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Has someone ever said to you, "I'm sorry," but you know they didn't mean it. Today's passage illustrates the reality that while people may tell God they are sorry, often it's fake sorrow, "false repentance."
In 1 Samuel 13, we had learned that King Saul was not a "man after God's own heart." He did not seek God's will. He had a disobedient heart.
But God allowed Saul to continue to rule Israel. Saul and his son Jonathan led the people in a decisive victory over the Philistines.
Jonathan, with only one other man, bravely attacked their enemy. Jonathan proved he was a man of valor with exemplary character. He would have made an excellent king, but because God ended Saul's dynasty, Jonathan would never rule God's people.
Now we come to 1 Samuel 15. How would Saul respond after his act of disobedience in chapter 13 and God sparing Saul's kingship and even giving him victory in chapter 14.
We will divide today's passage into four sections: Saul's Disobedience (v.1–9), God's Regret (v.10–11), God's Rejection (v.12–23), and Saul's Hypocrisy (v.24–35)
1. Saul's Disobedience (v.1–9)
Then Samuel said to Saul, "Yahweh sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; so now, obey the voice of the words of Yahweh." (v.1)
- Notice the text characterizes Israel as God's people, not Saul's. Therefore Saul needed to heed Samuel's instructions that came from God. [CSBSB]
- The same God who had instructed Samuel to anoint Saul as king is the same God who is now giving these instructions.
- Hebrew verb "obey" or "listen" (ESV, NIV) or "hearken" (KJV)
- This verb means more than simply listening. It involves obedience to the words spoken. So it could be translated “pay careful attention to.” [UBSH]
- This verb is repeated at least 5 more times in this chapter in verses 14, 19, 20, 22, and 24. This underscores the central theme of obedience here in 1 Samuel 15. [RSB]
This is God's command. "Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, infant and nursing baby, ox and sheep, camel and donkey." (v.3)
- Amalek was a descendant of Esau (Gen 36:12)
- The Amalekites were a nomadic tribe that inhabited southern Judah and beyond (Num 13:29).
- They first attacked Israel at Rephidim (Ex 17:8), and God promised to oppose the Amalekites continually (Ex 17:14–16; Deut 25:17–19).
- Hebrew verb חרם (charam) translated "devote to destruction" or "completely destroy" (CSB) or "totally destroy" (NIV) often means dedicating something or someone completely to God either by destruction (Josh 6:17–18) or by giving it as an offering (Lev 27:28–29; Josh 6:19). [NLTSB]
- This term refers to a devotion to the deity that requires total destruction of everything captured in war. [USBH]
- For example, this verb was used toward Jericho, "And the city shall be devoted to destruction, it and all that is in it belongs to Yahweh." (Josh 6:17)
- Back in Deuteronomy, God had commissioned Israel, once they had settled in Israel, to blot out Amalek.
Therefore it will be, when Yahweh your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which Yahweh your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget. (Dt 25:19)
- God never abandoned His rightful position as sovereign King over Israel.
- He had declared war on Amalek in Exodus 17, and He preordained Amalek's annihilation in Deuteronomy 25.
- So now, God commands Saul to carry out His plan.
Implication: New Covenant Christians
- God still judges the godless and impenitent today.
- But in the new covenant, Christians are not God's agents of judgment.
- God calls us to exercise mercy toward those who wrong us.
- When James and John wanted to "command fire to come down from heaven", Jesus said, "The Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." (Lk 9:54, 56)
And Saul said to the Kenites, "Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them." (v.6a)
- Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, was a Kenite (Judg 1:16).
- The Kenites were helpful to the Israelites in Exodus 18.
- Saul's action to allow the Kenites to evacuate without harm was commendable. [ESVSB]
So Saul struck the Amalekites, from Havilah as you go to Shur, which is east of Egypt. (v.7)
- Going from Havilah to Shur describes an extensive campaign that covered a broad region from the west coast of Arabia to Egypt's northeast border. [USBH]
- Saul's victory here in 15:7 was extensive. [RSB]
BUT Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and they were not willing to devote them to destruction. (v.9a)
- This was in direct violation of God's command in verse 3.
- God said, “Do not spare him." (v.3)
- "Saul and the people spared Agag." (v.9)
- This mirrors Achan's sin of greed to keep the goods that were devoted to destruction (Josh 7:1).
- We are not told why Saul had spared Agag. Was it political? Was it pride to parade his captive as a trophy of war? We read later that Saul will set up a "monument for himself." (v.12)
- Destroying the worthless things was no great sacrifice.
- Destroying the best animals and choice spoils would have been costly, so Saul’s disobedience was likely a manifestation of his covetousness.
- The Hebrew text, placing Saul in the first position, emphasizes Saul as the one primarily responsible for sparing Agag and the best of everything else. [CSBSB]
- Saul was culpable for this act of gross disobedience.
2. God's Regret (v.10–11, 35)
Then the word of Yahweh came to Samuel, saying, "I regret that I have made Saul king."(v.10–11a)
- The verb "regret" will be used four times in this chapter. In this first occurrence, it has a similar meaning to Genesis 6:7.
And Yahweh said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I regret that I have made them." (Gen 6:7)
“I regret that I have made Saul king” (uses the Hebrew verb niḥam, a term that implies deep emotion and concern about a situation involving others). This does not imply that God was deceived in His expectations about Saul but only that He was deeply troubled about Saul and the suffering and failure that would come on Israel because Saul had turned away from the path of obedience. (Archer, NIEBD, 174)
- We'll see that this Hebrew verb will have a different semantic meaning in verse 29.
And Samuel became angry and cried out to Yahweh all night. (v.11b)
- Some argue that Samuel was angry with God. (K. Bodner) But if this were the case, it's strange that Samuel is not reprimanded. Jonah was reprimanded for his anger toward God.
- More likely, Samuel was angry with Saul, which is consistent with the rest of the text as we see that Samuel is in no mood to hear Saul's excuses. (Hoffner, EEC)
Illustration: Young Pianist
- I read a story about a young pianist.
- He was invited to perform as a soloist at a prestigious concert hall where thousands would attend his performance.
- After each song, the audience would clap, but the violinist would only glance at the upper box seat where his maestro teacher sat. The audience applause did not matter. He only sought the approval of his teacher, the one who could truly adjudicate the quality of his performance.
It’s a small matter when people are disappointed with you. It’s a more serious matter when God is displeased with you.
- If you are not born again and have been united with Christ, God has the same deposition toward you.
- Like King Saul, God has profound regret toward you.
- God didn't make a mistake in creating you. His divine regret is one of profound concern about your standing before him.
- In the New Testament, we read that not only does God express regret toward us, we become his mortal enemy.
- "Among whom we all also formerly conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh,...and were by nature children of wrath." (Eph 2:3)
- "And although you were formerly alienated and enemies in mind and in evil deeds," (Col 1:21)
- The only way we can be reconciled with God is through Jesus.
- "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (Rom 5:10)
So we see Saul's disobedience and God's regret. Now, we see God's rejection.
3. God's Rejection (v.12–23)
"Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself." (v.12b)
- To celebrate his victory over the Amalekites, Saul erects a trophy in his own honor in Carmel, which is 11 km south of Hebron [USBH]
- Instead of honoring God through obedience, Saul takes credit for his military victory and shows his pride by expressing self-worship.
- [Later, Absalom does the same thing by setting] up for himself a pillar which is in the King’s Valley, for he had said, “I have no son to preserve my name.” So he named the pillar after his own name, and it is called Absalom’s Monument to this day. (2 Sam 18:18)
And Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?" (v.14 ESV)
- The sound of all these animals was proof that Saul had failed to execute God's command. [CSBSB]
- And just like in 1 Samuel 13, Saul contests Samuel and tries to defend himself.
They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice to Yahweh your God. (v.15)
- Look closely the pronouns in this verse.
- "They have brought," and not "we have brought.” Saul denies personal responsibility even though he was king.
- "Yahweh your God" instead of "our God" or "my God.” Saul even removes himself from identifying God as his God.
- In essence, Saul was saying, “Samuel. He is not my God. Yahweh is your God.
Read 1 Samuel 15:17–19
- Back in chapters 9–10, Saul was a nobody. But God had exalted Saul by anointing him as king over Israel. And yet he does not "obey the voice of Yahweh." (v.19)
- "rushed upon the spoil" (v.19) or "pounce on the plunder" (NIV) implies that greed was the motivation and impetus.
- Saul in verses 20–21 parrots the same excuse he had given in verse 15.
- The key verse in this chapter is verse 22.
And Samuel said, "Has Yahweh as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of Yahweh? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice." (v.22)
- Samuel asks a rhetorical question. Does God prefer burnt offerings and sacrifices, or does God desire obedience?
- "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to Yahweh." (Prov 15:8a)
- Without obedience, offerings and sacrifices to God mean nothing.
- "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams...Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me...Wash yourselves, purify yourselves, remove the evil of your deeds from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good." (Is 1:11–16)
- "For I delight in lovingkindness rather than sacrifice." (Hos 6:6a)
- "For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; you are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." (Ps 51:16–17)
- As God's people, we do not bring burnt offerings and animal sacrifices. But we engage in other religious activities.
- You can come to church 52 Sundays a year.
- You can pray before every meal, every morning, and every evening.
- You can weekly give financial tithes and offerings.
- But if you do these things without turning away from your sins and trusting in Jesus alone to forgive your sins, not only do your religious acts mean nothing to God. They are loathsome and detestable. They are an abomination.
"Because you have rejected the word of Yahweh, He has also rejected you from being king." (v.23b)
- While Saul's failure in chapter 13 meant the end of his dynasty (13:14), his disobedience here in chapter 15 meant the end of his personal right to be king. [RSB]
- Despite Saul's excuse that he saved the spoils to sacrifice to God at Gilgal, God has rejected Saul.
So we see Saul's disobedience, God's regret, and God's rejection. Now let's examine Saul's hypocrisy.
4. Saul's Hypocrisy (v.24–35)
Saul plead for forgiveness. Read verse 24–25.
- On the surface, Saul's confession seems adequate and genuine. [RSB]
- Saul admitted that he feared the people more than God.
- But the problem was that there was no change seen in Saul. His repentance was false, inauthentic, phony.
- Even after his confession, Saul cared more about his kingship and his reputation before the people than his standing before God.
Then Samuel turned to go, but Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. So Samuel said to him, "Yahweh has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor, who is better than you." (v.27–28)
- Notice the perfect tense: Yahweh "has torn" and "has given."
- In God's mind, the transfer of power to Israel's new king had already been accomplished. [CSBSB]
- The term "today" or "this day" (ESV) is used in a legal sense: the rejection was final and had already taken effect. [ESVSB]
"Also the Eternal One of Israel will not lie or have regret; for He is not a man that He should have regret." (v.29)
- This verb translated "regret" is used four times in 1 Samuel, and all four occurence are in chapter 15.
- The first occurrence in verse 11, we discussed earlier. The verb refers to deep emotion and concern about a situation involving others.
- Here in verse 29, it has the same meaning as in Exodus 13:17.
Now it happened that when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not guide them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.” (Ex 13:17)
- The term in v.11 and v.35 describes God's sorrow or regret that Saul had turned out as he did.
- Verse 29 emphatically states that God will not regret or change his mind concerning a decision once he has made it.
God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? or has He spoken, and will He not establish it? (Num 23:19)
Saul continues, "Please honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel." (v.30)
- Saul shows his true colors and reveals his true concern. He is more preoccupied with finding honor before his people than being reconciled with God. [RSB]
- Saul thought about how he could best salvage this situation for his benefit and self-gain. [ESVSB]
- Saul wanted to save his face. [NLTSB]
"So Samuel returned, following after Saul, and Saul worshiped Yahweh." (v.31)
- Samuel relents and returns with Saul to save face before his people. [CSBSB]
- But notice again Saul's hypocrisy. He persists in defying God and remaining disobedient. He did not lay a hand on Agag.
- So read what Samuel does next.
Then Samuel said, "Bring Agag near to me, the king of the Amalekites." And Agag came to him in chains. And Agag said, "Surely the bitterness of death has departed." But Samuel said, "As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women." And Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before Yahweh at Gilgal. (v.32–33)
- Seeing Saul’s disposition toward him, Agag thought he was going to be spared.
- Instead, Samuel followed through with the task that Saul had failed to complete. [RSB]
- The Hebrew verb translated "hacked...to pieces" is used only once here in the Old Testament. Some translate this verb "cut" (NLT) or "hewed" (NASB, KJV) or "butchered" (NJB) [UBSH]
- To be "hacked...to pieces" was not the normal means of putting to death. Samuel hacks Agag to pieces as a priest would violently cut an animal sacrifice, putting Agag to death for his own sin.
- God had commanded Saul to "devote to destruction" every man and woman, every infant and nursing baby, and every single animal and livestock.
- But sadly, because the Israelites did not exterminate these wicked Amalekites, they came back later to raid the southern territory and took women and children captive, including David's family (1 Sam 30) [MSB]
- And in the book of Esther, the antagonist Haman, a descendant of Agag. will later try to exterminate the entire nation of Israel.
- So how does God respond to Saul's false repentance and hypocrisy?
Scripture says that "Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death; for Samuel grieved over Saul. And Yahweh regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel." (v.35)
- First, God abandons Saul. Remember that Samuel, throughout the book of 1 Samuel, was God's spokesperson. The word of God came through Samuel to all Israel. Since Samuel did not see Saul again, God did not speak to Saul again for the rest of his life.
- Second, God regretted (felt profound sorrow) over Saul.
- It's the same regret God had over all mankind during Noah's time in Genesis 6.
- Jesus expressed a similar regret when he laments over Jerusalem saying, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem...How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you did not want it." (Matt 23:37b)
Like Saul, all of us have fallen short of the glory of God. But the crux of the matter is this.
- Have you expressed genuine repentance, or is your repentance like Saul's? Counterfeit, inauthentic, fake.
- Saul said he was sorry. He plead for mercy, but he pined for man's praise more than God's. He went through the motions of worship while disobeying God by sparing the life of Agag.
- You can come to church every week, bring your tithes and offerings, sing hymns with your hands lifted high, and look your Sunday best.
- But sadly, all your religious gestures mean nothing to God without genuine repentance that leads to obedience.
- So heed what the apostle Peter said, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)
adapted from H.B. Charles, On Pastoring, (Chicago, IL, Crossway, 2016), 19. ↩︎