Saul’s Rebellion Concerning Agag

Elisabeth Elliot, at Urbana 76, told of her brother Thomas Howard. Their mother let him play with paper bags she’d saved if he put them away afterwards. One day she walked into the kitchen to find them strewn all over the floor. Tom was out at the piano with his father singing hy … More


Saul is given specific instructions, through Samuel, to “smite the Amalekites and utterly destroy them (vv. 1-3).” We do not know for sure from scripture why God gave this command for utter destruction but possibly it was because they were a band of guerrilla terrorists and the Israelites could never live peacefully in the promised land as long as they existed. Also, they practiced corrupt, idolatrous religious practices that threatened Israel’s relationship with God.

Saul and his men smote the Amalekites but he did not utterly destroy them, as God had commanded (vv. 4-7), but he spared Agag, the king, and kept the best of the spoil (vv. 8-9). He reasoned that it was a shame to destroy everything so he saved Agag and kept the things he wanted for himself. Saul had no right to spare him, any more than he had a right to spare the humblest peasant among these people. Neither did he have the right to save from destruction the best of the cattle and other animals. He thought he had won a great victory but God saw it as a great failure. Saul had disobeyed Him and then he lied to Samuel about the results of the battle.

No only did the people choose Saul but Samuel chose him also, and now he was sorry that he did (vv. 10-11). Samuel loved Saul and he wanted him to be a good king. It appears that he may have wanted Saul, even more than David, to be successful. However God has rejected Saul, and Samuel. When Samuel arrived on the scene, he could see and hear the evidence of Saul’s wrong actions (vv. 12-13). Then when he was confronted, Saul said he only kept these choice animals to sacrifice them to God (vv. 14-15). This was like a bank robber saying he only stole the money so he could put it in the offering plate. Listen to Saul as he begins to use double-talk in an attempt to camouflage his conduct. He had a very pious reason for sparing some of the animals. He said he wanted to have excellent animals to sacrifice to the Lord! This was, of course, an attempt to cover up his disobedience with a pious pretense. Saul has been disobedient and judgment is coming.

You can find the same kind of hypocrisy in our contemporary culture. There is a tendency to cover our evil businesses with good works. An example of this would be the liquor industry who donates money for beautiful gardens and scenic spots for people to visit and enjoy.


If I try to gloss over sin in order to protect what I have or for material gain, I am not being smart but simply disobeying God, which is sin. Selective obedience is just another form of disobedience.

I Samuel 15:1-15 (English Standard Version)

And Samuel said to Saul, "The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'" So Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand men on foot, and ten thousand men of Judah. And Saul came to the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley. Then Saul said to the Kenites, "Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt." So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. The word of the LORD came to Samuel: "I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments." And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the LORD all night. And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, "Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal." And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, "Blessed be you to the LORD. I have performed the commandment of the LORD." And Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?" Saul said, "They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the LORD your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction."

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