Saul falls away from his position of favor with the Lord in a series of three falls. In chapter 13, he did not wait for Samuel to sacrifice, as he had been instructed to. In chapter 14, he makes a rash vow concerning the battle, and doubles down with a self-maledictory oath. And here, in chapter 15, he falls the third time, and for good, when he rebels against the express command of the Lord.
“Samuel also said unto Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD. Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass . . .” (1 Sam. 15:1-35).
Summary of the Text
Samuel begins by reminding Saul that he was the one used by the Lord to anoint Saul as king (v. 1). Therefore, listen carefully. God remembered the sin the Amalek, how they treated Israel coming out of Egypt (v. 2). Saul was therefore commanded to undertake a holy war, destroying everything (v. 3). So Saul mustered an army at Telaim, men from Israel and Judah both (v. 4). Saul approached a city of Amalek (v. 5), and told the Kenites, allies of Israel, to clear out, which they did (v. 6). And so Saul wiped out the Amalekites (v. 7). Saul spared the life of Agag the king, but everyone else was killed (v. 8). But Saul and the people together spared the best of the livestock (v. 9).
So the word of the Lord came to Samuel (v. 10), saying that He had repented of making Saul king. This grieved Samuel, and he cried to the Lord all night over it (v. 11). So Samuel got up early, and was told that Saul was in Gilgal (v. 12). Samuel approached, and Saul pretended that he had obeyed (v. 13). What is the meaning of all the livestock noise then (v. 14). Saul responds with blame-shifting. They spared those, but we destroyed these (v. 15). Then Samuel said that he would repeat what God had told him the night before (v. 16). When you were humble, did not God make you a king (v. 17). When you were given the command of a king, why were you not then humble (vv. 18-19)? Saul tries to brazen it out, claiming that reinterpreted obedience is still obedience (v. 20). But the people, they took the spoil, that which ought to have been destroyed, and they kept it for sacrifice to the Lord, your God (v. 21). Samuel replies, does the Lord delight in ritual more, or in obedience more (v. 22). Rebellion is like witchcraft, and stubbornness is like idolatry (v. 23). Saul rejected the word of the Lord, so now the word of the Lord rejects Saul (v. 23).
Saul then confesses his sin, but he uses quite an ordinary word for it—he does not yet grasp the gravity of what he has done (v. 24). And he confesses that he was fearful of the people. He asks Samuel to worship with him, to keep up appearances (v. 25). Samuel refuses, and repeats the Lord’s rejection of Saul (v. 26). As Samuel turned to go, Saul grabbed his robe and it tore (v. 27). Samuel takes it as a sign, and repeats the Lord’s rejection a third time (v. 28). The Lord is not a man that He should repent (v. 29). Saul confesses again, and pleads with Samuel to worship with him (v. 30). Samuel relents and worships together with Saul . . . for the last time (v. 31).
Then Samuel commanded that Agag be brought to him (v. 32). And Samuel cut Agag up in pieces in Gilgal (v. 33). Samuel and Saul returned to their respective homes in Ramah and Gibeah (v. 34), about ten miles apart. They never saw each other again, but Samuel mourned for him (v. 35). And God repented that He had made Saul king (v. 35).
The Lord’s Repentance
Some foolish men take the statements of vv. 10 and 35 out of their context, ignoring v. 29, and say that God is interactive in time, right along with the rest of us. But God is not locked inside the time/space continuum, trouble-shooting as He goes. Others, with an abstract kind of Calvinism, take v. 29 out of context, pretending that God never enters into history as the God who acts. The solution is to accept all the Bible, all the time, and acknowledge that God inhabits eternity, and His decrees cannot be altered, and God also stoops in order to reveal Himself in history. Why should this be hard to understand? We still speak of sunrise instead of earthturn—even though we are Copernican with regard to the decrees.
The Replacement Pattern
We have spoken often of the great motifs or patterns in Scripture. Here is another one. We have seen “death and resurrection,” “exile and return,” Here we see the great theme of replacement. The last Adam replaces the first. The younger son replaces the eldest. The first king gives way to the second. Mary was told that her Son would be the cause of rising and falling in Israel, and Hannah was told much the same thing. And when this happens, as it does with Saul, we see the stubbornness of entrenched authority, a stubbornness that will not take yes for an answer.
Righteousness or Ritual?
Samuel dismisses sacrifices, setting them in opposition to obedience. David does the same when he says, “Sacrifices and burnt offerings You did not require,” even though God did require them. Hosea says, and Jesus repeats, that God desires mercy and not sacrifice, even though, technically, God required both. Samuel knew this perfectly well—he had been conducting sacrifices his entire life.
What should that do for us, and our understanding of our liturgy? What should it do for our approach to our ritual, the way we worship the Lord? Liturgy is a sack, which God loves to periodically turn inside out in order to shake. When He does this, all the true Christians fall out, and He takes them to Heaven.