The Lord, through Samuel, instructed Saul to destroy the Amalekites. This divine punishment was connected to the way that the Amalekites had treated the Israelites when they left Egypt several hundred years previously. Clearly, this is an example of delayed divine judgement, a reminder that God does not forget sinful actions of the impenitent. It is also an example of corporate divine judgement because the current generation of Amalekites had not been involved in the actions of their forefathers against Israel. The problem with the Amalekites was that they had become worse since then, and what they had done to the Israelites originally was very bad.
Saul began his campaign against the Amalekites with commendable wisdom. He gathered a sufficient army that expressed the unity of the people. Moreover he acknowledged the promise that had been made to the Kenites when they had helped the Israelites on their journey from Egypt (the Kenites were the descendants of Hobab, to whom Moses gave a promise to in Numbers 10:29-32). This is a reminder that subsequent generations should keep appropriate promises that were made by their predecessors.
Yet although he won a great victory Saul failed to show total obedience to God’s instructions. Instead of punishing the Amalekite king, Saul chose to spare him. Saul also kept alive all the best animals that the Amalekites had owned. Perhaps Saul had reasons for his disobedience which he thought would be acceptable to God. Yet the Lord was not pleased with Saul’s failure to obey all that he had been told. Here we see an example of the spiritual fact that partial obedience is not acceptable with God.
What did God do? He spoke to his servant Samuel about it and revealed the divine sorrow at Saul’s obedience. Does our sin affect God? Paul reminds us that it is possible to grieve the Spirit.
Samuel’s response is interesting because it combined anger and prayer. Saul’s disobedience could not be treated with ambivalence by the Lord’s servant. It is essential for such to be angry with deliberate sins by those who know they have been given specific instructions by God. Samuel knew he would have to get involved in the situation, and he prepared for his involvement by earnest and prolonged prayer.
Samuel then dealt with the problem promptly. He confronted Saul for his disobedience. Saul attempted to blame the people for his decisions, saying that they wanted to sacrifice the best animals to the Lord. Perhaps they wanted to express their gratitude to God in this way. But Saul knew what God required and good intentions of others should not have diverted him from implementing the Lord’s requirements. This is a reminder to leaders that they should lead their people and not be led by them.
Samuel was not impressed by Saul’s explanation. In his response, Samuel stated the well-known principle that obedience to God’s Word is better than a great religious spectacle. He also informed Saul that his action of rejecting God’s clear instructions had deprived him of his kingship, despite the great victory he had achieved.
Saul knew that he was in a predicament. He did not want to be embarrassed publicly by the absence of Samuel from the celebrations. So he resorted to appropriate religious language in an attempt to get Samuel to disobey the word that he had received from God. Samuel stayed with Saul, but affirmed the divine judgement on him. He also administered the divine justice on Agag that Saul still refused to perform.
This was the last time Saul saw Samuel. Saul’s disobedience brought permanent sorrow into the hearts of both the Lord and his servant Samuel (v. 35). Surely a sad outcome of an event that promised so much but became a disaster because of a failure to do entirely what God commanded. How is our obedience?