We pick up the story with Samuel speaking to Saul in 1 Samuel 15. God has not given up on Saul and is giving him a command, a mission, to punish Amalek for what he did to Israel.
In order to better understand the context of this command I recommend you read our last post Utterly Destroy. A few other passages that also help us better grasp what is taking place in 1 Samuel 15:1-3 are Exodus 18:8-16 and Deuteronomy 25:17-19.
The Jewish Encyclopedia also has an entry that states:
A kinsman of the Israelites, Amalek nevertheless displayed the most intense hatred toward them: he inherited Esau's hostility to his brother Jacob. When other nations hesitated to harm God's chosen ones, his evil example induced them to join him in the fray.
Here we have an example of divine judgment taking place. This was not just a battle or regular warfare, this was judgment from God, and God chose His people to carry it out. Since God does not regularly strike us dead the moment we sin many tend to misunderstand His patience.
The forbearance that God has exercised toward the wicked, emboldens men in transgression; but their punishment will be none the less certain and terrible for being long delayed. (Patriarchs and Prophets p629)
Nevertheless, God's judgment strikes us as strange since God is described mostly as gracious loving and forgiving (Exodus 34:6-7) . Even the Bible describes God's judgment as a strange act.
"The Lord shall rise up as in Mount Perazim, He shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that He may do His work, His strange work; and bring to pass His act, His strange act." Isaiah 28:21.
To our merciful God the act of punishment is a strange act.
"As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live." Ezekiel 33:11.
Nevertheless, just because this aspect of the character of God is not as prevalent or popular as His mercy, His judgment is not any less a part of who God is.
6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” Exodus 34:6-7 NIV
While God does not delight in vengeance, He will execute judgment upon the transgressors of His law. He is forced to do this, to preserve the inhabitants of the earth from utter depravity and ruin. (Patriarchs and Prophets)
In order to save some He must cut off those who have become hardened in sin.
"The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked." Nahum 1:3.
By terrible things in righteousness He will vindicate the authority of His downtrodden law. And the very fact of His reluctance to execute justice testifies to the enormity of the sins that call forth His judgments and to the severity of the retribution awaiting the transgressor. Patriarchs and Prophets p629
Saul was to attack the Amalekites in obedience to God's command and to bring about God's judgment. King Saul and his army were not to take spoils, this was not for them to increase their wealth or popularity. Should Israel take plunder for themselves this would no longer be judgment from God, this would look like a regular battle and God would look like the other gods. God gave Saul specific directions because this was no ordinary battle, this was to be judgment from God.
Saul went up against the Amalekites, and he told the Kenites to leave (1 Samuel 15:6) because Israel was not to treat just anyone in this manner, this was judgment against the Amalekites because of how they had cowardly attacked Israel form behind when Israel had just come out of Egypt. The Amalekites had attacked from behind, meaning they attacked the young and elderly and the sick. The Amalekites went out of their way to cowardly attack Israel from behind.
Saul attacked the Amalekites and was victorious. This was the greatest military victory Saul would ever achieve. Imagine Saul coming back victorious from defeating Israel's most hated enemies. Imagine a parade as the king returns victorious with the enemy king as his slave. Picture the soldiers returning victorious with the best of the cattle of the defeated enemy. Can you see their joy, their pride, their wealth, as they return form this battle? Can you hear the cattle, the shouting, the clapping, the songs of victory and praise!?
The problem is that God was not please with this.
Many translate 1 Samuel 15:11 as "I regret" or "I repent" but the best translation would be along the lines of "It grieves me."
Man's repentance implies a change of mind.
God's repentance implies a change of circumstances and relations.
Man may change his relation to God by complying with the conditions upon which he may be brought into the divine favor, or he may, by his own action, place himself outside the favoring condition; but the Lord is the same "yesterday, and today, and forever." Hebrews 13:8.
Saul's disobedience changed his relation to God; but the conditions of acceptance with God were unaltered--God's requirements were still the same, for with Him there "is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." James 1:17. (Patriarchs and Prophets p631)
“God was grieved” that he “made Saul king,” the only other occasion in scripture where the Lord stated that he was “grieved” over people’s actions was before the flood. (Bergen 170)
So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” Genesis 6:7- 7
God is aware and responsive of the choices made by people and anything less than strict obedience to God’s instruction produces grief in heaven and pain and loss on earth. (Bergen 170)
Saul's briliant victory over the Amalekites rekindled the pride of heart which was his greatest vulnerability. God's explicit command to utterly destroy His enemies was only partially fulfilled. Saul's ambition to heighten the honor of his triumphal return by the presence of a royal captive, led him to spare king Agag. Saul imitated the customs of the nations around sparing the fierce and warlike king of the Amalekites. Not only that, the people reserved for themselves the finest of the flocks, herds, and beasts of burden, excusing their sin on the ground that the cattle were reserved to be offered as sacrifices to the Lord. The problem is this meant to use this cattle as a substitute, to save their own cattle.
“This self-serving selective obedience by both Saul and those under his command represented and early attempt — repeated countless times throughout history —to pursue gain under the guise of serving God. (Bergen 168)
When Samuel questions Saul regarding his obedience Saul confessed he had feared the people, however, he should have feared the Lord. (Lev. 19:14; 25:17; Deut. 6:13,24; 10:12,20) How often we allow the fear of people pressure us into disobeying God. Though we don't like to think of it that way, many of us have a lot in common with Saul in how we relate to God.
The main problem however is not that Saul sinned but rather that he never humbly repented. It was not sorrow for sin, but fear of its penalty, that motivated Saul to ask Samuel to forgive his sin and go with him to worship God. If Saul had experienced true repentance, he would have made a public confession of his sin; but what he wanted most was to maintain his authority and retain the allegiance of the people. He desired the honor of Samuel's presence in order to strengthen his own influence with the nation.
Saul could take no credit for becoming king. it was the Lord who took him from being a nobody to being king over Israel. (Bergen 171) Therefore Saul should have continued to trust God to establish him as opposed to disobeying God in an attempt to strengthen his monarchy.
When called to the throne, Saul had a humble opinion of his own capabilities, and was willing to be instructed. Because he lacked knowledge and experience and had serious defects of character the Lord granted him the Holy Spirit as a guide and helper, and placed him in a position where he could develop the qualities necessary for a ruler of Israel. If Saul had remained humble, seeking constantly to be guided by divine wisdom, he would have been enabled to discharge the duties of his high position with success and honor.
"Under the influence of divine grace every good quality would have been gaining strength, while evil tendencies would have lost their power."
This is the work which the Lord proposes to do for all who consecrate themselves to Him. There are many whom He has called to positions in His work because they have a humble and teachable spirit. In His providence He places them where they may learn of Him. He will reveal to them their defects of character, and to all who seek His aid He will give strength to correct their errors. (Patriarchs and Prophets pp633-634)
If the Lord had then separated Himself completely from Saul, He would not have spoken to him again through Samuel, entrusting him with a mission, giving him and opportunity to correct his past mistakes.
Whenever anyone who professes to be a child of God becomes careless in doing His will, she influences others to be irreverent and careless with the Lord's commands. Nevertheless, it is still possible for her failures to be turned into victories if she will but accept reproof with true contrition of soul and return to God in humility and faith. The humiliation of defeat often proves a blessing by showing us our inability to do the will of God without His aid.
God is not pleased with partial obedience, for God has not given anyone liberty to depart from His requirements.
The Lord had declared to Israel, "Ye shall not do . . . every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes;" but ye shall "observe and hear all these words which I command thee." Deuteronomy 12:8, 28.
It is a dangerous step to disregard the reproofs and warnings of God's word or of His Spirit. Many, like Saul, give in to temptation until they become blind to the true character of sin. Our tendency is to flatter ourselves that we have have some good object in view, and have done no wrong in departing from the Lord's requirements. In doing this we reject the Spirit of grace, until its voice is no longer heard, and we are left to the delusions which we have chosen.
This story found in 1 Samuel 15 teaches us how seriously God reacts to willful disobedience.
Whenever we rebel and sin against God, may we never stubbornly refuse to repent while searching for excuses for our behavior. When we search for others to blame for our choices we harden our hearts against the influence of the Holy Spirit, and we limit God's blessings on our lives.
May we always strive to draw closer to God and to do His will. May we always be wiling to surrender whatever keeps us from getting closer to God. May we daily turn our eyes upon Jesus, and may the things of this earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
Bergen, Robert D. 1, 2 Samuel. Vol. 7. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1996. Print. New Amrican Commentary.
Muller, W. Max, and Kaufmann Kohler. "JewishEncyclopedia.com." AMALEK, AMALEKITES -. Jewish Encyclopedia, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.<http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1351-amalek-amalekites>
White, Ellen Gould Harmon. "Patriarchs and Prophets." Patriarchs and Prophets. White Estate, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2016. <http://www.whiteestate.org/books/pp/pp61.html>.