Sometimes God sends people into our lives with a specific message; of encouragement, or challenge, something to help us. Am I aware of someone in my life who is carrying such a message? I would do well to heed them.
The Lord rejects Saul as king
15 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. 2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 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.”’
4 So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim – two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand from Judah. 5 Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine. 6 Then he said to the Kenites, ‘Go away, leave the Amalekites so that I do not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.’ So the Kenites moved away from the Amalekites.
7 Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. 8 He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. 9 But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs – everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.
10 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.’ Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.
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 honour and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.’
13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, ‘The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.’
14 But Samuel said, ‘What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?’
15 Saul answered, ‘The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.’
16 ‘Enough!’ Samuel said to Saul. ‘Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.’
‘Tell me,’ Saul replied.
This sad and mildly comic passage marks Saul’s final rejection by God. Sad, because his failure to wait for Samuel’s arrival in Gibeah resulted in a final warning (13:13,14) and this chapter will see his dismissal (v 26). The construction of a monument in his own honour is disturbingly comic (v 12), as is Samuel’s question about animal noises (v 14).
However we understand Samuel’s order in modern terms, Saul was told to destroy the Amalekites and all their animals (v 3). Nothing was to be left behind. When challenged, Saul blames his soldiers for poor decision making but seeks to justify himself. You can almost hear Samuel shouting out, ‘Stop!’ It’s the sound of exasperation. Saul has hit the buffers and there’s no way through.
It sometimes takes a crisis for us to see things as they are. But Saul’s story is overwhelmingly poignant. He was given unparalleled opportunities, yet proved himself unfit for high office. His tendencies towards manipulation and dishonesty found him out.
‘Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you’ (Romans 12:3).
Deeper Bible study
Lord, help me to continue faithfully following you – always!
This call to destroy a people doesn’t go down well with us today, but we need to read it in context. The Amalekites had been placed under a herem (ban). A herem was a complete dedication to God of a person or group who had offended against him; it usually involved total destruction. Cultures surrounding Israel would have had no problem with it – it was part of their world view. We need to remember that God begins to work with any people in the context of their own understanding.1 The herem was an expression of God’s holiness. In the New Testament things are different. Through his death and resurrection Jesus has paid the herem due on all of us for our sin against God’s holiness. As we give thanks for that, have we really grasped the awesomeness of God?2
Saul began well as he implemented the command, but he didn’t continue well. Perhaps the sight of all the plunder was too overwhelming. ‘We can’t waste this!’ Sadly, he was also beginning to get too big for his boots, making a monument in his own honour (v 12), just as he was ignoring God’s honour. His concern for his own reputation and status was beginning to take centre stage. It’s possible, too, that his later mental health issues were beginning to show and he was losing touch with reality. He is held fully responsible for his actions, however, despite attempting to spiritualise his disobedience.
Samuel was broken-hearted, devastated. He had invested a lot in the young man. He shared his pain and anger with God during a sleepless night. God too was grieved. Saul had shown great potential, but such wilful disobedience could not be ignored. How do we react to the failure of people we love? Are we able to be resolute despite our own pain, as Samuel was?
Pray for those with pastoral concern for church leaders.
1 See Mary Evans, The Message of Samuel, IVP, 2004, p97, for a discussion of this 2 Read Heb 10:31; 12:29
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Isaiah 29,30; Hebrews 1
Pray for Scripture Union
Pray that Mission Enabler Sarah Davison will have continued opportunities to share the Revealing Jesus framework with those who have a heart for young people in the North. Pray for wisdom and creativity as she supports Faith Guides and that they will see the lives of children and young people being changed by Jesus.