unfit for the task. Today, we will look at two incidents in Saul’s life that marked the trajectory of his reign as king. The first one is an unlawful sacrifice that he made, and the second one is an occasion of incomplete obedience.
Saul made the unlawful sacrifice early in his reign. When he had been king two years, he gathered three thousand men and attacked the Philistines. As a result, both the nation of Israel and the Philistines gathered for battle. 1 Samuel 13:5 says that the Philistines mustered thirty thousand chariots, six thousand horsemen, and people as numerous as the sand on the seashore. The sand on the seashore is obvious hyperbole, but it gives the idea that the Philistines came with a vast army. 1 Samuel 13:6-7 tells us that when the men of Israel saw what they were up against, they hid in rocks, holes, thickets, and pits. Some fled across the Jordan River to escape. While many people ran or hid, six hundred remained with Saul (1 Samuel 13:15), where they had gathered at Gilgal. They stayed, but they were trembling with fear.
Apparently, Samuel had instructed Saul to wait for seven days, and then Samuel would come to Gilgal and offer a sacrifice to the Lord. These instructions were not a suggestion. They were a command from the Lord. However, when Saul saw: 1) the people were scattering, and 2) it was the seventh day, and Samuel was not there; he went ahead and offered the sacrifice himself.
As soon as Saul finished offering the sacrifice, Samuel showed up. Samuel said, “What have you done?” Listen to what Saul said in reply.
1 Samuel 13:11–12 (NKJV) 11When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, 12then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.
The people were scattering, Samuel did not come within the appointed time, and Saul felt compelled. So, naturally, he offered a burnt offering.
Let’s read Samuel’s response.
1 Samuel 13:13–14 (NKJV) 13You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.
For this act, God said Saul’s kingdom would not continue. WHAT? What was so bad about what Saul did? His three reasons make sense. Look at what Samuel repeats. Twice he says, “You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God.” Saul did not think small matters of obedience to be significant. He kept all the big ones, right? After all, he had waited seven days.
How do we measure obedience? Consider that Jesus said,
Matthew 5:18 (NKJV) For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
If even the smallest part of the law must be fulfilled, then obedience down to the letter must be important.
Saul failed to obey, but God did not remove him immediately. God gives opportunities for repentance and offers forgiveness.
After some years had passed, and Saul had firmly established himself as king and subdued many of Israel’s foreign enemies. God sent Samuel to Saul with a message. Let’s read 1 Samuel 15:1-3.
1 Samuel 15:1–3 (NKJV) 1Samuel also said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the Lord. 2Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. 3Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”
We need to understand the significance of the words “utterly destroy” in this passage. When Joshua led the people into the land, he first led them in an attack on Jericho. God’s instructions were to devote everything in the city to God and destroy it completely, even the silver and the gold. Nothing was to be saved. The word “devote” used in Jericho’s case is the same word used in the Amalekites’ case. When Achan kept some clothing and a little silver and gold from Jericho, he and his whole family were stoned. Using the same word, God told Saul to utterly destroy all that they had and not spare them. The instructions were clear.
Let’s read the account Samuel gives of what happened.
1 Samuel 15:7–9 (NKJV) 7And Saul attacked the Amalekites, from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is east of Egypt. 8He also took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 9But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.
In response, God said to Samuel:
1 Samuel 15:11 (NKJV) I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.
Here is the same problem that showed itself in the matter of the unlawful sacrifice. Saul did not learn. God says, “He has not performed My commandments.”
This broke Samuel’s heart. It appears that Samuel still loved Saul. The text tells us:
1 Samuel 15:11 (NKJV) And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the Lord all night.
Samuel cried out to the Lord. He was pleading for Saul. Samuel mourned for Saul until the day he died. However, as a man of God and a prophet, he was obligated to speak the truth to Saul.
Early the next day, Samuel got up and went to meet Saul. Now, Saul was proud of himself and had made a monument to himself. How typical of us to raise monuments to ourselves when God gives us a great victory. In the flush of victory, Saul greeted Samuel with a blessing when he saw Samuel approaching. He said:
1 Samuel 15:13 (NKJV) Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord.
Look at Samuel’s reply:
1 Samuel 15:14 (NKJV) What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?
Saul justified his disobedience by saying they saved the best for sacrifice. Earlier we read that Saul and the people were unwilling to destroy the best of the sheep and cattle. Samuel calls Saul on this issue. In verse nineteen, Samuel asks, “Why did you swoop down on the spoil?”
The next thing Saul does is what men and women have been doing since the Garden of Eden. He blames someone else. “The people made me do it!” He also puts a very righteous sounding spin on what he had done. “We kept these for a sacrifice to the Lord!” Samuel’s response to this needs to be written on all of our hearts.
1 Samuel 15:22–23 (NKJV) 22So Samuel said:
“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.
23For 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.”
God gave Saul a second chance to demonstrate obedience, but he failed a second time. He did not fully obey, and partial obedience is disobedience.
A parallel in our lives to sparing Agag is sparing our favorite sin. Jesus said that we should cut off our hand or pluck out our eye to subdue the sins of our flesh. He used such words to illustrate the seriousness with which we should devote ourselves to God. I want you to read what F. B. Meyer had to say about this passage in his commentary on the book of Samuel.
There is great significance in this for us all. We are prepared to obey the Divine commands up to a certain point, and there we stay. Just as soon as “the best and choicest” begin to be touched, we draw the line and refuse further compliance. We listen to soft voices that bid us stay our hand, when our Isaac is on the altar. We are quite prepared to give up that which costs us nothing--our money, but not our children--to the missionary cause; the things which are clearly and disgracefully wrong, but not the self-indulgences which are peculiarly fascinating to our temperament. To spare the best of Amalek is surely equivalent to sparing some root of evil, some plausible indulgence, some favourite sin. For us, Agag must stand for that evil propensity, which exists in all of us, for self-gratification; and to spare Agag is to be merciful to ourselves, to exonerate and palliate our failures, and to condone our besetting sin. (F.B. Meyer, Samuel the Prophet, Amazon Kindle edition, pg. 916.)
In closing, I want to observe one more thing that springs from this incident. When Saul died in a fight with the Philistines, it was an Amalekite that killed him. The parallel should be obvious. The thing that we spare may be the thing that ends up killing us.