1 Samuel 15: Saul Rejected
The Amalekites were a tribe of warlike people whom we hear of from time to time in the story. They had no fixed home but are heard of most often in the southern part of Palestine and in the open country still farther south. Do you remember a time when Moses went up to a hilltop and held up his hands to the Lord, while Joshua led the soldiers fighting in the valley? They were fighting with the Amalekites, who came upon the people when they were weary and smote the hindmost of them. This was on the journey from Egypt, just before the people reached Mount Sinai. How did the battle end that day? Joshua and his men were strong as long as Moses held up his hands, and they drove off the Amalekites.
Does anyone remember Gideon and his men, who with pitchers and torches in their hands went down against the enemies who had come into the land with their camels and cattle and destroyed the fields at harvest time? These people were called "Midianites and Amalekites and children of the east." The Amalekites were an enemy of Israel, and Samuel brought Saul a command from the Lord to go and destroy the Amalekites and their cattle and all that they had. Wickedness should be destroyed, and in those days they knew no other way than to destroy the wicked people.
But Saul did not wholly do what he was sent to do. He conquered the Amalekites in the south and chased them far out into the open country toward Egypt. He came back to Gilgal near the Jordan and Samuel came to meet him there. Saul said that he had done what he was sent to do, but Samuel knew from the Lord that it was not so, and he heard the bleating of sheep and the lowing of oxen; for Saul had spared Agag, the king of Amalek and brought him to Gilgal and also the best of the cattle, saying that he brought them to sacrifice to the Lord. Samuel was displeased that Saul had disobeyed. As he turned to leave, Saul took hold of Samuel's robe and it tore, a sign that the kingdom would be torn away from Saul and given to another king. "Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death. Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul."
Saul's three wars: with the Ammonites, with the Philistines, with the Amalekites. Have we heard before of the Amalekites? Someone find and read to us Exod. 17:8-16 and Deut. 25:17-19. These verses remind us of the battle when Joshua fought in the valley and Moses in the hilltop held up his hands. They remind us, too, how the Lord promised warfare with Amalek, and how He charged Israel some day to blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. Someone else look up Judges 6:3 and 7:12, about the Amalekites and Gideon. They were warlike and wandering people, living chiefly in the country south of Canaan. The day of judgment had come for the Amalekites and Saul was sent to destroy them. Compare Gen. 15:16. Read the story of Saul's raid upon their country. Could the Lord wish Israel to destroy Amalek, and Samuel to destroy Agag? Does it seem like the Sermon on the Mount? No. Yet the Lord's commands must come to a people in their own language and according to their own development. The Lord could express the duty of resisting evil in one way to Saul and in another way to a Christian disciple. Each must obey according to his understanding of the Lord's will.
In verse 6 we meet the Kenites. Who were they? Evidently people to whom Saul felt friendly. He did not wish to harm them. It was in the tent of a Kenite that Sisera was killed in the days of Deborah and Barak. They were friendly people, the family of Moses' father-in-law, who had come with Israel from near Mount Sinai and lived among them in the land of Canaan, especially in the south. (Judges 1:16 and 4:11) Saul found them living with the Amalekites in the south. They must separate themselves not to be destroyed with them. Havilah was the eastern limit of the Amalekite country, and Shur, "the wall," the border of Egypt, was the western limit.
Saul was successful in his war with Amalek, following them far into the wilderness country to the south. But he did not do as he had been commanded, for he took the king, Agag, and the best of the sheep and cattle, destroying what was worthless. Returning from the war he passed to Carmel, not Mount Carmel, but a town to the southeast of Hebron. There he set up a monument of his victory and went on to Gilgal, the old camping place in the plain of Jordan, where the people had at other times come together with the prophet Samuel.
Samuel now came to meet Saul at Gilgal, and rebuked him for his disobedience. Saul made excuses. Read Samuel's words in regard to disobedience (verse 22), and learn what the result of Saul's disobedience would be. Notice the sign which was given representing the rending of the kingdom away from Saul. Together with Samuel's severe rebuke you see his tenderness and his grief for Saul.
How could it be that the Lord would command Saul utterly to destroy a people, and even their sheep and cattle? They were very rude warlike people in those days to whom a command of that kind could be given. You understand the meaning of the command when you know that this entire story represents experiences in the life of everyone. The Amalekites stand for some evil thing which must be utterly destroyed. It will not do to destroy only so much as we do not care for, and to save all that is pleasant to us. There should be no compromise, no half-way work in resisting what is wrong.
One other question. Twice in the chapter it is said that the Lord repented that He had made Saul king. In other places in the Bible, and even in this very chapter, it is said that He will not repent, for He is not a man that He should repent. (Verse 29) How do you explain this contradiction, and what is the real fact about the Lord's repenting? The Lord's love is perfect. He knows all things and provides for them with perfect wisdom. The Lord cannot change His mind and repent as a person must often do. But things are often expressed in the Scriptures as they seem to simple minds. The word also contains the thought of the Divine compassion and mercy. (A. 587, 588, 10441)
1. In what three wars was Saul engaged, and with what success?
2. Where have we learned of the Amalekites? Where was their home? Who were the Kenites?
3. What was Saul commanded to do to the Amalekites? What did he do? What enemies ought we to destroy utterly? When do we fail as Saul did?
4. Tell me about the last meeting between Samuel and Saul. What did the rending of the mantle mean?
We have taken up with the juniors the most difficult question in our lesson - how the Lord could send Saul on an errand of merciless destruction. The cruelty could not be according to the Lord's will. But the war with Amalek was a fight with evil, which Saul and the people of his day could understand. Compare "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" and other harsh laws of Sinai. The command to destroy the Amalekites utterly and all that belonged to them is a picture of our duty to resist an evil thoroughly and to make no compromise with it. It was wrong for Saul to save Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, as it is for us to cut off some conspicuous faults but leave still the root of the evil and indulgences of it which are pleasant to us. (P. 251; A. 6914)
We must connect the failure to destroy the Amalekite king and the cattle with what we know of Saul and his meaning, and with the meaning of Amalek. Saul represents a youthful effort to rule the life by truth understood in a natural and superficial way. It can correct some evident faults, but it fails to reach the root of deeper evils. Compare the escape of the king of Sodom in the battle with Chedorlaomer, but his submission to Abram. (Gen. 14)
Someone please remind us what is represented by a king and a kingdom and by the change from the patriarchal to the kingly government in Israel. The kingly power in us is the Lord's truth rationally understood and obeyed. Remember always the Lord's words to Pilate: "Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth." (John 18:37) And what in particular is represented by the first king, Saul? He represents the first rationality led much by the outward appearance of things, not yet interior and spiritual. (A. 8770, 10540; E. 323)
Following our last thought, will someone show us why Saul's only complete victory was in the country beyond Jordan, and why in his other wars he was only partly successful? The country beyond Jordan represents external, natural states, natural thought and deeds. It is that plane of thought and life in which the first rational power can do good service, subduing what is wrong and protecting what is right. But this first rational power has not the wisdom or the strength to discover and completely overcome deeper evils. The most marked success in the war with the Philistines was gained not by Saul but by his son Jonathan, David's friend, who represents a literal grasp of truth indeed, but one in close accord with the spiritual, and partaking of its power. (A. 4763; E. 435; R. 352)
Today we have in particular to consider Saul's failure in the war with the Amalekites. The Amalekites stand for some wrong which is not plainly seen upon the surface of life, but is deeply hidden. They represent "the falsity from interior evil." They are enemies which do not attack us openly, but come upon us unawares with deceitful suggestions, as the Amalekites came upon the children of Israel and smote the hindmost and feeble ones when they were weary. They come with pleasant and attractive looks, as Agag came "delicately" to Samuel. They are the more dangerous because we do not plainly see their evil quality. The first rational power, superficial and self-confident, cannot completely discover and overcome them. The hidden nature of the enemy makes it the more necessary to depend upon the Lord. On this account it was said that the Lord would have war with Amalek from generation to generation. The perpetual war does not mean a doubtful conflict, but perpetual victory and protection, but not so long as we act with superficial understanding, and with trust in our own strength. (A. 8593, 8622)
How necessary it is in the spiritual warfare to be thorough and to destroy the enemies utterly. How easy to destroy the vile, and refuse what is seen by everyone to be hateful, but to leave the root of the fault, the king, untouched. When we read of "man and beast," the "man" represents the interior thought and purpose, and the "beast" the external life in which the inner purpose finds expression. Remember, for example, how both men and beasts were commanded to fast in Nineveh, and to wear sackcloth. (Jonah 3:7-8) Do you see the meaning? Does this help you to understand the command in the case of the Amalekites, to destroy the cattle with the people?
We save the best of the cattle when, professing to destroy an evil, we still indulge and excuse some of its external pleasures. (A. 7523; E. 650)
Do you see why the rending of the prophet's robe was a sign of the rending of the kingdom? Garments represent forms of truth in which the living affections find expression. The prophet's robe is the commandments and other external expressions of the Lord's Divine truth. It is upon these that the kingdom and the strength of the kingdom depend in us. As these are rent the kingdom falls. (A. 9825; E. 395)