Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 15

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

Samuel also said unto Saul, 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.

The Lord sent me to anoint thee ... now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the ... Lord. Several years had been passed in unsuccessful military operations against troublesome neighbours; and during these Saul had been left to act in great measure at his own discretion as an independent prince. Now a new test is proposed of his possessing the character of a theocratic monarch in Israel; and in announcing the duty required of him, Samuel brought before him his official station as the Lord's vicegerent, and the special obligation under which he was laid to act in that capacity. He had formerly done wrong, for which a severe rebuke and threatening were administered to him (1 Samuel 13:13-14). Now an opportunity was afforded him of retrieving that error by an exact obedience to the divine command.

Verse 2

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt.

I remember - I am reminded of what Amalek did; perhaps by the still remaining trophy or memorial erected by Moses (Exodus 17:15-16).

Amalek - the powerful tribe which inhabited the country immediately to the eastward of the northern Cushites. Their territory extended over the whole of the eastern portion of the desert of Sinai to Rephidim. They were the earliest opponents (Deuteronomy 25:18; Exodus 17:8-16), the hereditary and restless enemy of Israel (Numbers 14:45; Judges 3:13; Judges 6:3), and had not repented (1 Samuel 14:48) of their bitter and sleepless hatred during the 500 years that had elapsed since their doom was pronounced. Being a people of nomadic habits, they were as plundering and dangerous as the Bedouin Arabs, particularly to the southern tribes. The national interest required, and God, as KING OF ISRAEL, decreed, that this public enemy, who had now filled up the measure of their iniquity, should be removed. Their destruction was to be without reservation or exception.

Verse 3

Now 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.

Now go and smite Amalek ... The Septuagint, as it were to increase the per-emptoriness of the command has introduced into the text several clauses which were manifestly at first inserted only as explanatory notes in the margin: 'Now go and smite Amalek and Jerim, and all things that are his; thou shalt not turn to advantage aught of his, but shalt utterly destroy him: thou shalt regard him and all his as lying under a curse, and shalt not spare him,' etc.

Verse 4

And Saul gathered the people together, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah.

Saul gathered the people together. The alacrity with which he entered (see a brief notice of it, 1 Samuel 14:48) on the necessary preparations for the expedition, gave a fair but delusive promise of faithfulness in its execution.

Telaim - or 'Telem' (according to Kimchi, Raumer, etc., though Keil is inclined, from the difference in the punctuation, to think they are separate places), among the uttermost cities of the tribe of Judah toward the coast of Edom (Joshua 15:21; Joshua 15:24). 'Saul would naturally choose a spot where the principal routes from north, east, and west converged in the direction of the Amalekite territory. Only one such place is to be found-namely, at el-Kuseir, about four miles south of 'Ar'ar'ah, where the junction of the wadies es-Seba', el-Khull, 'Ar'ar'ah, Milh, etc., brings together the various roads from Beer-sheba, Gaza, Hebron, Carmel (Saul's own route), and many other places, and thus gives convenient access to all parts of the country. Now, it is a most interesting fact that this very spot is occupied by the Arab tribe Dhullam-a word identical with Telem in its consonants, and with Telaim in its principal vowel also' ('Negeb,' p. 887, 888: cf. Robinson's 'Biblical Researches,' 2:, p. 619; Wilson's 'Lands of the Bible,' 1: p. 345). [Since the word Taaleh (H2924) occurs only in three passages, in each it bears the sense of a lamb (1 Samuel 7:9; Isaiah 40:2; Isaiah 65:25), the Jewish writers translate lambs here, and the Chaldee Paraphrase, paschal lambs; supposing that Saul deduced the number of the people from the number of lambs slain for the Passover. The Vulgate has quasi agnos, as lambs, apparently reading kaTªlaa'iym, instead of ba-Tªlaa'iym (H2923), in our present Hebrew text. It is alleged in support of this interpretation that Telaim is found nowhere else as a proper name. On the other hand, the leading versions have rendered it as the name of a place. The Septuagint has: en Galgalois, in Gilgal, which Bochart ('Hierozoicon,' lib. 2:, 100: 43) says was the error of a copyist for Talaiois (see the Septuagint on 2 Samuel 3:12). The Syriac retains it as here; but the Arabic has, in a certain place called Tarila.]

Verse 5

And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and laid wait in the valley.

Came to a city of Amalek - probably their capital.

Laid wait in the valley - following the strategic policy of Joshua at Ai, (Joshua 6:1-27.)

Verse 6

And Saul said unto the Kenites, Go, depart, get you down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them: for ye shewed kindness to all the children of Israel, when they came up out of Egypt. So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.

And Saul said unto the Kenites Go, depart, get you down from among the Amalekites. Their encampment about 'Arad was in a mountainous country, and on an elevated part of that country (Robinson's 'Biblical Researches,' 2:, pp. 202, 467-468, 618; Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' pp. 160-161, 289, 294; 'Negeb,' pp. 10,

76). "Kenites" (see the note at Judges 1:16). In consequence, probably, of the unsettled state of Judah, they seem to have returned to their old desert tracts, and occupied the region around 'Arad (Judges 1:16). Though now intermingled with the Amalekites, they were not implicated in the offenses of that wicked race; but for the sake of their ancestors, between whom and those of Israel there had been a league of amity, a timely warning was afforded them to remove from the scene of danger.

Verse 7

And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur, that is over against Egypt.

Saul smote the Amalekites - pursuing them over the whole territory they frequented. His own view of the proper and expedient course to follow was his rule, not the command of God.

Verse 8

And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.

Took Agag ... alive. [ 'Agag (H90), evidently a reduplicate variety of the Egyptian Hak, ruler (see the note at Numbers 21:33)]. This was the common title of the Amalekite kings. Saul had no scruples about the apparent cruelty of it, because he made fierce and indiscriminate havoc of the people. But he spared Agag, probably to enjoy the glory of displaying so distinguished a captive. Josephus distinctly asserts ('Antiquities,' b. 6:, ch.

vii., sec. 2) that the beauty and tallness of his body made so fine an appearance, and Saul admired it so much, that he thought him worthy of preservation (cf. 1 Kings 20:32-34), and in like manner the most valuable portions of the booty, as the cattle.

Verse 9

But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.

And of the fatlings, [ wªhamishniym (H4932)]. This plural substantive (cf. 2 Samuel 6:13), which in the singular denotes second rank, second place, is used apparently in this passage to indicate cattle of a second quality; perhaps lambs of the second birth - i:e., autumnal lambs, and therefore weaker sad less valuable (Gesenius). Bochart ('Hierozoicon') thinks that it means full-grown cattle. [The Septuagint has: toon edesmatoon, cattle fit for food]. Our translators have evidently followed the Septuagint By this willful and partial obedience to a positive command, complying with it in some parts and violating it in others, as suited his own taste, humour, or cupidity, Saul showed his selfish arbitrary temper and love of despotic power, and consequently his utter unfitness to perform the duties of a delegated king in Israel. In fact, he was guilty of the very sin of Achan, in secreting, through covetousness, "the accursed thing" (Joshua 7:20-21).

The Amalekites were a horde of fierce, restless, incorrigible marauders, who lived by plunder; and, joining with the remnant of the ancient Rephaim and their Anakim kindred, appeared as open hereditary enemies of Israel. It was a political measure, therefore, essential to the peace of the Jewish kingdom, that such dangerous neighbours should be extirpated; and hence, reasons of present policy, enforced by the memory of early national wrongs, prompted this hostile expedition against them in the reign of Saul. The stern decree or law for the utter extermination of this people has frequently drawn down bitter reproaches upon the Hebrew legislator. But considering the unprovoked and oft-repeated attacks they made upon Israel, and the constant perils to which the inhabitants in the southern parts of the kingdom were exposed-of the loss of their property, and the abduction of their young women for slaves by the predatory incursions of the Amalekites-prudence and self-defense required that this tribe of lawless banditti should be swept away.

Their lawless character may be gathered from many incidents and allusions in Scripture (cf. Exodus 17:8-16; Numbers 14:45; Judges 6:3-6; Psalms 83:7), and from the most barbarous of all cruel plots, that of Haman the Agagite (Esther 3:1-15). But as the ban against them was registered so early, and in terms of such unrelenting severity, in the divinely-authorized statute book of Moses, there must have been other reasons for this stern procedure, of which we have not been informed (see the note at Deuteronomy 25:17-19). 'If God foresaw that the safety of the chosen people depended upon it, the order to exterminate the Amalekites was wisely and justly given; and if the people were ripe for that vengeance With which they had been threatened above 400 years before, and which had been so long mercifully delayed by the patience of Almighty God, I presume it was no injustice in Him who best knows the proper seasons of His own conduct, and is the beet judge of the means and instruments to execute His own purposes, to put the sword of justice into his (Saul's) hands, and command him to cut off those whom He thought fit to make examples of, for the numerous vices, oppressions, and cruelties of which He knew them to be guilty. Samuel terms them "those sinners," the Amalekites, to denote that even at that time they were a very wicked people, that they themselves were ripe for the judgments of the Almighty, and that they were punished for their own sins, though mention is made of the evil conduct of their ancestors; and it had been long predicted that Amalek should be destroyed,' (Chandler's 'Life of David,' vol.

i., b. 1:, ch. 4:: see further, Butler's 'Analogy,' part 2:, ch. 3:)

Verse 10

Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying, No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 11

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. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.

It repenteth me that I have set up Saul. Repentance is attributed in Scripture to the Divine Being when bad men give Him cause to alter His course and method, of procedure, and to treat them as if He did 'repent' of kindness shown. To the heart of a man like Samuel, who was above all envious considerations, and really attached to the king, so painful an announcement moved all his pity, and led him to pass a sleepless night of earnest intercession. Samuel though his kindly feelings were intensely pained by the rejection of Saul, was led afterward to excuse the necessity of this procedure, and to acquiesce in the wisdom of the divine arrangement (see this subject discussed by Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 6:, sec. 2; ch. 7:, sec. 2; ch. 12:, sec. 7; and 'Contra Apron,' b. 2:, sec. 30).

Verse 12

And when Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning, it was told Samuel, saying, Saul came to Carmel, and, behold, he set him up a place, and is gone about, and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal.

Saul same to Carmel. In the Alexandrian version of the Septuagint it is said that Saul traveled in a chariot. Carmel was in the south of Judah (Joshua 15:55; 1 Samuel 25:2).

He set him up a place, [ yaad (H3027), a hand; Septuagint, cheira (G5495)] - i:e., a pillar (2 Samuel 18:18), indicating that whatever was the form of the monument, it was surmounted, according to the ancient fashion, by the figure of a hand, the symbol of power and energy. Jerome ('Quaest. Hebraicae') says, it was a triumphal arch, made of myrtle, palm, and olive branches. These decorations might have been added to brighten the splendour of the trophy. But it is more than probable that, as the Hebrew text plainly states, the memorial of the victory was in the form of a colossal hand of stone, wood, or other durable material. Many such forms of the human hand exist among the monuments of ancient Egypt. Niebuhr ('Voyage en Arabie,' 2:,

p. 211) says, in his description of Ali's mosque at Mesched-Ali, that surmounting the dome, instead of a crescent, there is a hand extended, to represent that of Ali. The same symbol is on the top of the Alhambra, the palace of the Moorish kings in Grenada. The erection of this vain-glorious trophy was an additional act of disobedience. His pride had over-borne his sense of duty, in first raising this monument to his own honour, and then going to Gilgal to offer sacrifice to God.

Verse 13

And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD.

Saul said ... I have performed the commandment of the Lord. Saul was either blinded by a partial and delusive self-love, or he was, in his declaration to Samuel, acting the part of a bold and artful hypocrite. He professed to have fulfilled the divine command, and that the blame of any defects in the execution, especially in the reservation of the flocks and herds, lay with the people.

Verses 14-16

And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 17

And Samuel said, 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?

When thou wast little in thine own sight ... Samuel saw the real state of the case, and, in discharge of the commission he had received before setting out, proceeded to denounce his conduct as characterized by pride, rebellion, and obstinate disobedience. When Saul persisted in declaring that he had obeyed, alleging that the animals whose bleating was heard had been reserved for a liberal sacrifice of thanksgiving to God his shuffling, prevaricating answer called forth a stern rebuke from the prophet. It well deserved it, because the destination of the spoil to the altar was a flimsy pretext, a gross deception; an attempt to conceal the selfishness of the original motive under the cloak of religious zeal and gratitude.

Verses 18-21

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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 22

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 rams.

Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings ... Samuel must not be regarded as in any way disparaging the ordinances of the Mosaic law. The sacrifices had been appointed by divine authority, and therefore were to be duly performed. But they were merely expressive of the faith and piety cherished by the worshippers; and whenever the outward observance was considered of greater importance than the inward sentiment or the spiritual feeling, there was a perversion of religion which was displeasing to God. Obedience is the true test of a religious profession.

Verse 23

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

Rebellion is as ... witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Assuming that there were teraphim in Saul's family (1 Samuel 19:13), and that Samuel knew it, these words have a point and significance that must have been deeply felt.

Verse 24

And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.

I have sinned ... because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice. This was a different reason from the former he had assigned. It was the language of a man driven to extremities; and even had it been true, the principles expounded by Samuel showed that it could have been no extenuation of the offence. The prophet then pronounced the irreversible sentence of the rejection of Saul and his family. Dean Stanley says that 'because he thought sacrifice greater than obedience, the curse descended upon him' ('Lectures on the Jewish Church,' second series, p. 22). Not so. He was judicially cut off for his disobedience of a positive command, which, as a theocratic king, it was his duty to have executed.

Verse 25

Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD.

Turn again with me, that I may worship the Lord. The erring but proud and obstinate monarch was not humbled. He was conscience-smitten for the moment; but his confession proceeded not from sincere repentance, but from a sense of danger and desire of averting the sentence denounced against him. For the sake of public appearance he besought Samuel not to allow their serious differences to transpire, but to join with him in a public act of worship. Under the influence of his painfully agitated feelings, he designed to offer sacrifice, partly to express his gratitude for the recent victory, and partly to implore mercy and a reversal of his doom. It was, in another view, a politic scheme, that Samuel might be betrayed into a countenancing of his design in reserving the cattle for sacrificing. Samuel declined to accompany him.

Verse 26

And Samuel said unto Saul, 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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 27

And as Samuel turned about to go away, he laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and it rent.

He laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, [ mª`iylow (H4598)] - his upper tunic, official robe-in a humble and supplicating manner (cf. Isaiah 4:1; Zechariah 8:23). The verses that precede and follow this statement demonstrate that the demeanour of Saul toward the prophet was full of submission and humility. The separation between Samuel and Saul was an impassioned scene, each being overcome by the force of strong though different emotions. In an agony of mental excitement Saul took hold of the prophet's dress, while he was hurrying away in vehement anger, to detain him. The rending of the mantle was adroitly pointed to as a significant and mysterious representation of his severance from the throne.

Verse 28

And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 29

And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.

The Strength of Israel will not lie, [ Neetsach (H5331) Yisraa'eel (H3478)] - the Glory of Israel, the Object of Israel's confidence, He that gives victory to Israel (cf. 1 Chronicles 29:11), will not lie nor repent - i:e., as Josephus expresses it ('Antiquities,' b. 6: ch. 7:, sec. 5), 'God will persevere in what He has decreed concerning you: to be mutable and changeable in what is determined is agreeable to human passions only, but is not agreeable to the divine majesty.' This was a further rebuke of Saul's pride in rearing the Carmel trophy, and an intimation that no loss would be sustained in Israel by his rejection.

Verse 30

Then he said, 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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 31

So Samuel turned again after Saul; and Saul worshipped the LORD. So Samuel turned again after Saul; and Saul worshipped the LORD.

Samuel turned again after Saul - not to worship along with him, but, first, that the people might have no ground, on pretence of Saul's rejection, to withdraw their allegiance from him; and, secondly, to compensate for Saul's error, by executing God's judgment upon Agag.

Verse 32

Then said Samuel, Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites. And Agag came unto him delicately. And Agag said, Surely the bitterness of death is past.

Agag came ... delicately - pliantly, or cheerfully, since he had gained the favour and protection of the king. [ ma`ªdanot (H4574), from `aadan (H5727), to be soft, pliant, is rendered, by Kimchi, and other Jewish writers, 'decked in royal state.'] Poole ('Annotations'), following them, translates it, 'came in delights' - i:e., in his ornaments; not as an offender expecting the sentence of death, but in that garb and gesture which became his royal state.

And Agag said - or, For Agag said, as the reason why he came so. [The Septuagint has: tremoon, trembling.]

Verse 33

And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.

Samuel hewed Agag. This cruel tyrant met the retribution of a righteous Providence. Never has it been unusual for great or official personages in the East to perform executions with their own hands (cf. Judges 8:21). Samuel did it "before the Lord in Gilgal," appointing that same mode of punishment (hitherto unknown in Israel) to be used toward him, which he had formerly used toward others.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 15". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.