Now go and attack the Amalekites and completely destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them, but put to death men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.'"
1 Samuel 15:1-9. (GIBEAH.)
1. The fidelity of Saul to the principle of his appointment, viz. obedience to the will of Jehovah, was once and again put to the test. He had been tried by inaction, delay, and distress, which became the occasion of his being tempted to distrust, and the use of his power for his own safety, in opposition to the word of God (1 Samuel 13:11). He had been tried by enterprise, encouragement, and the expectation of brilliant success, which became the occasion of his being tempted to presumption in entering rashly upon his own ways, and adopting "foolish and hurtful devices" for conquest and glory, independently of the counsel of God (1 Samuel 14:19, 24). He must now be tried by victory, power, and prosperity. Having chastised his enemies on every side (1 Samuel 14:47), his assured success becomes the final test of his character and fitness to rule over Israel.
2. The temptations of Saul may he compared with those of others, and especially with the three temptations of Christ (Matthew 4:1-10; Luke 4:1-12), which are "an epitome of all the temptations, moral and spiritual, which the devil has contrived for man from the day of his first sin unto this very hour." The antecedents in both cases, the circumstances under which the temptations occurred, the principles to which they appealed, the inducements which they presented, the means afforded for their resistance, and their result, are all suggestive. Where the first king of Israel failed the last King of Israel prevailed, and whilst Saul was rejected, Jesus was perfected, and "crowned with glory and honour" (Luke 22:28, 29; Hebrews 2:10, 18).
3. The commission of Saul to execute judgment upon the Amalekites was brought to him by Samuel, whose authority as the prophet of the Lord he never called in question, however much he may have acted contrary to his directions. After Saul exhibited a determination to have his own way, Samuel seems to have exerted little influence over him. At the battle of Michmash the high priest Ahiah was his only spiritual counsellor. It became more and more evident that he wished to establish a "kingdom of this world," like the surrounding heathen kingdoms, in opposition to the design of God concerning Israel, which the prophet represented and sought to carry into effect; and it was inevitable that, with such contrary aims, a conflict should arise between them. "The great prophet's voice brings him a new commission from his God, and preludes it by a note of very special warning: 'The Lord sent me,' etc. This tone of adjuration surely tells all. It speaks the prophet's judgment of his character, of prayers and intercessions, of days of watching and nights of grief for one he loved so well, as he saw growing on that darkening countenance the deepening lines of willfulness. The prophet sees that it will be a crisis in that life history with which by God's own hand his own had been so strangely entwined? The commission was -
I. DIVINELY APPOINTED (ver. 1).
1. When a communication enjoining the performance of any action comes unquestionably from God. it should be unhesitatingly obeyed. His authority is supreme, his power is infinite, and his commands are right and good. It does not follow that everything he directs men to do in one age is obligatory on all others in every age. But some things he has undoubtedly enjoined upon us all.
2. When such a communication is made with peculiar directness and solemnity, it should be obeyed with peculiar attention and circumspection, for important issues are involved in its faithful or faithless observance. "if thou hast failed in other things, take heed that thou fail not in this."
3. When special privilege and honour have been bestowed upon men by God they are placed under special obligations of obedience to him. "Though thou wast little in thine own sight," etc. (ver. 17).
II. JUSTLY DESERVED by those against whom it was directed (ver. 2) - "the sinners the Amalekites" (ver. 18).
1. Some sins are marked by an unusual degree of criminality and guilt. Like the people of Israel, the Amalekites were descendants of Abraham (Amalek being the grandson of Esau - Genesis 36:12, 16); but they attacked them at Rephidim on their way through the desert, and strove to annihilate them (Exodus 17:8-16); they lay in wait for them secretly and subtly, and smote the hindermost, the feeble, the faint and weary, and "feared not God" (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Their conduct was ungenerous, unprovoked, cruel, and utterly godless.
2. Special sins are perpetuated in families and nations and increase in intensity. The Amalekites were hereditary, open, and deadly foes of Israel (Numbers 14:45; Judges 3:13; Judges 6:3). They lived by plunder, and were guilty of unsparing bloodshed (ver. 33). Some fresh act of cruelty may have shown that they were "ripe for the judgment of extermination."
3. Sinners long spared and persisting in flagrant transgression bring upon themselves sudden, signal, and overwhelming destruction. If judgment is pervaded and limited by mercy, mercy has also limits beyond which it does not pass, and they who despise it must perish. Men may forget what God has spoken (Exodus 17:14); but he remembers it, and fulfils his word at the proper time. "Injuries done to the people of God will sooner or later be reckoned for." Impenitent sinners "treasure up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath" (Romans 2:5). It accumulates like a gathering thundercloud or an Alpine avalanche (Luke 11:50, 51), and it frequently comes upon them by ways and means such as they themselves have chosen. The Amalekites put others to the sword and spared not; they must themselves be put to the sword and not be spared. The moral improvement of inveterate sinners by their continuance on earth is sometimes hopeless, and their removal by Divine judgment is necessary for the moral improvement and general welfare of other people with whom they are connected, and teaches valuable lessons to succeeding ages.
III. FULLY EXPRESSED (vers. 3, 18). The will of God is made known in different forms and with various degrees of clearness, and some men, whilst.acknowledging their obligation to obey it, have sought to justify themselves in the neglect of particular duties on the ground of their not having been fully directed. But this could not be the case with Saul, whose commission was -
1. Imperative; so that there could be no excuse for evasion. "Go and smite Amalek."
2. Plain; so that its meaning could not be mistaken, except by the most inattentive and negligent of men. "Utterly destroy (devote to destruction). Fight against them until they be consumed."
3. Minute; so that no room was left for the exercise of discretion as to the manner or extent of its fulfilment. It required simple, literal obedience, such as is now required in many things. "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it."
IV. ZEALOUSLY COMMENCED (vers. 4, 5, 7). The "journey on which he was sent" (ver. 18) was entered upon by Saul with something of the same energy and zeal which he had formerly displayed against the Ammonites, but the deterioration which had since taken place in his character by the possession of power soon appeared.
1. The work to which men are called in the way of duty sometimes bears a close affinity to their natural temperament and disposition.
2. Men may appear to others, and even to themselves, to be very zealous for the Lord whilst they are only doing what is naturally agreeable to themselves. "Come with me," said Jehu, "and see my zeal for the Lord" (2 Kings 10:16, 31). "But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel." Saul of Tarsus, like Saul of Gibeah, appeared to be fighting for God when he was really fighting against him.
3. The real nature of their zeal is manifested when the requirements of God come into collision with their convenience, pleasure, ambition, or self-interest. Then the hidden spring is laid bare.
V. UNFAITHFULLY EXECUTED (vers. 8, 9). "Spared Agag, and the best of the sheep," etc., "and would not destroy them." "He hath turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments" (ver. 11).
1. There may be the performance of many things along with the neglect or refusal to perform others of equal or of greater importance. Saul was "a type of those who are willing to do something as against the world and on behalf of Christ, but by no means willing to do all that they ought to do." Herod "did many things, and heard John gladly" (Mark 6:20), but he would not give up his ruling passion.
2. Disobedience in one thing often manifests the spirit of disobedience in all things. It shows that the heart and will are not surrendered to the Lord, and without such a surrender all else is worthless. In Saul's sparing Agag and the best of the sheep, etc, we have "a melancholy example of sparing sins and evils that should be slain, and sheltering and harbouring them under false pretences by unworthy pleas and excuses."
3. The love of self is the supreme motive of those who refuse to obey God. Saul was actuated by covetousness (ver. 19), worldly mindedness (Matthew 4:9; 1 John 2:15, 16), and vainglorious pride, which are only different forms of the love of self. "Behold, he set him up a monument, and is gone about (as in a triumphal procession), and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal" (ver. 12), intending probably to make a display of the royal captive for his own glory; perhaps to make him a tributary prince and a source of profit. "Pride arising from the consciousness of his own strength led him astray to break the command of God. His sin was open rebellion against the sovereignty of the God of Israel; for he no longer desired to be the medium of the sovereignty of Jehovah, or the executor of the commands of the God king, but simply wanted to reign according to his own arbitrary will" (Keil). - D.
Thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee.
1. We discover the simple nature of sin: it is disobedience of a Divine command.
2. We learn, likewise, a lesson concerning the wide reach of sin. Saul felt quite independent in his disobedience It is not possible for any man to keep his sin all to himself. This universe is balanced with great nicety. It cannot endure a sinner's perversity without suffering any more than an oarsman can tolerate a perverse boy in a boat; every time the self-willed creature steps across the thwart he rocks the vessel, and makes it uncomfortable and perilous for each one who has anything to do with him.
3. Next to this, we discover an illustration of the bold effrontery of sin. Iniquity often tries to carry off shame with a show of daring, and attempts to restore its self-confidence with a complacency of self-congratulation.
4. Now comes a lesson concerning the certain discovery of sin. Guilt always feels lonely; and yet, curiously enough, always imagines that everybody knows about the crime. Conscience keeps the culprit excited, for he understands that nature positively abhors transgression of law.
5. Once more: the story gives us an illustration of the evasive meanness of sin.
6. Then we have a lesson concerning the hypocritical excuses offered for sin.
7. Now just at this point we receive a lesson concerning the just condemnation of sin.
8. There is likewise here an illustration of the aggregating force of sin. It is hardly worth while to attempt to enumerate the acts of wickedness which followed directly upon this first dereliction of Saul: treachery, lying, vanity, covetousness, hypocrisy — these were among them. There are degrees of depravity, no doubt; but all sin is bad, and tends to what is worse.
9. Still another lesson meets us here, and now it is concerning the inevitable result of sin. Saul had reached the limit of Divine forbearance. Indeed, he had already committed one sin too many. It was of no use for him to plead for pardon any more. There is something very strange in the subsequent career of this monarch; he seems bewildered and off his balance. All sin left to itself is hopeless. The kingdom was taken from this man so that he should not injure anyone else any more. Even heathen people know that is lust. When we were at school we used to declaim this sentence from Demosthenes' oration: "It is not possible, O Athenians! that a power should be permanent which is marked with injustice, perjury, and falsehood." Hence, finally, sin becomes massed and destructive. It is an Arab saying that we so often quote: "The last straw breaks the camel's back." No; it is the whole load that kills the camel, but it is the last straw which makes the load complete and intolerable. When the fall of the beast comes, all the burden tells. A time arrives at the last when just one more little act of rebellion against God discharges all the violence of Divine wrath in an absolute reprobation.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
I. HIS OFFICE. This was to declare the will of God. He was not called to decide or to adjudicate, but to declare. When Saul was called to the kingdom, Samuel was employed to declare to him the call of God (1 Samuel 9:17, 20): He did not select, but declare God's selection. So when Saul was to be set aside. Samuel was employed to declare his deposition (1 Samuel 15:28). He did not depose, but declared God's deposition
II. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH HE ACTED.
1. He was faithful to the Lord who sent him. He faithfully convicted Saul of his disobedience (ver. 14, 17). He showed him the hollowness of his vain excuses (vers. 22, 23). He fearlessly and faithfully told him that the Lord had that day rent the kingdom from him (ver. 26). Learn that those who have a message from God must give it faithfully.
2. He was most tender to the sinner to whom he was sent. Had he given way to personal jealousy, he might have been pleased at the fall of Saul; for when he was old the people had asked for a king in a most ungrateful spirit.But he showed no such mean jealousy.
1. When he heard of Saul's fault he was grieved and spent the whole night in prayer (ver. 11). He did not give his reproof in a hard and unfeeling spirit, but with a sorrowing heart. The lips that seemed so severe in declaring judgment had been employed all night in pleading for mercy.
2. When the sentence of God was announced, he did all he could to mitigate the pain. It is the duty of the minister faithfully to denounce sin; but if he would do so effectually, he must prepare the way by tenderness, tears, and prayers; and he must accompany his painful message by a clear evidence of sorrowful tenderness towards the sinner. Nothing tends more to harden sinners than hard denunciation.
(E. Horne, M. D.)
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