Samuel sends Saul to destroy the Amalekites, and all their substance, 1-3. Saul collects an immense army and comes against their city, 4,5. He desires the Kenites to remove from among the Amalekites, 6. He smites the Amalekites, and takes their king, Agag, prisoner, and saves the best of the spoil, 7-9. The Lord is displeased, and sends Samuel to reprove him, 10,11. The conversation between Samuel and Saul, in which the latter endeavours to justify his conduct, 12-23. He is convinced that he has done wrong, and asks pardon, 24-31. Samuel causes Agag to be slain; for which he assigns the reasons, 32-35.
Notes on Chapter 15
The Lord sent me to anoint thee
This gave him a right to say what immediately follows.
I remember that which Amalek did
The Amalekites were a people of Arabia Petraea, who had occupied a tract of country on the frontiers of Egypt and Palestine. They had acted with great cruelty towards the Israelites on their coming out of Egypt. (See Exodus 17:8, and the notes there.) They came upon them when they were faint and weary, and smote the hindermost of the people-those who were too weak to keep up with the rest. (See Deuteronomy 25:18.) And God then purposed that Amalek, as a nation, should be blotted out from under heaven; which purpose was now fulfilled by Saul upwards of four hundred years afterwards!
Slay both man and woman
Nothing could justify such an exterminating decree but the absolute authority of God. This was given: all the reasons of it we do not know; but this we know well, The Judge of all the earth doth right. This war was not for plunder, for God commanded that all the property as well as all the people should be destroyed.
Two hundred thousand-and ten thousand
The Septuagint, in the London Polyglot, have FOUR HUNDRED thousand companies of Israel, and THIRTY thousand companies of Judah. The Codex Alexandrinus has TEN thousand of each. The Complutensian Polyglot has TWO HUNDRED thousand companies of Israel, and TEN thousand of Judah. And Josephus has FOUR HUNDRED thousand of Israel, and THIRTY thousand of Judah. All the other versions are the same with the Hebrew text; and there is no difference in the MSS.
Saul came to a city of Amalek
I believe the original should be translated, and Saul came to the city Amalek; their capital being called by the name of their tribe.
Said unto the Kenites
The Kenites were an ancient people. Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, was a Kenite. Hobab his son (if the same person be not meant) was guide to the Hebrews through the wilderness. They had a portion of the promised land, near to the city Arad. See Judges 1:16; and for more particulars concerning them and the Amalekites, see the notes on Numbers 26:20,21.
From Havilah-to Shur
From Pelusium in Egypt, unto the Red Sea.-Josephus. But Havilah lay eastward from the Red Sea; the Amalekites lay between this and the way to Egypt towards Shur.
It repenteth me that I have set up Saul
That is, I placed him on the throne; I intended, if he had been obedient, to have established his kingdom. He has been disobedient; I change my purpose, and the kingdom shall not be established in his family. This is what is meant by God's repenting-changing a purpose according to conditions already laid down or mentally determined.
He set him up a place
Literally, a hand, yad. Some say it was a monument; others, a triumphal arch: probably it was no more than a hand, pointing out the place where Saul had gained the victory. Absalom's pillar is called the hand of Absalom, 2 Samuel 18:18.
The people spared the best of the sheep
It is very likely that the people did spare the best of the prey; and it is as likely that Saul might have restrained them if he would. That they might not love war, God had interdicted spoil and plunder, so the war was undertaken merely from a sense of duty, without any hope of enriching themselves by it.
Little in thine own sight
Who can bear prosperity? Is it not of the Lord's great goodness that the majority of the inhabitants of the earth are in comparative poverty?
To sacrifice unto the Lord
Thus he endeavours to excuse the people. They did not take the spoil in order to enrich themselves by it, but to sacrifice unto the Lord; and did not this motive justify their conduct?
Hath the Lord as great delight,
This was a very proper answer to, and refutation of Saul's excuse. Is not obedience to the will of God the end of all religion, of its rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices?
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
This is no translation of those difficult words, ki chattath kesem meri veaven utheraphim haphtsar. It appears to me that the three nouns which occur first in the text refer each to the three last in order. Thus, chattath, TRANSGRESSION, refers to aven, INIQUITY, which is the principle whence transgression springs. kesem, DIVINATION, refers to teraphim, consecrated images or telesms, vulgarly talismans, used in incantations. And meri, REBELLION, refers evidently to haphstar, STUBBORNNESS, whence rebellion springs. The meaning therefore of this difficult place may be the following: As transgression comes from iniquity, divination from teraphim, and rebellion from stubbornness, so, because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king. All the versions are different.
I have sinned-because I feared the people
This was the best excuse he could make for himself; but had he feared GOD more, he need have feared the PEOPLE less.
Pardon my sin
Literally, bear my sin; take it away; forgive what I have done against thee, and be my intercessor with God, that he may forgive my offense against him; turn again with me, that I may worship the Lord.
I will not return with thee
I cannot acknowledge thee as king, seeing the Lord hath rejected thee.
The Strength of Israel will not lie
What God has purposed he will bring to pass, for he has all power in the heavens and in the earth; and he will not repent-change his purpose-concerning thee.
We may say it was some extenuation of Saul's fault that the people insisted on preserving the best of the prey; for who could resist the demands of a victorious mob? But his crime was in consenting; had he not, the crime would have been theirs alone.
Agag came unto him delicately.
The Septuagint have τρεμων, trembling; the original, maadannoth, delicacies; probably ish, man, understood; a man of delights, a pleasure-taker: the Vulgate, pinguissimus et tremens, "very fat and trembling."
Surely the bitterness of death is past.
Almost all the versions render this differently from ours. Surely death is bitter, is their general sense; and this seems to be the true meaning.
As thy sword hath made women childless
It appears that Agag had forfeited his life by his own personal transgressions, and that his death now was the retribution of his cruelties.
And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces
1. What Samuel did here he did in his magisterial capacity; and, 2. It is not likely he did it by his own sword, but by that of an executioner. What kings, magistrates, and generals do, in an official way, by their subjects, servants, or soldiers, they are said to do themselves; qui facit per alterum, facit per se.
And Samuel came no more to see Saul
But we read, 1 Samuel 19:22-24, that Saul went to see Samuel at Naioth, but this does not affect what is said here. From this time Samuel had no connection with Saul; he never more acknowledged him as king; he mourned and prayed for him, and continued to perform his prophetic functions at Ramah, and at Naioth, superintending the school of the prophets in that place.