We come to the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ with regard to Saul’s sins. This sin cost Saul the kingdom. That possibility had been hinted at earlier but this time it is final.
The last time we were together I was thinking about Saul and how we see his actions through the filter of our own lives. I was feeling sorry for him. After reading how he behaves today I’m feeling a little less sorry for him.
Saul made a BIG mistake. He followed the Lord’s command only so far as it conflicted with his own wishes. He remained true to part of God’s plan and then pretended it was someone else’s fault that he didn’t follow through to the end. Granted, he is new to the business of being a king but two things he should NOT be new to is telling the truth and obeying the Lord.
I’m going to come right out and say that I’m GLAD God didn’t give me this command! I WOULD NOT have been able to carry it out! There is NO WAY I could kill an entire group of people, especially children and infants. I am VERY glad to be in my part of history today instead of Saul’s. I DO NOT long to walk in Saul’s shoes or even Samuel’s at this point in the story.
God had a legitimate reason to be angry with Amalek. They had treated Israel badly when she was an infant nation. They were the first ones to attack Israel after she left Egypt. Israel was NOT the aggressor at that point. Deuteronomy 25:17-19 tells us that Amalek picked off the people of Israel who were stragglers as surely as a pack of wolves pick off the struggling caribou. Definitely not something you want to be doing to GOD’S people! This nation would pay the ultimate price for their treatment of Israel. Funny thing is though, they are distant relations. The Amalekites were a descendent of Esau, Jacob’s brother.
Let’s join our story and see where the Holy Spirit takes us.
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Saul is happy to be home after the battle with the Philistines. He wishes it had been a greater battle but he knew that if he took the troops any further, with Jonathan’s sin, they would meet with disaster. It was a compounding of errors that led to Jonathan’s sin but it still put a block in the Lord’s favor of Israel.
A month has passed with relative quiet since returning. Saul has tended to kingdom business. He has looked over his vineyards, sent runners to the other tribes to check on their welfare and collect their taxes, improved his army’s numbers, and judged the people as they came before him. This last task seemed to take up a lot of his time as the people could be counted on to come up with some squabbles. Saul had set leaders loyal to him over the people to deal with the smaller issues so he only had to deal with the larger ones. This was a lesson taught by Moses and passed down through the generations.
Today Samuel came to visit Saul. He was immediately put at the head of the line of visitors by Saul’s attendants. Once Saul saw Samuel he dismissed all the others who sought an audience with him.
“Samuel, I did not know you were coming today but I am very pleased to see you. What errand of the Lord brings you here to me? Speak for your servant is listening.”
Samuel bows his head slightly as a sign of respect for Saul’s greeting. “You are correct in assuming that I come on a mission from the Lord. ‘The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord’ (verse 1).” Samuel pauses to be certain Saul is listening.
Saul’s eyes are fixed on Samuel and he is sitting forward on his throne waiting for Samuel’s words.
Samuel continues. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey’” (verses 2-3).
“It shall be done as the Lord commands” Saul pledges.
Saul called for the runners and the scribes.
“Take this down” calls Saul. “To every tribe, clan, household and family; your king and Lord call for your service. ALL men of fighting age are to assemble in Telaim in one week’s time. The Lord has called us to repay the Amalekites for their treatment of Israel as we left Egypt. This command is directly from the Lord and His hand will see us through this task.”
The message is copied and memorized then dispatched to the corners of Israel. After the runners leave preparations begin. Saul and his army will be among the first to arrive in Telaim. They will need to address where to billet the great army that is sure to arrive. They will need space for their tents, practice areas, cooking, and latrines for the camp to function well. Abner is put in charge of seeing to these needs.
By the time seven days have passed the camp is VAST and crowded. There are over 200,000 men billeted outside Telaim. Ten thousand men also came from the territory of Judah. The next two days are spent assigning companies, creating battle plans, and preparing their ‘weapons of war’ for use. The majority of those weapons are farm implements but Israel has already proven that whatever is at hand, in the hand of the Lord, is enough to prevail in battle.
Morning breaks on the chosen day to begin the Lord’s vengeance. The entire company readies to move out. They will move into closer proximity to the key city of Amalek to day. As Israel moves into the valley just to the north of Amalek Saul recognizes the presence of Kenites in the land. They had been helpful to Israel while in route to the Promised Land. Saul believes the Lord would want to reward their kindness as much as He wanted to punish Amalek’s cruelty. Saul sends Jonathan to the leader of the Kenites and has him brought before him.
Saul will give them one chance to escape destruction. If they listen; all will be well for them. If they refuse; their blood be on their own heads. Saul speaks with their leader. “Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, least I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt” (verse 6a).
The Kenite leader looks around him and decides that Saul in serious. He returns to his camp and they begin packing immediately. Saul gives this people until evening to remove themselves. Any that remain in the morning will be treated no better than Amalek.
Morning dawns and Saul’s army begins its attack. There is NO hope of escape. Amalek is no match for Israel’s numbers or its God. “Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt” (verse 7b). Men, women, children, sheep, oxen, donkeys, and camels fall by the hundreds and thousands. Blood runs freely through the streets.
Saul orders that one man be taken alive and held as prisoner. It is Agag, the king of Amalek. Saul also noticed that Agag’s animals were fine animals and pleasing to the eye. He ordered that the animals that were strong and healthy be separated and kept as spoils from this encounter. “All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction” (verse 9b).
Agag was initially concerned for his own safety but after seeing Israel spare his livestock his fears diminished. Saul has a keen eye for valuable things. Agag will make himself valuable to Saul, king of Israel.
While Saul and the camp of Israel are rejoicing over their victory, Samuel is hearing from the Lord. He is NOT rejoicing with them.
“I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments” (verse 11).
Samuel is angry at Saul. How could he do this? Saul had been forgiven for several offenses already. How could he possibly think the Lord would overlook a direct violation of His direct commandment to him? Samuel went back and forth between pleading for the Lord’s continued favor on Israel without Saul and praying for Saul’s soul. Samuel ends his night of prayer with one for his own safety and boldness. He has not lacked boldness since the night he stood before Eli and told him all that the Lord had spoken. This task reminded him of that one.
“Give me Your protection O Lord as I stand before Saul for he surely will not welcome Your decision and may seek my life. Give me courage that I may speak ALL You have commanded me to speak.”
Samuel got up early the next morning to go and confront Saul. Saul and his army would be on their way back from Amalek. Samuel was not content to sit and wait for his return. He would go to wherever Saul was. This confrontation could not wait!
Samuel made it to the city of Carmel before enquiring of Saul’s whereabouts. He enquired of a man from the city. He was told of Saul’s visit.
“Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal” (verse 12b).
Samuel looked at the monument the man had indicated. It spoke of pride and arrogance, not humility. Samuel considers tearing down Saul’s monument but decides that he will leave that in the Lord’s hands. Samuel shakes his head at it before turning in his steps to follow Saul to Gilgal.
As Samuel approaches Gilgal one of Saul’s men notice him. He ran to Saul to inform him.
“The seer comes.”
Saul prepared to welcome Samuel. “He will be pleased with all that I have done” thinks Saul.
There is no joy on Samuel’s face as he approaches Saul. This goes unnoticed or unheeded by Saul. He is joyful enough for the both of them.
“Blessed be you to the Lord” cries Saul to Samuel. “I have performed the commandments of the Lord” (verse 13).
Samuel cocks his head to the side as if listening intently to something unusual. “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears and the lowing of oxen that I hear” (verse 14) inquires Samuel.
Saul’s heart skips a beat at Samuel’s words but he quickly recovers. “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 you God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction” (verse 15, emphasis added by me).
Samuel’s eyes burned with anger. “STOP! I will tell you what the Lord said to me this night” (verse 16a, emphasis added by me).
Saul grew deathly still and then he uttered but one word. A word he was terrified to voice for he was afraid of what it may unleash.
“Speak” breaths Saul.
“Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel?”
Saul feels the weight of this statement begin to settle on him. HE is the one in charge. The people are to follow HIM, not the other way around.
“And the Lord set you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed’ 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?” (verses 17-20, emphasis added by me).
Saul puffed his chest up. “I HAVE obeyed the voice of the Lord. I HAVE gone on a mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal” (verses 20-21, emphasis added by me).
Samuel was torn between anger and grief. Saul stood before him blaming all that happened on the people and claiming it was done for good when he KNEW in his heart that was a lie! It was all Samuel could do to hold his anger in check while he confronted Saul and gave him the Lord’s answer to his disobedience.
“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.” Tears can be heard in Samuel’s voice and he confronts Saul but fire fills his next words. “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.” Samuel locks eyes with Saul so he will not miss a word of what is to come. “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected YOU from being king” (verses 22-23, emphasis added by me).
Saul feels Samuel’s words like a blow to his chest. Saul falls to the ground and responds, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord” (verses 24-25, emphasis added by me).
With steel in his eyes Samuel answers Saul. “I will NOT return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel” (verse 26).
Samuel is disgusted. Even in Saul’s plea for forgiveness he is still blaming the people instead of taking responsibility. “A ‘king’ leads his people; he does NOT follow their commands out of fear” thinks Samuel
As Samuel turns to leave Saul grabs onto the skirt of Samuel’s robe to try and prevent him going. Samuel turns back and looks at Saul’s hands where the torn part of his own robe lies. “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for He is not a man, that He should have regret” (verses28-29).
Saul dropped the cloth in his hands as if it were made of fire. With his face bowed Saul makes one more plea. “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the Lord your God” (verse 30).
Samuel’s shoulders relax a bit and he agrees to stand beside Saul until this matter is concluded. There is still the matter of Agag to tend to. Saul rises then he and Samuel go to stand before the people.
Samuel calls out, “Bring here to me Agag the king of the Amalekites” (verse 32a).
Agag comes to stand before Samuel without a care. He is expecting the same kind of treatment he has been receiving from Saul. He is comfortable in his surroundings. As he approaches Samuel he gives him a friendly greeting aimed at dispelling any ill will. “Surely the bitterness of death is past” (verse 32b).
Samuel is NOT joining in Agag’s joyfulness. With his face set like fling Samuel responds to Agag. “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women” (verse 33a).
Before Agag can even react Samuel grasps Saul’s sword, removes it from him and runs Agag through with it. Samuel does not stop there though. As if driven by the unseen hand of God, Samuel thrusts and strikes Agag with Saul’s spear until the man lies in pieces before him.
All those in attendance stand mute as Samuel decimates the body of Agag. When Samuel has spent the last of his fury he drops Saul’s sword and turns to leave. With blood still staining his hands and garments Samuel makes his way out of the city of Gilgal and goes to his home in Ramah.
When Samuel arrives in Ramah he goes into his home to wash and change his clothes. He is finished with Saul. He will not see him again as long as he lives! Nothing short of the Lord’s command could compel him to stand again beside Saul.
After Samuel dropped Saul’s sword and walked away, Saul quietly retrieved his sword from where it lay. He called for some of his men to remove the broken body of Agag. He thought of calling for the destruction of all the animals that had been brought back as spoils but reasoned that their deaths would make no difference to Samuel. He didn’t know if offering them as sacrifices to the Lord without Samuel would incur even more of the Lord’s wrath.
Saul decided to bring them back with him to Gibeah and separate them from his own flocks and let the Lord determine their fate. They would be fed and watered and if they flourished they would be added to his herds. If they perished then the sin of having them would die along with them.
The celebration of Saul and Israel’s victory ended with Samuel’s exit. Saul and his men broke camp shortly after. The men who were summoned to the battle returned to their homes. Saul and his new army returned to Gibeah where he would try his best to impress the Lord and cause Him to relent in removing the kingdom from his hands.
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Did you notice that in Saul’s pleas for forgiveness he never took ownership of the sin? He pushed it onto the people under him. He also never attempted to correct his sin, just continued to excuse and rationalize it. In his final admission of guilt he pleaded for Samuel to stand with him to make him still look good to the people. I wonder what would have happened if Samuel had made his comments to Saul publicly. Would the people have turned away from him?
I wonder what Saul really did with the animals. Did he destroy them or keep them? I seriously doubt he would have lived through sacrificing them, especially after he got in trouble for offering the burnt offering previously. I wonder if he had a problem thinking things through. His problems all seemed to stem from a place of rash decisions. Even blaming the decision to keep the animals on the people appears to have been a spur of the moment decision. If it really was the peoples’ doing then he was not a very strong king.
I think there are two lessons we can learn from Saul’s story. The first is to follow the Lord’s command FULLY, even if you think you have a better way. He said what He did for a reason. I may not understand it but that doesn’t mean I can ignore it. The second is to take ownership of our own sin. The ‘Devil didn’t make me do it’, I chose to act on my OWN will. Blaming someone else while asking for forgiveness ISN’T going to cut it. God knows who is to blame and you are not fooling him with your excuses. These two ‘lessons’ apply to ALL of us.
Father God, thank You for bringing me into Your story again today. I PRAY I have learned Saul’s lesson for my own life. I PRAY that my repentance is genuine every time I come to You. I don’t want to say ‘I’m sorry’ just to get something or because I was caught. I want my heart to truly recognize my OWN sin and come to You; the only one who can make me clean again.
Clean again. That’s something I struggle with. I hold my own sins against me, even after I have given them to You. I forgive others much faster than I forgive myself. I have a hard time letting myself ‘off the hook.’ Help me strike the right balance here Lord. Teach me to forgive, even myself, but don’t let me forget the lessons I learned from the experience. I HATE when I come back and fall into the same sin again. I want to learn the FIRST time around. I know that’s asking a LOT but that is where I want to get to Lord Jesus. Help me live closer to Your will every day. Thank You for making me clean again, even when it is from the same old mud puddle.