1 Samuel 15 – “Saul’s War with Amalek; God Rejects Saul”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Samuel instructs Saul to slaughter the Amalekites. Saul kills the Amalekite men, women, and children, but spares the king and a few choice animals. Samuel informs Saul that he has been rejected by God. Samuel then kills the king of Amalek.

II. Photo
Saul’s fate is sealed: “As Samuel turned to leave, Saul seized the corner of his robe, and it tore.  And Samuel said to him, ‘The Lord has this day torn the kingship over Israel away from you and has given it to another who is worthier than you.’” (vv. 27-28)

III. Important Verses
2-3: “Thus said the LORD of Hosts: I am exacting the penalty for what Amalek did to Israel, for the assault he made upon them on the road, on their way up from Egypt. Now go, attack Amalek, and proscribe all that belongs to him. Spare no one, but kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and asses!”
6: Saul said to the Kenites, “Come, withdraw at once from among the Amalekites, that I may not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they left Egypt.” So the Kenites withdrew from among the Amalekites.
10-11:  The word of the LORD then came to Samuel:  “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned away from Me and has not carried out My commands.” Samuel was distressed and he entreated the LORD all night long.
12: Early in the morning Samuel went to meet Saul. Samuel was told, “Saul went to Carmel, where he erected a monument for himself; then he left and went on down to Gilgal.”
24-26: Saul said to Samuel, “I did wrong to transgress the LORD’s command and your instructions; but I was afraid of the troops and I yielded to them. Please, forgive my offense and come back with me, and I will bow low to the LORD.” But Samuel said to Saul, “I will not go back with you; for you have rejected the LORD’s command, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel.”
27-28: As Samuel turned to leave, Saul seized the corner of his robe, and it tore. And Samuel said to him, “The LORD has this day torn the kingship over Israel away from you and has given it to another who is worthier than you.
32-33: Samuel said, “Bring forward to me King Agag of Amalek.” Agag approached him with faltering steps; and Agag said, “Ah, bitter death is at hand!” Samuel said: “As your sword has bereaved women, So shall your mother be bereaved among women.” And Samuel cut Agag down before the LORD at Gilgal.

IV. Outline
1-3. Samuel commands Saul to attack Amalek
4-9. Saul vanquishes the Amelekites but spares the king and the choice animals
10-11. God regrets making Saul king
12. Saul erects a monument for himself
13-23. Samuel informs Saul that God has rejected him as king
24-25. Saul begs for forgiveness
26. Samuel is unyielding
27. Saul accidentally tears Samuel’s robe
28-29. Samuel’s rebuke
30-31. Saul and Samuel leave together
32-33. Samuel kills the king of Amalek
34-35. Saul and Samuel depart, never to see each other again

V. Comment
Chapter 15 tells the story of Saul’s war with Amalek. Verse 2 says that Amalek is to be killed for revenge: “Thus said the LORD of Hosts: I am exacting the penalty for what Amalek did to Israel, for the assault he made upon them on the road, on their way up from Egypt.” There are similar verses in the Pentateuch. Exodus 17:4 says: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Inscribe this in a document as a reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven!’” Similarly, Deuteronomy 25:17-19 says: “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt — how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the LORD your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” Indeed, there seem to be literary connections between 1 Samuel 15 and the aforementioned passage.

In v. 3 God asks Saul to “place a ban” (herem) on the Amalekites, i.e. completely wipe them out. This is a concept known from Deuteronomy 20:16-18: “In the towns of the latter peoples, however, which the LORD your God is giving you as a heritage, you shall not let a soul remain alive. No, you must proscribe (tacharimeim) them — the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites — as the LORD your God has commanded you, lest they lead you into doing all the abhorrent things that they have done for their gods and you stand guilty before the LORD your God.” While the ban in chapter 15 is uncompromising, Klein notes that different types of bans appear in the Hebrew Bible. He writes: “According to the prescriptions of Deut 20:12–15, distant cities, outside the land of Israel, were only to have their men put under the ban, while the women, children, livestock and other spoil could be saved. For the cities of the land, a total ban was prescribed. But in 1 Sam 15, a total ban is ordered for a distant people, Amalek. This may reflect the intense hatred felt for Amalek and/or the need for defense against their raiding activities. In any case, by violating the ban mediated by a prophet, Saul lost his kingship. Saul had been ordered to be unsparing, and no possibility for misunderstanding was left open in v 3: he was to kill them, and care was taken to indicate the all-inclusiveness of the command. Doeg’s ruthless attack against the city of Nob took place with similar thoroughness (1 Sam 22:19). In David’s own battles with the Amalekites he killed all the people but spared the livestock and certain garments without committing an offense (1 Sam 27:8–9; 30:20). Hence the ban was not necessarily total in every case (cf. Josh 6:21–25; 8:27; 11:4).” (149) Thus, some bans were complete while others were moderate.

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Klein, Ralph W. “1 Samuel” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 10 (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983).
McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr. “1 Samuel,” Anchor Bible vol. 8 (New York: Doubleday, 1980).
Photo taken from http://angloboerwarmuseum.com/images/boer/mem_fabric/flag_agar_rip2.jpg

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