Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. Samuel also said unto Saul, The Lord sent me to anoint thee . . .:
now therefore hearken thou unto . . . the Lord--Several years had been
passed in successful military operations against troublesome neighbors.
During these Saul had been left to act in a great measure at his own
discretion as an independent prince. Now a second test is proposed of
his possessing the character of a theocratic monarch in Israel; and in
announcing the duty required of him, Samuel brought before him his
official station as the Lord's vicegerent, and the peculiar obligation
under which he was laid to act in that capacity. He had formerly done
wrong, for which a severe rebuke and threatening were administered to
(1Sa 13:13, 14).
Now an opportunity was afforded him of retrieving that error by an
exact obedience to the divine command.
2, 3. Amalek--the powerful tribe which inhabited the country
immediately to the eastward of the northern Cushites. Their territory
extended over the whole of the eastern portion of the desert of Sinai
to Rephidim--the earliest opponent
--the hereditary and restless enemy of Israel
and who had not repented
of their bitter and sleepless hatred during the five hundred years that
had elapsed since their doom was pronounced. Being a people of nomadic
habits, they were as plundering and dangerous as the Bedouin Arabs,
particularly to the southern tribes. The national interest required,
and God, as KING OF ISRAEL,
decreed that this public enemy should be removed. Their destruction was
to be without reservation or exception.
I remember--I am reminded of what Amalek did--perhaps by the still
remaining trophy or memorial erected by Moses
(Ex 17:15, 16).
4. Saul gathered the people together--The alacrity with which he
entered on the necessary preparations for the expedition gave a fair,
but delusive promise of faithfulness in its execution.
Telaim--or Telem, among the uttermost cities of the tribe of Judah
towards the coast of Edom
(Jos 15:21, 24).
5. Saul came to a city of Amalek--probably their capital.
laid wait in the valley--following the strategic policy of Joshua at
6. Kenites--(See on
In consequence, probably, of the unsettled state of Judah, they seem to
have returned to their old desert tracts. Though now intermingled with
the Amalekites, they were not implicated in the offenses of that wicked
race; but for the sake of their ancestors, between whom and those of
Israel there had been a league of amity, a timely warning was afforded
them to remove from the scene of danger.
AGAG AND THE
BEST OF THE
7-9. Saul smote the Amalekites--His own view of the proper and
expedient course to follow was his rule, not the command of God.
8, 9. he took Agag . . . alive--This was the common title of the
Amalekite kings. He had no scruple about the apparent cruelty of it,
for he made fierce and indiscriminate havoc of the people. But he
spared Agag, probably to enjoy the glory of displaying so distinguished
a captive, and, in like manner, the most valuable portions of the
booty, as the cattle. By this wilful and partial obedience to a
complying with it in some parts and violating it in others, as suited
his own taste and humor, Saul showed his selfish, arbitrary temper, and
his love of despotic power, and his utter unfitness to perform the
duties of a delegated king in Israel.
1Sa 15:10, 11.
10, 11. Then came the word of the Lord unto Samuel, saying, It
repenteth me that I have set up Saul--Repentance is attributed in
Scripture to Him when bad men give Him cause to alter His course and
method of procedure, and to treat them as if He did "repent" of
kindness shown. To the heart of a man like Samuel, who was above all
envious considerations, and really attached to the king, so painful an
announcement moved all his pity and led him to pass a sleepless night
of earnest intercession.
12. Saul came to Carmel--in the south of Judah
he set him up a place--that is, a pillar
literally, a hand, indicating that whatever was the form of the
monument, it was surmounted, according to the ancient fashion, by the
figure of a hand, the symbol of power and energy. The erection of this
vainglorious trophy was an additional act of disobedience. His pride
had overborne his sense of duty in first raising this monument to his
own honor, and then going to Gilgal to offer sacrifice to God.
13-23. Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have
performed the commandment of the Lord--Saul was either blinded by a
partial and delusive self-love, or he was, in his declaration to
Samuel, acting the part of a bold and artful hypocrite. He professed to
have fulfilled the divine command, and that the blame of any defects in
the execution lay with the people. Samuel saw the real state of the
case, and in discharge of the commission he had received before setting
out, proceeded to denounce his conduct as characterized by pride,
rebellion, and obstinate disobedience. When Saul persisted in declaring
that he had obeyed, alleging that the animals, whose bleating was
heard, had been reserved for a liberal sacrifice of thanksgiving to
God, his shuffling, prevaricating answer called forth a stern rebuke
from the prophet. It well deserved it--for the destination of the spoil
to the altar was a flimsy pretext--a gross deception, an attempt to
conceal the selfishness of the original motive under the cloak of
religious zeal and gratitude.
24-26. I have sinned . . . turn again with me, that I may worship the
Lord--The erring, but proud and obstinate monarch was now humbled.
He was conscience-smitten for the moment, but his confession proceeded
not from sincere repentance, but from a sense of danger and desire of
averting the sentence denounced against him. For the sake of public
appearance, he besought Samuel not to allow their serious differences
to transpire, but to join with him in a public act of worship. Under
the influence of his painfully agitated feelings, he designed to offer
sacrifice, partly to express his gratitude for the recent victory, and
partly to implore mercy and a reversal of his doom. It was, from
another angle, a politic scheme, that Samuel might be betrayed into a
countenancing of his design in reserving the cattle for sacrificing.
Samuel declined to accompany him.
I feared the people, and obeyed their voice--This was a different
reason from the former he had assigned. It was the language of a man
driven to extremities, and even had it been true, the principles
expounded by Samuel showed that it could have been no extenuation of
the offense. The prophet then pronounced the irreversible sentence of
the rejection of Saul and his family. He was judicially cut off for his
27, 28. he laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle--the moil, upper
tunic, official robe. In an agony of mental excitement, he took hold of
the prophet's dress to detain him; the rending of the mantle
was adroitly pointed to as a significant and mystical representation of
his severance from the throne.
29. the Strength of Israel will not lie--Hebrew, "He that
gives a victory to Israel," a further rebuke of his pride in rearing
the Carmel trophy, and an intimation that no loss would be sustained in
Israel by his rejection.
31. Samuel turned again after Saul--not to worship along with him;
but first, that the people might have no ground, on pretense of Saul's
rejection, to withdraw their allegiance from him; and secondly, to
compensate for Saul's error, by executing God's judgment upon Agag.
32. Agag came unto him delicately--or cheerfully, since he had gained
the favor and protection of the king.
33. Samuel hewed Agag--This cruel tyrant met the retribution of a
righteous Providence. Never has it been unusual for great or official
personages in the East to perform executions with their own hands.
Samuel did it "before the Lord" in Gilgal, appointing that same mode of
punishment (hitherto unknown in Israel) to be used towards him, which
he had formerly used towards others.