5.12 1 Samuel -- Saul's Wars
We get more understanding of the reign of Saul from chapter 14. In the fighting with the Philistines, he made a rash oath (1 Sam 14:24) which weakened his own forces and nearly caused the death of his son, Jonathan. He also fought with Moab, Ammon, Edom, "the kings of Zobah" and the Amalekites,
delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them....All the days of Saul there was bitter war with the Philistines, and whenever Saul saw a mighty or brave man, he took him into his service (1 Sam 14:47-48; 1 Sam 14:52).
This doesn't sound like the record of a man who grieved the Spirit of God. He had learned to be a warrior, and to press the battle on several fronts. Instead of courtiers, he surrounded himself with men who were strong and brave. Yet there was that streak of rashness, of impulsiveness, that caused trouble.
In this climate of constant war with surrounding nations, there was no opportunity to consider magnanimity towards or inclusion of Gentiles. The stakes were higher than in the time of the judges. This was a war for survival. We see this in 1 Sam 15, where God commanded Saul (through Samuel) to attack the Amalekites and utterly destroy them. The justification for this was Amalek's attack on Israel during the Exodus (Ex 17:8-13). This attack occurred about 400 years previously! So the judgments of God may be deferred, but they are not forgotten. However, there was a grace note as well: God's judgment was very specific. The Kenites, who lived near the Amalekites, were warned to move away so that they would not be harmed.
The command to Saul was consistent with the policy of Joshua, but not with that of most of the judges. It was one of the few examples of a decree of complete destruction in the monarchical period. (See also 1 Sam 27:9). Conventional warfare of the time may have been brutal, but part of the point of it was the taking of plunder, and probably slaves. The proof that this campaign was an exception to the normal rules was that Saul and his army didn't do as they were told -- they reverted to "business as usual." Surely God wasn't serious when he demanded everyone and everything be obliterated, was He? In Saul's eyes, the battle was a magnificent victory. He capped it by erecting a monument to himself. How far we have come since hiding amongst the baggage train! He even greeted Samuel cheerfully,
"I have carried out the Lord's instructions" (1 Sam 15:15).
Samuel's rebuke blindsided him. Instead of praise, Samuel actually accused him of doing "evil in the eyes of the Lord" (1 Sam 15:19). Saul insisted that he had obeyed God's command, and that the plunder was merely to offer as a sacrifice. Then Samuel delivered the verdict of God:
"Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king" (1 Sam 15:22-23).
This was the second time that Saul has offended God, and the second time a sentence of judgment had been passed. At this point, Saul confessed that he yielded to the will of the people out of fear. When Samuel turned to go, Saul laid hold of his robe and it tore. And even this impetuous act brought a rebuke:
"The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors--to one better than you" (1 Sam 15:28).
Poor Saul -- from that day on, he could not do anything right. Yet, amazingly, Saul was not remorseful or repentant. He only wanted to appear great before the eyes of Israel:
"I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel (1 Sam 15:30)."
Then he made a great pious show of offering sacrifice to the Lord who had just rejected him. In this last incident, Saul showed himself in harmony with Esau, a man who despised his birthright for immediate gratification. So Saul despised the calling of God because he feared the opinion of the people God had once called him to lead.