Meditations in 1 Samuel 29. A Further Opportunity Blown
1 Sam 15:1-3 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. 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. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ ”
From our two-faced perspective of the twenty-first century we may find these words of instruction by Samuel on God’s behalf a little disturbing. It is not so much the bit about going to fight an enemy but wiping them out completely, men, women and children. I say our two faced perspective because on one hand I find righteous indignation arising at such an edict and yet within the past century we have had two major world wars in which there was little or no regard for the safety and wellbeing of so-called civilians, which included women and children who were exterminated by shelling or bombing. Carpet bombing of Dresden and Coventry followed later of the utter devastation of Japan by H-bombs says in war all things are possible. The fact that as a world we do little to save the civilian population in the Middle East that is being ravaged by war, only adds to my feelings in this respect.
For Israel at that time, such an edict was understandable. The future of the name of the Lord was at stake here. One of the things that the enemy has sought to do again and again is wipe out the people of God and in that respect nothing has changed and it is the same today. For them in that time the husband was literally the bread winner and a family without a husband/father was literally at threat of death anyway. The very fact of ongoing wars meant life for families was very fragile. An even bigger issue was that any remnants of a defeated people could rebuild and rise up again and be a thorn in your side, so total extinction was in fact a very common practice. That is not to say that it was good and acceptable but it is one of the unpleasant facts of living in this sinful Fallen World with an enemy in the background egging on those who would oppose God and His people.
Thus Samuel gives Saul, what was for those days a reasonable instruction. There is to be nothing left of this people – including their cattle or sheep etc. – so that there is no link with them in the future. The instructions were quite clear, which for Saul was a shame because he had no excuse when it came to him disobeying these instructions. We read, “Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. 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.” (1 Sam 15:7-9) Yes, Saul destroyed all the people yet spared Agag the king and took the best of the sheep, cattle etc. This was the first time that Saul had encountered an enemy king and I suspect there was something of “us kings must stick together” about it; he relished being able to talk king to king, and show off his position. When it came to sparing the cattle, as they took only the best, there must be an element of greed here. Both these things meant that Saul disobeyed God.
We see His response: “Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel: “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the LORD all that night.” (1 Sam 15:11) This is one of those occasions where we have to remember that the Lord operates both out of time and within time. We find this again and again in Scripture. Out of time the Lord knows everything that happens and will happen. However He also chooses to operate within time and experience it as we do and thus when things happen He responds to them as affecting Him then and there in the present. So although He must have known that this would happen He is nevertheless grieved when it does. What affects the Lord, affects His prophet similarly and Samuel is grieved and cries out to the Lord for the whole night.
But it gets worse: “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 honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.” (v.12) A monument in his own honour? And then “When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.” (v.13) Excuses or lies??? He then blames the people for taking the livestock. (v.14,15) He then continues in the following verses to make excuses and shift the blame. Samuel chastises him and concludes, “Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” (v.23b)
We then see apparent repentance: “Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD.” (v.24,25) but Samuel sees this as Saul simply manipulating the situation and trying to get his own way and replies, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!” (v.26) and then we find, “As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors–to one better than you. He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.” (v.27-29) The die is cast; the Lord knows the reality of the situation and will not change His mind. He only does that when there is genuine repentance, not manipulating contrition! The lesson is don’t mess with the Lord, don’t try and outplay Him, don’t try and kid Him. He only works with genuine repentance, whole hearted repentance.
Samuel executes Agag to bring an end to this sorry situation and we then read, “Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel.” (v.35) Note that this was not a cold-hearted parting. Samuel mourned that Saul had not risen to the task and that Israel and the Lord’s name was poorer for it.