Samuel left Gilgal, with Saul no doubt in tears and depression. Then, for no reason explained in scripture, the prophet marched up to Gibeah of Benjamin, King Saul’s home town. There is no explanation of what happened with Saul, his six hundred men, and the huge Philistine army that Samuel had walked away from and left Saul with at Gilgal. There is not so much as a hint that any fighting took place at all. Samuel went to the place where Saul lived, and I say again, for a reason that is not given. Gibeah of Benjamin is between 2 and 3 miles from the Naioth in Ramah where Samuel lived. That means that they both lived, “just down the Road,” from each other.
Immediately after that we have the narrative homing in on accounts of Saul’s battling with Philistines and being successful. That line of scripture instructs us that if there was any warring going on the day that Samuel left Saul, Israel must have beaten the Philistines. There are also accounts of Jonathan’s bravery, winning skirmishes against Philistine troops and accrediting his bravery to his father. This is followed by the strange account where, once again, Saul humiliated himself by making a strange and inappropriate vow. In the midst of a prolonged battle scenario Saul had declared, “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.” Even a child reading the story can see that Saul was totally unhelpful to his battle weary, and very hungry troops who were risking life and limb for their king. Everybody in the camp was aware of the king’s vow, except the much loved Jonathan, the man who would have inherited Saul’s crown if only Saul’s dynasty was destined to continue. In the midst of the battle, Jonathan takes a handful of honey that had dropped out of a bees nest, and was therefore, because of his father’s vow, cursed for doing the common sense thing of eating to keep his strength up for the fight. To cut the account short, when Saul discovered it was Jonathan that had gone against his royal vow, he spoke of having his own son executed, but the people would not let him. Oh dear! Losing the kingdom in his own life time may have been less embarrassing for Saul than having the general public reverse a royal decision he had made.
The narrator leaves us with the clear impression that Samuel had gone home to hide away from Saul and his unbelieving behaviour. Samuel was grieving for the nation of Israel like parents grieve over a wayward son. Samuel, however, would not say or do anything that did not have a true, “Thus says the Lord,” behind it. He did not speak out of irritation of his words not being obeyed, or for reasons of self elevation before the people as I have read in the writings of some Jewish Rabbi’s. Samuel was intimately acquainted with God and the divine thinking than anybody. If God was angry, so was Samuel.
It is this writer’s conviction that God spoke to Samuel in an audible voice most of his life, perhaps even saw the face of the theophanic appearance as in 1 Samuel 3:10. He could know God’s attitude, anger or pleasure, joy or sadness in the voice that spoke to him. God’s grief was Samuel’s grief.
It is seen immediately after that account is finished, that we have that phrase that was so shocking to us, i.e. “So Saul established his sovereignty over Israel.” Established? Sovereignty? “over Israel”? It is a shock because the statement comes immediately after Samuel’s pronouncement, and then because the scripture explains how Jonathan is seemingly more militarily astute than his father, as well as more loved by the people. Saul, however, just seems to carry on pillaging and plundering all the nations and their cities in the middle eastern area that surrounded Israel at the time;, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Zobah and, of course, the Philistines. We are told that there was a fierce war with the Philistines throughout all the days of Saul. Wherever Saul turned, he harassed them all. It would seem, outwardly, that nothing has altered after Samuel’s pronouncement that the kingdom was removed from Saul’s dynasty. Samuel stated, as plainly as language can make it, that Saul’s kingdom would not continue. It seems, however, that the, “non continuance clause,” of the prophetic word was not to be physically activated till sometime in the future, somewhere over the horizon, for here we see his external circumstances of kingship booming, despite Saul’s internal issues of leadership, and popularity with his son and the people. He was a fighter, and he was winning those fights with others. However he was sadly losing the fights with his own worldliness.
The situation was definitely a strange one. Samuel had given Saul the “thumbs down,” as it were, yet the people of Israel at the time, saw nothing with their physical eyes but a battle winning, Israel leading monarch, and so many were giving him the thumbs up. It is definitely a scenario that looks different from the human point of view as compared to the heavenly and divine point of view. Saul seemed to be growing from strength to strength; but we know, through Samuel, that things spiritual were draining away.
Question: So what happens next?
Answer: Samuel turns up looking into Saul’s face with another message from God.
“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 opening gambit from Samuel seems utterly unnecessary and inappropriate, unless there had been a considerable period of perhaps a few months, and more likely, even a few years. It gives the vibes of Samuel still being annoyed at the manner in which Saul had caused God to reject his kingship and dynasty. It is as if Samuel is saying, “You are the king. You may have established your throne to the view of the nation’s physical eyes. But, do not forget that I am the man who, under God, put you there. Make sure you are humble enough to listen to me and do what I ask of you this time, exactly to the last letter.” The sternness jumps out at the reader as the line of scripture is thought on.
Samuel continued, “This is what Yahweh Elohim says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.” Things like this cannot but suggest to the reader that Samuel had copies, or at least a copy of the books of Moses to study from. Amalek had blocked Israel (Exodus 17) between 400 and 500 years earlier, as they were leaving the wilderness in order to enter the promised land. Now, Amalek was to pay for their cruelty and maliciousness of some ten or twelve generations previous. I suppose that it is possible that God had spoken to Samuel without Samuel having read the scripture that gives us the account of Amalek’s cruelty. Samuel was, through natural or supernatural means, totally au fait with what had happened in Amalek’s dealings with Moses in the dim and distant past history.
Now for the details of Samuel’s orders. “Go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” In this day and age, and a generation where the Geneva Convention is esteemed and treasured, the instructions seem austere, to put it mildly. Saul received his instructions, and having read ahead, we are sadly aware that he did not fulfil them. It was this very nonchalance concerning God’s word, whenever it was presented to him, and the cavalier attitude to God’s prophet, that was his catastrophic downfall.
Our movie camera cuts from Samuel giving his earnest instructions to the King of Israel, and we pan across to the nation of Amalek on the eastern bank of the Jordan to glance at the heathen nation, with its king, whose name was Agag, its army, its families and farmers. Little did they know what God’s intentions were for them. We should never forget that the anointed of the Lord must not be touched. Moses and his people were affronted and forced into battle for arrogant reasons, centuries before Saul or Samuel were even born. To affront Israel in that way was to affront God and His purpose. The motives of Amalek were malicious and unnecessary. And God does remember sin. I do not mean that He makes some relaxed remark in His notebook about what Amalek did in Exodus 17. I mean that God remembers it. Several generations had passed since the Amalekites had aligned their sympathy and military force with the enemies of Israel. They wilfully threw hindrances in the way of Moses as he was finalising Israel’s historic trek from Egypt to Canaan.
With the passing of at least 430 years, the record of sin against the nation of Amalek might have been regarded as consigned to oblivion, and somehow left for the Great White Throne judgement at the end of all things. The problem for Amalek was that God had declared that it should not be forgotten, and that Amalek would be judged for their action (Ex 17:14, Deuteronomy 25:17-19). It was as if the anger of God against them had been thwarted for several hundred years until this moment. After all this time, there broke out on planet earth the awful fiat of Almighty Justice, the ground trembling wrath of God. Amalek were to be wiped off the face of the earth as a dirty plate is wiped with a rag. Almighty Yahweh stated Himself, “I remember that, which Amalek did.” From the Infinite glory of heaven their crime had not been in any way shape or form diminished in the mind of God. The news was shocking to every Amalekite; there had been no obliteration of their crime. As far as Yahweh was concerned their sin was as fresh and remembered as the day on which it had been committed. The sin of Amalek stood out to the divine view. It was sin that was about to be judged.
“I remember.” said Yahweh. Seen with a New Testament, “Gospel preaching” emphasis it tells us that four hundred plus years had not softened Amalek’s response to Israel one iota. God’s grace gave Amalek time to make amends in their international relationship with Israel. God’s grace to Amalek had been met with spite and ignorance. God had been forbearing, but that forbearance had been lost on them. Amalek were still foes of Israel. Amalek was an incredibly cruel nation, and Agag had gained notoriety it seems for hacking to death pregnant women.
These instructions given by God teach us clearly that a nation’s conduct is measured and noted by God Himself, and He has a judgement, for which each nation shall answer. Yahweh is God of the entire planet, not just the middle eastern state of Israel. But those states and empires of Edom, Amalek, Babylon, Assyria as well as Israel are all exemplifications of the fact that even large nations and empires somehow have to answer en bloc for their conduct.
“Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” I would venture to suggest that the instructions are so violently scary as to be unforgettable. Even in the days of cruelty, violence and routine war, the instructions are breathtakingly mountainous to cope with in one’s mind. In a nutshell, apart from the beetles and insects, all life forms in Amalek were to be ended – ceased – wiped out – removed. This was the non- negotiable statement of Yahweh to Samuel and passed on to King Saul. Samuel returned home and left Saul to obey the divinely given mandate.
It may be a difficult thing to grasp on in our twenty first century value system, but it was indeed a normal perception in Saul’s. We are not told of any verbal response from the king. He immediately jumped into action. He called his soldiers from every tribe. There were amazingly 200,000 foot soldiers from all tribes and an extra 10,000 from the tribe of Judah.
Then we have the brief account of how Saul explained what they were going to do to the Kenites who lived amongst the Amalekites. The Kenites showed kindness to Israel in Moses’ day, in fact we know that they journeyed with the people of Israel as they travelled, originally towards Canaan (see Judges 1:16). After settling in the southern reaches of the promised land, some of the Kenites separated from the fellow countrymen and moved northward (Judges 4:11).
That section who remained in the south were obviously well integrated through the centuries with the war like Amalekites. Just as the point of the war and the attack on Amalek was historically based, so, on that same historical base, the Kenites were to be informed of the plan and granted life because of their historical support and oneness with Israel.
There are several lessons of eternal weight and matter in this section of Israel’s history.
- Whatever we do, we will one day give account for. Sometimes we pay for our sins and crimes in this life. Giving an account of our deeds in this world is hard enough, but answering in the next life will be harder still for those, like the Amalekites, who willfully had no faith in God in this life.
- Those who live by animosity and the sword will die by the sword and rot in their animosity. Amalek were more addicted to warring, fighting and killing than most of the nations round about.
- We must be sure that our sins will indeed find us out. Four hundred plus years did not dry out or dim the ink of the handwriting of the ordinance that was against the evil of Amalek.
- As Saul and Israel spared the Kenites because of their help, assistance and brotherhood through the centuries, so it needs to be absorbed that friendship and well doing for its own sake needs rewarding, as does enmity, killing and animosity. Amalek were divinely ordered to be put to the sword. The Kenites were released from the damnation even though some lived amongst the damned.
But we cannot just whizz by the crunch moment and it’s build up. I mean, how is it possible to misunderstand, “Attack the Amalekites?” “Totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them. Put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” It isn’t like having a complicated shopping list. The orders, to the twenty first century, “civilized” mind, that’s filled with the idea of the Geneva convention, are utterly shocking, but they are shocking for their simplicity. In a nutshell it is, “kill anything that moves.” Could it be simpler. One really does need assistance of a specialist nature to misunderstand the order. Only a fool could forget it, or think it said something it didn’t. Only a fool!!!
King Saul was that fool. It wasn’t enough that he had pushed Samuel into depression and grief at already adding to one of Samuel’s orders. He killed every single Amalekite, except the one who was the heart and mind of the evil that the Amalekites perpetrated. Any self respecting autocrat, would surely go down with his ship. How could any man see the nation over which he ruled be utterly and completely wiped out, and then wheel and deal to stay alive himself. Agag was his name, and Agag was as selfish as he was pure evil, just as Saul was demonised and pure foolishness. Saul spared Agag. It actually says, “Saul and the army spared Agag.” Was Saul sucked into the rebel rousing carousing soldiers who had gone very merry at having shed so much blood. Agag was eating, drinking and making merry with them all, or so it would seem.
But the story did not end with this evil monstrous monarch being saved. Saul and the army also spared the best sheep, cattle, fatted calves and lambs. They saved anything from which they could feast and party. Weak animals and people were totally destroyed.
So Saul, seemingly non compus mentis, was happily partying at their national success. He literally seems like a tragedy waiting to take place; an accident waiting to happen; a bomb just waiting to explode. Was he mad? Insane? Demonically inspired? Or was he just trying to prove to the people that he could think for himself, and that he was not just Samuel’s errand boy? Is it possible that he was trying to shut Samuel up and get him to stay away? Is it conceivable that the blood lust that ran through the brains of the soldiers had affected their mob rule mentality to the point where they intimidated or threatened the king? Was it a case of, “Agag says if we let him live he will give us all 30 pieces of silver, so we demand that you let him live!” and Saul felt fearful and unable to say, “No!”
It Cannot be argued against that Saul’s decision was quite spectacularly insane and crass, and/ or, madly foolish.
I knew a man once who was meek, mild, subservient and obedient when authority figures were around giving instructions to him and overseeing his work. Yet the moment the authority presence was absent he became the opposite person type. He became noisy, mischievous, contrary and awkward. I saw him once so carried away with his mental silliness, that the room emptied as the authority figures returned. He was out of his mind dancing on a table top, and so carried away, that when the authority figures returned and stood around the table, he carried on dancing for a minute or so before he realised that his superiors were present. When he climbed down from the table, filled with remorse and apologies, he simply could not understand why he had been dismissed. “It was so unfair!” he exclaimed with tears in his eyes. I have never met anybody to compare with that gentleman. But I sometimes imagine King Saul being something like that.
Picture him partying and making merry, even with King Agag, although at this point of the story it is a joke to call him king. All that was left of his kingdom, as far as he knew, was the best farm animals.
What on earth will happen to King Saul? Somebody nudge him and let him know that Samuel will be arriving soon, maybe today! If the prophet was so agonizingly angry at Saul offering sacrifices and not waiting for Samuel to arrive and make the sacrifice, how will the son of Elkanah and Hannah take this bit of news, when he gets it?
Put your seat belts and crash helmets on, along with all your riot gear, and read on.
- 2 Samuel 4-7 (whatshotn.wordpress.com)
- 1 Samuel 13-14 (zachscripturestudy.com)
- 1 Samuel 13-14 (whatshotn.wordpress.com)
- On 1 Samuel 18-22 (reflectingchristian.wordpress.com)
- On 1 Samuel 10-14 (reflectingchristian.wordpress.com)
- 1 Samuel 13 (sisterspray4me.com)
- David and Goliath: Looking Beyond the Bible Story (runningredeemed.wordpress.com)
- All Glory to God! (Part 2) (theteentheme.wordpress.com)
- Samuel: A Study In Character – “The Afterthought” (presbymusings.com)