We’ve seen in I Samuel 15 that King Saul disobeyed a clear and direct command from God to annihilate the Amalekite people, including their animals! Saul captures King Agag spares “the best of” the flocks to “sacrifice to the Lord [Samuel’s] God” (v. 15).
Samuel is grieved at Saul’s disobedience. The Lord regrets that He made Saul king. And Samuel pronounces judgment on Saul. Saul has lost his original humility, was motivated by greed (pouncing on the plunder), and did evil in the eyes of the Lord (v. 19). He is also self-deceived, thinking he had done God’s will and engages in blame-shifting and religious excuse-making.
We now look at the rest of I Samuel 15. In one of the most poetic sections of the Old Testament, Samuel says to Saul: “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” (v. 22).
Samuel then says, “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.” (v. 23).
Samuel then pronounces judgment on Saul: “You’ve rejected the word of the Lord — the Lord has rejected you as king.”
Saul confesses his sin, admits that he had violated the Lord’s command out of fear of his men (“and so I gave in to them”) (v. 24). He then pleads for forgiveness and asks Samuel to accompany him to worship. (v. 25). Samuel refuses to go back with Saul and turns to leave. Saul grabs Samuel’s robe which tears. Samuel says the Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one better than you (v. 28).
We then get a great statement about God: “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind” (v. 29).
Samuel agrees to go back with Saul to worship the Lord (to “honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel”) (vv. 30-31).
Samuel then has the unsavory task of executing King Agag, who thinks “surely the bitterness of death is past” (v. 32). The prophet Samuel declares, “As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women” (v. 33). The text then says, “And Samuel put Agag to death before the Lord at Gilgal” (v. 33).
The English Standard Version and the Holman Christian Standard Bible have “And Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.” The New American Standard Bible and the King James Bible have “And Samuel hewed Agag to pieces before the LORD at Gilgal.” The Contemporary English Version has “Then Samuel chopped Agag to pieces at the place of worship in Gilgal.” [John MacArthur uses verse 33 (hacking Agag to death) as an illustration of killing sin in our lives.]
Samuel leaves for Ramah and does not see Saul again, “though Samuel mourned for him” (v. 35). The chapter closes with the sad statement “And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel” (v. 35).
Some takeaways for me:
1. How do we know in what the Lord delights (v. 22)? He revealed His will to Saul — who promptly trusted his own reason and evaluation and disobeyed the Lord.
2. Saul’s was no small sin! Samuel describes it as rebellion, arrogance, rejection of the Word of the Lord.
3. The Lord is fully capable of reciprocation. Saul’s rejection of God’s Word leads to the Lord’s rejection of him!
4. In the midst of such personal tragedy, the beauty of God shines forth! Samuel makes a declaration about the very character of God: “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind” (v. 29).
5. Sometimes religious leaders have to do what political leaders fail to do. There are no Agags around for us to execute, but Samuel’s passion to do God’s will ought to inspire each of us!
6. It is quite possible to live in such a way that we bring regret to the heart of God. And I don’t want to do that. Do you?