The meaning of the Lord’s repenting him that he set up Saul to be king has been explained. “Saul”, to quote the Lord’s own words, “is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments.” In the beginning of his career he did so, yet not truly but only outwardly’. His obedience was not motivated by love of God but by love of self.
The Lord’s rejection of Saul as king grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the Lord all night. The Hebrew phrase translated “was grieved” means properly “was hot, excited” by anger or grief or sorrow or by all three combined. If Samuel is angry, it is not with the Lord but with Saul. At the same time, for reasons that already have been stated, the consideration that Saul is now a king rejected of God, causes the seer mental suffering that runs deep. What he cries unto the Lord all night, is not revealed; but it is obvious that the object of his prayer must be the release of Saul from the sentence of rejection and the forgiveness of his disobedience in the way of true repentance. But Samuel’s crying is sinful; for he knows the Lord’s will. And therefore the Lord is silent. When he does again speak it is to rebuke the seer on account of his persistently mourning for a king rejected of God from the reigning over Israel.
But Samuel fears the Lord. He is a great man of God. However keen his disappointment and deep sorrow, now as always he is the obedient servant of theLord, ready to communicate to Saul the will of God concerning him. Accordingly, early in the morning, at the first streak of the dawn, Samuel rises to meet Saul in the expectation that the king comes to report to him. Saul is in duty bound to do just that. But he forbears. What has he really to do with Samuel, that imperious old man. It is the Lord whom he serves not him; and it is the Lord’s orders by whom he is bound not by his. And it is the Lord to whom he will give account of his doings not to him. So says Saul, as his actions plainly indicate. For he is not on his way to Samuel’s house at all; but he is headed for Gilgal to sacrifice unto the Lord some of those spared fatlings and oxen and lambs—verily, Saul is a pious man—and to receive there in Gilgal the plaudits of the multitude for his capture of Agag. The mighty Agag in chains! What a gladdening sight! What a magnificent token of Saul’s military prowess! Saul craves the applause of men. His concern about his own glory even causes him on his way to Gilgal, when he is come to Carmel, to set up a monument in commemoration of his great victory over Amalek. The Hebrew text here reads, “Behold, he—Saul—sets, erects to him a hand. . . .” “The hand” here signifies a monument of victory, as in him (to him) brings out the carnal pride that actuates the king; he erects a pillar to his own honor., because this, like the hand, directs attention to what it denotes. And the
Not meeting up with Saul, as he expected, Samuel makes inquiry. Where can the king be going? It is told the seer that “Saul came to Carmel, and, behold, he set him up a hand, and is gone about, and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal.” So Samuel must take the long journey to Gilgal to meet Saul to speak to him the word of God.
The Lord had not revealed to Samuel precisely in what respect Saul has offended and to what extent. These are matters of secondary importance that Samuel cannot but help observing for himself. So, arriving on the scene of the celebration that is going on in Gilgal— thither Saul went to celebrate his victory with offerings—Samuel hears the sound of the bleating of sheep and of the lowing of oxen, and all is plain to him. He comes to Saul. There can be no doubt that should the king speak his heart, he would say to the seer, “Hast thou found me, my enemy”. For Samuel is the one disturbing element in Saul’s life. But the king controls himself. He must take care how he behaves toward the seer. He cannot afford to lose his favor, for his influence with the people is not a thing to be trifled with; it is still that great. Before the seer has opportunity to say one word, Saul, with forced friendliness and in a booming voice vibrant with good-will, it may be imagined, utters his greeting, “Blessed be thou of the Lord and in the same breath adds, “I have performed the commandments of the Lord.” Saul is adept in putting on an act. But his very speech betrays him. Why should he bring up the matter of the commandments of the Lord and be affirming with such emphasis that he has performed them? Who as yet has maintained the contrary? No one but the voice of Saul’s own conscience. And it speaks, does this voice, with such clarity and condemnatory power as to throw Saul on the defensive the moment he catches sight of Samuel. But all along Saul has tried to stifle that voice.
In replying, Samuel does not argue with Saul, but he straightway opposes to Saul’s lie the truth. Says he to the king, “What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” In a word, ‘Thou, Saul, hast not kept the commandment of the Lord; for those sheep and oxen should have been destroyed, as the Lord commanded.’ Saul has ready his answer; for he imagines that he has built up for himself a defense that even the old seer is not able to break down. Saul replies, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.” Let the thrust of this argument not escape us. It is this, ‘What meaneth this bleating of the sheep and the lowing of oxen? True, they were not destroyed. But know well that I really had nothing to do with that. They, the people, brought them from the Amalekites. The blame is all theirs. Why, then, dost take me to task? Besides, what if the people did spare? They were thoughtful of the Lord’s altars. Their intention was good. Why then dost thou find fault? True, thou didst order them all destroyed, even the best of them. And thou wouldst have us believe that such was the Lord’s will. But the people and I judged otherwise. They were more mindful of God’s altars than thou. Lay aside thine anger. Consider that the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel. Come, celebrate with us the great victory over Amalek.’
Saul, then, has a twofold defense: 1. “The people spared”, he declares. Hence, the blame rests upon them, and he is without fault. Yet, at verse 9 it is stated, “Saul and the people spared”. Besides, supposing the people had spared the good oxen, yet he, the king, permitted it; the people dared not do it contrary to his will. 2. He tries to justify his transgression of the command of God by pleading the holy intention of sacrificing to God. If this was thought of, it was sheer hypocrisy nevertheless. For it was lust of gain that had constrained them.
That Saul in his pride dares also to set him up as judge over Samuel’s orders is evident from the fact that it is at the pride of the man that Samuel in replying to his argumentation first strikes. “Stay”, says the seer to him, “And I will tell thee what the Lord hath said to me this night.” “Stay, hold,” are words that as coming from Samuel seemed to indicate that the seer, sorely vexed and grieved by Saul’s hypocrisies and lies, can endure listening to him no longer and therefore bids him be silent and hear what the Lord has to say to him. And Saul’s response, “say on”, bespeaks an impudent and defiant spirit. That the seer does. He says on, “When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel? And the Lord anointed thee king over Israel?” Saul has never known true humbleness; for he is devoid of grace. But there was a time when he suffered from a morbid sense of his personal inferiority. That was when his compact with the reality of his having been selected for the throne stunned him, and when in consequence thereof he declared, “Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family the least of all the families on Israel? Wherefore speakest thou so to me?” And when some time later on the day of his public anointing he was nowhere to be found because he had hid himself behind the stuff. But it did not take long before he discovered himself, woke up to the realization that he was a man of no mean natural ability and courage, a real leader of men with an inspiring presence. And the more battles he won, the more intolerable he became of the Lord; until finally he concluded that he could well manage without God. In this state of mind and heart we find him now. Yet, of course, it must not be supposed that he is telling around or even admitting to himself that he wants to reign without the Lord. In his own eyes and doubtless in the eyes of the people he is an exceptionally pious man, thoughtful of the Lord’s altars. It is Samuel with whom he collides. He will not submit to Samuel’s word, as willingly ignorant that in Samuel he verily has to do with the Lord. With the Lord he lives on the best of terms. So he tries to convince himself even to his dying day. And doubtless he succeeds pretty well in thus deceiving himself with the arts of a heart entangled in hypocrisy and lies and actually alienated from the Lord. How true it is that the heart is deceitful more than anything. Said the seer to the king, “When thou wast little in thine own sight, the Lord anointed thee king over his people,” meaning to impress upon him two things: 1. that pride cometh before the fall; and 2. that, being the Lord’s anointed, he was in duty bound to allow himself to be bound by the Lord’s orders. Samuel continues, “And the Lord sent thee on a journey, and said, Go, and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed. Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the Lord?” Saul again affirms with greater emphasis than before that he has done just that: obey the voice of the Lord. Says he, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But”, he goes on to say, “the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things, which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal.”
It is plain that Saul is inflexible in his iron determination not to confess that he has sinned and to justify himself in his transgression by any kind of argument however false and absurd. Of his being thus determined, his greeting Samuel with the declaration, “I have performed the commandments of the Lord,” already gives evidence. Well might Samuel wonder how the man dared to bring these words over his lips with the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen in his ears. It shows that already now, having been unwilling to retain God in his knowledge, he is being given over to a reprobate mind to think, will, and speak things which are convenient. Samuel’s calling his attention to the sounds of those bleating sheep has no other effect on him than to stiffen him in his determination to reason away his guilt. His stand continues to be that so far from the truth it is that he did anything amiss that he has fully obeyed the voice of the Lord. What is more, if formerly he only intimated that the blame for what happened rests squarely upon the people he now expresses himself clearly on this point. Besides, Saul now admits that the spoil—the sheep and the oxen—should have been destroyed; but in the same breath he adds, “to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal.” In a word, the whole spoil of war should have been put to the sword, to the last sheep and to the last oxen; but the people took of the spoil to sacrifice unto the Lord. The argument to which Saul now resorts in justification of his doing could not be worse. Only a man filled with Satan to lie to the Lord would make use of it. Saul means to say this: The people’s sparing the spoil for God’s altar contrary to His command that the spoil be utterly destroyed, pleased God just as much or even, more than their obeying His command in disregard of His altar would have done. In other words, a disobedience that is motivated by the good intention to sacrifice is just as pleasing or even much more pleasing than obedience. Such is now Saul’s argument. It really comes down to this that disobedience, serving a not-God is just as pleasing to God as being consecrated to him in loving obedience of his command, if only that disobedience, that serving the not-god is motivated by the good intention of making provision for the Lord’s altar.
That such is actually the thrust of Saul’s reasoning—a reasoning as absurd as it is godless—is evident from Samuel’s reply, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and in sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” This, certainly, is true from the nature of the matter,—true, that obedience to the Lord’s command is better than sacrifice if the very sacrifice is a forbidden thing, thus disobedience, as is here the case in that, according to the command of the Lord, the victims, those animal sacrifices, should have been destroyed. Such a sacrifice is sheer rebellion, stubbornness; and, if so, the Lord can have no delight in it; for, says the seer, “rebellion is the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Hence, to maintain, as Saul now does, that the Lord hath pleasure in the sacrifice of that spoil, is to insist that witchcraft, iniquity, and idolatry delight him. Saul here blasphemes God in the vile attempt to reason away his guilt.
And his sacrificing is witchcraft and idolatry; and that witch—false prophet—in this case is Saul himself; and the idol, the not-god, before whose shrine he prostrates himself, is again Saul. It means that he is a man wholly self-absorbed, fighting God’s wars under the constraint of a thoroughly carnal ambition.
If Samuel had hoped to bring Saul to repentance, he is sorely disappointed. That the seer is moved to the core by Saul’s obduracy is evident. Having set forth Saul’s disobedience in its true light, he immediately communicates to the king the Lord’s sentence, “Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.”
Samuel’s communication to Saul that the Lord has rejected him takes him by surprise. It frightens him. Gone is that air of flippancy, indifference, and arrogancy that has characterized all his speaking. He stands there now as a man transfixed, worried and crestfallen. Samuel’s words have moved him to the core. For their import flashes upon his mind. Not that he is sorely troubled by the thought that he has sinned and is now rejected of God. He refuses to believe that he is rejected of God, though his heart tells him that the seer spake the truth. But Saul is the kind of a man who in unbelief holds the truth under in unrighteousness. Hence, he continues willingly ignorant of his rejection as long as he lives. What troubles and surprises Saul now is Samuel’s great indignation. He had not thought that the seer would take his defection that serious. What troubles Saul now is that the seer has as much as told him that, seeing the Lord has rejected him, he, Samuel, has come with him to the parting of the ways. Saul is afraid that as forsaken of Samuel, he will lose the following of the people. By all means therefore he must get himself restored to Samuel’s favor. Hence, to hold Samuel he confesses all, and implores the seer to pardon his sin. But God is not in all his thoughts. As always, he is absorbed only in self. These are his words, “I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice. Now, therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the Lord.” As to the form of the words the confession of sin to which Saul gives utterance is superbly correct: it cannot be improved upon. Apparently, the Lord, too, is in his thought now. Does he not pray, “I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord?” And in a formal sense he is perfectly honest with the Lord and Samuel. He lays bare his heart before them both in admitting that it was fear of the people, fear of losing their good will that accounts for his allowing them to transgress the Lord’s command. Yet, no prayer ever uttered by human lips could be more abominable. For what brings this prayer over Saul’s lips is the same vile ambition under the impulse of which he fights the Lord’s wars. What cares Saul whether he has sinned or not. Saul denies it. But if the seer will have it so, it is well; Saul will yield the point. For by all means he must hold Samuel. He will confess to almost anything under the sun, he will be as honest as gold with Samuel and with the Lord, too, if he will only agree to pardon his sin and turn again with him, that he may worship the Lord, mark you, worship the Lord. Had Saul only greeted Samuel with this confession, better still, had he only sought out the seer in his place of residence and there made this confession to him of his own accord, all would have been different. But as pressed out of him solely for the purpose of holding the seer to his person, it, the prayer, is a filthy thing.
Samuel sees through the man. It can therefore be understood that he replies as he does. Said he to Saul, “I will not return with thee: for thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected thee from being king over Israel.” Here the seer tells Saul in plain words that henceforth he will have to go his way alone; and this of necessity; for as the Lord has rejected Saul, Samuel henceforth will be speechless as far as the king is concerned. He will have no word of the Lord to speak to him. He could of course have concealed the rupture between him and the Lord on the one hand and Saul on the other, by continuing to honor the king before the elders of the people, but Samuel is not that kind of a man. He is a true servant of the Lord.
Cut Saul nevertheless insists that he do this very thing. Samuel turns him about to go away, and Saul is frantic. His words have no effect on the seer, so now he resorts to force. He lays hold on the shirt of the seer’s mantle. The seer attempts to free himself from the hold of the king, The strain on the shirt is too great, and it rends. The Lord puts another word in the seer’s mouth—a word or prophecy symbolized by the rending of the shirt, “The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbor of thine that is better than thou. And also the strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man that he should repent.” But Saul hears as not hearing. He is occupied in his mind with but one thing: how to induce the seer not to forsake him. He repeats his confession and again goes to begging Samuel to honor him before the elders of his people and before Israel, and turn again with him, “that I may worship the Lord thy God.” And Samuel yields, whether out of pity or because of Saul’s importunity, the text does not state. After all, Samuel is human. But instead of honoring Saul before the elders of the people, he publicly protests against his disobedience, by hewing Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal. Then he goes to Ramah; and Saul goes to his house in Gibeah. And Samuel comes no more to see Saul until the day of his death.