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Go to Bible: 1 Samuel 15
|1Sa 15:1||- (top)|
|1Sa 15:2||- (top)|
“devoted to destruction.” [For more on things “devoted” to Yahweh and devoted to destruction, see commentary on Josh. 6:17].(top)
|1Sa 15:4||- (top)|
“to the city of Amalek.” Scholars are not sure which city this is.
“set an ambush.” This translation follows the Septuagint, as most English versions do. The Hebrew, “and he contended in the valley,” seems to have lost a letter which changed the meaning.(top)
|1Sa 15:6||- (top)|
“from Havilah.” The location of Havilah is unknown, however, “from Havilah to Shur” is the Ishmaelite territory given in Genesis 25:18, so Havilah would have had to have been in southern Israel, likely south of the Dead Sea. That also makes sense because the Amalekites who lived there would have been in a good position to know when Israel left Egypt and to attack them as they traveled from Egypt towards the Promised Land.
“Shur.” This is the region on the northwest corner of the Sinai peninsula, just before you enter the Nile delta and Egypt proper.
“next to Egypt.” The Hebrew is idiomatic: “upon the face of Egypt,” meaning right next to Egypt.(top)
“Agag the king of the Amalekites.” Saul did not kill all the Amalekites and not even all the descendants of Agag, as we see from the Book of Esther (see commentary on Esther 3:1).
“devoted to destruction.” Saul and his army killed all the people. [For more on things “devoted” to Yahweh and devoted to destruction, see commentary on Josh. 6:17].
“the mouth of the sword.” Used to show great destruction, as if the sword was eating its victims (see commentary on Josh. 6:21).(top)
“the best of the sheep and the cattle and the fatlings and the lambs and all that was good.” Knowing Saul and the people, there was no intent at this time to sacrifice all these animals to Yahweh, even though that was what Saul said in 1 Samuel 15:15. The fact that Saul spared Agag showed he did not intend to keep the word of Yahweh; he certainly was not going to sacrifice Agag, and what would be the point of keeping him alive? By verse 15 Saul was just trying to make excuses for his disobedience. By that time he was just saying things that might convince others that he intended to fulfill the command of Yahweh even though that was not his real intention.
“devoted to destruction.” In this context, the phrase means “to utterly destroy.” [For more on things “devoted” to Yahweh and devoted to destruction, see commentary on Josh. 6:17].(top)
|1Sa 15:10||- (top)|
“I regret.” The Hebrew word translated “regret” is nacham (#05162 נָחַם), and here it refers to God changing His mind about something He had done and regretting it or being sorry He had done it. God interacts with people and will sometimes change His mind about something He has done if things do not work out as He had planned. There is an apparent conflict between 1 Samuel 15:11 and 1 Samuel 15:29; see commentary on 1 Samuel 15:29. [For more on God changing His mind or having regret, see commentary on Jer. 18:8].
“made.” The verb is more literally, “make king,” so the reading would be something such as “I regret that I have made king Saul to be king,” but that is somewhat awkward English.(top)
“Carmel.” This is the town of Carmel in Judah, not Mount Carmel. Carmel in Judah is about 7 miles south of Hebron. Given this context, the monument was to commemorate Saul’s victory over the Amalekites. One wonders if this could have been the place that the first battle against them started. Or, it may just have been because it was on the road that he and his army would have taken south to engage the Amalekites. Carmel in Judah was the town of Nabal and his wife Abigail who became the wife of David when Nabal died.(top)
|1Sa 15:13||- (top)|
“sound.” The Hebrew word translated “sound” is qol (#06963 קוֹל qowl, also sometimes spelled קֹל), and it primarily means “sound” or “voice.” Although we would normally think in terms of the “sound” that sheep and cattle make, it is possible that here in this context Samuel meant qol to mean “voice,” as if the sheep and cattle were signs that were speaking up and witnessing the fact Saul had disobeyed God. The signs of God speak up in support of Him (cp. Exod. 4:8-9 and see commentary on Exod. 4:8).(top)
“to sacrifice.” This was likely a lie. God’s “sacrifice” was to destroy the animals. There is no reason to assume that Yahweh would have been happier with one type of sacrifice than the sacrifice of devoting the animals to destruction. It seems that Saul invented this to save face.
“to Yahweh your God.” It is interesting in this record in 1 Samuel 15 that Saul repeats the phrase “Yahweh your God” (meaning Yahweh, Samuel’s God) three times in this chapter (1 Sam. 15:15, 21, 30). Saul never just says, “to Yahweh,” or “to Yahweh our God,” but always, “to Yahweh your God.” It is unclear exactly why Saul did that, but it seems like he is somehow distancing himself from Yahweh, as if to say, “Yahweh and His commands are between Yahweh and you, while I am king over the people and must take care of them.” In any case, it is clear that since Saul made the statement three times in the conversation that he was distancing himself from Yahweh and his responsibility to do exactly what Yahweh commanded.
“devoted...to destruction.” That is, destroyed them all. [For more on things “devoted” to Yahweh and devoted to destruction, see commentary on Josh. 6:17].(top)
“Stop.” The verb is imperative. Samuel has had enough of Saul’s lies and excuses.(top)
|1Sa 15:17||- (top)|
“and Yahweh sent you on a mission.” The Hebrew word translated “mission” is derek (#01870 דֶּרֶךְ), the common word for “road” or “way.” The Bible has a lot to say about the “road” that we are to travel on; the straight road, without turning to the right or to the left. Yahweh sent Saul on a “road” for him to follow, in this case a specific “mission,” but Saul turned off the road and went his own way. In this case, the word “road” is translated “mission” due to its being a specific “road” to take (cp. CJB; CSB; ESV; NAB; NASB; NIV; NLT). Some versions translate the Hebrew as “journey,” but that does not catch the meaning as well as “mission.”
“devoted to destruction.” That is, kill them all. [For more on things “devoted” to Yahweh and devoted to destruction, see commentary on Josh. 6:17].(top)
“but swooped down upon the spoils.” The Hebrew verb indicates a quick and greedy action, and has been brought into English in different ways: CJB, “seize the spoil”; CSB, “rush on the plunder”; ESV, “pounce on the spoil”; KJV, “fly upon the spoil”; NKJV, “swoop down on the spoil.” The NET has, “you have greedily rushed upon the plunder!”
It is obvious from what Samuel said and the way he said it that he knew that Saul and his army had no intention of killing all the animals they took as a sacrifice to Yahweh. The implication of greed built into the verb shows that the people intended on keeping the spoils, or at least a lot of it, for themselves.(top)
“But I have obeyed the voice of Yahweh.” It is unclear here whether Saul is just a stubborn liar who cannot bring himself to be humble before Yahweh and admit his guilt, or whether Saul is so spiritually blind and ungodly by this point that he actually believes he obeyed God. At some level he does know that the word of Yahweh was not fulfilled, because in the next verse he shifts the blame to the people.
“devoted...to destruction.” That is, killed them all. [For more on things “devoted” to Yahweh and devoted to destruction, see commentary on Josh. 6:17].(top)
“But the people.” Here Saul shifts the blame for not fulfilling the word of Yahweh from himself to the people, but even so he does not admit that what happened was wrong or disobedient. He is just acting as if instead of killing the animals where they were in the camps of the Amalekites, he was bringing them back to Israel to sacrifice them.
“to sacrifice to Yahweh your God in Gilgal.” Saul is making it seem like he is fulfilling the word of Yahweh, but not wanting to do it where the Amalekites were, he wanted to complete the sacrifice in Gilgal, which had a long sacred history. But it seems clear that Saul is just making things up as he goes.(top)
“to obey is better than sacrifice.” Obeying God from a humble heart is much more important in God’s sight than sacrifices and offerings. Sacrifices and offerings were never designed to make a person with an evil heart acceptable in the sight of God. An evil and arrogant person who has no real intention of obeying God cannot simply do a sacrifice, make an offering, or pray to God, and then be accepted by God. God is much more interested in obedience and a humble heart than in a person’s making sacrifices (1 Sam. 15:22; Ps. 40:6-8; 51:16-17; Jer. 7:22-23; Hos. 6:6 [quoted in Matt. 9:13 and 12:7]; Micah 6:6-8).
The Bible says that when a person is evil and unrepentant, the sacrifices and offerings he makes, including prayers, are simply rejected by God. God’s favor is not for sale (cp. Prov. 15:8; 21:27; 28:9; Isa. 1:11-15; 58:1-8; Jer. 6:20; 14:10-12; Hos. 5:5-6; Amos 5:21-23; Mal. 1:10; 2:13-14; James 4:6. Verses that specifically mention prayer include: Job 35:12-13; Prov. 15:29; Isa. 59:1-2; Ezek. 8:17-18; Micah 3:4; Zech. 7:12-13; James 4:3).
In this case in 1 Samuel, King Saul had flagrantly disobeyed God, then tried to make various excuses to cover his sin instead of humbly confessing his sin to God. God was not fooled by Saul’s excuses, and lost his kingdom because of his arrogance (1 Sam. 15:23). As we can see from v. 23, rebellion and being stubborn are very serious sins.
[For more on God being more concerned with love and obedience than sacrifices, see commentary on Matt. 5:24. For more on God not speaking much about sacrifices when Israel came out of Egypt, see commentary on Jer. 7:22].(top)
“teraphim.” Teraphim were household gods, and were sometimes used for divination (see commentary on Gen. 31:19).(top)
“the commandment of Yahweh.” Literally, “the mouth of Yahweh.”(top)
“forgive.” The Hebrew is more literally, “carry away” my sin.
“bow down.” The common biblical way of bowing down before people or God was to fall to one’s knees and bow the upper body to the earth. It is the same Hebrew word as “worship.” [For more on bowing down, see commentary on 1 Chron. 29:20].(top)
|1Sa 15:26||- (top)|
“edge.” The Hebrew word also means “wing” or “hem.”
“grabbed the edge of his cloak, and it tore.” This was a supernatural sign. The outer cloaks worn by the people were very sturdy and could not be torn just by grabbing it.(top)
|1Sa 15:28||- (top)|
“change his mind.” The Hebrew word translated “change his mind” and later in the verse “changes his mind” is nacham (#05162 נָחַם). This verse has been considered difficult by some people because it seems to contradict what God has said in other places, but the resolution to that apparent contradiction is to realize that 1 Samuel 15:29 is spoken in a very specific context, the context of Samuel telling Saul that God does not change his mind—will not change his mind—about removing Saul from being the king of Israel.
It is important to see the specific context here in verse 29, because a few verses earlier, in 1 Samuel 15:11, God said He “regretted” making Saul king, and the Hebrew word translated “regret” is nacham, the same word that occurs here in verse 29. If we do not see the specific context of Samuel’s remark, then Samuel contradicts what God had said just a few verses earlier; God said He regretted making Saul king and changed His mind about it (nacham) in verse 11 but Samuel says God does not change His mind (nacham) in verse 29. Furthermore, there are other verses in the Bible where God says He changes His mind (cp. Exod. 32:14; Jer. 18:8; Jonah 3:10), and these would also contradict Samuel’s statement if it was a general one.
Although the apparent contradiction between 1 Samuel 15:11 and 15:29 would be easier to see if the English translation was the same as they are in the King James Version, which reads “repent” in all three places, most modern versions, including the New King James, translate nacham differently in verse 11 from the way it is translated in verse 29 because the context is different. Here in verse 29, Samuel is making a statement about God in the specific context of Saul being king and says that God does not change His mind because in that particular case God was not going to change His mind; God’s decision was firm. However, there are many times when God’s decision is not firm, and He changes His mind when people have a change of heart and behavior. That is why God “regretted” (nacham) making Saul king and changed His mind (nacham) about other things as well.
[For more on God changing His mind, see commentary on Jer. 18:8].(top)
|1Sa 15:30||- (top)|
“So Samuel went back with Saul.” Samuel changed his mind and went with Saul. The text does not explain why Samuel changed his mind. He may have had personal concerns about Saul, or he may have felt the need to show unity between Saul the king and Samuel the representative of Yahweh so that the people would have confidence in their leadership.
“Saul bowed down before Yahweh.” The Hebrew word translated “bowed down” is shachah (#07812 שָׁחָה), which is ordinarily translated “worship” when used of bowing down to Yahweh. Shachah indicates an action, not a posture of the heart. Shachah means “to bow down,” and when done in a godly way, the action of bowing down indicates the posture of the heart, so the translation “worship” usually catches the sense correctly. However, there are times when people “bow down” to Yahweh but it is insincere, it is just show to impress people, and this is one of those cases. To translate the text as “Saul worshiped Yahweh” might be acceptable from a translational point of view, but it gives the reader the wrong impression. Saul did not restore his relationship with God, he put on an act to impress the people. In 1 Samuel 15:30 Saul wanted to be honored before the people, and that is all that “bowing down” before Yahweh did: it impressed the people. It did not change Saul’s heart toward God and did not change God’s position that He had removed Saul from being king, which is why Samuel anoints David king in the next chapter, 1 Samuel 16. [For more on bowing down and “worship,” see commentary on 1 Chron. 29:20].(top)
“Agag came to him confidently. Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” This is one interpretation and the most likely interpretation of the Hebrew text. But the Hebrew text can also read that Agag came to Samuel “trembling,” saying “the bitterness of death has turned,” but does that mean “turned away,” or “turned to come near.”
“slashed.” The Hebrew word is only used here and is very rare, so the meaning is uncertain. In modern Hebrew the word, if used with “throat,” means to cut the throat. It may refer to a one-stroke decapitation. Cutting off the head of an enemy is something that occurs in the Bible.(top)
“Ramah...Gibeah.” The two cities are only a few miles apart, but the two men do not visit one another. This is indicative of the rift between them.(top)
“regretted.” See commentary on 1 Samuel 15:11, “regret.”
“until the day of his death.” That is, until the day Samuel died.(top)