13. Then Samuel went to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the LORD! I have performed the commandment of the LORD.”
Saul is feeling good about his victory, and when Samuel comes to him, he greets him cheerfully. He wishes him the well speaking of the LORD upon him, and then goes so far as to claim that he has performed the commandment of the LORD. From his perspective, he no doubt actually believes he has done this. After all, did he not gather the army and actually go on a campaign for no good reason of his own, but simply because the LORD told him to? Did he not risk his life and the lives of his people in the venture? Was not the campaign abundantly successful? Did they not follow most of the LORD’s orders in killing all but one of the people and in destroying at least some of the spoil that they could have kept for themselves? Surely this must be enough obedience for the LORD, he thinks. Surely no prophet would be so picky as to point out the few details that he had not carefully followed! So Saul with his worldly mindset does not even realize that he has forfeited his standing with the LORD by his willful disobedience.
14. But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”
The army has come to Gilgal with Saul, and have not yet scattered back to their own homes. Therefore, the spoil that they took from the Amalekites is still with them, and the very animals that they failed to destroy as commanded are right there with them. Samuel points out that from where he and Saul are standing, they can actually hear the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen that Saul disobediently stole from articles that were dedicated to destruction by Jehovah.
15. And Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.”
It seems that Saul and his advisors have already prepared themselves for the contingency that Yahweh’s prophet might not like their partial obedience. They will claim that these animals were only the best of what the Amalekites had which they kept for sacrificing to Yahweh Samuel’s God. Surely, if he is crass enough to point out their little deviation from their orders, he will be ashamed and not mention it again if they give him this excuse! Of course, it seems unlikely that they really wanted all these animals just for sacrifice. No, these people wanted the spoil for themselves. Even if they did sacrifice these animals, the people were allowed to eat of the sacrifices they brought to Yahweh, and so they would enjoy these animals anyway. Yet if they destroyed them as commanded, they would have gotten nothing out of them.
Notice that Saul also blames his actions on the people. Yet is this really likely? Is it not far more likely that the king was a leading conspirator in this failure of obedience? What he has really done here is to substitute religion for obedience. Yet how can religion ever cover up sin when it is performed in open defiance of what God has actually commanded?
16. Then Samuel said to Saul, “Be quiet! And I will tell you what the LORD said to me last night.”
And he said to him, “Speak on.”
Samuel stops Saul in the midst of his excuse-making. He basically tells him to shut up and listen to the LORD’s words from the night before that he is going to repeat to him. Saul does stop, and allows that Samuel should speak on. It is likely that he still doesn’t really believe that he will be condemned for breaking God’s orders.
17. So Samuel said, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the LORD anoint you king over Israel?
Samuel reminds Saul of what he was like when Jehovah first chose him. He had protested to Samuel in I Samuel 9:21, “Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak like this to me?” Then, when Jehovah revealed to all Israel his choice of Saul, they had to search for him to find him and acknowledge him as king, and they found him hiding among the baggage in a vain attempt to escape the promotion Jehovah had planned for him, as we saw in I Samuel 10:22. Back then, Saul used to be small in his own eyes, and yet Jehovah appointed him king over his people of Israel. Yet now Saul has grown greatly in his own estimation, even erecting a monument to himself. He no longer thought himself small, and yet sadly, by doing so, he now has truly become small before God.
18. Now the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’
Samuel reminds Saul of a second fact by repeating Yahweh’s explicit instructions to destroy and consume the Amalekites. Yahweh’s will was that they were to be destroyed completely, and Saul knew it.
19. Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the LORD?”
Yet Saul did not obey the LORD’s command. Instead, he swooped on the LORD’s spoil like a raider falling on the prey. What he had taken he had not really taken from the Amalekites, for the LORD had claimed it for Himself, to be devoted to destruction at His command. As such, he had truly raided from the LORD. He had no right to do this. This was not just a small failure to follow a minor point of God’s command to him. This was an outright evil in the sight of the LORD.
20. And Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.
Saul will not acknowledge the truth of Samuel’s words or accept this rightful rebuke. Instead, he insists that he has obeyed. He did go to war on the LORD’s command and mostly obeyed. Okay, he might have brought back Agag king of Amalek, but he did execute everyone else. He did risk a lot and he worked hard to accomplish what the LORD told him to do. Of course, it was convenient for him that he eliminated one of Israel’s worst enemies in doing it. And of course he hadn’t been willing to inconvenience himself by not taking the living animals as spoil. But he did go when the LORD said go. Shouldn’t that be enough? How could God be so unkind as to quibble at details like this?
21. But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.”
Again he blames the people, as if he as king had no say at all in what they did, when in fact he was the one in charge. Again he pretends their motivations were religious rather than self-serving. Okay, these things should have been utterly destroyed, but they had kept the best of them to sacrifice to Jehovah Samuel’s God when they got back to Gilgal. How could anyone blame them for wanting to sacrifice to Jehovah?
22. So Samuel said:
“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 heed than the fat of rams.
Samuel responds with a great prophetic utterance which we would all do well to remember. He assures Saul that the LORD does not have as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as He does in obedience. Really, when burnt offerings and sacrifices are made in obedience is the only time they really are acceptable. Cain tried Saul’s way of making a sacrifice such as he wanted to make, and the LORD did not accept it. It was the obedient sacrifice of Abel that God acknowledged. So to obey is better than to sacrifice, and to listen to the LORD’s commands is better than to offer Him the fat of rams. Religious things might be offered on one’s own behalf, whereas to listen to what the LORD says shows respect and submission to Him. How can God be pleased with a sacrifice that is offered without respect for Him or submission to His commands?
So we learn a great truth that it is well for us to know. Obedience is better than religious practices, even when those practices are established by God. How much more is obedience superior to following the man-made religious practices of the Christian world of today! To disobey God in order to do something religious is not right. This is something that believers today would do well to learn.
23. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
He also has rejected you from being king.”
Saul tried to make out that his infractions were minor. Yet this is what Saul had really done: stubbornly rebelled. To Yahweh, this was as bad as witchcraft, iniquity, or idolatry. After all, what is worse about the sin of witchcraft than participating in something which Yahweh has forbidden? What is worse about iniquity than stubbornly refusing to live His way? What is worse about idolatry than stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that the true God alone deserves your worship and praise?
After his failure during the campaign against the Philistines, though Yahweh predicted another king to take Saul’s place, He had nevertheless left Saul on the throne to give him a second chance. Really, his words there only spoke to whom would take the throne after Saul, not to Saul himself. Yet Saul has now blown his second chance. Now, just as he has rejected Yahweh’s word, so Yahweh will remove him from being king. Yet even now this would not happen immediately, but would take place in Yahweh’s own time. Yet it did happen eventually, and Saul lost his place as Israel’s king for his stubborn disobedience, along with his own life.
24. Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.
Such plain speaking and finality of statement Saul can no longer deny. Therefore Saul admits to his sin, and that he has indeed transgressed the LORD’s commandment and Samuel’s words. Yet we cannot help but think that Saul only admits to this because he is backed into it, for he tries once again to blame it on the people. He was afraid of them, so he did what they wanted. Maybe there was some truth to this, but it still does not justify his willingly going along with such disobedience to the LORD. Saul does not acknowledge how bad his sin really was, or indicate that he really believes that it was like witchcraft or idolatry. His admission is not submissively throwing himself on the LORD’s mercy, but just admitting the truth since he had to because he was caught!
25. Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD.”
Saul wants the LORD (or at least Samuel) to just forgive him. This was very presumptuous, and again shows no acknowledgement of how bad what he did was. He had no right to just demand forgiveness with no word of submitting or making amends. He wants Samuel to just forget it, but there is no forgetting his rebellion against the LORD and disregarding of His commands. He has willfully disobeyed the LORD, and yet he wants to go on with the sacrifice as if nothing has happened!
26. But Samuel said to 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.”
Samuel refuses to play along with Saul’s game. He refuses to go with Saul, since he has rejected the LORD’s word. This was no minor infraction, as Saul tried to make it out to be. Instead, this is a sign of a heart in rebellion against the God Who had promoted him to the throne in the first place. In light of this rebellion, he is to be removed from his office. Saul might still be king in Israel’s eyes, but he is rejected in the LORD’s eyes.
27. And as Samuel turned around to go away, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore.
Now as Samuel seeks to leave, Saul moves to try to stop him. Grabbing at Samuel as he turns to go, he catches the edge of his robe, and since he was in the act of walking away when Saul did this, the seized robe tears in Saul’s hands.
28. So Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.
Samuel uses this tearing of his robe to teach a lesson. Just as his robe has been torn, so the government of Israel has been torn from Saul. It was Saul who tore Samuel’s robe, but it is Jehovah Who has torn the kingdom away from this rebellious king. He has already found a better man than Saul to give it to, a neighbor of his. By “neighbor” he probably means a fellow Israelite. Since the land of the tribe of Benjamin, Saul’s tribe, bordered on the land of the tribe of Judah, this might be what he means by “neighbor” as well. Whatever he meant, he was referring to David, a man who was a far better king and servant of Jehovah than Saul.
29. And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.”
Samuel assures Saul that Yahweh, the Strength of Israel, will not lie nor be sorry for something He has said. He does not speak in haste and then later wish he had kept quiet, as men often do. When Yahweh speaks, He speaks deliberately, and He makes no mistake in what He has said. What He has said about Saul will take place, and no catching hold of Samuel or holding him back will change that.
30. Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD your God.”
In reply to this, Saul again makes a weak admission of his sin. Yet he hurries right on from this, and it seems clear that what he really wants is for Samuel to do the planned-on sacrifice with him. If Samuel does not show up, his men will know he has done something wrong. If Samuel will just come with him, he can put on a show of worshipping, and no one will be the wiser that anything has happened to bring Saul out of favor. It is clear that he is more concerned about looking bad in front of the elders of Israel than he is about the anger of the LORD against him! So we can see Saul’s worldly and rebellious heart. No word from God could turn him from his wicked ways. He was set on following his own good, and God was indeed right to remove this self-centered and God-rejecting man from his place as king.
31. So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul worshiped the LORD.
It might seem strange to us that he did so, but Samuel granted this last request of Saul and helped him “save face.” As if that mattered, compared to the fact that he had lost the favor of the LORD! Yet it was all Saul cared about, and so it was granted to him. Yet there will be a price for this favor Samuel did him, as Saul will find out in the next verse.
32. Then Samuel said, “Bring Agag king of the Amalekites here to me.” So Agag came to him cautiously.
And Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.”
After they are done worshipping, Samuel demands to see Agag, the former king of the Amalekites. He comes cautiously. This could also mean “in fetters,” or “trembling,” as it is in the Septuagint. It is clear that Agag fears for his life, but he tries to argue that he should be spared, and no more killing should be done this day.
33. But Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hacked Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.
Samuel rejects Agag’s plea. Agag had murdered many in his wickedness when he was a king. Now, he will be executed, and die like they did. It is clear throughout this record that God viewed the actions of the Israelites against the Amalekites as a judicial execution of them because of the LORD’s judgment against their wickedness. This is why they were to be solemnly and completely destroyed. Yet if the people were wicked and deserving of execution, how much more their king who set the tone for this wicked nation? So Samuel has Agag executed, and after he is dead, Samuel has his body cut in pieces as a last humiliation. He does this before the LORD in Gilgal, and the LORD’s just sentence against the Amalekites is at last fulfilled.
34. Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house at Gibeah of Saul.
Samuel returns to Ramah, which we know was his family home back from chapter 1, and has been his home since he became Israel’s judge back in chapter 7. Saul returns to his own home in Gibeah, which has also been his family home all along, as we saw from back in chapter 10. It seems he saw no reason to switch his city of residence when he became king, so he is still ruling Israel from his family’s traditional homestead. Only in the days of David would a city, Jerusalem, be chosen for the royal residence which would remain consistent no matter who was ruling. At this time, the informal home of Saul is something of a carry-over from the more informal days of Israel’s government in the time of the judges.
35. And Samuel went no more to see Saul until the day of his death. Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul, and the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.
Now we read that Samuel never came to see Saul again until the day of his death (though there is that one, strange incident after the day of his death in chapter 28, which we will discuss when we get there.) This is not to say he never saw Saul again until the day of his death, for Saul did come to see him once to try to arrest him and David, but the LORD stopped him from making the arrest, as we read in I Samuel 19. Yet this was Saul coming to Samuel, not Samuel coming to Saul.
Samuel mourns for Saul as if he was already dead. Indeed, the Saul that might have been, the grand and faithful king of Israel, that prospective Saul who might have served the LORD faithfully, was indeed dead, and would never exist. Perhaps Samuel was feeling something of what God feels with each person who chooses to reject Him. When He looks at each one of us, no doubt God sees what He could make of us if we would just submit ourselves to Him. He sees this right up to the time a person chooses finally and irrevocably to reject Him, and then that vision dies, as it will never be. What a tragic thing it is! So Samuel mourns for the Saul that might have been, and never will be, now.
We read here that the LORD regretted or was sorry that He had made Saul king. But is it not true that He said God would not regret or be sorry, this very same Hebrew word nacham, back in verse 29? Yes, He did say that, but what we need to realize is that the LORD did not change here at all. It was Saul who changed. It was Saul’s change that made the LORD sorry. Our God is a God in relationship with people, and the thing about relationships is that you have to change and adapt when the other person changes. The very fact that God is in relationship with changing people like us means He will have to change in relationship to us. This does not change the fact that He is unchanging in His character and His plans and purposes. Yet as long as He is in relationship with us, He will have to respond to our changes. That is what it meant for Him to make individuals with free will. Yet God is great enough to handle any change we might make. He is not threatened by our transitory natures!