Saul is the king over Israel but has failed to listen to Samuel. Samuel told Saul to wait for him and after seven days he would come to him and offer the burnt sacrifices and peace sacrifices. But when Saul sees his own soldiers leaving and the growing size of the Philistine army, he disregards Samuel and begins offering the sacrifices himself. The condemnation is clear that Saul disobeyed the word of the Lord given through Samuel. Because of this, the dynasty of Saul will not continue but the kingdom will be given to one who will be a person after God’s own heart. But God is a God of second chances which is what we are going to see in 1 Samuel 15. Will Saul have learned the lesson of faith and obedience or will he rely upon himself? What will Saul do with his second chance? Will he show that he desires God?
Establishing Authority (15:1-3)
Samuel comes to Saul and notice how Samuel starts the conversation. “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord.” Samuel begins by saying that Saul knows his authority. Samuel carries the authority of God. Even though Saul is king, he is not the ultimate authority. He needs to listen to Samuel. You did not listen to Samuel last time but you need to listen to me this time. In verse 2 God through Samuel reminds what Amalek did to Israel when they came out of Egypt. We see that when the people of Israel were making their way to the promised land from Egypt, the Amalekites attacked the vulnerable of Israel (Exodus 17:8-16; Deuteronomy 25:17-18). So Amalek is worthy of judgment. The command is given in verse 3 to devote to destruction all that they have. Nothing and no one is to be spared. This is not a random command but the deserved judgment for the wickedness of the nation. It is important to consider that it has been hundreds of years that have passed since this event. God gave time for the people to change but judgment must now come. It is time for the total destruction of the Amalekites. The command is clear and the reason is clear.
The Act (15:4-9)
Saul gathers 210,000 soldiers for battle and goes to the city of Amalek. In verse 6 we see that Saul is careful to only attack the Amalekites and no other. But verse 8 tells us that Saul captures the king alive. Not only this, Saul and the people spared the best of the sheep, oxen, calves, and the lambs. They spared all that was good. But the things that were despised and worthless they devoted to destruction (15:9). They are happy to destroy everything that they did not find valuable. But they preserved and took everything that they thought was valuable. It is not hard to see the human logic being applied in what they are doing. Why destroy the valuable? We should keep those things and bring them back with us.
The Confrontation (15:10-16)
Look at what God says in verse 11. “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back form following me and has not performed my commandments.” That is all God says. That is the complete message. Saul has turned away from following me. Saul has not done what I told him to do. Saul fails at his second chance to follow what God told him to do through Samuel. Samuel is angry and cries out to the Lord all night. Samuel recognizes the seriousness of Saul’s disobedience and pleads to the Lord throughout the night. So Samuel awakes early in the morning to meet Saul. Verse 12 is very important to look at as it pictures the problem going forward. Samuel is looking for Saul and he is told that Saul went to Carmel and set up a monument for himself and then has gone to Gilgal. We are seeing Saul being concerned about his own honor and glory. Nothing shows this like setting up a monument for yourself.
Samuel catches up to Saul and listen to what Saul says to Samuel in verse 13. “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions” (NIV). I want us to think about what Saul says. It reveals that Saul thinks he has actually done what God said to do. This is the problem with ourselves and sin. We are blind to our disobedience. We think we are doing what God wants when we are not. You have to love Samuel’s response. Why do I hear sheep and oxen if you have obeyed the Lord’s instructions? What will be Saul’s answer?
Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the LORD your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.” (1 Samuel 15:15 ESV)
Notice the blame shifting that happens in Saul’s answer. It was the people who spared the best, not him, even though he is the king and he in charge. Further, notice that the reasoning was holy. They spared the animals to offer to the Lord. So it was a good idea that they kept the best of the animals. Further, they kept them to sacrifice to your God, Samuel. Finally, Saul includes himself when he says that we have devoted the rest to destruction. Sounds good, right? The people kept the best animals but it was for offering sacrifices to your God. But the rest we devoted to destruction. You see the frustration of Samuel in verse 16 because he just tells Saul to stop. Enough of all of these excuses. He goes on to tell Saul what God told him.
The Message from the Lord (15:17-23)
Samuel begins by reminding Saul of his humility at the beginning. You were little in your own eyes but the Lord anointed you as king over Israel. The Lord sent you on a mission with clear directions (15:18). “Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the LORD?” (1 Samuel 15:19 ESV)
Notice the delusion of Saul. He responds that he has obeyed the voice of the Lord. He completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back their king. The people took the spoil, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God. Is this what God told him to do? No, it is not what God told him to do. Yet Saul still thinks he has done what God said. Saul simply does not understand. So Samuel tries one more time to explain to Saul. Look at verses 22-23.
“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 listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22–23 ESV)
This is an important key. What does the Lord delight in more: sacrifices or obeying his voice? To make it clear, Samuel then says to pay attention. Obedience is better than sacrifice and submission is better than offerings. God simply wants you to do what he says not do what you think would make him happy. God wants your submission, not you attempting to do something else that sounds holy or righteous. Listen to the severity of verse 23. Rebellion is like witchcraft and divination to the Lord. Rebellion, not doing what God said, is as bad to him as you plunging yourself into dark magic and witchcraft. It is ignoring God’s word and seeking another word. Further, presumption (ESV, NET), arrogance (NIV), defiance (CSB), and stubbornness (NASB, NLT) are like idolatry to God. We have chosen to consult ourselves as an alternate god. When we presume what God wants and defy what God says, we might as well be bowing down to a Baal or Asherah pole. Samuel becomes very clear now. “You have rejected the word of the Lord.” Since Saul did that, God has rejected Saul from being king. When we do what we think rather than what God says, it is like witchcraft, it is like idolatry, and it is rejecting God. Therefore, God has rejected the one who does this.
A Worse Ending (15:24-35)
Hearing that God has rejected Saul from being king, it looks like Saul repents. He says that he has sinned against God and Samuel because he feared the people and obeyed their voice. So pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord (15:24-25). Saul’s confession includes an excuse. I was afraid of the people who pushed me into doing this. Friends, social pressure is not an excuse for disobedience. Everyone else doing something does not make it acceptable or even excusable. But Saul asks for the consequence to be undone. Return with me that I may bow before the Lord. Cover this over for me, Samuel.
Samuel rejects Saul’s request. Samuel makes it clear that he will not return with Saul because God has rejected Saul from being king over Israel. Samuel begins to walk away and Saul grabs at Samuel’s robe and tears it. Samuel uses this as a prophetic message. The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel away from Saul and given it to someone better than you. Further, the Lord will not change his mind. It is over for your kingship. But Saul is not done trying to salvage this situation. He confesses sin again (15:30). But then he asks for Samuel to honor him before the people. Show everyone that I am still king and that everything is okay. Verse 31 seems to show some resignation on Samuel’s part. Saul wants the show and will not leave him alone until he gives Saul the show. So Samuel returns with Saul. Samuel asks the king of the Amalekites to be brought to him. The king thought he was going to be okay since he had been kept alive through all of this. But he was wrong. Samuel kills King Agag before the Lord at Gilgal as justice for the killing of others (15:33). Now Samuel leaves Saul, picturing God’s separation from Saul as king. Samuel will not see Saul again until he dies (15:35). Samuel grieves over Saul and his failures and the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.
The message that Samuel declares to Saul is clear. Saul’s concern should have been to understand and practice what God desires. What should be at the forefront of Saul’s desire and our desire is to do what God desires! We should want to do what God wants. We would all probably wholeheartedly agree that we want to do what God wants us to do. God’s desires are our desires. So we need to consider what keeps us from doing what God wants by looking at Saul.
Saul is so concerned about what others think. We see this when he is making a monument to himself in Carmel. We see this when he says the reason they did not devoted everything to destruction was because he was afraid of the people and gave into them. We also see this when Saul wants Samuel to still honor him before the people of Israel. Saul is consumed with what people think of him. He is concerned about doing what others want him to do. The problem with this is that such thinking will make one be in opposition to God. We can either do what people desire of us or what God desires of us. But we cannot do both. Saul is trying to do both but we see that this is not possible.
God is looking for people who desire him so that they obey him. Sometimes we can see one aspect of this but not the other. We see some who say they desire God but do not do what God says. We can see some who do not desire God but do what God says. But God wants both. Jesus validates this in Mark 12:28-34 where we see this passage quoted from.
One of the scribes asks Jesus which is the most important command of all. Jesus says to first love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Then second to love your neighbor as yourself. No other commands are greater than these. Listen to the response of the scribe.
And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:32–33 ESV)
Notice that the scribe is referring to what Samuel said to Saul. Loving God so that you do what he says is much more than all the sacrifices you could possibly offer to God. Jesus sees that this scribe answered wisely and told him that he was not far from the kingdom of God (Mark 12:34). How God loves our obedience from a heart that desires him! Our concern must always be what God wants. We should regularly ask ourselves as we make our decisions and live life, “What does God want?” We do this in humility. We are not judging the Judge. We do not get to decide if we agree with the commands. We can never underestimate or overstate the importance of doing what God says to do. It is important that we do not fool ourselves into thinking that we are doing what God wants, as Saul fooled himself into thinking. Always ask what God desires and look to his word for the answer. It is not up to our opinion regarding what we think God wants. We must point to the scriptures and see what God wants from us.