So is Jonathan rescued out of the hands of Saul by the people. Saul shall have to reap the consequences of his vile adjuration. His curse in its flight will be made to return to him. For the military might of the Philistines is not broken; and the result will be that the Philistine’s will triumph over Saul in the end.
Now follows a summary account of Saul’s wars and family relations (chap. on every side. The enemies mentioned are Moab, the children of Ammon, Edom, Zobah, the Philistines and the Amalekites. Most of these wars, if not all of them, must have been fought between the defeat of the Philistines related in the preceding narrative and the defeat of the Amalekites, the last war mentioned. For it is impossible to find a place for all these wars elsewhere in the narrated career of Saul.). Its introductory statement reads, “And Saul took the kingdom over Israel, and fought against all his enemies on every side”. The meaning undoubtedly is that after the battle of the Philistines, related in the preceding narrative, Saul vigorously addresses himself to the task of delivering the whole nation out of the hands of all its enemies. He now makes a beginning of fighting against his enemies
(There is another interpretation of the statement: “And Saul took over the kingdom and fought against all his enemies on every side”. The interpretation is to the effect that the reference is to Saul’s accession to the throne, which the sacred narrative mentions—such is the view—to supply himself with a starting-point for the historical-statistical statement of the various wars which he carried on from the beginning of his government. This interpretation of the statement in question has in its favor that the already-related war against the Ammonites is here again mentioned. However, it is not improbable that Saul’s victory over the Ammonites under Nahash was not decisive so that the war against this people has to be fought over again. Be this as it may, certain it is that, with the exception of this one war, all the wars here mentioned must have been waged after the defeat of the Philistines related in the preceding narrative and that therefore the sacred writer can now state that Saul addressed himself to the task of fighting against all his enemies on every side.)
How long a time it took Saul to fight all these wars, not counting the one against the Philistines, of which it is said that it extended throughout his whole reign,—is not stated. It must have taken him some years. Every one of these military enterprises was successful—“whithersoever he turned himself, he vexed them”—and therefore they greatly endeared Saul to the nation. For the spoils of these wars he lavished upon the people, so that in his lamentation over him David with reason could appeal to the “daughters of Israel” to weep “over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel”. And even Samuel was much taken up with Saul. The revelation that it repented the Lord that he had set up Saul to be king grieved Samuel; “and he cried unto the Lord all night”. And so unwilling was the seer to let Saul go that the Lord finally said to him, “How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel”.
That Saul believed not in wonders, that he made not God his expectation, did not stand in his way of manfully fighting these wars. He did not have to believe in wonders to fight these wars. His natural courage carried him through. For he was naturally a brave man. The only time his courage failed him therefore is when he had no one to rely upon but the Lord, as in the recent crisis. He was an expert at taking the field as heading a large, well-equipped and eager army to put to the sword Moabites and Ammonites in their unguarded moments; but when there was a battle to be fought that called for true spiritual heroism, he was an expert only at making himself as inconspicuous as possible. Yet the importance of Saul’s achievements on the battlefield for the true Israel must not be overlooked. Through the natural courage of the unbelieving king the Lord delivered His people out of the hands of their spoilers. This explains why Saul by His military achievements could ingratiate himself with Samuel even to the extent that the seer held unto him despite his disobedience and rebellion. Samuel was a great man of God but for all that a man impressed by Saul’s countenance and the height of his stature. And being but a man, he could not know Saul’s heart and discern the vile ambitions that stirred in his bosom and the carnal zeal under the impulse of which he fought his battles. Being but a man, Samuel mistook Saul’s natural courage for true zeal. For these reasons he wanted Saul spared also, it is certain, for Jonathan’s sake, who by the grace of God had shown himself capable of greatest deeds of faith. What a worthy successor of Saul Jonathan would be!
The sacred narrator also has considerable to say about Saul’s household and family. He mentions three sons: Jonathan, Ishwi, and Malchishua. Instead of Ishwi in 31:2 is Abinadab, “And the Philistines . . . slew Jonathan, Abinadab, and Melchishua, Saul’s sons.” Likewise in Chron. 8:88, “And Saul begat Jonathan, and Malchishua, and Abinadab, and Eshbaal”. Here the text adds a name—Eshbaal—to those previously mentioned, and likewise 9:89, “And Saul begat Jonathan, and Malchishua, and Abinadab ,and Eshbaal. And mentions the son Ishbosheth. Ishbaal is the same with Ishvi and with Ishbosheth, “man of shame”. The change to this name is accounted for by the shameful murder of this son narrated in 2 Sam. Altogether, then, Saul had four sons. His two daughters were Merab and Michal, and his wife’s name was Ahinoam, a daughter of Ahimaas. Saul’s captain of the host was Abiner, abbreviated in verse 51 to Abner, his cousin. This appears from the next verse, where the relationship is stated more fully: Kish, Saul’s father, and Neri, Abner’s father, were sons of Abiel.
The sacred writer closes this section of his narrative with the notice, “And there was a sore war against the Philistines all the days of Saul: and when Saul saw any strong man, or any valiant man, he took him unto him”. Eventually the Philistines proved Saul’s undoing because he made not God his expectation, but trusted in the arm of flesh. This agrees with his gaining for military service any strong or valiant man that he saw.
If the wars against the nations mentioned in verse 47 of chapter 14 were fought after the defeat of the Philistines related in the preceding narrative—and doubtless they were fought after that defeat—then the first verse of chapter 15 is chronologically related to 14:47. Sometime after the waging of the war last mentioned in this verse—the war against the Philistines—Samuel comes to Saul and sends him to destroy Amalek. Mindful of Saul’s former disobedience and fervently desirous that henceforth he submit to the word of the Lord, the seer, in imparting to him the divine communication, sets out with reminding him that “the Lord sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the Lord”. Saul must consider that in Samuel he has to do with a true prophet, who speaks to him God’s word; and he must also consider that, as king, he is the Lord’s and not his own, and that he reigns over God’s people so that he is in duty bound to obey the Lord’s voice. The seer goes on to tell him that the Lord remembers that which Amalek did to Israel, how he lay for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt; and that Saul shall now go and smite Amalek.
The Amalekites were a wild, warlike, desert-people, descended from Esau’s grandson Amelek (). The first attack of this people on the children of Israel is narrated in sq., “Then came Amalek and fought with Israel in Rephidim.” What the Amalekites there did to the people of Israel was a thing of revolting meanness and cowardice. They met them by the way, and smote the hindmost of the marching host of the Lord, all the feeble, faint, and weary. The Lord’s anger burned. At His command, Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. Then the Lord swore that he would have war with Amalek from generation to generation until his remembrance was utterly put out from under heaven ( ). If means that the Lord put Amalek under the ban of His curse. Amalek, like Esau, is thus reprobated; he cannot be redeemed, but must be destroyed. Accordingly, the Lord hardened his heart, so that the hostilities of Rephidim were often afterwards repeated in Amalek’s alliances with the Canaanites ( sq.), with the Moabites ( ), and with the Medianites ( ). Amalek therefore was now ripe for judgment. Accordingly, Saul receives the command to “go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman; infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” Such is the Lord’s will. For He is purposed to reveal His wrath on Amalek in order that it may appear that He is righteous and holy God with eyes too pure to behold sin; and appear further that they who touch His people, touch the apple of His eye and that therefore without fail He will avenge them, who cry unto Him day and night. It can also be stated thus: Goa is purposed to reveal His wrath on the Amalekites, the vessels of wrath; and through His destroying these defiers of God and persecutors of His people, reveal the riches of His glory on His people, the vessels of mercy. Hence, the destruction of Amalek will be solely to His glory but only in the way of Saul’s carrying out the instructions of the Lord to the last letter.
Saul musters the people. As collected together they form a great host; it numbers 200,000 footmen. Resides, there are 10,000 men of Judah. Thus, the whole of the population, able to bear arms, is assembled together. This is according to Saul’s orders. For he puts his trust in numbers instead of in the Lord; and he is convinced that the powerful Amalekites can be overthrown and destroyed only by the full force of Israel. And with that force behind him, he takes the field against the enemy, full of confidence that the victory in his not as a thing toward which he fights, it being God’s gracious gift to His people; but as a thing that he will gain for himself through his bravery and ability as a leader of men. With this mind in him, he advances toward an unnamed city of the Amalekites.
The way leads through the settlement of Kenites that lies well within the territory of Amalek. The Kenites must be spared. For they are a people friendly to Israel and a people that always have been friendly to Israel. They had shown kindness to Israel after their departure from Egypt (). Moses’ brother-in-law, Hobab ( ), was one of them; and it was through his services that this kindness had been shown. And so the Lord is not numbering them with the Amalekites; for blessing His people, they are blessed of the Lord. Saul, therefore, urges them to depart from among the Amalekites; and so they do.
The battle between the Amalekites and the men of Israel is fought in the valley of that unnamed Amalekite city; and it goes against the Amalekites. Saul smites them throughout their whole territory. Their defeat reaches from Havilah to Shur. According to , Havilah forms the boundary of the Ishmaelites; while Shur is that portion of the Arabian desert bordering on Egypt; and into which Israel came on leaving Egypt.
But in the prosecution of this war, Saul is forgetful of the word of the Lord. He sets himself up as judge over God’s instructions, and discards as many of them as, according to his view, are too foolish and unnecessary to be carried out. The Lord has given orders to destroy all the people, both man and woman, infant and suckling. Saul can see sense in that. Amalek is a real menace; and always has been. It is a good thing—good for Israel and for Saul—that this people be destroyed out of the earth. Saul will have one enemy less to contend with. Accordingly, he “utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword” with the exception of one solitary man—Agag, the king of the Amalekites. Him Saul takes alive and spares. As he sees it, sparing Agag is the wise and right thing to do. He will be able to provide the people at home with the best possible evidence that, thanks to his superb energy and force and to his inspiring presence on the battlefield, the Amalekites, as a people, are no more. For, behold, he leads captive their king. How the people will rejoice. How they will applaud him, their warrior-king ,and bless his memory. And when he has done with Agag he will put also him to the sword. That ought to satisfy Samuel perfectly. For what difference should it make to the seer when Agag is slain, if only he be slain. Saul also can see no good in destroying what is best among the sheep, and the oxen, and the fatlings and the lambs. What a wanton and useless destruction of prize cattle and herds that would be! Does the Lord really demand it? Saul won’t believe that He does. That order must have originated with Samuel, not with the Lord; and the people fully agree with their king, and he with them. For both want those oxen and fatlings spared. For, they say, there is the Lord’s altar to be considered. How pleased the Lord will be with the sacrifice of such specimens of perfection among the kinds of the animals that were appointed by him for his altar. Yet, of course, they are not interested in the Lord’s altar at all but in themselves, as is evident from their flying upon the spoil (verse 19). How can it be the love of God’s altars than constrains them, if in sparing those oxen and sheep, they disobey the word of the Lord?
Yet such is Saul’s argument by which he persuades himself, against better knowledge, that in sparing Agag and all that is best among the sheep and oxen and fatlings and lambs, and that thus in destroying only everything that is vile and refuse, he obeys the voice of the Lord through not the voice of Samuel. But what does he really have to do with Samuel? Nothing at all, says Saul. What proof does he really have that all or even any of the old seer’s instructions originated with God and not with Samuel? None whatever, says Saul. But he is willingly ignorant of the evidence to this effect with which the Lord literally overwhelmed him at the time of his anointing, at the very beginning of his career as king. But Saul is unbelieving. As if the old seer is always speaking for God! As if it can be the Lord’s will that he, the king, blindly do what Samuel says, thus do what he says without subjecting his orders to his own good judgment. Yet that precisely is what the Lord demands of Saul; He demands of him that he receive Samuel’s word as the very word of God and consider always that in Samuel he verily has to do with God. And Saul well knows that Samuel speaks God’s word. This was made plain to him. Hence, he is without excuse. But Saul will not have it so. For God’s word, as obeyed, exalts God. And Saul wants himself exalted. For he is carnal; and being carnal he is wholly self-absorbed. He loves not God but self in contra-opposition to God. He seeks self. He seeks his own glory, fame, and advantage. This explains all that he does. It explains his partial obedience. Thus it explains his slaying all the Amalekite men and women and infants and sucklings. It explains his sparing Agag. It explains his sparing the best among the oxen and sheep. The people insisted. And he will not resist the will of the people. It will hurt his popularity.
“Then came the word of the Lord unto Samuel, saying, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments.” What is here asserted of God—it is asserted that it repented Him—can only be understood in the light of the truth about God in His divine capacity of man’s sovereign Maker and Lord. That truth is this: God sovereignly determined Saul’s disobedience, so that Saul transgressed God’s commands according to God’s own sovereign will, and as sovereignly hardened by God. Hence, that it repented God that He had set up Saul to be king, cannot mean that, as compelled by Saul’s disobedience, that God at best could only foresee but could not determine, God, contrary to His original desire, will and purpose, and thus according to His changed purpose and will, rejected and removed the disobedient and rebellious Saul and chose David to rule in his stead. To so explain God’s repentance is to say that He is a man. For that precisely is repentance with man. Frustrated by things, conditions and circumstances over which he has not the slightest control, man, contrary to his original purpose and desire and thus according to his changed purpose and will, turns about face and sets out to his great disappointment and grief in a direction opposite to that in which he was going to avoid coming to grief or to salvage as much of his original plans as he can. Thus, that it repented God that He had set up Saul to be king means: 1. That Saul’s disobedience grieves God; and 2. That God, when He has done with Saul, that is, when Saul, as sovereignly raised up by the Lord in all his disobedience and rebellion, shall have fully served God’s counsel, God will remove Saul through the agency of the Philistines. Why should the Lord not be grieved with the wicked Saul, hate him on account of his wickedness, and punish him for sins? How could God, being holy, not be grieved with the wicked Saul? That God has need of Saul and accordingly raised him up cannot certainly imply that he takes delight in the rebellious king. In the light of these observations, it ought to be clear that God repents continually, in that His repentance spells the progressive realization of His counsel. It is only because God repents that there will be new heavens and a new earth on which will dwell righteousness.