The Rejection of Saul

And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of yams. 

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou bust rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king. 

I Samuel 15:22, 23

Never was King Saul quite able to understand either Samuel or Samuel’s God. He knew that in a very special sense his position as king in Israel was due to them. He knew that it was quite necessary for him to observe all of the religious conventionalities of the nation; and, although prior to his coronation he had bad little to do with such things, he was now quite willing to do so to the best of his abilities. He knew that it was important to retain the favor of both Samuel and Samuel’s God if be was to get along as king in Israel; but how to do this was actually quite beyond his comprehension. To him the external observance of ceremonies was all that religion could possibly demand, and such things as respect for God, obedience and love never came into consideration. He was a man of personal ambition, and the very idea that Jehovah should come first even before this was to him unthinkable. Samuel and Samuel’s God were important to him only as long as and insofar as they served his own purposes. Perhaps be would have never said this in so many words; but it was there, taken for granted, nonetheless. It was this that had determined Saul’s actions In regard to the Amalekites. He understood full well that Jehovah wanted the Amalekites completely wiped out; and, for the main part, he was in agreement with this. 

It was just that he thought that he knew a better way of going about it than Samuel had suggested. Instead of slaying everything and everybody immediately, it seemed to him that more could be done for his own image and to arouse the enthusiasm of the people by saving the best of the cattle for a great sacrificial feast and to keep. Agag as a living memento of this great victory. He suspected, of course, that Samuel might not be exactly pleased by this type of thinking; but, after all, he was king and what could be more important than that the people’s adulation of him should continually be encouraged. 

When finally the meeting between Saul and Samuel did take place at Gilgal, it was necessarily tense from the start. Saul would have liked to avoid this meeting completely and had in fact approached Gilgal by a roundabout route in ‘the hope of doing so. But when Saul looked up and saw Samuel approaching with determined step from a distance, he knew that the most he could hope to do was to hasten to intercept him and try to break the news to him gradually while trying to explain that in the main he had kept the Lord’s commands concerning Amalek and that what few changes he had made on his own were really for the better. Thus, with the appearance of warm hospitality, he came to meet Samuel with the comment, “I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” 

The answer of Samuel came fast, and like an icy blast, “What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear.” It was apparent that Samuel knew what he had done. They were not within sight of where the captured cattle were; and, if they could be heard, it was barely so; yet, Samuel knew perfectly well that they were there. 

For Saul nothing remained but to try to explain himself as quickly as possible. Surely Samuel would be able to see that it was better this way. Quickly Saul retorted, “They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.” It wasn’t exactly true, at least it had been as much his doing as anyone’s that the cattle had been spared. Still, it had been the people who had first suggested that they spare the cattle; and besides, the people could much better stand to lose reputation with Samuel than he could. It was apparent that this thing was not going over well with Samuel, and the least that Saul could do was to try to put some of the blame on someone else. And as far as the reference to “thy God” was concerned, that was really a slip. It would have sounded better if Saul had called Jehovah “our God”, but somehow he found it hard to think of Him in any other terms than being the God of Samuel. 

But that didn’t matter now. It could be seen that Saul had not gotten through to Samuel, or at least, that he had not convinced him. His eyes flashed with anger as Samuel answered, “Stay, and I will tell thee what the LORD hath said to me this night.” 

There was the explanation of how Samuel knew about those cattle, God had told him about them. And what He had said was not good. That could be seen from Samuel’s attitude. Paralyzed with fear, all that Saul could mutter back was, “Say on.” He might as well know the worst. 

And it was the worst too. With slow, measured pace Samuel spoke, driving each word deep into Saul’s soul, “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? and the LORD sent thee on a journey, and said, Goand 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, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the LORD?” 

To Saul it just did not seem fair. He wanted so badly to be a good king, and he tried so hard to be one. Why couldn’t everyone recognize that? Why couldn’t Jehovah? Why couldn’t Samuel? He was only trying to please them all. He had destroyed the Amalekites for all practical purposes. The only reason he had spared anything was so that he could please the people and show them what he had done. How could just sparing Agag and a few cattle be counted as such a major infringement. Anguished, almost weeping, Saul cried back at Samuel in self-defense, “Yes, 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 the people took 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.”

But Samuel was not to be swayed either by emotion or futile reasoning. God had spoken to him, and he was a prophet. All he could do was to bring to Saul the message of the Lord. And this he did by continuing to say, “Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou has rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” 

These were harsh words, and Saul knew it. They touched at the heart of his most precious ambition—the matter of being king. For the glory of that office he lived, and without it he might as well die. But then, what could he do? After all, Samuel had spoken almost as strongly years before already, and things hadn’t gone so badly since then. And as for the rest, he really didn’t quite know what Samuel’ was talking about, all that talk about obedience and rebellion. Why should he have to obey anyone? Wasn’t he king? And as far as sacrifices were concerned, what more could Samuel’s God want? What more did any god ever want? Sometimes he just could not figure Samuel out. Sometimes he just seemed to get started talking and would go in circles where Saul could not follow. But that wasn’t so serious. The point was that the people were waiting to get started with their sacrificial feast. Undoubtedly some of them had seen. Samuel, coming; and, if they should begin to suspect that Samuel was not pleased with the whole situation, that would be worse yet. The immediate problem was to get Samuel to take part in their sacrifice without the people knowing what had been going on between them, and for that he knew only one thing that might affect the prophet, a humble apology. So, at last, he turned to Samuel and said, “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.” 

But Samuel had come to know Saul’s shallow fluctuations, and the word of God had not allowed for any changing. With finality Samuel answered, “I will not return with thee: for thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD hath rejected thee from being king over Israel,” and with that he turned to leave. 

The situation was even worse than Saul had suspected. Not only had he lost the favor of Samuel; but the people would see Samuel leaving and they would know it too. It was more than Saul could take. Impulsively he reached out and grasped Samuel’s coat to make him stay, tearing the coat and leaving part hanging in. Saul’s hand. It did stop Samuel, but only to bring from him the observation, “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.” 

By this time, however, Saul was no longer thinking of anything but sparing his own reputation before the people. All he could think about was preventing Samuel from leaving before the sacrifice. Accordingly he answered once again, “I have sinned: yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD thy God.” 

Saul should have known better. Samuel was not one to be used for any selfish purpose even if it were the purpose of a king. 

This time Samuel yielded to Saul’s request. He went with Saul, and he did nothing to interfere with the worship of Israel before its God. But once the worship was finished and the time for the festivities was come, he stepped forward to ask for the attention of the people. Then he spoke his command, “Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites.” 

While the people watched in silence, Agag was brought forward to Samuel. His step was quicker than it had been, his head held higher, for he was now confident that the danger of death was passed. Neither did the white-haired old man to whom he was brought seem to hold any cause for alarm. But he was mistaken. The words of the old man themselves were sharp like a sword, “As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women,” and accordingly he acted. Taking a sword he hewed the proud king to pieces. And with that Samuel turned and left. His actions spoke for themselves. He, the prophet of the Lord, had had to do what Saul had failed in his commission. There was no reason for Israel to rejoice in its king any more that day.