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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 15

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 2-3

1 Samuel 15:2-3

Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel.

National sins and national punishments

We turn from Saul to the case of those against whom he was sent. “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.” Then God does remember sin. He not only notices it, but remembers it. A lengthened period had transpired since the Amalekites had thus manifested their sympathy with the enemies of Israel, by throwing hindrances in the way of God’s chosen people as they came out of Egypt to Canaan. And, to all appearance, their sin might have been regarded as consigned to oblivion. But God had declared that it should not be forgotten. (Exodus 17:14, Deuteronomy 25:17-19.) Upon the oblivion of four centuries there broke the awful tones of Almighty Justice: “I remember that, which Amalek did” From that Infinite Mind there had been no obliteration of the crime; clear as the day on which it had been committed, that sin stood out to view. “I remember.” Divine forbearance with generation after generation had been long, but upon them that forbearance had been lost, and it is evident they had not profited by it. They still remained the foes of Israel; their conduct as a nation was marked by excessive cruelty; and it was a horrible notoriety which their king had obtained for the multitudes of mothers whom, in his bloodthirstiness, his sword had rendered childless. In the determination on the part of God now to punish, the utterance of which was prefaced by those emphatic words, “I remember,” we are distinctly taught the lesson that the conduct of nations is a point to which the eye of God is directed, and that it is the matter for which His just penalty will be reserved. Whole nations come within the reach of His rod. By the individuals composing a community, and whose personal welfare or woe is necessarily identified with the condition of the community, there is a great danger that national sin should be regarded rather as an abstraction than as a reality, rather as an ideal than a substantial criminality. But it is not thus that God, in the incident before us, deals with it. He affixes it, as a substantive charge, upon the community. We have a rule here to which we find no exception. But nowhere does this rule meet with so fearful an exemplification as in the case of that very people whose guardian God showed Himself to be in this act of visiting Amalek’s transgression--that very Israel on whose behalf He was now standing up to repel insult and to avenge injury. “I remember”--read it in those seventy years’ exile from the land which had been given for an inheritance--that long and dreary period, during which Zion’s history was thus announced in plaintive tones by the prophet, “How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow!” etc. “I remember”--read it in its reiterated and double-telling tones in that second destruction which succeeded a second opportunity given to the Hebrew people of a sound national repentance and reformation--that second opportunity which was lost when formalism was substituted for spiritual religion. Hark to the words of mingled compassion and judgment which fall from His lips as He stands over against the city and wasps, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets,” etc. If national sin brings with it national calamity, then the lengthening out Of our prosperity must depend on the caution which is exercised, lest any sin should be permitted and indulged, until it shall become distinctive of our national character. Is there nothing among ourselves over which there floats, audible to the men who seek the best welfare of their country and deprecate its woe, the sound of that sentence, “I remember?” Are not its murmurs to be heard at this moment, amid political excitements and difficulties of administration? “I remember” the Sabbaths which are systematically broken by those who take their pleasure on my holy day. “I remember” the intemperance of those who “rise up early in the morning that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them.” “I remember” the want of truthfulness in the manner of conducting business, the unjust advantages taken of the buyer, the false representations made by the seller, although my word has declared that “a false balance is abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight.” “I remember” the concealed iniquity of men who, with a fancied impunity, perpetrated the foulest crimes, reckless of every consideration but that of inconvenient exposure. Our patriotism, to be effective, must be of the right stamp; and to prove itself of this stamp it must itself consent to learn its lessons from that chief source of all instruction, the Scriptures--confirmed, as the sacred teachings are, by the dispensations of Divine Providence There may be a diversity in the manner in which individuals may have been guilty, in reference to the sum total of the public guilt. Some may have been the direct actors, and others may have been partakers in their sins. From all which has been stated it will follow--

1. That it is a duty constantly incumbent upon us, as members of the community, to inquire into our personal relation to that public criminality of which God says, “I remember it,” and to make it the matter of our individual repentance and humiliation. If personally, and through God’s grace, these things cannot be described as committed by me, yet do I give any sanction to them in others? Do I protest against them? Do I exert my influence to lessen their amount?

2. The sins of nations, which call down wrath, being thus the accumulation of the sins of individuals, those will do most to prevent public calamity, to ensure national prosperity, and thus will do most for their country, who make a stand for God against that which would displease Him; who, in their own immediate spheres, seek, in dependence upon His grace, to yield to His authority, and to illustrate His religion; and who “let their light so shine before men that they may see their good works, and glorify their Father which is in heaven.” Personal religion is the best patriotism. The fear of God pervading men’s hearts is the surest provision against national calamity, because it is the opposite of national sin. Go, then, and exercise your civil privileges, your social rights, in the fear of the God of nations. Set Him at your right hand. (J. A. Miller.)

The commission of judgment

The Amalekites are supposed by some to have descended from Amalek grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:12) But against this view it may he forcibly objected:

1. That a nation so powerful and so widely diffused, could scarcely have sprung up in so short a period;

2. That the seat of Esau and his posterity was much more easterly than the realm of the Amalekites; and

3. That it is not easy to suppose such near relatives of Israel exposed to such a doom, while Edom and Moab were so scrupulously spared on account of their relationship. But it is not improbable that a brave and warlike chief like Esau might, through his family, wield a powerful influence among the desert tribes, and even supply them with a name. The matter, however, is not of importance, compared with the consideration of their crime and its punishment. The assault of the Amalekites was an offence of high aggravation. It was made when Israel had newly entered on their wanderings (Exodus 17:8-16); and as the first onset of enemies it was marked by singular audacity, and attended with peculiar danger to Israel. They were ringleaders They broke the peace, and inaugurated a hostile dealing with the people. Moreover, their attack was entirely unprovoked. Besides the manner of attack was treacherous and cruel (Deuteronomy 25:17-19), “he smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary.” Hence, in Deuteronomy 25:18, the real point of the charge against Amalek is this: “he feared not God.”

There was something peculiarly daring and insolent in his conduct. He seems to have deliberately chosen the earliest period of assaulting them, undismayed by the terrible doings of the past, and undeterred by the pledged protection and guidance of the future. It was an eager and determined defiance of the God of Israel. Such an attitude and bearing must be providentially taken notice of. The sovereign Lord will set Himself right at once with the nations. “His counsel shall stand.” The daring sinners have despised His covenant with Israel; He will meet this by another covenant regarding them. Their destruction is decided by oath. Such is the whole case against Amalek. It might seem as if the bare statement of it were enough to vindicate the Divine dealing with them. But inasmuch as ungodly men have inveighed against this dealing, and have drawn from it dark colours wherewith to sketch a gloomy caricature of the Most High; and, particularly, inasmuch as natural feeling even in the good is ever liable to a relapse into disloyal sympathy with offending fellows, a few further remarks on the subject may do some useful service.

1. Whatever objection may be raised against the dealings of God in the case of Amalek applies equally to innumerable similar cases. Take, for example, the destruction of Lisbon by an earthquake in 1755. Here we find actually occurring substantially the same woe that was denounced against Amalek. There is the same sudden, violent, widespread, indiscriminate ruin. The only differences are these: The destruction affected only a portion of the people; and the instrument employed was a blind material force, instead of an army of rational and moral beings. But these affect not the real identity of the two cases. On the question of justice, or of mercy, they fall into the same category. He who impeaches the justice of Amalek’s overthrow must be prepared in consistency to carry his condemnation over the whole breadth of God’s providential government. To slay a great criminal, fierce, malignant, and strong, was in one view an act of self-defence, in another, an act of retribution; and to do it at the command of a holy God was a teat and a training of the highest spiritual affections of a creature.

2. No individual Amalekite suffered more than he deserved. To this it will be immediately answered: This is impossible, for children were involved in the doom of adult sinners. We own the fact, and the difficulty growing out of it. We are persuaded, moreover, that no reasoning of man shall ever fully dissipate the mysterious darkness that hangs about the death of infants. But the mystery and gloom refer mainly to the fact, not to the matter of its occurrence. It is indeed a sad and awful thing to see young buds torn violently from the stem of life by the rude hand of war. But, alas! the hand of other spoilers has made larger havoc. Disease has filled, by millions, more infant graves than war. Will they who cavil at the commanded slaughter of the sword explain and vindicate the larger mortality of disease? They call the ills of infancy natural. It is a gross mistake. They are unnatural, abnormal, manifestly punitive. And when we say punitive, we approach nearer a solution of the great problem--instead of, as some affirm, adding to its gloom. For whether does it present, most difficulty, to view this wide-wasting death of yet irresponsible beings as the infliction of pure sovereignty, or as the result of violated law! Is it not clear that when we interpose the idea of a federal relationship, a principle of representation, by which sin transmits its doom, as by natural descent it transmits its virus, to each rising generation, we have advanced a step outwards from the dark nucleus of the difficulty.

3. The visitation of vengeance was a valuable means of moral influence. To Israel’s heart it was fitted to carry impressive conviction of God’s immovable determination to carry out, His purposes of love, to be their bulwark against surrounding heathenism, and to preserve them for the glories and the happiness of the future. To Israel’s conscience it was fraught with most powerful stimulus--awfully reminding them of the lofty supremacy, unswerving veracity, and unsparing righteousness of their God. And so this dreadful sentence of extermination is most useful. The Lord has need of it. It is one of a series of judgments that lift their terrible tops in sight of hostile heathenism, and stand as sentinels of God around the sacred people. Human life is a sacred thing. But He surely knows this full well who has so carefully hedged it about, who marks even a sparrow’s fall, and who has in gratuitous tenderness left yet to this abode of rebels its music and its flowers. And the honour of that mighty Lord, the safety of His people, the accomplishment of His grand remedial designs, are immeasurably more sacred. (P. Richardson, B. A.)

Verses 11-23

1 Samuel 15:11-23

It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king.

Saul rejected

The story is graphic and pathetic. This is Saul’s victory and also his defeat. Our defeats are often wrapped up in our victories. Some of our most dismal failures are hidden from us by the glare of a partial and disastrous success. Saul succeeded and failed. He conquered Agag, but disobeyed God. And so the glory of his victory is lost in the darkness of his defeat. A man may conquer the greatest of earth’s kings, but his life is a consummate failure if he disobeys the King of kings. And so, instead of praising Saul’s victory let us meditate on Saul’s sin. His sin was the sin of disobedience, the sin by which our first parents fell. In Saul’s defence of his sin we possess a study of conscience unsurpassed in the literature of the world. Samuel on hearing of Saul’s disobedience goes to meet him. Saul is the first to speak. “Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” Was he honest in saying this? he may have been. Other men have lied as outrageously and still believed themselves to be speaking the truth. The heart is deceitful above all things and is oftentimes unconscious of its own deceitfulness. To be sure he has preserved the life of Agag, but then imprisonment is a heavier punishment to a proud king than death itself. The people have been destroyed. This is the one thing essential. No danger can come from a king in chains. Saul has whittled down tire Divine commands a little, but only a little; and who is so foolish as to think that God will notice the swerving of a heir’s breadth from what He commands? And reasoning thus we sometimes pare off the edges of God’s commandments, blissfully unconscious that we are doing anything positively wrong. To be sure, we are not keeping God’s commandment to the letter, but He does not expect us to keep it so. It is enough if we kill the Amalekites. There is no need of killing Agag. We take delight in slaying the Amalekites, but we are opposed to killing Agag. And later on we discover to our sorrow that Agag is the chief of the Amalekites and that ruin lurks in the survival of anything which God commands us to destroy Saving Agag costs many a child of God his crown. “I have performed the commandment of the Lord,” so Saul says, and while he speaks his sentences are punctuated by the lowing of oxen and the bleating of sheep. A man’s conscience may be so drugged that it will not cry out against him, but some outside voice is sure to break forth in condemnation. God never leaves Himself without a witness. And if the animals are dumb, then the inanimate earth will speak. Abel’s blood will cry even from the ground. Saul had said nothing about the sheep, and so the sheep supplied what Saul had forgotten to mention. In their innocence they bleated out Seal’s guilt. The universe is so constructed that a guilty man cannot hide his sin. You assert your innocence, and yet my senses take knowledge of the evidences of your guilt. You say you do not drink too much; what meaneth, then, this reddening of the eyes and trembling of the hand? You say your heart is clean; what meaneth then this rottenness that trickles now and then into your talk? You say you are an honest man; what meaneth then this style of living which runs beyond the limits of your income? You say you are a Christian; what mean these scores of duties unperformed, bleating evidences of your unfaithfulness? “And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites.” Mark that word “they.” We might have expected it. When a man is driven into a corner, the most convenient trapdoor through which he can make his escape is that little word “they.” Conscience, when stirred, endeavours to shift responsibility. “They did it.” So says every man not brave enough to face the consequences of his own misdeeds. Why do you not, O preacher, preach spiritual and Scriptural sermons? Do not begin your answer with, “Well, my people!” And why, O Christian man and woman, do you not inaugurate that reform which your town needs? Please do not say anything about the people. Let each man bear his own responsibility without flinching. But even those of us who are most ready to make a scapegoat of the people do not wish to be too hard on them. We would be merciful and considerate. We can see reasons why the people act as they do. “The people spared the best of the sheep.” Only the best There was good reason for that. Why destroy the best of the sheep? Why cause unnecessary destruction? Extravagance certainly is not pleasing to God. We have used the same argument many a time We believe in saving the best of the sheep. We are so afraid of being reckless that we drop into disobedience. We would rather disobey God than kill one extra sheep. We are as afraid of killing good sheep as Judas was of wasting precious ointment and for the same reason. Many of God’s commands sound reckless, and so we curb His Divine impetuosity by our prudence. We do not hesitate to kill the best sheep for our own banquets, but when it comes to killing them for God that is quite another matter. But the people in this case bad not preserved the sheep for selfish uses. They had kept them with lofty and beautiful intentions. “The people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God.” To put these sheep to religious uses is certainly better than to slay them indiscriminately in the fury of war. God said to slay both ox and sheep, but it matters not to Him how they are slain. So Saul reasoned and so do we reason. There is a streak of the Jesuit in us all. If the end is good, we will not be too punctilious about the means. God cares for results. Methods are of comparative unimportance. The church must meet its expenses. It matters little how we raise the money, providing we raise it. It makes no difference how we get people to church, providing we get them. The Bible must be defended. It matters little what arguments are used, providing the blessed Book is saved. The sheep are to be slain. It matters little how or where they are slain, whether on the altar or on the side of one of God’s hills. It must be acknowledged that God in His word lays tremendous emphasis on the How, but if we are only zealous to increase His glory we feel confident He will not scrutinise too closely our spirit and methods. This is Saul’s apology. It gives us a full length portrait of the man. While he speaks we feel we are looking on a soul going to pieces, a moral character in the process of disintegration, a king degenerating into a slave. Every sentence which he speaks tarnishes the gold in his crown and falls like a blow upon his sceptre, which first shivers and tinnily breaks. It is the sacrifice of the will which is pleasing to God. Obedience is the queen of the virtues. Disobedience is the mother of sins. It is the vine, and other sins are only branches. Because of disobedience Saul lost his crown, and so shall we, if like him disobedient, lose the inheritance which is ours. (Charles E. Jefferson.)

Saul rejected

On the top of the Hartz Mountains in Switzerland the figures of travellers, in certain states of the atmosphere, take on a gigantic size to the eye of an observer below, and every movement they make is exaggerated. In the career of King Saul, as it is presented to us in Scripture, we see the figure of a man raised to a dizzy height, his actions prelected, as it were, upon the clouds, so that all mankind may learn from them the desired lesson that Jehovah reigns, and that it is an evil end bitter thing to sin against him. Note--

Saul’s elevation. If ever man was king by Divine right, it was Saul. Never were greatness and royalty more suddenly thrust upon one than in this ease. The priest and prophet, Samuel, gave him his title of king.

Saul’s disobedience. This was seen plainly on two occasions: the first, when he sacrificed at Gilgal, contrary to an express command; the second, when he refused to smite Amalek utterly, and offer all the spoil to Jehovah. But these occasions simply brought to the surface an underlying state of disobedience which only waited its tempting inducements to appear. But before this last outward disobedience there had been a slowly increasing departure from the living God in the heart of the king, so that, when the wicked and justly punished Amalekites were put under the ban he was not equal to the occasion and he yielded to the temptation of the hour. The devoting of the whole nation to destruction was no arbitrary act of barbarism that assumed to be under Divine appointment, but a literal and genuine visitation from heaven upon those who richly deserved it. The phrase “utterly destroy” is in the original “put under the ban.” This ban was an old custom, originating before the time of Moses, but formulated and regulated by him, as were so many other social customs amidst which Israel grew up. In its simplest form it was the devotion to God of any object, living or dead.

The ground of Saul’s rejection. It is stated in the briefest language. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath rejected thee from being king. The rejection was already an accomplished fact in the Divine purpose, although its execution was for a time delayed. In this complete rejection we are instructed in God’s ways by seeing that it proceeded on no technical and superficial grounds, as if the Almighty was an austere man, reaping where He had not sowed, and eager to secure a reason for condemning His servant. Even under the old dispensation, how spiritual was God’s claim; how identical with that which rests on us today. The sacrifices of God have always been a broken spirit and a contrite heart. Outward acts have never been accepted in place of an inward submission and penitence.

The false repentance of Saul. It had much of the appearance of a godly sorrow that leads to peace. It surely was sorrow. It showed an aroused and alarmed conscience. Saul comprehended himself; saw the conflict within between his better and worse nature. Again and again he awoke to his sin and folly with bitter tears in after days, but never reached the point where he could say, in the wonderful words of his successor, “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned.”

The mystery of sin and punishment. Who can understand his errors, or those of any man in ancient or modern times, delineated in the Bible or in our own literature? Who can find the key to a sinful life, and unlook all its mysteries and incongruities? What is sin but an irrational, abnormal, strange thing, making everyone’s life at points an enigma, and best described as a mystery in its origin, development, and results in eternity? Who shall attempt to fathom the connection between wrong-doing and punishment, and foresee the consequences of single transgression? Who is to say what a sin is in its real nature, and what its results ought to be in a holy government? We cannot tell when our characters have become so consistent in evil that God passes judgment on us, and tears from our hands all that He gave us, and for which we are called to live. God has left the consequences of sin in the unseen future, like the shadows of mountains when the sun is behind us. This may be because He wishes us to be more afraid of sin than of its results. This man, whose downfall was the result of his own misdeeds, was, in the hands of Providence, a scourge for Israel, sent to them, as we read, in God’s anger. The career of a sinner can be understood only when we see to what uses it is put in the world’s discipline. If we are obedient to God He will turn our lives into a blessing upon men. If we rebel, He still can use us turning our actions into scourges. To each of us is offered a kingdom, invisible but real, as old as eternity. (Monday Club Sermons.)

Saul’s disobedience and rejection

The intoxication of power is upon him, impelling him directly in the teeth of the Divine warning. He is occupying dangerous ground. Our passage shows the turning point in Saul’s history.

Let us observe the occasion which brought about the crisis. God had given him a commission to ban the Amalekites, the ancient enemies of Israel. The crisis in Saul’s life had come. He fails to meet it, in the spirit of a true man of God. His soul finds temptation in a moment when power and success and human adulation have intoxicated him; he yields to the snare, and falls to rise no more. At the turning point of his life he is weighed in the balances and found wanting. The whole sad transaction and all its terrible consequences are summed up in one word--disobedience to positive Divine command. It breaks upon us at once. It is complete and fully manifested in a single transaction. But definite steps led up to it. It can be accounted for. It should have been avoided.

As the disobedience was complete and inexcusable, so the punishment was prompt, definite, and final. “God hath rejected thee from being king over Israel.” Successive steps led to its accomplishment. God caused Samuel to withdraw from him. He took his good Spirit away, and allowed an evil spirit to come upon him. He was left to his own rash, self-willed, and self-pleasing nature. He was allowed to work out his own destruction and the ruin of his dynasty, while God quietly but diligently prepared a better man to take his place on the throne of Israel. A great and solemn principle emerges here--the basis-principle upon which all right and enduring relations to God must rest,--to wit, obedience. There can be no happy relations between a sovereign Creator and dependent creatures upon any other scheme, even though that sovereign Creator be properly viewed as a tender Father. The whole question needs to be restated with firmness. The sentimentality of a spurious faith, which claims heaven and yet the right to please self, is a travesty upon the word of God and upon every serious utterance of human consciousness. And yet this sentimentality is seeking to interpret the preaching of salvation by the cross in the interest of selfish indulgence, and is going far to justify the sneer of the enemy, “that morals are divorced from religion;” for what are any Christian morals worth that do not mean obedience to the living God? Let Saul’s sad fall by reason of disobedience warn us at thin point. In conclusion we may draw out a few brief lessons.

1. The danger of a halfway surrender to God, a consecration which has its reservations. Such a course is an insult to God. It is the very worst spirit of bargain making. It marks off a section of our individuality, into which God has no right to come with His demands. Saul was willing to serve God in being a king if he would have his way when the spoil was at hand. He was quite willing to fellowship Samuel and have his endorsement if he could sacrifice when he pleased. But this spirit brought him to a bad end.

2. See how disobedience demoralises the spirit and sets it upon unworthy shifts His character drooped lower and lower as he sought his way out from the consequences of disobedience by unworthy shifts. When we have sinned it is better to be open and ingenuous with God and man, and while sorrowing for the sin, meekly receive the consequences in the full purpose of immediate amendment.

3. The folly of those in authority, as parents, pastors or teachers, yielding to the tastes and entreaties of the young, the wayward, or the undisciplined for the privilege of doing that which is wrong either in itself or in its tendency. Saul pleaded that he yielded to the wishes of the people when he saved the best of the spoil. So with many now in the place of solemn and responsible authority. But this is simple weakness where we have the right to expect strength. This weakness does not lesson the guilt before God. (W. G. Craig, D. D.)

The commission given to Saul

The command given to Saul was unmistakable and imperative. And this was to be in fulfilment of the legacy of judgment and vengeance left to the people by Moses long before. In Moses’ words you have hints of the real character and life of the Amalekites that are to be associated with Samuel’s words, in which he calls them “the sinners, the Amalekites.” Here you have their character of bloodthirsty, treacherous marauders. The days of old needed the destruction of such as the Amalekites; and if Israel had to do the work it was needful that they should be utterly destroyed. It was better for the world to be without such sinners, and it was required, for Israel’s sake, that Saul and his people should have no gain from the conquest. God often does thus with the ill-gotten wealth of wicked nations. Where are all the riches of the mighty monarchies of old? Where is the bloodstained wealth of the ruined Roman Empire? Who can tell? God swept, it, away, for a curse--the curse of conquest and oppression--was upon at Consider, Saul’s violation of the law of obedience. Saul gave himself to spoilation; the attempted shelter under fear of the people belied itself; his repeated words “that they had brought the spoil to sacrifice to the Lord thy God” were an attempt to justify sin by profession of good intention, and to degrade religious service of God into formal acts of ceremonial observance. The answer to all his excuses and explanations was simple and as imperative as the commands he had neglected, “Because thou hast rejected the Word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king.” There are many lessons taught us in these things, among which, let us note the following, for they touch solemn matters in the life of each of us.

It is evident that a professedly good or creditable intention will not justify a bad act. It is true that, the real character of any act is in the intention of the doer; but you cannot judge acts as though they were isolated, and to be taken each on its own merits. The intention that is behind one act may itself be a depraved spiritual act or represent a spiritual state that; God hates.

Nor can God be honoured in one way at the cost of dishonouring Him in another. Obedience to one command that is built out of the ruins and breach of another, must be displeasing to God. If we do, we shall add to non-performance of some duties the vitiating of those we do observe.

So, also, are we to learn that offerings to God are abomination if they do not express obedient love. For they may represent “pride, vain-glory, or hypocrisy” they may be a service of self that is all the more real for being hidden under the veil of Divine honour, or they may be a following of custom, or a sensuous dependence upon superstitious services for acceptance with the Lord. God’s supreme demand is loving obedience: the submission of the heart, the sacrifice of the will the offering up of self, the fasting from the self-willed indulgence of our own thoughts and intents. (R. G. B. Ryley.)

Saul rejected

What are the lessons with which the narrative is charged?

The danger of mistaking partial for complete obedience. “Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord.”

1. God requires literal obedience.

2. God’s language never exceeds Gods meaning.

3. Conscience is seen most clearly in minute obedience.

The possibility of giving a religious reason for an act of disobedience.

The people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God”

1. One duty must not be performed on the ruins of another. It was a duty to sacrifice, but sacrifice must not be offered upon disobedience.

2. God’s commandment must not be changed by men’s afterthought. Lucky ideas, sudden inspirations, and the like, mean ruin, unless well tested.

The danger of being seduced into disobedience by social clamour. “I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.” The people who tempt are not the people who can save.

2. Where God has spoken distinctly there should be no human consultation

The certain withdrawment of the best influences of life as the result of disobedience. “And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death.” Parents, ministers, friends, gone! There are some incidental points of application:--

1. Sin discovers itself: “What meaneth this this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the cattle which I hear?”

2. Sin will be punished. Four hundred years elapsed before the sword fell upon Amalek (Deuteronomy 25:17; Deuteronomy 25:19). Time has no effect upon moral distinctions, or moral judgments. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Saul’s continued disobedience

A course of action more certainly calculated to insult the majesty of Heaven cannot be conceived than that which Saul adopted. It is true the command was partially obeyed, but the only case in which obedience was rendered was that in which there was no temptation to gratify selfish feeling. Where, however, anything could be turned to his own personal advantage, there the command of God was recklessly trifled with. Look attentively at Saul in this matter. When Jonathan had done nothing to deserve death, there was no mercy for him in his father’s heart; and it required the downright and peremptory prohibition of all Saul’s army to save the innocent son alive. But, when a duty was rendered imperative by that God who is not bound to give, in any case, His reasons for action, Saul was deputed to put Agag to death, when to have done this would have been but an act of simple obedience, he ventured to disobey, and spared the man whom God had marked for destruction. It was, in Saul’s view, a matter of pride to have his triumph graced by the presence of a conquered king, to make Agag feel that he owed his life to his own clemency, and that he held its prolongation on the tenure of his conqueror’s will. He found a greater gratification in ell this than in simple obedience to God. Samuel goes, after a night spent in grief and in prayer, to be the bearer of the tidings of God’s displeasure. But what strange scene is this which breaks upon us as the messenger of the Lord reaches Gilgal? Much as we know of Saul, and accustomed as we have become to the proofs of his moral obtuseness, we are hardly prepared for the downright self-complacency, for the cool effrontery of the words which he addressed to Samuel, “Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment, of the Lord.”

We are reminded that a great amount of direct sin may be committed and nevertheless disguised, under a loud profession of obedience to God. There is, in some individuals, a forwardness in certain forms of duty which cost no self-denial at all; a forwardness, also, in the announcement of what has been done which is, in itself, to practised eyes a ground for suspicion that all is not right behind the scenes We sometimes notice individuals overdoing the thing that is courteous and polite--“glaringly civil”--towards those who come on the errand of Christian fidelity, and whose business is with souls in prospect of the great account. There is so much joy expressed at seeing them, there is so much interest taken in their presence, there is such a sudden burst of cordiality, as that upon the very amazement excited there follows the suspicion that something is going on which there is an effort to conceal. Let us aim after such a walk and conversation as that we can be natural in our demeanour, and not artificial and forced, such a life as will bear inspection behind the scenes, and as will not compel those who watch for souls to ask, as they look around, what meaneth this or that? what meaneth this unholy gratification? what meaneth this unsubdued temper?

The answer of Saul teaches that the men who, to gratify their own purposes, will lead others wrong and countenance them in evil-doing, will be the very first to expose them when they want to excuse themselves. And Saul said, “They--not I--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.” Ah! study well that sentence, “They” did it. Would that its impressiveness might be felt by the thousands who are too ready to be led by the advice, by the example, of those who ought to have but one rule for their own conduct and for their Influence over others too, and that rule God’s word--God’s will. There are some who will lead you into evil for the sake of getting countenance to themselves in their own want of religion. How many have had to mourn at last, when they have found their advisers converted into their accusers, when they have seen their companions in guilt stand as the witnesses for their condemnation.

There are other erroneous principles in this answer of Saul.

1. He evidently implied that a formal act of obedience might be taken as a set-off against an act of direct disobedience. He implied that, putting one thing over against the other, God would be satisfied in the long run. If he intended to offer sacrifice at all, it was upon the principle of compromise and composition. He would have given God a part of the spoil, that he might have kept a much larger portion for himself. He would have offered a fraction, that the extensive remainder might not have rendered his conscience uneasy. In those sacrifices which you offer to God no equivalent is found for the want of obedience. Obedience, as a principle, has a value far above sacrifice, as an action; it is “better than sacrifice”--better, as the principle must be superior to the form in which it is embodied--better, as the affection which sends a gift is more valuable than the gift itself. How, then, with justice, can the one be substituted for the other? The offering and the sacrifice have a value as embodiments of the principle of obedience and love--then only are they acceptable; but as substitutes for principle they have no acceptableness.

2. Another error in Saul’s answer to which Samuel addressed himself was this, that, admitting he was in fault, there was no great harm in his sin after all. The king of Israel did not, indeed, use these words, but doubtless the prophet gathered that this was his real sentiment. “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” Here we see a class of sins mentioned whose heinousness was undoubted. Witchcraft God had forbidden to be tolerated on any account. Iniquity is here undoubtedly put for flagrant violation of God’s law; such, for instance, as the idolatry mentioned immediately after. The probability is that the king of Israel plumed and prided himself upon his public acts in reference to these very points. You have acted as though you thought witchcraft was a great crime, and so it is; but then rebellion such as that which you have manifested is as bad. Your rebellion, what has that, been but putting God out of His proper place of authority, and consulting your will and your inclination instead of listening to His voice. The actual amount of our guilt must not be adjusted by the external form of the transgression in which it issues--by its classification according to outward appearance Saul congratulated himself on being thought far superior to the consulter of those who had familiar spirits, and would have been shocked at the idea of being regarded as an idolater; but God thought him just as bad as though he were the one or the other. It is well for us to recollect that in spirit we may be bearing the very same kind of guilt before the eye of Omniscience which we are condemning in the declared conduct of others. (J. A. Miller.)

Saul’s dethronement

Saul has thrown away his last chance, and Samuel mourns for him in the bitterness of his soul. Rationalistic writers, who would fain remove the miraculous out of Scripture, and explain the currents of its history by the play of human passions, have maintained, in strange inconsistency with the facts before them, that it was Samuel who compassed Baal’s misfortunes. They argue that, displeased with the king for supplanting him in the rule and the affections of the people, he had secretly wrought his fall. How utterly inconsistent such a view is with the facts of Baal’s history, especially how utterly inconsistent it is with the true relation of Samuel to Saul, as disclosed in the history, need hardly be stated. So we read that Samuel, when be bad heard of Saul’s transgression, “cried unto the Lord all night.” and again in the last verse of the chapter, that “Samuel mourned for Saul.” The prophet’s tears and entreaties could not avert the doom that was inevitable. Saul had sinned away his last, chance, and he was finally rejected. Saul, after setting up a monument, commemorative of his victory, at Carmel, had gone down to Gilgal. Samuel having learned of his movements, proceeded thither to meet him. An interview followed. “Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” The refutation of Saul’s falsehood is not far to seek. It comes from the sheep and the oxen, the very spoils which he has spared. The veil of his false piety is in a moment rent off, and his true position before God revealed. The fearful nature of that position flashes upon him; Saul must face the sad reality. The act of disobedience which had caused his rejection betrayed his whole character as carnal and estranged from God. We are struck here with the cowardice of his self-vindication. “They have brought them from the Amalekites;” “the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen.” He himself has had no share in the sin--the transgression is the act of the army! In their obedience, however, be will claim a part, “The rest we have utterly destroyed.” We blame our circumstances, we blame others, we blame God; how slow we are to blame ourselves! The first symptom of a right state of mind is when the sinner, in self-condemnation and sorrow, acknowledges his guilt as his own. Saul, so brave in the battlefield, so generous when his better nature was called into play, roils his guilt on others. The people did it; he himself was innocent. What moral cowardice! But his reply is not more cowardly and mean than it is false. They did it, he declares, “to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God.” Who can for a moment believe that Saul spoke what was true? The assumed motive of sacrifice was a hollow falsehood, an afterthought, as flimsy as it was false. Further, one is struck with the profane daring of Saul’s reply. The spoils were spared, he says to sacrifice, unto the Lord; it is as if the mention of such a motive would so gratify the Lord am to lead Him to compound with him for his transgression. Let us mark finally the spirit of estrangement from God which breathes in Saul’s reply The people spared the spoils,” he says, “to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God” It is not “the, Lord my God,” for, alas! Seal’s guilt has estranged him from God. A great barrier has arisen between him and the Lord. God is no longer his, but Samuel’s God. How cad the fall! (Henry W. Bell, M. A.)

Christian culture

No excuse, however plausible, can ever justify disobedience to a Divine command.

God held Saul responsible for this disobedience, and personally punished him for it, though be plead that it was the act of the people.

Sacrifice “instead of obedience” is a loathing to God.

God uses strange means, sometimes, to betray guilt. (Homiletic Review.)

The self-righteous

Solomon, in his Proverbs, writes: “Most men will proclaim everyone his own goodness; but a faithful man who can find?” and also, “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.” Solomon discovered the self-righteous in his day. Cloaks of superior piety covered hearts full of impiety. Our Saviour likewise witnessed much of outward cleanliness, but inward wickedness. Semblances of piety only--shells without the kernel. In all ages and among all nations this class is found One of the most vivid illustrations of a self-righteous man is that presented in Saul’s character. Note in what his self-righteousness consisted:

1. In partially heeding the Lord’s commands Partial service and fondness for spoils exhibit his true character. Society today is tinctured with like partial service and fondness for spoils.

2. In endeavours to appear good. The ready salutation was common in the East; his assertion of fidelity unasked was egotistic. Moreover it was false.

3. In excusing self and condemning others. “They did it.” He shirks responsibility, he would be seen of men as the true captain, when in fact he was the real hypocrite.

4. In commanding sacrifice in justification of disobedience. He claims that the spoils were for religious purposes. What vain justification! As well may the dealer in ardent spirits argue that he does his damning work that he may build a church. Good deeds cannot stone for disobedience without repentance. If we become enamoured of our goodness, our piety is vain, and exclusion from Christ’s kingdom is certain. It was the hidden rock that sent the City of Columbus, with her precious freight, into the mighty deep. The hidden defect in the car wheel brings wreck and ruin to the train. The hidden flaw in the column or arch tells the story of disaster and death. The hidden defect of self-righteousness will bring upon us irreparable ruin. Clothe yourselves with Christ’s righteousness. (W. E. Fetcham.)

Partial obedience a sin

This fragment of ancient history teaches--

That partial obedience to the commands of God is not satisfactory to Him.

That the performance of one duty cannot atone for the neglect of another.

That there is in sin a sad tendency to self-multiplication. History abounds in examples of this self-propagating power of evil. Men get entangled in wickedness, and then, with a view to free themselves, they plunge deeper into the labyrinth.

“I am in blood

Stepp’d in so far, that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”


The beginning of evil is like the escape of water from a great canal or capacious reservoir; it is like the falling of a spark upon combustibles. No one can tell when or where its ravages wilt end. Will they ever totally end? Beware of such beginnings!

That obedience to popular demands is not synonymous with obedience to God. (W. Jones.)

Showy profession

as the most florid people do not always enjoy the firmest state of health, so the most showy professors are not always the holiest and most substantial believerses (A. Toplady.)

And it grieved Samuel, and he cried unto the Lord all night.

Samuel’s grief over Saul

It is the distinguishing mark of God’s children that they sigh and cry for the offences and affronts committed against their God. One prophet wished that his head were waters, add his eyes a fountain of tears, that he might weep day and night (Jeremiah 9:1) Another declared, his tears ran like rivers, because men kept not God’s laws (Psalms 119:136). Another said, he had continual sorrow in his heart for his unconverted brethren (Romans 9:2). And when God would point out the grand mark by which his own were to be known, he says, “Go through the midst of the city, the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof” (Ezekiel 9:4). When wickedness is going on in the streets, or in the secret chambers, do you shut your door about you, and cry unto the Lord all night? or do you look on with something like interest, and smile when you ought to sigh, and laugh when you ought to weep? A school, mistress was once telling me of something that a girl had done wrong; and while she was describing the fault in a very lively manner, several of the children smiled, and scarcely suppressed a laugh. She immediately turned to them with a solemnity and concern which I can never forget, and said, “Now, girls, you have made her sin your own, those who could laugh at it could do it.” The girls looked alarmed, and I hope they would not again so thoughtlessly make a mock at sin. (Helen Plumptre.)

Grief over a fallen brother

Bishop Thirlby was appointed by Queen Mary, and went as her ambassador to Rome to swear anew England’s allegiance to the Pope. But when he performed the ceremony of degradation over Archbishop Cranmer, he wept with keenest sorrow as he did it. (H. O. Mackay.)

Verse 14

1 Samuel 15:14

What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears.


1.I learn, first, from the subject that God will expose hypocrisy. A hypocrite is one who pretends to be what he is not, or to do what he does not. Saul was only a type of a class. There are a great many churches that have two or three ecclesiastical Uriah Heeps. When the fox begins to pray, look out for your chickens. A man of that kind is of immense damage to the Church of Christ. A ship may outride a hundred storms and yet a handful of worms in the planks may sink it to the bottom. The Church of God is not so much in danger of the cyclones of trouble and persecution that come upon it as of the vermin of hypocrisy that infest it. Wolves are of no danger to the fold of God unless they look like sheep Oh! we cannot deceive God with a church certificate. If you have the grace of God, profess it. Profess no more than you have. But I want the world to know that where there is one hypocrite in the church, there are five hundred outside of it, for the reason that the field is larger. There are men in all circles that will bow before you, and who are obsequious in your presence, and talk flatteringly, but who, all the while they are in your conversation, are digging for bait and angling for imperfections. In your presence they imply that they are everything friendly, but after awhile you find that they have the fierceness of a catamount, the slyness of a snake, and the spite of a devil. God will expose such. The gun they load will burst in their own hands; the lies they tell will break their own teeth; and at the very moment they think they have been successful in deceiving you and deceiving the world, the sheep will bleat and the oxen will bellow.

2. I learn, further, from this subject how natural it is to try to put off your sins upon other people. Human nature is the same in all the ages Adam confronted with his sin, said: “The woman tempted me, and I did eat;” and the woman charged it upon the serpent; and, if the serpent could have spoken, it would have charged it upon the devil. I suppose that Adam was just as much to blame as Eve was. You cannot throw off the responsibility of any sin upon the shoulders of other people. Here is a young man who says; “I know I am doing wrong, but I have not had any chance. I had a father who despised God, and a mother who was a disciple of godless fashion. I am not to blame for my sins--it is my bringing up.” Here is a business man. He says: “I know I don’t do exactly right in trade, but all the dry goods men do it, and all the hardware men do this, and I am not responsible.” God will hold you responsible for what you do, and them responsible for what they do. “If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself; but if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it.”

3. I learn, further, from this subject what God meant by extermination. There may be more sins in our soul than there were Amalekites. We must kill them. Woe unto us if we spare Agag. Here is a Christian who says: “I will drive out all the Amalekites of sin from my heart.” Here is jealousy, down goes that Amalekite. Here is backbiting, down goes that Amalekite. And what slaughter he makes among his sins, striking right and left. What is that out yonder lifting up his head? It is Agag--it is worldliness. It is as old sin he cannot bear to strike down. It is a darling transgression he cannot afford to sacrifice. I appeal for entire consecration. Christ will not stay in the same house with Agag. You must give up Agag or give up Christ. Jesus says: “All of that heart or none.”

4. I learn, further, from this subject that it is vain to try to defraud God. Here Saul thought he had cheated God out of those sheep and oxen; but he lost his crown--he lost his empire. You cannot cheat God. The Lord God came into the counting house, and said: “I have allowed you to have all this property for ten, fifteen, or twenty years, and you have not done justice to My poor children. When the beggar called upon you, you hounded him off your steps. When My suffering children appealed to you or help, you had no mercy. I only asked for so much, or so much; but you did not give it to Me, and now I will take it all.” God asks of us one-seventh of our time in the way of Sabbath. Do you suppose we can get an hour of that time successfully away from its true object? No, no. As you go into the world, exhibit an open-hearted Christian frankness. Do not be hypocritical in anything; you are never safe if you are. In the most inopportune moment the sheep will bleat and the oxen bellow. Have no mercy on Agag. Down with your sins--down with your pride--down with your worldliness. I know you cannot achieve this work by your own arm; but Almighty grace is sufficient (T. De Witt Talmage.)

Sell deception

Let our subject be the danger of self deception and half-heartedness in the religious life. We shall not have to do with people wholly irreligious and immoral, with those we commonly term sinners; but with a kind of semi-religious, or professedly religious people--people always hovering about the kingdom of God, but who never truly and heartily enters into it; one part of whose life seems alway to contradict and undo another.

The master evil--want of whole-hearted surrender and obedience to the will and commandment of God. This it was which ran through, vitiated, and spoiled the whole life and course of the unhappy king, Saul. No more ill-fated, unhappy, unprofitable enigma to himself, to God, and to the world, than a man who has never more than half a mind or heart to anything. Such a man can serve neither world well and truly, for he dare not give himself up wholly to the present, and be cannot give himself up to the world to come, the kingdom of God. He knows and believes both too much and too little. This description applies to many professing Christians. They have too little gospel in them to make them blessed in the Lord; and enough perhaps to make them ashamed and miserable in the day of visitation--the still small voice only heard at intervals, but the bleating of sheep and the lowing of oxen generally gross and loud enough to close their ears to the music of heaven and eternity.

Herein is displayed lamentable weakness of faith and purpose. There was a fatal weakness of soul and character about Saul, which showed itself at every great crisis, and at length brought his days to an end in calamity, disgrace, despair. He was not a man to be kept true to his avowed faith and principles, was too easily turned aside; he put his hand to the plough, and yet looked back; he reminds us of those in the gospels who said, “Lord, I will follow Thee, but.”

The deceiving love of self, self interest, covetous desires, vain ambitions, bender us insensible to the sovereign claims of God and truth. It is so easy, while professing to give ourselves to God and His holy service, to seek and serve ourselves meanwhile, and keep in view low earthly ends--even to fight against prevalent forms of error and evil more for the sake of our own advancement and advantage than from pure loyalty to the cause of truth and righteousness. We may win the spoils of the enemy, and in so doing spare Agag the king, take the master-evil home into our own hearts and households, seek our own reputation and interest and not the glory of God.

We have here also a melancholy example of sparing sins and evils that should be slain, sheltering and harbouring them under false pretences, by unworthy pleas and excuses. The mark of a true man and Christian to allow no known sin, least of all favourite, profitable, accustomed, pleasant sins.

How short and easy the stage between this evil partiality, this indulged insincerity at given points, and a blinding hypocrisy throughout the man.

It is a vain thing to throw the blame on others, to allege public opinion and custom in self-justification and defence, when we are disobeying the plainly expressed will and commandments of God. We cut ourselves off, in this way, from all true kingship, not in Israel only, as Saul; but is a greater, holier, ever during kingdom, the kingdom of God. (Watson Smith.)

The rigour of Divine law

In approaching the fundamental principles suggested by the narrative, we ought to note two useful incidental points:--

1. That man cannot evade Divine retribution (1 Samuel 15:2).

2. That kindness to the good ensures Divine compensation (1 Samuel 15:6). Kindness is self- rewarding. Beneficence bears an immortal fruitage. Passing from these introductory points we are brought into full contact with the lessons of the incident. We may learn:--

The transcendent importance of rendering literal obedience to Divine requirements. The argument turns on the word literal. Learn that Divine language never exceeds Divine meaning. There is significance in every word; you cannot amputate a single syllable, without doing violence to the Divine idea.

The fearful possibility of resting satisfied wits partial obedience. Are you satisfied because your life is right in the main? God will not be satisfied. He examines the minutest fibres of life. Verily the best of men need be clothed in Christ’s righteousness, or they will be consumed in the fire of Divine trial.

The utter impossibility of rendering disobedience well-pleasing to God. A religious reason is adduced in justification of disobedience. God said, Exterminate, but the people said, Sacrifice. God, however, rejected the offering which was presented at the expense of obedience. Learn then:--

1. That Divine requirements are absolute.

2. That God will not allow one duty to be performed on the ruin of another. Let no man forsake God’s temple in order that he may visit the sick. Let it stand as a vital clause in your life-creed, that God will not accept one duty at the expense of another!

The danger of being seduced into disobedience by social clamour. Lessons suggested by Saul’s circumstances:--

1. That there is a higher law than the verdict of society. Popular opinion is fickle: moral law is immutable.

2. That there is a crisis in which social force can yield us no assistance. Saul was placed in that fearful crisis. He had obeyed the people, but now the people could be of no service to him! The people could violate Divine law, but could not avert Divine judgment! (Joseph Parker, D. D.)

Verse 20

1 Samuel 15:20

Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me.

Saul’s obedience

We invite your attention to some features of Saul’s character, as drawn out by the way in which he obeyed the Divine command.

1. First, let us notice the zeal and alacrity with which Saul proceeded to carry out the Divine will. Unlike Moses, who complained of his want of eloquence when bidden to go to Pharaoh in Jehovah’s name, and plead for the deliverance of his oppressed countrymen--unlike Jonah, who positively refused to bear the dread message with which he was charged to the inhabitants of the great city of Nineveh, and fled to Tarshish, to escape an unwelcome tax--Saul displayed a commendable zeal in executing the command that was laid upon him. It is obvious that he undertook the work willingly, and executed it zealously. No victory could be more complete. The King was a prisoner. The people were slain. In the King’s estimation the Divine command was fully carried out. Saul does not seem to have had the slightest misgiving as to the correctness of his own interpretation of the Divine command. He felt that be bad done a great work, and that on this occasion no one could breathe a word against him. Poor deluded, self-conceited King of Israel! We are often told that history repeats itself, and it is certain that the history of Saul, King of Israel, has been often reproduced in the history of the Church of Christ. Jehu did a work for God, and he did it with alacrity. He destroyed the worshippers of Baal--nay, more than this, for it is said that he “destroyed Baal out of Israel.” And yet the future of that man was a sad one. We read that he “took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart; for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which made Israel to sin” (2 Kings 10:1-36). The Pharisees in the time of our Lord had a zeal for God. They reverenced the law of Moses, and paid to it a certain obedience (Matthew 23:1-39). And yet upon no body of men did our Divine Master so pour forth the torrent of His indignation as upon those arrogant, self-righteous, self-satisfied Pharisees. And is there not a voice of warning for us in these instances of antiquity Men of wealth may dedicate that wealth to God. They may build a church, or a hospital, or a school. And yet that building so externally lovely may be hideous--hideous, I say, to that God “that seeth in secret.” Self, and self alone, may have been its foundation stone It may be but a monument of human selfishness and ambition. Another man may take an interest in the missionary cause and devote his wealth to the spreading abroad of the knowledge of God. This indeed is a good object, and worthy of our best energies But, oh! if men engage in the work from any but the highest motive--the desire of saving precious souls for whom Christ has died--if being men of narrow views they seize it as an opportunity for advancing their own religions party; if above all they allow their so-called religious zeal to deaden their instincts of common justice and even humanity; if they would fain silence all but those as narrow-minded as themselves--surely they have not caught fully the spirit of our Divine Master.

2. We have seen that Saul’s obedience was marred by a spirit of boastful self-confidence. And his history is instructive, because the spirit of Saul still lives in the religious professor of the present day. Tell the respectable man as he leaves the church porch that he is a sinner, that there is iniquity in his “holy things”--sin in his prayers, sin in his praises--tell him, in the touching language of the good Bishop Beveridge, that his very repentance needs to be repented of, and that his tears need washing in the blood of Christ, and he indignantly repudiates the charge, and says, “Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me.” Self-confidence is the mark of the natural man. Self-distrust is the mark of the genuine disciple of Christ. (C. B. Brigstocke.)

Verse 22

1 Samuel 15:22

Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice.

Obedience and sacrifice

Saul’s misconduct supplied the occasion for the announcement of an absolute and eternal truth.

That sacrifice is only circumstantially necessary, but obedience is essentially so.

1. Sacrifice is either an atonement for offence, and then, however excellent the remedy, it cannot for its own sake be as acceptable to the Creator as the healthful action which renders the remedy unnecessary.

2. It is the suffering occasioned by transgression, and then it cannot be so pleasant to a parent as the obedience which prevents the suffering. Hence as sacrifice is a remedy for moral disease, it is good, but as obedience is the pulsation of unimpaired health, it is better.

Sacrifice is a relative good--obedience is personal and therefore better. The idea may be thus expressed:--Sacrifice is required because of the relation of God to other beings than the offerer, but obedience is demanded by the relation of the individual to God.

Sacrifice is temporary, obedience eternal. When God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven, sacrifice shall be no more needed on earth than in heaven.

Sacrifice is good as a means; therefore, to obey, being the end, is better.

1. Such sacrifices only were accepted of old, as God had commanded. Thus they were only valuable as they were related to obedience, and for its sake.

2. The great sacrifice is valuable as an atonement for man’s disobedience.

(1) Because of the perfect obedience of the offerer.

(2) Because of the revelation of God it affords.

(3) Because of the cure of man’s disobedience it is calculated thus to effect.

(4) Because it thus secures that which is better than sacrifice.

(5) In fine, it is only thus valuable permanently to the obedient.

“Being made perfect He became the Author of eternal salvation to all them that obey Him.” (William Knox.)

Of the duty which God requireth of man

This text is a reproof given to one that wore a crown, teaching him, that though he was Israel’s sovereign, he was God’s subject. In the words we may notice the duty which God requires of men, which is obedience. What they are to obey is the voice of the Lord, whereby He manifests His will: it is His revealed will, whatever way He is pleased to notify it to them. Hence the obedience in the text is called hearkening. The excellency and eminency of this duty. God delights in it. All other things must yield to it, but it to none.

1. The duty which man owes unto God. That is obedience. We are in a state of subjection to God. He is our Superior, and His will we are to obey in all things. He is our King, and we must obey Him as His subjects. He is our Father, and we must show Him all respect, reverence, and affection as His dutiful children. He is our Lord and Master and we must yield Him the most cheerful and unlimited service, as is our reasonable duty. He is our supreme Lawgiver, and we must receive the law at His mouth, every law and precept, every ordinance that is stamped with His authority, whatever is subscribed with a “Thus saith the Lord,” readily obeying it.

2. Of whom the Lord requires this duty. No man can be free from this duty more than he can be a God to himself.

3. The rule of that obedience. It is the will of God. His will is our supreme law. Not the secret will of God; for that which God never revealed to man, cannot be his rule; but the revealed will of God (Deuteronomy 29:29).

4. The properties of this obedience which God requires of man.

(1) It is sincere obedience to His will. Hence David says, “I was upright before Him” (Psalms 18:23). Hypocritical obedience may please men, but not God, the searcher of hearts. All obedience without uprightness or sincerity, is a mere counterfeit, an empty pretence, which will be rejected with abhorrence.

(2) It must be constant obedience.

(3) It must be tender obedience. We have to deal with a jealous God, whom whorish looks will offend (Ezekiel 6:9). We cannot be too nice in obedience.

(4) It must be ready obedience, like that of those of whom the Psalmist speaks, “As soon as they hear of Me, they shall obey Me” (Psalms 18:24). God’s call and command must drown the voice of carnal ease, and all arguments arising from spare thyself.

(5) It must be universal obedience (Psalms 119:6), in “having a respect unto all God’s commandments.” The whole of the commands of God have the same Divine stamp upon them. They are one golden chain: whoso takes away one link, breaks the chain; if the connection be destroyed, the whole machine falls asunder Whoso makes no conscience of any one known duty, discovers hypocrisy in the rest.

(6) It must be absolute obedience, like that of Abraham (Hebrews 11:8).

(7) It must be perfect; though now in our fallen state we cannot give any obedience that deserves that epithet. God may and does require of all men in whatsoever state, “Be perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” The believer, sensible of his utter incapacity to perform such an obedience to the holy law of God, renounces all his own sinful and imperfect, though sincere obedience, and betakes himself to the complete obedience of his Surety, and presents it as his own to God which He accepts.

5. On what accounts do we owe this obedience to God. On these principally,

(1) Because He is our great and glorious Creator, to whom we owe our life and being.

(2) Because He is our chief end, the chief and last end of all being.

(3) Because He is the conserving cause of all. As He gave man a being, so He upholds and preserves him therein, by His mighty power.

(4) Because of the eminency of His nature, which founds His supreme dominion over us.

(5) Because He is our good and gracious Benefactor, from whose bountiful hand all our mercies do flow.

(6) Because He is our Governor and supreme Lawgiverse He is a Lawgiver to all, to irrational as well as rational creatures. Does God require from men obedience to His revealed will? The doing of what God does not command can be no acceptable service or obedience to God. Our duty to God is not to be measured by our imaginations, but by the revealed will of God. Nothing but what is commanded of God can lawfully be the object of our duty. Those who never heard the gospel will not be condemned for their not believing it; for the revelation of God’s will must go before our actual obligation to it (Romans 2:12). This ought to stir up all who bear the Christian name, to be vigorous and lively in obeying God, particularly the great command of believing in the name of His Son; as considering that whosoever doth not so obey and believe the gospel, shall be damned (Mark 16:16). (T. Boston.)

Obedience and sacrifice compared

That obedience is due to God from all His intelligent creatures, I suppose none will deny. It is the original unchangeable law of creation, which every after discovery served not to undermine, but to support and confirm. It was the religion of man in the primitive state of innocence; and it shall be the religion of heaven, when we shall see our Maker as He is. The very excellence of truth itself lies in its influence on holiness, and the very purpose of every sacred institution is to form our minds to a habit of obedience, and subjection to the will of God. In the meantime, it is of the utmost moment, that, we have clear and just conceptions of the nature and principles of obedience.

I am to open a little, and make a few remarks upon the history which gave occasion to the words of the prophet.

1. How easily are people misled into disobedience by their present interest, or carnal inclinational how ready are these to mix themselves in all our actions, and to turn what was intended as an instance of obedience, into an act of impiety and transgression!

2. You may observe how natural it is for people, when challenged for any fault, to lay the blame of it upon others, even when there is little prospect of hiding their own guilt.

3. We may see it is an unusual thing for men to imagine they have been obedient to God even in that very action, by which they have in a remarkable manner shown their disobedience. True obedience is always humble, and sensible of the imperfections attending it. Ostentatious obedience, if it were for no other reason, is an abomination in the sight, of God. How often does it happen that the excuses for sin are the aggravations of it? It is very remarkable, though melancholy to reflect upon, that those excuses for sin which carry in them the most daring profanity, are commonly most stupifying to the conscience. Such is the state of all those who fortify themselves in an evil practice, by embracing loose principles, who, having first given way to unbridled inclination in the breach of God’s laws, steel themselves against conviction and repentance, by a denial of His truth.

5. How great is the folly of men who hope to atone for their disobedience by any compensation, but particularly by religious rites!

I proceed to show in what respects it is that obedience is opposed and preferred to sacrifice, or justly called better. It is not uncommon to hear this passage produced in order to prove the value of moral above positive precepts. Moral precepts, I suppose you know, are precepts of perpetual and unchangeable obligation, and positive, such as either have not, or do not seem to have, any intrinsic excellence in themselves, but depend upon the immediate and express institution of God. Now, though no doubt, if it is done with proper care, and upon legitimate principles, a distinction may be stated between these different kinds of duties; yet it is plain, that this cannot be the spirit of the passage before us.

1. Obedience is preferred to sacrifices, as they were uncommanded, free, and voluntary. If we attend to the sacrifices under the law, we shall find them of different kinds; particularly, we shall find them distinguished in this respect, that some of them were expressly and positively ordained, and others were left to the goodwill or spontaneous inclination of the offerer. The observation of the Sabbath, of circumcision, of the passover, the daily burnt offering, the annual sacrifice on the great day of expiation, the trespass offering, and many others, were so indispensably necessary, that no opposition was to be presumed or imagined between them and the moral law. Nay, the whole circumstances of these rites were precisely specified, and those who varied anything in the manner of their observation were to he cut off from their people. (Exodus 12:19; Exodus 31:14). I must further observe, that even with respect to voluntary or free-will offerings, though they were left at liberty whether they would offer such at all or not; yet if they did offer, the manner in which it behoved to be conducted, was appointed precisely. Now, nothing can be more plain, than that the sacrifices which Saul and his people had in view to offer, or at least pretended to have had in view, were voluntary or free-will offerings. When you remember this you will see with how great lustier and force the prophet opposes sacrifices of this kind to obeying the voice of the Lord: “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?” As if he had said, “Can you imagine that God will be as well pleased with gifts of your own devising, as with a strict and punctual execution of the orders which Himself had given; especially when the very sacrifices you would offer to Him, are purchased by the breach of His express command?”

2. Obedience is opposed to sacrifices, as they are false and hypocritical. Even in those sacrifices that were most expressly appointed, and of the most indispensable obligation, there might be an essential defect, from the inward disposition not corresponding to the outward action. Reason, as well as scripture, teacheth us, that in all acts of worship the sincerity of the heart makes the chief ingredient.

(1) Our sacrifices may be polluted by inconsistency or unsoundness in the character. This is the case where men are careful in attending upon the institutions of religion, but do not make conscience of keeping the commandments of God in their ordinary conversation.

(2) The other kind of hypocrisy is, when men put on religion as a cloak and covering on their wickedness, and, without any inward regard or sense of duty to God, aim only at the praise of men.

3. Obedience is opposed to sacrifices, as they are dead and formal. I am not at this time to mention all the ends which an infinitely wise God intended to serve by the appointment of sacrifices: but everyone must be sensible, that they could be of no avail without taking in the principle from which they were bought, and the temper and disposition of the offerer. There was no doubt very much of outward form in the Mosaic economy; and the ritual practices bore so great bulk in it, that, by way of comparison with the spirituality of the gospel, it is called the law of a carnal commandment. But it would be mistaking it very much to suppose that God was fully satisfied with or desired that His people should rest in the outward form. This is plain from many passages of scripture (Psalms 5:7; Psalms 26:6; Psalms 51:16-17). In opposition to this, however clear a dictate both of reason and scripture, it seems to have been the disease of ancient times, to imagine that the sacrifices were somehow necessary or useful to their Maker in themselves; and that He was pleased with the possession of the gift, independent of the disposition of the giverse This led both Jews and Gentiles to suppose that the more numerous and costly the victims the greater would be their influence (Micah 6:6). This conduct, so dishonourable to God and so inconsistent with the holiness and purity of His nature, had no sufficient excuse either among Jews or Heathens. But surely it is still more criminal among Christians. The gospel, as a dispensation of clearer light and greater purity is called the ministration of the Spirit. God is a spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.

4. In the last place, obedience is opposed to sacrifices, as they are misplaced and unseasonable. In the ancient dispensation, time and place were as much ascertained as any circumstance that belonged to the temple service; and nothing could be more contrary to the spirit of that economy, than taking any liberty with the order which God Himself had established. The same general rule is to be observed at all times. We must attend to the intimations of Providence, and, as far as they can be clearly discerned, discharge those duties to which we are immediately called. Everything is beautiful in its place and season, and is then not only most acceptable to God, but most useful to men It is so far from being any disparagement of sacrifices, that it is their very excellence, to be confined to their time and place. And the maxim in the text will apply with equal propriety to every duty of the moral law the most excellent of them may be misapplied True religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is, to visit the fatherless and the widow; and yet, if the time of Divine worship be unnecessarily chosen for that purpose, or if too much time be consumed in it by those whose presence cannot be useful, it is a rejected sacrifice.

I proceed now to make some practical improvement of what has been said. From what has been said you may learn what are the great characters of acceptable obedience; and, I think, they may be reduced to the three following:--

1. It must be an implicit obedience.

2. A second character of true obedience is, that it be self-denied and impartial, that it be not, directed or qualified by our present interest.

3. A third character of obedience is, that it be universal, without any exception. From what hath been said on this subject, you may see, that the true notion of obedience is inconsistent with the notion of merit, as if we could lay our Maker under some sort of obligation. You see how Saul justified himself, and said, “Yea, but I have obeyed the voice of the Lord.” But, in the judgment of God, there was no consideration had of what bad been done, but a severe sentence of condemnation upon him for what he had neglected. True obedience is always considered, in this light, as a debt due to God, for the performance of which nothing can be claimed, but for the neglect of which a penalty is incurred. (T. Witherspoon.)

To obey is better than sacrifice

our obedience must be prompt. We begin a holy life with the question, “What wilt thou have me to do?” The moment God answers we should run to do His bidding. “Run” is the word (Psalms 119:32)

It must be exact. When Saul said, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord,” he meant it as certain loose and careless people count obedience It is not enough, however, for us to do fairly well When God says “Pay!” He means to the uttermost, farthing; when He says “Go to Nineveh,” he means Nineveh and nowhere else “Whatsoever He saith onto you, do it.”

It should be unquestioning. If ever a man was excusable for “wanting to know,” it was Saul when commanded to exterminate Amalek. Was the requirement just? Was it humane? Was it politic? But that was God’s affair God must be permitted to justify Himself. There was no uncertainty as to the Voice

Our obedience should be cheerful. We make too much of duty and obligation, and too little of the joy and privilege of service Let us come up from the association of mercenaries and galley slaves to the high level of filial devotion. We are sons and daughters of God, brethren of Christ. He was once “sent” upon a painful, toilsome errand; His obedience was prompt, exact, unquestioning, and joyous.” “In the volume of the book it is written, ‘I rejoice to do Thy will.’“ Let the mind that was in Christ; Jesus be also in us. (Homiletic Review.)

No true worship or service without an obedient heart

We are all apt be form a false estimate of our character, and to approve ourselves in the face of heaven, and maintain our uprightness in the presence of men when miserably deficient in our duty when deeply stained with the spots of guilt and rebellion. Commonly indeed it happens, as in the case before us, that the truth of the matter is made manifest to our fellow creatures; that even they are not often, or not long, deceived in farming a judgment of our character: but however this may be, “shall not God find it out?”

1. If the Creator prescribes a method in which He will be honoured and served, it is not for the creature to substitute any other method of his own. Every religious service derives its value from its accordance with the will of God: all other services will be disowned and rejected. For instance, the Almighty has ordained, that His blessings shall be obtained by prayer: it is not for us to say, that He knows our wants already, better than we can detail them; and that therefore it is useless to pray. The value and efficacy of sacrifices resulted entirely from the appointment of God; and they could not possibly be acceptable, unless as offered in obedience to Him. Had Saul offered thousands of sheep and oxen, not of the spoils of Amalek, but from his own flocks and herds, in an impenitent and self-confident disposition, the Lord would have abhorred them all; how much more then, when the animals had been spared in direct, disobedience to His positive command. But so it was, that the people were always resting on the outward form, and overlooking the thing signified; mindful of the service, but regardless of the heart. And for a plain reason: because the service itself was easy, and satisfied the deluded conscience, and left the offender in quiet possession of the sinful habits in which he delighted: and because the submission of the heart was irksome and painful, and required a discipline, a humiliation, a change of character and of life, which the offender was little disposed to undergo.

2. Without a sincere and humble spirit of subjection, without a holy and obedient heart, all our prayers and all our services are nothing in the sight of God; are founded in hypocrisy; are no better than a mockery of his name. Submission to the authority and will of God must ever be essential to true religion under every dispensation; and few persons there are, who doubt this as a speculative truth. But there is a vast difference between the outward submission of an unrepentant and ungodly heart, and the inward submission of the penitent and the pious! It is the subjection of mind, the surrender of the affections to the will and law of God, which constitutes an acceptable service. Pardon is graciously promised to all who truly repent, and the word of God assures us, that it will be extended to none besides: upon what ground then can the unrepentent sinner presume to ask forgiveness? And how can that man dare to implore of God the grace to repent, who has no intention and no real desire of repenting? He is but adding insult to his sin. How can the wilful sinner who lives, and is yet determined to live, in any course of guilt, really pray for deliverance from the bondage of sin? Does he expect that a miracle will be wrought to deliver him against his will? So far from resolving, he does not even wish to be changed from sin to holiness, from the world to God. In truth, it is not prayer at all; it is but the semblance and pretence of prayer.

3. Let us look well to the root and to the fruit of our sacrifices: see that they are all offered in an humble and obedient spirit, that we feel and desire what we say in the awful presence of a holy God: see that the submission of our lives is consistent with the submission of our persons before Him; that whatsoever we do, we do out of respect for His authority, out of love for His law, and obedience to His command. (J. Slade, M. A.)

Obedience better than sacrifice

I think that in this verse there is first a voice to professing Christians, and then, secondly, to unconverted persons.

Who have made a profession of your faith in Him. Probably, there are some of you who may be living in the neglect of some known duty. It is no new thing for Christians to know their duty, and yet to neglect it. If you are failing to keep the least of one of Christ’s commands to his disciples. I pray you be disobedient no longer. It may be that some of you, though you are professed Christians, are living in the prosecution of some evil trade, and your conscience has often said, “Get out of it.” You are not in the position that a Christian ought to be in; but then you hope that you will be able to make a little money, and you will retire and do a world of good with it. Ah! God cares nothing for this rams’ fat of yours; he asks not for these sacrifices which you intend to make. Possibly, too, there may be some evil habit in which you are indulging, and which you excuse by the reflection, “Well, I am always at the prayer meeting; I am constantly at communion, and I give so much of my substance to the support of the Lord’s work.” I pray you give up that sin! To obey is better than sacrifice in the matter of caring for the sick and needy of all classes. We rejoice in the number of hospitals which adorn our cities. These are the princely trophies of the power of our holy religion. There are no nobler words in our language than those inscribed on so many walls--“Supported by voluntary contributions.” We glory in them. Rome’s monuments, Grecian trophies, Egyptia’s mighty tombs, and Assyria’s huge monoliths, are dwarfed into petty exhibitions of human pride and vanity before the sublime majesty of these exhibitions of a God-given love to our fellow men; but all these homes of mercy and healing become evils to ourselves though they are blessings to the distressed, if we contribute of our wealth to their exchequer and neglect personally to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, to feed the hungry, to care for the sick, and do not, like the Master, go about doing good Give as God has given to you; but remember God acts as well as gives. “Go thou and do likewise.” Sacrifice, but also obey.

But my main business is with the unconverted.

1. God has given to you in the gospel dispensation a command. It is a command in the obeying of which there is eternal life, and the neglect of which will be and must be your everlasting ruin. That command is this: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

2. Now, this first point being clear, that God has given a command, the second remark is that the most of men, instead of obeying God, want to bring Him sacrifice. They suppose that their own way of salvation is much better than any that the Almighty can have devised, and therefore they offer their fat of rams. This takes different forms, but it is always the same principle. One man says, “Well now, I will give up my pleasures; you shall not discover me in low company; I will give up all the things that my heart calls good, and will not that save us? “No, it will not. When you have made all this sacrifice, all I shall or can say of it is, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” “Well, but suppose I begin to attend a place of worship?” Remember therefore that all that you can do in the way of outward religion is nothing but the sacrifice of the fat of rams; and “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” “Yes,” says another, “but suppose I punish myself a good deal for all that I have done? I will abstain from this, I will deny myself that, I will mortify myself in this passion, I will give up that evil.” Friend, if thou hast any evil give it up; but when thou hast done so do not rely upon that, for this oughtest thou to have done, and not to have left the other undone. God’s command is “Believe!”

3. “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” And now I have to show that it is so. It is better in itself. It shows that you are more humble. It is really a more holy thing. It is a holier and a better thing to do one’s duty than to make duties for one’s self and then set about them. But not obeying and not hearkening to the gospel, sinner, you must perish. There is the way of salvation, and thou mush trust Christ or perish; and there is nothing hard in it that thou shouldst perish if thou dost not. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


The fact we want to emphasise is the supremacy of obedience. There is nothing said against sacrifice for it is a service of Divine ordination from the earliest times. They are the expressions of the highest conditions of being. Best men live to sacrifice, and what is more they live by sacrifice. Sacrifices were designed to subordinate the material to the moral and to show that the gold and silver and the cattle upon a thousand hills are God’s. They further indicate the fact that even a material service may have spiritual ends. But notwithstanding all that can be said for sacrifice, there is “a more excellent way.” There is a higher law of life There are other and more commendable ways by which we can attest our loyalty and prove our love, and that is by obedience. Was he not acting within his right in disposing of the spoils, and prisoners of war? Did not other kings exercise this prerogative, and were not the Israelites to be like other nations in having a king? Why then should King Saul be unlike other kings? Why abate his privileges or place restrictions upon his actions? Why deprive him of his prerogatives? How like this is to man who goes forth in the pride of intellect and the boast of lordship saying in effect, “Am I not king? Are not this earth and these heavens all inferior to me? Is it not mine to subdue the earth and control and subordinate to my uses and for my comfort the forces of Nature?” “Yes, man. I admit thy supremacy. I loyally bow to thy kingship. I pay dues to thy lordship. I am at thy service as I am for thy use, but I will not be forced into a blind and unconditional servitude. You must honour me and obey my laws or I refuse to acknowledge thy authority.” The commonest facts of life give evidence that man conquers by obedience and rules by submission. He cannot force Nature to do what he may list. The utmost he can do is to direct and utilise her forces. He must first learn obedience, and by obedience he commands those potent elements with which earth, air, fire and water are invested. If the mariner would take his ship across the sea he must observe the law of winds and currents. No arrangement of Nature can be changed. No law can be abrogated. Man investigates, discovers, blends, controls, adapts, subordinates and utilises, not by an imperious authority but by obedience. Things are as they are, and he must submit to them. This is true of human life. The case of a successful Scotchman is apt to our argument. Having risen to a splendid position, he was asked the secret of his rapid advancement; he gave the reply: “by bowing,” or by civility, by obedience. Fancied dignity is the sure road to degradation whereas humility leads by an unerring law to exaltation. The principle of the text applies with equal force to spiritual life. It is alone by obedience to the eternal law of moral right and spiritual life that a man can be saved. Obedience to God is the prime position of man. “To obey is better than sacrifice.”

1. It is an exhibition of nobler qualities. A fanatic or even a hypocrite may sacrifice but it is only the true man who obeys. Robbers and murderers have presented oblations to the gods and even to the professed servants of the One only God, but vain all such acts in the absence of obedience to the Divine moral code.

2. Obedience is a higher service than sacrifice. A better set of forces are put in motion by obedience. Sacrifices are external, obedience is internal. Sacrifices are part of a carnal ordinance, obedience is of the essence of spirituality. The one looks earthward, the other heavenward. Sacrifices may be an accommodation to a party and jealousy for the honour, of a sect, obedience is loyalty to truth. Sacrifices may have an ear for the praise of man, obedience for the glory of God.

3. Obedience is more akin to the conditions of heaven. Sacrifices can play no part in the services of the celestial temple, while obedience is the secret of heaven’s harmony and peace. The true heart is more capacious than the largest band The body is at best but a poor instrument with which to actualise thought and holy purpose. What, we must do is to bring every thought into line with God’s will. We must obey Him by first giving Him our heart. (M. Brokenshire.)

The principle of obedience

It is a false obedience when obedience is refused the moment the law of God stands alone. In Soul’s onslaught upon Amalek, there was, up to a certain point, a perfect agreement between duty and inclination, God’s service and self-interest There was no zeal test of obedience until Amalek had been smitten to the last man, and that man the King. The people of Israel were eager to indulge their ancient enmity against Amalek, but were not willing to exterminate the flocks and herds. Herein lies Soul’s condemnation He forsook the path of duty the moment it went forward alone, and other things--inclination, custom, self-interest--did not point the same way There are times when religion goes further than we are inclined to go, requires more than we are disposed to render; parts company with our inclinations, and tastes, and purposes, and habits. The test of obedience is then. We must not suppose that we are serving God when we attend religious services, perform religious duties, keep the Divine law only so long and so far as inclination, interest, custom point the same way.

It is a false obedience which is regarded as justifying or excusing disobedience in certain matters and in occasional instances. Many claim for themselves what has been justly termed a dispensing power. On the ground of their general good conduct, general attention to religious duties, general obedience to the Divine law, they hold themselves excused, or warranted in occasional departures.

It is a false obedience when disobedience to God in any form and under any circumstances is regarded as a trifling thing. It seemed a light matter to Saul to act as he did But we can easily see that his slight disobedience involved great principles.

1. It assailed and dishonoured the character of God. To spare Agag was to charge God with partiality, was to give to His decree as iniquitous character.

2. It degraded the whole transaction. When Israel and Saul went forth to battle they were invested with the awful dignity of executing a Divine judgment. But Saul’s conduct would have made it simply a vulgar marauding expedition.

3. It involved a degradation of religion God is regarded as One who might overlook the disobedience if only He is made a sharer in the spoil. (Homiletic Magazine.)

Obedience better than sacrifice

The prophet’s assertion, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” The sense in which be here uses the word “better” is obvious. He means to say that it, is more pleasing and agreeable to the will of God. The word sacrifice, in the text, may be understood as comprising the whole of the Jewish Ritual, or that prescribed form of ceremonial observances, consisting of offerings, purifications, and solemnities of different kinds, to which they wore required strictly add circumstantially to adhere. Let us next enquire into the meaning of the term obedience, as it is here used. Obedience in general signifies compliance with the revealed will of God. But this compliance may be two fold, either outward or inward From this explanation, then, of the terms employed, we may now see the meaning of the prophet’s assertion, when he declared that “to obey is better than sacrifice.” He meant to assert that “an inward and habitual disposition of heart to fear and obey God is far more pleasing in His sight than the most correct and scrupulous attention to the positive institutions of religion, where this disposition is wanting.” That such is the meaning of this passage appears more certain from the several assertions to the same effect which are scattered throughout the Scriptures. What does the Lord declare by His prophet Hosea? “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offering.” Attend also to the following passage from the prophet Micah: “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?”

What, then, may we conclude were the prophet’s reasons for this assertion?

1. That obedience of which he speaks, that inward submission of the heart to God, that habitual disposition of the soul to fear and serve Him, is the one grand requisite in religion. That man has most religion who has most piety; who in his soul most constantly realises the presence, most humbly bows to the will, most sincerely desires the favour, and most devoutly longs for the glory of God. And hence it is that the fear of God, as comprehending all these constituent parts of true piety, is so frequently used in Scripture for the whole of religion.

2. Another reason was this: The end of sacrifice itself was but to promote and secure obedience. It is true that the greater part of these institutions were of a typical nature, and had a typical meaning. This was their immediate design; but their ultimate object in all this design was to lead men to holiness and to teach them to worship God in spirit and in truth. And now let us apply it to our own case, and see how far we are concerned in the conclusions to which this discussion has led. In the first place, then, let us remember that true religion under every dispensation is the same. The internal and spiritual part of religion is the same now as it has always been. There is as great a propensity among many who are called Christians, unduly to appreciate and exalt the external and ceremonial part of religion, to the neglect and injury of the internal and spiritual part of it as there ever was among the people of Israel. I will produce some few instances in proof and illustration of this remark. Some, like Saul of old, act as if they thought that an attention to the positive institutions of religion would excuse, or even justify the disobedient and unhumbled state of their heart. Again, there are others who act like those Pharisees of old, whom our Lord condemned for their hypocrisy and iniquity; who “paid tithe of mint, anise, and cumin, but omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” They are mere formalists in religion. Further, there are still other persons, who regard and use the positive institutions of religion with a superstitious regard. They think that the very attendance on them communicates a portion of sanctity to the soul, and secures an interest in the blessings and privileges of the Gospel. These are some of the ways in which persons unduly appreciate and exalt the external and ceremonial part of religion, to the prejudice of real spiritual Christianity. I would wish you to go from the performance of these outward duties with your affections more weaned from the world, and more set on things above; with your faith strengthened, your hops increased, your love inflamed, your desires after spiritual things enlarged, and more ardent. (E. Cooper.)

The supremacy of obedience

The supremacy of obedience in religion. Nothing can justify its absence, can make up for failures in it.

1. The moral element in religion, to which obedience belongs, is in the Scriptures exalted high above the ceremonial of which sacrifice is a part.

2. Obedience is of the essence and spirit of religion, whereas sacrifice is one of its forms. Our religious forms and services draw their meaning and value from the spirit of obedience in which they are rendered.

3. Obedience is itself an end in religion whereas sacrifice is simply the means to that end. To train His people in obedience, to set, up and enthrone this great principle in their natures, God instituted the whole round of sacrifice and service in the old dispensation.

4. Obedience is continuous and eternal, whereas sacrifice is intermittent, and may cease.

Apply this principle to two cases:

1. To those who are willing to serve God, but only in their own way. Religious service is a matter of personal assertion. It is far easier to indulge our own impulses and fulfil our own energy of will in methods of our own, than to work where and as God has appointed, in daily self-denial.

2. To those who imagine that they can cover moral failures by religious gifts and services, who act as though the faults of daily life could be covered by large gifts to religion, and diligent attention to its forms. God will never accept sacrifice in the place of obedience. The sacrifice of the cross draws its value and merit from the perfect obedience, the complete submission of the Incarnate Son. (Homiletic Magazine.)


One of the strongest proofs of a sound religion is to be thankful for any heights which it is possible to scale; but to be much more thankful for the continuous valley in which human duty is best discharged. In all true religions, especially in those like the one in which you and I believe, there are at times inducements to spiritual rapture and spiritual depression. Sometimes these aspects are the main ones, but, as Samuel says to the old king, “To obey is better than sacrifice; and hearkening to God than the fat of rams.” All through Christ’s life, however deep any man’s devotion, He said it was not those who in an enthusiastic ecstatic passionate manner, say, “Lord, Lord, but those who do the will of the Father in heaven,” who were acceptable. He did not mean by this to rebuke only the hypocrite, but those whose religion consisted of rapture, enthusiasm, and ecstatics. There is in a religion corresponding to these homely, commonplace affairs a principle higher than prayer; deeper than feeling; more admirable than rapture--the ordinary unvarying principle of obeying. Unfortunately, a great deal of religion means far more importance to confessions of religion than it does to the great downright common sense of honest, unchanging, unchangeable religion. Too much of our religion has been experimental; too much rapture, and too much depression. Read the 119th Psalm, that great lyric of obedience, one of the greatest things that man ever wrote. Never were the two songs of faith and obedience so sweetly mixed together. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet.” “Teach me Thy statutes.” “Order my footsteps.” There is as much of poetry and the practical in that one psalm as in all other compositions. It came from the true soul of a great man. This obedience, or as we call it, duty, is independent of all feeling. Am I secure tomorrow of the emotion which I feel today? All things conspire with me and against me. There are times when the soul is barren, days when the old familiar passages of the poets will not stir you, days of the ordinary and commonplace, days when the common things of life seem to sink below the common, and seem offensive in their minuteness, when there seems very little in life, when good is felt to be very far off. At these times is there nothing for me to do? Yes! for here comes the great solemn cry--“obey!” Never mind whether it is plain ground or not. “To obey is better than sacrifice.” If obedience springs from habit, it may not be lovable, but it is useful, and it is always good. Unconscious obedience is good, the perfectness of a man’s habit shows the depth of his original teaching, though there are times when habit sets itself up at the expense of thought, still it is like capital, and not to be despised. Habit is more than effort, the ease with which a man does a thing without thinking shows well how he learnt his lesson. It is comparatively independent of thought; it may exist upon a vow; it may exist for years upon a promise. The soldier who is once enlisted is not constantly thinking of the foundations of his obedience; the dress he wears, the sign upon the banner, the name borne by him will even assist him. To do the will of God and keep His commandments--it is the height of true religion, it is the basis of true religion. The greatest enthusiasts do not throw it aside; the biggest rationalists, with all their ribaldries, are in favour of it; the Romish Church, with all its pomps, believes in the commandments. We do not say that a man cannot be obedient, and at the same time rapturous; we do not say it is not possible to have both sacrifice and obedience; we do not say that a man cannot have rapture and prayer, and keep the commandments--but “obedience is better than sacrifice.” The obedient man is most unlikely to trust in himself. He who learns obedience will seldom trust in it. The most obedient man is the one who says, “I am as unprofitable servant.” When men get wise they will rind that obedience is not only safety, but that it has a beauty of its own. Its ready presence under all circumstances, its infusion into all things, its continuance, when faith is gone, hope is low, prayer is impossible, trust is broken, when God seems for a time out of sight, when immortality is a dream, when friends are faithless, when the heart is sad, is not that noble which is not driven by things like these? Is not that the grace of graces which stays under these circumstances? Those who know where true beauty lies love flowers. Not your big exotics of foreign bloom which have to be put in glass houses--but the green grass of old England that knows no time, that the frost cannot kill, which bears the leaf and still is there, flowering by the wayside; which resists all pressure, defies all storms, always in season, never in bloom. That is obedience; and if you do not see its beauty you will get wiser perhaps as you get older, and learn, at last, its constant, unchanging, unvarying, homely, humble, and yet truly beauteous aspect that renders it the greatest of graces, and the noblest of duties; better than sacrifice, deeper than prayer, loftier than rapture, always in season. Underlying the emotion which belongs to all creeds, possible to all peoples, obedience will never do any harm, if it does no good. If it will not save men, it will not kill them. But it will do good. “Obedience is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” Better to do the will of God than to be courteous, ecstatic, devotional, or enthusiastic. (G. Dawson, M. A.)

Willfulness of Saul

In these words are contained a lesson which Saul had never learnt. He served God and appeared zealous in His cause, so far as the way of doing this suited his own pleasure and purposes; “all that was vile and refuse” of the goods of the Amalekites, “that he destroyed utterly;” but whenever self had to be denied, and God’s will made the rule of action instead of his own, then he rebelled. Even in the apparently religious act of worshipping God, after the severe rebuke which Samuel inflicted on him, his words are, “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,” his own honour seems to have been that which prompted him to worship and not sorrow for his sin. In fact, Saul never really worshipped God at all, he worshipped self, and he never learnt this great and important truth, that obedience to God is the only thing pleasing in His eyes, and that whatever a man may do from motives of selfishness, yea, though he fight God’s battles and advance His religion, it is all displeasing in His sight, “who seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” The subject, then, which is brought before us by the text is this, that simple obedience to God’s commands is the only thing which is really pleasing in His sight. You must observe that Saul was not an open rebel. And part of the command he certainly had performed; in fact he had performed it just so far as it required no self-denial. And so may Saul stand to us as a type of those who profess to be Christians, and act in a measure as Christians, and who nevertheless follow their own ways, just as though they were under no Christian vows at all. Let us look at one or two examples of great and holy men in Scripture, and see how the example of obedience was set by them. Remember Abraham, and how he was proved and found faithful. Moses was ordered by God to go and appear in His name before Pharaoh, and though it was a dangerous mission, and he felt himself unfitted for the work, yet he obeyed. The holy Apostles also were simply called by Christ, and commanded to follow Him, and they obeyed. But why should I quote other examples, when we have that of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom we read that He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” You may observe also that Abraham and Moses, whom I have quoted as two eminent examples of obedience, are two of those whom the Apostle has mentioned in his catalogue of men of faith. In fact, faith and obedience are necessary parts of each other; there can be no obedience without faith, and faith without obedience is dead And it is easy to see that Saul was a man without faith. The duty of obedience is put in a very high place by the text, when it tells us that obedience is better than sacrifice. You will observe that Saul made God’s service the excuse for breaking His commands: to make offerings to God was no more than it was his duty to do, but then it was not to be done at the expense of a still higher duty: no sacrifice, however costly, could possibly make amends for breaking God’s law in one single point. And has not this been so from the beginning? When Adam end Eve were placed in the garden of Eden they were not placed there without a law: the command given them was simple indeed, but still it was a command, by keeping of which only they could stand; had Adam offered never so many sacrifices, had called never so much on the name of the Lord, yet if he eat of the forbidden tree he was guilty. In speaking of obedience to God’s laws I have not, of course, so much in view the great moral laws. No one would fancy that he might murder or steal; but obedience to God is something much more than this. It is not an occasional act of obedience which we are called upon to do, it is a constant battle against ourselves, and against the evil nature within us, and a constant striving to root out all desires and thoughts which are contrary to the will of God. Perhaps I am presenting here the sterner face of religion; nevertheless, though it be not so pleasant to think of what we owe to God, as to speak of what He has done for us, yet it is for our good to keep in mind the vows and obligations which are upon us, and to remember that our Christian profession does mean something, and that to be a soldier of Christ is not merely a matter of words, but something very real and substantive indeed. (H. Goodwin, M. A.)

Obedience better than sacrifice

Great and glorious is sacrifice; final and abiding its effects. On that sacrifice all access to God depends. By faith in that sacrifice does every sinner in every age approach God. What can we conceive greater, better, more honoured, more glorious? God has given it us to trust to: He has given it us also to imitate. Let sacrifice be our rule of life: sacrifice for God and for man; sacrifice for love: to spend and to be spent, as He spent and was spent, who was our Sacrifice. Let our whole life be a sacrifice; rendered up to Him with whose precious blood we ere bought. Too much we cannot think of, trust to, realise in our hearts and lives, that his sacrifice. And yet when we have meditated on it all we can, when we have cast ourselves in humble trust on its efficacy, when we have magnified it in our esteem, and striven to live it out in our lives--even then there is one thing better, one thing greater, one thing more glorious--one thing before which even the lustre of the Redeemer’s sacrifice pales: before which all other sacrifice is worthless and not to be mentioned. And that more glorious thing is--obedience. The Lord’s sacrifice was but part of His obedience. “Being found in fashion as a man,” from whom obedience was due, “He become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Listen to his own prophetic words: “Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not: then said I, lo I come, to do thy will, O God.” That is, “sacrifice and offering do not fulfil, do not exhaust Thy holy will: it is not suffering, it is not expenditure of blood, but it is the calm and willing submission to Thee, the ruling life after thy way, the direction of thought, word, and deed, body, soul, and spirit, affection and energies, in the line of thy blessed will--this it is which includes sacrifice--this which, more than that sacrifice, because of wider extent, and fuller capacity, pleases and glorifies Thee.” And this the Redeemer came to do, and amply fulfilled. It is to obedience that Bethlehem owes all its carols, Genesareth all its miracles, Calvary all its glories, Olivet all its triumph. His miracles, His teachings, His lovings: none of these reaches over the length and breadth and depth and height of His glorification of the Father: but His obedience does: in this one word all is compromised: His death, as its noblest example. His obedience was greater than His death, for it included it: more glorious than his death, for it gave it all its virtue for propitiation, and all its power to save sinners. His death is past and gone by. “He dieth no more.” But His obedience abides foreverse “And when all things shall have been put under Him, then shall the Son Himself also be mede subject to Him who puts all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” Truly, then, His obedience is His one character, His glory of glories. Let us come down now from the propitiation of the Redeemer as part of His perfect obedience, to our own little circle of duties, appointed for us as His were for Him. “To obey is better than sacrifice,” is in some little danger of being forgotten among us, or at all events not remembered as it should be. And I will tell you in what particular way. Religion, among us, has taken a certain fixed place and standing: has been worked, so to speak, into the fabric of society. Its words and phrases, and certain conventional duties corresponding to them, have gained the freedom of the world’s citizenship, and are no longer the peculiar badge which they once were. Certain points of religious morality are made much of, and properly, by all who would be thought religious, even in the ordinary respectable sense of the word. We live, there can be no doubt of it, in days of great religious stir; in days of great sacrifice, and likewise of great opportunity of appearance of sacrifice at very little cost: in days when, only to give you one instance of that which I mean, a rich man, sitting in his library, may without ever putting forth a hand to actual charitable work pour by a few strokes of his pen his thousands along the various channels of public and private beneficence. And there is some danger, there is much danger, lest we should mistake all this sacrifice at so cheap a rate, all this doing good made easy, for the patient faith, the lowly obedience, the blessed and blessing beneficence of the Christian life. Is there not, then, here, while sacrifice is enjoined, truth in doctrine rigorously maintained, party opinion and party limits inflexibly observed, and yet the very plainest rules of Christian conduct and Christian self-denial publicly violated--is there not and must there not be a forgetting of obedience in comparison of sacrifice? When those who would not for any earthly consideration overstep some prescribed line of observance, are for pleasure and the display of person almost daily overstepping the sobriety of the Christian life and the fair limits of Christian example, surely we may say that we are losing obedience in our care for sacrifice. All the sacrifice for which we are called on, should be part, of, should spring out of, our personal life with God Our profession should revolve round our practice, not our practice round our profession. Our obedience should not be confined to things convenient and times convenient, but being the fruit of love shed abroad in our hearts, should extend over all things and all times. (H. Alford, B. D.)

Obedience better than sacrifice

That in which God delights.

1. Obedience. Obedience to God becomes the best educator of man’s moral faculties. And obedience will prompt and rightly estimate material sacrifice.

2. In such material sacrifice as is the pure and simple correspondence of an obedient heart. Material bulk is not necessarily moral wealth. Material things are hardly wealth at all in this relation. Truth has no mechanical measurement. Love is worthier than the fat of rams.

3. All true sacrifice, then, is moral in ire essence and beginning. The spirit of obedience will prompt the acceptable deed.

Saul’s fatal disregard of God’s command. Note several particulars:--He did not seriously realise the circumstances of the case. He forgot who Amalek was, and what he had done in the past to Israel. The prophecy of Balaam (Numbers 24:20) had doubtless never really impressed him. The success of the sword had made him forget the word.

1. A man in such a state of wilful inattention is most liable to disobey. From scant attention will spring moral obliqueness He has hardly reflected what obedience demands. He is filled more with the spirit of selfish conceit than as anxious endeavour to do God’s will.

2. Disobedience is loss of God’s favour. “Ill-gotten gains breed weary pains, and one wrong act a life-long fact. The wrong step of a king will ruin bring.”

Samuel’s impassioned rebuke. This rebuke was thus aflame for several reasons,

1. Because specific direction had been given, and reasons for the attack.

2. Because from the first Samuel himself had ever desired to listen unto God; but Saul was not seriously attentive.

3. Because of the flagrant disobedience of Saul.

4. Because of Saul’s untruthfulness.

5. Because of his feeble attempt to evade both the questioning of Samuel and the inevitable issue which he knew must ensue. Obedience is honour; disobedience disgrace. And obedience is the devotion of the heart, without which material sacrifices, however costly, are worthless. (Homiletic Magazine.)

The commands of God to be obeyed

Consider some of the lessons of instruction which we may derive from the narrative.

1. Learn, first, that whenever God’s commands are plain we are not to question or alter them so as to suit our inclinations, but implicitly to obey them. Have we no Sauls among God’s professing people at this day--persons who perform some duties, and neglect others equally imperative upon them? Is our obedience thus partial? Are there some sins in which we live continually, some duties which we constantly neglect? Think not that the discharge of one duty will be any excuse for the neglect of another; nay, rather be assured that this itself proves your heart not to be right with God.

2. Learn from this subject that if we would have our sins forgiven, we must be deeply sensible of the evil of them, and confess them heartily unto God. Such was far from being the case with Saul. Hear him represent his own cause, and you can scarcely find anything wrong, even in those transactions in which you are sure there must be great blame.

3. Learn, again, from the narrative to be solicitous for the honour that cometh from God, and not for that of men. We see that Saul, when convicted by Samuel of having so imperfectly executed the commission God had given him, is far more anxious that he should pay him respect before the elders and the people than that be should pray, to God for him that his sin might be pardoned. And such is the case with formalists in general: they are anxiously sensitive to the opinion of their fellow creatures; comparatively careless about the estimation in which they may be held by the great Ruler of heaven and earth.

4. Learn lastly, from this account, that, though Almighty God bear with much long-suffering the conduct of sinners, He will at length execute righteous judgment; and that be forgets neither the injuries nor the benefits done to his people. The Amalekites had unjustly opposed Israel on their departure out of Egypt: their descendants imitated the conduct of their fathers, and now God determined their destruction. “It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10) (J. Grantham.)

The true spirit of worship

Obedience to the will of God is the essence of all worship. Divine worship is not left to the unaided reason of man. It is an institution and appointment of God.

1. Worship is unacceptable when the form is used for the spirit. How much of this spiritless worship pollutes our sanctuaries! How much of empty form is in our professed devotion! Is it a prayer? “It is all title page without contents.” Is it praise? Is it only music without the heart? A soulless instrument would be as expressive.

2. Worship is unacceptable when the right form is accompanied with a wrong life. Saul intended to perform a great religious service to the Lord with the gains of his successful warfare. If the worshipper is living in wilful transgression of God’s Word, his exercises of devotion are no service of God.

3. The disobedience of the heart is the only acceptable worship. “To obey is better than sacrifice.” The heart must act in accordance with the Divine will. The motive must be right. “God,” says an old divine, “weighs not the affections of His people to Him by their actions, so much as their actions by their affections.” When Abraham offered up his son it was the submission of his soul to the word from heaven that pleased God. Every part of Divine worship must be in accordance with the will of God. He has revealed His word as our directory. The test of worship is the Scripture. Whatever rites are inconsistent with that word are to be repudiated. The voice of the Lord hath spoken, and it sanctions no sacrifice now since Christ became our propitiation. The voice of the Lord has spoken, and it commands that nothing be added to the revelation of God. (R. Steel.)

Sacrifice interpreted

We need to have the laws of God presented to us in severality, but also in their essence and sum. This old Hebrew judge soars above the confusion and superstition of his age, and anticipates some of the loftiest disclosures of revelation. Spiritual discernment--the instinct of the Divine in us--anticipates and interprets experience. How simple and direct religious duty appears when so presented! But “flesh and blood” did not reveal this truth to Samuel.

Obedience to God is the truth of sacrifice. The ceremonial law was not to be divorced from the moral, they were mutually explicative and helpful. This is “reasonable service.”

1. The principle common to both. This was found in surrender to God. The sacrifice was an acknowledgment that all that a man has is God’s; and as representing this “all,” of which it was but a small part, it was a valid and acceptable offering, analogous to a “peppercorn rent,” or the fanciful services exacted of crown-landlords, sinecurists, etc., in feudal times.

2. Consequent identifications (verse 23). There is nothing corresponding to “as” in the Hebrew. It is a simple, bold equation: “For the sin of witchcraft is rebellion, and idols and teraphim is stubbornness.” A great gain in such analogies; the outward ritual is shown to be accompanied by a spiritual attitude, of which it is the outcome; and as such it ceases to be trifling. The lustful man is a worshipper of “nothing,” i.e., idols, as the term used in the Hebrew implies; the disobedient is an idolater of self. A similar gain to science was realised when the “correlation of physical forces” was discovered, and men spoke of “heat as a mode of motion,” etc.

3. The spiritual expression of this principle is superior to the ceremonial. Besides being constant and self-evident, it is more immediately associated with our life. As involving will in its offering, it involves that which is most essential to our personality. The will has been called “the inner man.” It more directly and consciously contains in it our self-hood. Yet both are imperfect. The spiritual worshipper is conscious that his obedience is not complete; that he himself is incapable of the sacrifice of which he nevertheless can conceive. So his gaze is drawn to Calvary and concentrated there. In Christ the ideal of sacrifice, and yet, not more than that which God requires, is presented. By appropriating that, identifying ourselves with it, we realise “the obedience of faith.”

Obedience to God is the source of real authority over men. “Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath rejected thee from being king.” All true kingship and efficient government is rooted in God. The ruler who ignores or defies the principles of morality signs his own death warrant. The secret of the “unstable equilibrium” of the governments of the world lies in their failure to recognise this. The true leaders of men are those who in the first instance obey conscience. A moral principle is in the end mightier than a parliament. Writers, public leaders, etc., would do well to lay to heart the fate of Saul. Had he denied “self,” he would have kept his throne. (St. John A. Frere, M. A.)

Obedience better than sacrifice.

Saul’s conduct is a type of human nature in manifesting--

1. A disinclination to render a full and complete obedience to God’s expressed will.

2. A proneness to render that to God which He does not require, and withholding that which He demands.

3. In the excuses he makes for his disobedience. The paramount importance of obedience will appear from the following remarks:--

All things are considered by the Almighty as subordinate to His law.

Every infringement of law entails punishment.

1. Punishment will certainly follow sin, as pain and suffering follow an infringement of the material laws of the universe.

2. The protracting of the punishment is no proof of its abandonment.

3. The final punishment of the disobedient will be eternal in its effect. Saul’s posterity lost the throne of Israel forever.

In order to atone for the guilt of men who have infringed the law of God, the greatest sacrifice has been offered. All the sacrifices under the old dispensation were to illustrate and honour law. Christ appeared in our nature to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (T. D. Jones.)

Verse 23

1 Samuel 15:23

Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.

Rebellion against God all malignant as witchcraft

To rebel against the clearest light and most express declaration of the will of God: this is an action of the like malignity, even as the sin of witchcraft. When a crime is said to be “as the sin of witchcraft,” the meaning is that it is a fault of so heinous and provoking a nature that the obstinate commission of it is altogether inconsistent with all true principles of religion, and, in effect, a total renunciation of them. The word “iniquity,” in the latter part of the text, is iniquity towards God, the forsaking His worship, the denying Him His true honour, the turning from Him to false gods, or joining them with Him; and therefore it is expressed by two words together, iniquity and idolatry. Which two words in this place do not signify two distinct things, but are of the same import as if it had been said in one, the iniquity of idolatry, the perverseness or unrighteousness of serving false gods. This their disobedience in any one known instance of immorality, this their rebellion, is as the sin of witchcraft; and their stubbornness is as the iniquity of idolatry. Their refusing to obey the true God, whom they profess to worship, is like serving a false one. For wherein consists the iniquity of idolatry, and the wickedness of serving false gods; but in this, that it derogates from the majesty of the true God, and denies Him that honour which is His alone peculiar due? Not that there are not degrees of disobedience in rebelling against God; but that a wilful stubbornness in any particular disobedience is absolutely inconsistent with the favour of God, and that there may be a perverseness in persisting habitually in single sins, even like to the perverseness of a total apostasy. One mortal wound destroys a man, as certainly as many; and incorrigible obstinacy in the practice of any sin, may be of equal malignity even as idolatry itself. Equal not perhaps as to the degree of the particular punishment it shall bring upon him; but equal as to the certainty of its bringing him in general to condemnation. God requires that men should serve Him with their whole heart. But the folly of wicked men will distinguish where there is no distinction; and they will serve God in what manner only, and in what instances they please. This is that great deceitfulness of sin. The external, the formal and ceremonial part of religion, they will possibly be very fond of, but the inward and real virtues of the mind, meekness and purity, humility and charity, equity, simplicity and true holiness, for these they would gladly commute, and make amends with any compensation. This is the great and general corruption; this has in all times and in all places been the first and the last error in matters of religion. Saul would needs sacrifice unto the Lord his God, out of those very spoils, which he had presumptuously taken, against God’s express command. In following ages the whole nation of the Jews would in like manner be always very diligent, in offering their sacrifices and oblations, as if that would make amends for the viciousness of their lives. And yet how often did the scriptures admonish them to the contrary (Psalms 50:13; Ecclesiastes 5:1; Isaiah 1:11; Isaiah 1:16; Hosea 6:6). Even in our Saviour’s time, after all these repeated admonitions, the Pharisees still continued to value themselves upon their mere external performances; and yet that very Scribe who was sent to tempt him, could not but acknowledge to our Lord that He had said the truth in affirming that for a man to love God with all his heart, and . . . his neighbour as himself; was more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices (St. Mark 12:33). They would with great superstition wash the outside of their cups and pots, while the inside of their own hearts was full of unrighteousness and all uncleanness. In a word, they would do anything rather than what was right and ought to be done; and therefore our Saviour declares, that except our righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, we shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Among the several corrupters of Christianity likewise, what is it that men have not been willing to undertake, what journeys and pilgrimages, what hardships and abstinences, what voluntary humilities and uncommanded austerities, what profuse gifts to monasteries or religious societies, and unbounded zeal for propagating what they call right opinions, that is, such as happen to prevail, or be in fashion amongst them; instead of serving God with simplicity of devotion and loving their neighbours as themselves? If a man runs in a race, yet if he takes a shorter way to the mark, sad runs not in that course which is by the rules appointed and marked out, his labour is in vain; and if a man professes to serve God, yet if he serves Him not in that method of obedience which God Himself requires, but will go a nearer way to heaven, either according to his own humour and fancy, or in the way of any human invention whatsoever, instead of the plain rules of reason and scripture, he may justly fall short of his reward. But no description of the perverseness of this sort of sinning can set it forth in so lively a manner as the giving some historical examples of it. And I shall mention two, which contain a more exact representation of the nature of this stubbornness than any explication of it in words could do. The one is the behaviour of Saul, in the other actions of his life, besides that referred to in the text; the other is the behaviour of the Jews, in their passage through the wilderness towards the promised land. When God commanded them to return back into the wilderness, then on the contrary they would go up into the land which the Lord had promised them, and would fight for it presumptuously, and were defeated. In these instances their rebellious disposition was as the sin of witchcraft, and their stubbornness like to the iniquity of idolatry (S. Clark, D. D.)

Discord and Harmony

Among the moral difficulties of the Old Testament is the apparent disproportion between particular acts of sin and the temporal punishment with which God visited them. Even when we have considered the points on which Dr. Mozley insists in his masterly lectures upon “Ruling Ideas in Early Ages”: when we have recognised how God accommodated, as it were His will to the possible or current conceptions of men’s minds, that out of each stage in the education of our race He might elicit the very best character that it could produce: even when we have made allowance for the need of teaching rough people by rough means, and of driving plain truths into the heart of a rude and obdurate age by strong and sudden judgments:--still it may be strange to us that the most awful weapons in all the armoury of wrath should be sometimes brought out against offences which at first seem little more than faults of taste or policy or a passing temper: faults such as even good men might commit in a moment of carelessness or irritation, or on what we should call their unlucky days. How could it be equitable in a life thus rude and wild, a life where only the broadest distinctions were as yet apparent, and where the subtler lines of moral definition had not yet been traced, to doom with so terrible a sentence the hasty word of an angry woman or of a soldier flushed with peril and victory? Surely a part of the answer to such questions is found when we reflect how infinitely different may be in different lives the moral significance of the very same act. It is not only that the real quality of every action depends upon its motive: there is often a further and a deeper meaning to be read in the inner history of that character out of which, perhaps, the motive itself has come. That which on the surface seems too trivial to be heeded, may be the only outward evidence of a change which has been going on in us for years; there perhaps alone may be revealed the drift and volume of the stream which from some far-off spring has been flowing for many a mile beneath the ground: and the silent, secret course of half a lifetime may be betrayed beyond recall in that one glimpse. There are trivial acts which may disclose the bygone stages of our moral history, just as some trick of gesture or pronunciation lets out the secret of a man’s parentage or nationality, or as some faint and useless trait connects a species with the ancestry of its evolution. Some such critical significance in Saul’s neglect of the Divine command seems to be suggested in the strange comparison by which Samuel illustrates it: “Rebellion,” he says, “is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is at iniquity and idolatry.” The likeness is not, on the surface, clear; there seems no near or necessary connection between disobedience and superstition: but perhaps their link of kindred may appear if we look more closely into the meaning and history of the act which had provoked the sentence. We shall, I think, find it to have been the outcome and revelation of a deep disorder such as always tends to bewilder or distort the religious impulses of the soul. The spirit then which came to Saul on that great day of his anointing was the prophetic spirit of insight into the true drift and order of the world: he was admitted to the counsels of the Almighty, and recognised the Divinity that shapes our ends. Thus was be prepared to reign: thus did he see the truth of history in all its lines stretched out and ordered in the sight of God: thus did he learn the law whose conscious service was to be his sovereignty. What might not Saul have been, where might he not have placed his name among the beloved and blessed of God and men, if only he had enthroned the revelation of that day for undivided empire in his heart: if only, like another Saul, he could have looked back to the day of his conversion and declared that he had not been disobedient unto the heavenly vision: if only like him he had thenceforward striven “to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christy.” For is not this the secret of all his failure and misery, his madness and his superstition, is not this the deep significance of hit sin--that while he saw the Light he would not live by it? he knew the Law and would not work by it: he heard the Counsel of God and held hit will apart from it. “He was,” says Dean Stanley, “half-converted, half-aroused; his mind moved unequally and disproportionately in its new sphere”: until “the zeal of a partial conversion degenerated into a fanciful and gloomy superstition.” All through his life there went the maddening elements of discord: day after day the higher and the lower fought within him for the throne of his irresolute, distracted heart: day after day he woke to hear two voices clashing and disputing for his guidance: and now he followed one and now the other: yet when he chose the better he still looked wistfully at the lower life, and when he chose the worse he trembled at the thought of God. He could neither say, with the frank self-degradation of the heathen satirist, “I see the better and approve it: I pursue the worse”; nor yet with the man after God’s own heart, “Teach me Thy way, O Lord, and I will walk in Thy truth: O knit my heart unto Thee, that I may fear Thy Name.” And so he lived in discord, and he reigned by anarchy: restless and aimless, suspicious and dissatisfied, halting between light and darkness, and beset in that twilight by weird unhealthy thoughts like the evil dreams that make it bliss to wake, ever falling away from that which he saw and owned as God-like There is surely a deep meaning in the submission with which such a life as his welcomes the influence of music. The moral discord, the distraction and disorder of his will spread at times over all the powers of the mind: and the strain and irritation of that restless conflict broke out in gusts of terror and frenzy. “And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.” Even through his misery there came the great and constant prophecy of music: above the discord of his soul he heard those merciful echoes of a higher harmony; he knew that somewhere out, side all the chaos of his broken life, there were steadfast principles of melody, and calm and measured ways, and the eternal rhythm of an undisturbed song: he felt once more that the Most High is He Who sweetly and mightily ordereth all things, and there is peace for those who love His law. For “there is a rest which remaineth for the people of God.” That great prophecy of music is among us still: still “the true harmony of tuneful sounds” helps men to be patient through distress and conflict, and to hope that their steps may yet be led into the sure ways of peace In the recess of a wall in the Catacomb of St Calixtus there is a painting of Orpheus: in his left hand he holds a lyre: the right is raised as though to mark the rhythm of his song: and round him are the wild beasts, tamed and hushed to listen while he plays. There is no doubt that the picture represents our Blessed Lord. Though the artist as he painted it was surrounded by the bodies of those who for Jesus’ sake had borne the cruelty of persecution even unto death: though he himself, it may be, had left all to follow Christ and to be a partaker of His sufferings: still he knew Him as the Master of all Harmony, the Prince of Peace: still he felt that only since be took the Crucified to be his Lord had all the wild discord and conflict of his soul passed into mysterious and most blessed confidence of union with an eternal law of Melody. And we, if out of the confusion and bewilderment of our days, from the weakness and hesitation of our faith, we look back with a bitter sense of severance and strangeness to the simple and unhindered self-surrender of those saints of old: still let us hold fast by this--which is indeed a truth that all may test and prove:--that in proportion as the perfect obedience of the life of Christ comes through humility and prayer and thought to be the constant aim of all our efforts: we shall with growing hope and with a wonder that is ever lost in gratitude know that even our lives are not without the earnest of their rest in an eternal harmony. (F. Paget.)

Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king.

Saul rejected

We walk through the streets and see a fellow creature who had great abilities; who was once held in great esteem; for whom a brilliant future was predicted. We see such an one presenting that combination of indescribable symptoms which we expressively sum up in the one word “reduced.” And the contemplation of such a wreck is singularly depressing; the disposition of him who could witness it without sorrow in his greatest enemy is by no means to be envied. Saul was such a man. His history is indeed melancholy. It is perplexing, also. Many persons, I dare say, think Saul was, on the whole, hardly treated. I can easily imagine one taking for granted that he was bad because he is told so, and because God rejected him; but saying to himself that he does not quite see that he was so bad--that he should never have expected to find him so severely punished--that it is strange that David escaped on so much easier terms. “What, sin did Saul ever commit so heinous as the sin of David?”

This perplexity, and wrong estimate of Saul’s character, arises from various causes: principally from our false views about sin and obedience. It happens that we live in a state of society where many acts are at once offences against society, and also sins against God. Influenced as we naturally are by what is seen, we come, in time, to view as sins only those which are transgressions of the laws of society, and to think little or nothing about those of which society takes no note. So, too, about obedience. We think that it is like work given to a servant. The more he does of it, the better servant he is. What his feelings may be about his master make little difference, provided he gets through his work. What he does is the only way in which we judge of him, as a good or bad servant. Accordingly, we suppose God judges of us, His servants, by the amount of our obedience. He issues a command, and, we suppose, the man who obeys much of it must be better than the man who obeys very little. This is not true. We may have gone with God’s command, just, so far as that command coincided with our own inclination, and stopped short where the real and trying exercise of an obedient spirit came in, where alone it was needed.

Guarding, then, against these common and erroneous views about sin and obedience, let us come to some of Saul’s acts. His falling away began from the circumstance recorded in the thirteenth chapter and first verse. Samuel came and rebuked him. This seems hard, especially when we consider the trying circumstances in which Saul was placed at the time: powerful enemies near at hand--many of his people fallen away--the rest following him, trembling--Samuel not coming--and, after all, as people would say now, “It was only a matter of form. What difference could it make, who offered the sacrifice?” “He showed a spirit above ritual observances--above ceremony and order.” He certainly did. So did Naaman: and both were made to see the folly of their presumption. Some anxiety would have been natural in any man. But Saul was more than anxious. A distinct commandment of God forbade him to offer sacrifice, and yet he did it to secure an end which he thought to be desirable towards the overthrow of the Philistines. He forgot that the most trifling matter, when once it became the subject of a Divine command, ceased to be insignificant; if for no other reason, at least for this, that its observance thereby became a test--not of regard to form, but--of obedience to God. Now what disposition was manifested by this conduct? Was it not an utter absence of that “faith, without which it is impossible to please God”? What would be its effect, upon the people, when the excitement was over? What, but to encourage them in their departure from the ordinances of Him from Whom they longed to stray, and be as the heathen?

The Almighty, then, did not reject this his first chosen King of Israel for any slight fault or any momentary swerving from the path of obedience through ignorance or from impulse, but for habitually and perseveringly going wrong in that very respect which was of most consequence in the due execution of his office. He had to meet the difficult question which met the Apostles, “whether he should obey God rather than man.” They had no hesitation in arriving at a decision: neither had he: but they decided it differently. If ever there was a time in which Saul would have been appreciated, ours is that, time. Were he alive now he would be just the man that would rise in the world--probably get into Parliament, lead a party, perhaps become Prime Minister. He was the man for the people. A striking man; able, energetic, fitted to command; above all, prepared to obey the Lord just so far as, by suiting the people’s views, he should help to his own exaltation. The popular religion or phase of any particular religion would be his. All creeds just as far Divine as they were popular. None more the truth than another. Saul’s day fell in an evil era, and, for him, under an evil dispensation. In his time the tares and the wheat, did not “grow together till the harvest.” The tares were rooted out at the time, and so people who came could be shown what were pronounced tares by the Lord of the Harvest, and what was their end. This is one very important, advantage we derive from the system of temporal rewards and punishments and the special Providence under which the Jews lived. By these means we can strive at, the principle on which His future “judgment according to works” will be conducted. Thus, a line of conduct in which we should have detected nothing very striking, either of good or of evil, when marked with God’s disapproval, arrests our attention, leads us to examination, and acts as a corrective to the erroneous judgment on human conduct which the time or the society in which we live had led us to form in our minds. Many would think that Saul had succeeded. Our Lord tells us that this is impossible. The compromise, He says, cannot be effected. God’s rejection of Saul shows us that he did not succeed. The characters condemned and approved in the Old Testament are marked by the very same characteristics, after all, as those which are condemned and approved in the New. Double-mindedness, want of faith, loving this present world, loving, the praise of men more than the praise of God, seeking to be friends with it, making that our great aim, and the friendship of Him Who redeemed us secondary to that: a determination to do our own will; a hesitation and insincerity in saying, come what may, “Thy will be done”; these are ever the marks of those who are held up as sad examples of inconsistency, to be deplored and to be avoided. (J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)

Saul’s deserved and irrevocable doom

Before Samuel turned after Saul he delivered his conscience, and pronounced the irrevocable doom against him. That doom was deserved, and it was irrevocable

1. It was deserved. Saul was forewarned. He had received a plain commission from God. He occupied a high position. He belonged to a nation that had the light of Divine revelation. He was their king, and had pledged himself to keep the constitution, which demanded obedience to the will of God. He was the first king, and according to his conduct was the monarchy on the one hand, and the subject people on the other, likely to be influenced. Obedience in his case had been concentrated on important points; but in these he had transgressed. It therefore repented the Lord that he had made Saul king. But his purpose of a right theocracy under a man after his own heart was not to fail: “The Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent; for he is not a man that he should repent.”

2. It was irrevocable. God had solemnly declared that he would turn the kingdom from Saul. He had never said that Saul would be kept in the kingdom and found a dynasty in Israel. He was not bound to continue him in the office. He had raised him to the throne that he might have a fair trial, and full opportunity of acting aright. Saul was endowed by God with every advantage, with kingly qualities, surrounded with a band of men whose hearts God had touched, appointed to special commissions, and hedged up by every means likely to aid his fidelity. But God might change the sovereignty. When, therefore, he beheld Saul’s conduct he is said to have repented that He had made him king. Here we find a principle which can bear a most extensive application. God’s dealings with us are still wrought on the same plan. He has not given His word regarding our circumstances here. He has not pledged Himself to continue them as they have been. He may change these. He acts towards us as a judicious teacher, and shapes His course according to our conduct. There are reasons in our manner of action, proceeding from our abuse of mercies, which may necessitate a change. He may alter our worldly position, and send adversity instead of prosperity. He may lay a restraint upon our ambition, and make us feel by sad experience the vanity of human wishes. He may afflict our households, or prostrate ourselves. In this respect much depends upon the individual with regard to the providence of life. It was Saul’s disobedience that warranted the chastisement which he received, and the change in God’s mode of dealing with him. (R. Steel.)

The character of Saul

1.The first thought which occurs to us is--In this its first king, as in a mirror, behold Israel itself. Israel, like Saul, was chosen by God to rule the people. Israel was gifted with grace sufficient and upheld by glorious promises. But Israel, like Saul, has turned to his own way. Because he has rejected the Lord, the Lord hath also rejected him from being king.

2. The second thought is--In this character behold multitudes among ourselves reflected. How many are there, against whom nothing morally wrong can be alleged, who are not prone to any palpable vice, who have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, with whom everything for time and eternity trembles on the balance, and the question is whether they will serve the Lord in life or whether they will not. Saul forgot the Lord his God. He sought not to Him for new supplies of that grace which had once been imparted to him. He was like one of those foolish ones who slumbered with their lamps burning, trusting that they would continue to burn on, but took no oil in their vessels for a supply. He went on his way, and thought not of God. But if forgetfulness of God be the passive symptom of the fatal disease, self-will is the active one. It was this which misled Saul. He leaned to his own understanding. He had his own ways, and his own calculations, where God’s will had been already positively pronounced. (H. Alford, B. D.)

Verse 24

1 Samuel 15:24

I have sinned.

Temporary religious feeling

“Some are frightened into a little religiousness in their straits and deep necessities, but it is poor work and superficial work. They are like an ice in thawing weather, soft at top and hard at bottom.” They melt, but to no very great extent. It is upon the surface only that they yield to heavenly influences. This is a sorry state of things, for it generally ends in a harder frost than before, and the bonds of cold indifference bind the very soul. Let those in whom there are any meltings of holy feeling take heed, for their danger lies in being content with a partial subjection to gracious influences. Grace will be all or nothing: the ice must all melt, and the soul must flow like a riverse Jesus did not come to create temporary and partial religious feeling, but to make new creatures of us. He will have nothing to do with those Ephraimites who are as half-done cakes, which are black on one side with too much baking, but have never been turned so as to feel the fire on the other side. The centre of the heart must feel the warmth of Divine love, or nothing is done. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

I feared the people and obeyed their voice.

Saul’s excuse for disobedience

Saul makes three excuses for his disobedience, but they all shift the responsibility for his sin. Observe:

1. Saul’s excuses are identical with those urged by sinners today: “I intended to give some of it to God.” “I was over persuaded. I was overborne by the influence of others.” “I did not sin wickedly and willfully.” “it was only a mistake under a good motive.”

2. Saul confesses the flimsiness of his excuses. Some time or other we must all come face to face with ourselves and stop making excuses, and cry, “Pardon my sin”

3. Saul confessed too late. Our sins reach their bounds and meet their penalty.

4. Saul repented only because he feared punishment.

5. Every man should make at once an honest self-examination.

6. When convicted of sin, we should without delay confess our sin. (Homiletic Review.)

Verse 26

1 Samuel 15:26

Thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee.

One sin too many

The whole story affords an extensive illustration of sin in almost all of its phases of manifestation as judged by the righteous law of God.

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.)

Samuel declaring the deposition of Saul

Few characters more blameless than that of Samuel.

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; 1 Samuel 9:20): 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

The spirit in which he acted.

1. He was faithful to the Lord who sent him. He faithfully convicted Saul of his disobedience (1 Samuel 15:14; 1 Samuel 15:17). He showed him the hollowness of his vain excuses (1 Samuel 15:22-23). He fearlessly and faithfully told him that the Lord had that day rent the kingdom from him (1 Samuel 15:26). 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 (1 Samuel 15:11). 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.)

Verse 30

1 Samuel 15:30

I have sinned: yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people.

True and false repentance

How may we discriminate between a merely seeming repentance and genuine penitence? There is hardly a passage of Scripture which could render us mere decided assistance than that portion of Saul’s history which here claims attention.

We see that though there was confession, it was not made until Saul was actually compelled to make it, because the evidence of his sin was incontrovertibly clear. We see that the confession is wrung from him inch by inch, end if, only comes at last when, as far as the facts were concerned, it made no difference whether be confessed or not, for he was proved to be guilty. We discover at once, in this circumstance, the opposite of that state of mind which feels the weight of personal sin, and which longs to unburden itself; and, as we compare it with that scripture (Proverbs 28:13) we are compelled to regard Saul’s action rather as a bungling attempt to cover his sin--an attempt which, after all, did not succeed--than as that unburdening of conscious guilt which is alone consistent with true penitence.

A second proof against Saul’s real penitence is his attempt to palliate the crime which he had confessed, by throwing the blame on other persons--“The people took of the spoil.” According to his own view, he was more to be pitied than blamed--“I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.”

A third proof against Saul was his greater anxiety to have the forgiveness of Samuel than to receive the pardon of God--the prominent place he gave to the one above the other consideration. “Now, therefore. I pray thee, pardon my sin and turn again with me that I may worship the Lord.” What argued that postponement of God’s pardon till he was reconciled to man--what but that he treated it as a matter which did not press immediately, which could be arranged subsequently? Could any real mourner for sin have felt thus? with such a penitent, is not the thought of God the One exciting, all-pervading idea in his contrition? How strange the contrast presented by the case before us, to that view of sincere repentance of which the Psalmist was the subject! There was fervour, indeed, in Saul, but fervour in the wrong direction. He would press his point with the prophet, and gain forgiveness if he could, but Samuel “turned about to go away.”

A fourth circumstance which throws suspicion on the penitence of Saul--the manner in which he showed that all his desire was to stand well in public estimation. He had evidently forfeited his claim on the good opinion of those around him. It was to be expected that, having lost the favour of God, he would lose the regard of those around him. That must be an evil state of things which would enable a wrong-doer to obtain from public opinion an award in his favour; and what must have become of the cause of integrity--of honour--of justice--of all that is excellent, where, by reason of the low state of moral feeling, the voice of society is no longer heard to pronounce its verdict, distinctly and emphatically, against evil-doers and in praise of those who do well. In this respect, every community incurs a deep responsibility. To a rightly-constituted mind, even the favourable verdict of public opinion would be of little worth, except as it, echoed the verdict of the court of heaven. This is the highest acquisition, “favour with God and man;” but the latter always in subordination to the former, never as a substitute for it. Saul reckoned that the people would think the better of him if he still ranked among the worshippers of God; he knew that to have given this up would have told effectually against him. There was something even beyond this. He knew that very much of the success of any effort which he might make to keep his place in the good opinion of the community would depend upon the way in which he was treated by Samuel. We blame not Saul for being anxious about, public esteem, but we do blame him for being more solicitous about this than about God’s judgment. (J. A. Miller.)

Verse 32

1 Samuel 15:32

Surely, the bitterness of death is passed.

Death an advantage

So cried Agag, and the only objection I have go this text is that a bad man uttered it. Nevertheless, it is true, and in a higher sense than that in which it was originally uttered. We talk about the shortness of life, but if we exercised good sense we would realise that life is quite long enough. If we are the children of God, we are at a banquet, and this world is only the first course of the food, and we ought to be glad that there are other and richer courses of food to be handed on. We are here in one room of our Father’s house, but there are rooms upstairs. They are better pictured, better upholstered, better furnished. Why do we want to stay in the inte-room forever, when there are palatial apartments waiting for our occupancy? What a mercy that there is a limitation to earthly environments!

1. Death also makes room for improved physical machinery. Our bodies have wondrous powers, but they are very limited. Death removes this slower and less adroit machinery and makes room for something better. Mind you, I believe with all anatomists and all physiologists, and with all scientists and with the Psalmist that “we are fearfully and wonderfully made.” But I believe and I know that God can and will give us better physical equipment. Is it possible for man to make improvements in almost, anything and God not be able to make improvements in man’s physical machinery? Shall canal boats give way to limited express train? Shall slow letter give place to telegraphy, that places San Francisco and New York within a minute of communication? Shall the telephone take the sound of a voice sixty miles and instantly bring back another voice, and God, who made the man who does these things, not be able to improve the man himself with infinite velocities and infinite multiplication? Beneficent Death comes in and makes the necessary removal to make way for these supernatural improvements. “Well,” you say, “does not that destroy the idea of a resurrection of the present body?” Oh no. It will be the old factory with new machinery, new driving wheel, new bands, new levers, and new powers. Don’t you see? So I suppose the dullest human brain after the resurrectionary process will have more knowledge, more acuteness, more brilliancy, more breadth of swing than any Sir William Hamilton, or Herschel, or Isaac Newton, or Faraday, or Agassiz ever had in the mortal state or all their intellectual powers combined. You see God has only just begun to build you.

2. Then there are the climatological hindrances. We run against unpropitious weather of all sorts. Winter blizzard and summer scorch, and each season seems to batch a brood of its own disorders. Have you any doubt that God can make better weather than is characteristic of this planet? Blessed is Death! for it prepares the way for change of zones, yea, it clears the path to a semi-omnipresence. While death may not open opportunity to be in many places at the same time, so easy and so quick and so instantaneous will be the transference that it will amount to about the same thing. Quicker than I can speak this sentence you will be among your glorified kindred, among the martyrs, among the apostles, in the gate, on the battlements, at the temple, and now from world to world as soon as a robin hops from one tree branch to another tree branch. Distance no hindrance. Immensity easily compassed. Semi-omnipresence. Aye! to make that resurrection body will not require half as much ingenuity and power as those other bodies you have had. Is it not easier for a sculptor to make a statue out of silent clay than it would be to make a statue out of some material that is alive and moving, and running hither and thither? Will it not be easier for God to make the resurrection body out of the silent dust of the crumbled body than it was to make your body over five or six or eight times while it was in motion, walking, climbing, falling, or rising?

3. Now, if Death clears the way for all this, why paint him as a hobgoblin? Why call him the King of Terrors? Why sketch him with skeleton and arrows, and standing on a bank of dark waters? Why have children so frightened at his name that they dare not go to bed alone, and old reed have their teeth chatter lest some shortness of breath band them over to the monster? All the ages have been busy in maligning Death, hurling repulsive metaphors at Death, slandering Death. Oh, for the sweet breath of Easter to come down on the earth! I was told, at Johnstown, after the flood, that many people who had been for months and years bereft, for the first time got comfort when the awful flood came, to think that their departed ones were not present to see the catastrophe. As the people were floating down on the house tops, they said: “Oh, how glad I am that father and mother are not here,” or “how glad I am that the children are not alive to see this horror!” And ought not we who are down here amid the upturnings of this life be glad that none of the troubles which submerge us can ever afright our friends ascended? “Surely, the bitterness of death is past.” Further, if what I have been saying is true, we should trust the Lord and be thrilled with the fact that our own day of escape cometh. If our lives were going to end when our hearts ceased to pulsate and our lungs to breathe, I would want to take ten million years of life here for the first instalment. But we cannot afford always to stay down in the cellar of our Father’s house. We cannot always be postponing the best things. We cannot always be tuning our violins for the celestial orchestra. We must get our wings out. We must mount. We cannot afford always to stand out here in the vestibule of the house of many mansions. All these thoughts are suggested as we stand this morn amid the broken rocks of the Saviour’s tomb. The day that Christ rose and name forth the sepulchre was demolished forever, and no trowel of earthly masonry can ever rebuild it. “Now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept.” (T. De Witt Talmage.)

The bitterness of death

Why bitter. Because--

1. It is accompanied with physical sufferings.

2. It is the end of earthly hopes and advantages.

3. It separates from friends.

4. There is within us a fear of the unknown realities beyond the grave.

5. In each heart there is a consciousness of sin.

How this bitterness may be changed to sweetness. Faith in Christ.

1. Makes physical sufferings trivial.

2. Assures us of hopes and advantages infinitely more important than those which perish through death.

3. Introduces us to the friendship of all heaven, and this for all eternity.

4. Makes to know that Christ, our Brother, and God, our Father, dominate all other realities in the world to come.

5. It clothes us with the righteousness of Christ. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (Homiletic Review.)

Verse 33

1 Samuel 15:33

And Samuel hewed Agag to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.

The vindictive justice of God

God, who viewed Agag as an enemy to Himself and to His people, would not release him from the punishment he deserved; but inspired Samuel to give him a just recompense of reward. This striking instance of the Divine conduct teaches us that God is more disposed to punish His enemies than sinners are to punish theirs.

I am to show that sinners are disposed to punish their enemies. This will appear both from their character and conduct.

1. It appears from their character, as drawn by the Searcher of hearts. God perfectly knows their real feelings, and has clearly described them in His word. And according to His infallible description, they are entirely selfish. They possess not the least spark of holy love, but are under the entire dominion of selfishness. Though their selfishness disposes them to love those who love them, yet it no less disposes them to hate those who hate them, whether they are friendly or unfriendly to God. Esau hated Jacob because Jacob had injured his interest. Sinners, who are under the reigning power of selfishness, are not only hateful, but they hats one another.

2. It more clearly appears from their conduct than from their character, that they are disposed to punish their enemies. They have been in all ages imbruing their hands in each other’s blood. Nations have destroyed nations, and filled the earth with violence. I proceed, therefore, to the principal point proposed, which is, to show.

That God is more disposed to punish His enemies than sinners are to punish theirs. God knows that sinners are His enemies, and hate His existence, His perfections, His designs, and His whole government. He knows that they hate Him without a cause, as He has always treated them perfectly right. He knows that they are enemies to one another, and be all intelligent creatures. He viewed Agag as an enemy to all righteousness; and He views all sinners in the same light. It may be inquired, why God was more disposed to punish Agag than Saul was? and why in all cases, he is more disposed to punish His enemies, than sinners are to punish their enemies? To this I answer--

1. It is because He hates the conduct, of His enemies simply considered, but sinners do not hate the conduct of their enemies simply considered. Though their enemies may act sinfully, it is not their sinfulness that, they hate. It is only because their sinfulness is pointed against them, and does them hurt, that they hurt it.

2. God is more disposed to punish His enemies than sinners are to punish theirs, because His hatred to His enemies cannot be turned into love. The hatred of sinners can be turned into love, because they do not hate the character, but only the conduct of their enemies, which they view as detrimental to themselves.

3. God’s hatred of His enemies is perfectly just, but sinners’ hatred of their enemies is always unjust. They never hate them for what they ought to be hated, but only for the injury which they receive from them. They do not hate them for selfishness, which is the only thing for which they ought to be hated; and therefore their very hatred is selfish and wicked, for which they really deserve to be punished.

4. There is another reason why God is more disposed to punish His enemies, than sinners are to punish theirs; and that is, His regard to the good of the universe, which sinners totally disregard in punishing their enemies. They are disposed to punish their enemies for their own sake, and not for the good of others.

They are disposed to punish, merely to gratify their own feelings, whether it tends to help or hurt any other person or being besides themselves.

1. If sinners are less disposed to punish their sinful enemies than God is to punish His enemies, then their tender mercies are unholy and criminal.

2. If God is more disposed to punish His enemies than sinners ere to punish theirs, then none can truly love God without loving His vindictive justice. This is an essential tribute of His nature; and He can no more divest Himself of it than He can divest Himself of any other essential attribute than He possesses. He has as plainly revealed His vindictive justice in His word, and as strikingly displayed it in His providence, as anyone of His glorious perfections.

3. If God be more disposed to punish His enemies than sinners are to, punish theirs, then His present conduct in punishing sinners is a strong evidence that He will punish the finally impenitent.

4. If God is more disposed to punish His enemies than sinners are to punish theirs, then all real saints are willing that God should punish His enemies as much and as long as they deserve to be punished. Samuel was willing to punish Agag, end hew him in pieces before the Lord, and at His command. Every good man has that within him which approves and loves the justice of God in punishing sin. Every good man is holy, as God is holy, and loves what God loves, and hates what, God hates.

5. If God is more disposed to punish His enemies than sinners are to punish theirs, then sinners must have a new heart, in order to enter into and enjoy the kingdom of heaven.

6. If God is more disposed to punish His enemies than sinners are to punish theirs, then sinners have no ground to depend upon the patience of God. Sinners are extremely apt to depend upon the patience of God, supposing that He does and will wait upon them, because He pities them, and is unwilling to punish them. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” (N. Emmons, D. D.)

Verse 35

1 Samuel 15:35

Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death.

Samuel’s withdrawal from Saul

Very few bad persons are without some “redeeming quality,” as it is called; and “redeeming qualities” are usually precisely of that kind by which we are most fascinated. The “redeeming qualities” of a wicked man are, however, the very things which should cause us most to fear for these with whom he comes in contact.

1. Few--very few, avoid falling into the error of mistaking what are symptoms of possible good in the future for tokens of real good at the present time, and from at least occasionally thinking that their deliberately formed opinion of the entire character was after all incorrect, and that the persons in whom these good qualities are so clearly observable cannot be wicked at all. These, of course, will think and speak of the “redeeming qualities,” not as redeeming qualities, but as the main features of the character, and try to persuade themselves that it is for the sake of these they continue intimacies which their consciences tell them require in some way to be defended.

2. Besides this proneness to self-deceit, which in greater or less force lurks in the best of us, there are two other causes which expose us to the danger of being injured by the “redeeming qualities” of godless men. One is the fact that there are undoubtedly blemishes in the characters of very good men.

3. The other source of danger is this. The very best of men are known to entertain an affection for bad men. From this it is argued that the men are not bad. Samuel had an affection for Saul. Saul had many “redeeming qualities”--qualities calculated to make him exceedingly popular. Nor was this all. He had a good deal about him to be liked, and Samuel did like him. A good man, then, may have an affection for a bad man, without being at all mistaken as to his character; nay, even after he had been, as in the case before us, the very persons who had himself pronounced the Divine condemnation. We must not, then, be led astray as to the real characters of those whom we should otherwise feel bound to regard as dangerous by the mere fact that they have awakened an affection in those whom we justly reverence. Had we known no more than “that there was a King of Israel named Saul,” and that the holy Samuel mourned exceeding for him on his losing the kingdom, we should, I think, have taken for granted that Saul was a good man, and yet you see we should have been wrong.

4. This discontinuance of personal intercourse with Saul shows us also the limits of a good man’s companionship with a bad man. So long as there is any reasonable hope of his “redeeming qualities” becoming so developed as to constitute the main features, instead of the exceptional points of his character--so long as the influence imperceptibly exercised by early companionship seems likely to be instrumental in bringing about this change, just so long familiar intercourse with one whose grave faults we perceive may be continued without breach of duty towards God: but so soon as that time has gone by--so soon as these hopes seem unreasonable, then, although the regard still linger, the familiar acquaintance must be abandoned. Every case will, of course, have its peculiarities calling for especial consideration. But still there are certain classes of cases in which we may reasonably suppose that our associating with bad men will be unlikely to benefit them, in which the probabilities are so much against it that we had better not make the attempt, in which we had better not so much look to the possibility of our improving another as to that of his injuring us, in which the foremost thought in our minds should be, “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” Generally speaking, a good and a bad man cannot be much together without either being, however little or imperceptibly, changed by the other. Nor should it be forgotten that the companionship of a good man may be a positive injury to a bad man. He may deceive himself into the belief that his faults are not so great or dangerous as they really are, by the reflection that a good man and a sensible man would not like him if he were not in the main good also. Universally, on persons of about our own age and our own social position, who are obviously and ostentatiously opposing themselves to the precepts of the Gospel, our constant companionship is not likely to produce a good effect, except we be more than ordinarily religious and firm ourselves. Of all the instances you ever knew in which a woman entertained that wildest of notions that she would be able, after marriage, to reform the man over whom her influence was powerless before it--of all such instances--and there are numbers of them, how many are the successes you can recall? In how many do you know the result to have been intense and irremediable misery? No, there are those whose age or weight of character enables them without danger or misrepresentation to attempt the reformation of the wicked by being, to some extent, in their society. There are those who, perhaps, to both these qualifications have superadded the incentive of personal liking. Samuel was one of this sort, yet even to him the time came when ha, the old man, the good man, the minister of God, the man with a strong, affection towards Saul, felt it his duty to “see him no more.” (J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)

Separation of Samuel and Saul

It was a final parting: “Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death.” They had now nothing in common. Their views and principles were widely dissimilar. They sought not the same ends, and they used very different means. Samuel so closely followed the will and way of God that he could not have fellowship with a throne of iniquity. A lifetime’s godliness had made Samuel very jealous of the glory of God. He would not compromise his principles for the sake of keeping the favour of a king; and lest he should be understood as approving of Saul’s procedure be absented himself altogether from his court. His absence would be a constant reproof of Saul’s wilful esteems significant token that he deemed his policy ungodly. There are circumstances in the history of the believer, and even of the Church when separation from those with whom there have been union and fellowship becomes a duty. When any one finds that by his station or character he is likely to influence others, if he openly unites with those whose policy he disapproves, he is bound to separate. When any one discovers that he cannot, without countenancing the sin of others, continue in their fellowship he is bound to withdraw. When any one learns that his soul is imperilled by remaining with the ungodly, he must separate. The sacrifice of the dearest ties, the richest gains, and the most cherished associations, must be made, when duty to Christ demands it. Our Lord has laid down the law of a Christian in such circumstances in the plainest terms: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me,” etc. You may be associated in relationships that forbid your separation. The law of Christ does not demand the believer to break up his nuptial tie, or his filial ties; but it demands his faithful witness bearing at home. There must be no compromise with truth--with Christ--to please any friend. The world is not to be met half-way. We are not to conciliate by compromise. In the sixteenth century, separation from Rome became the duty of all enlightened souls who protested against the errors and crimes of Modern Babylon. Samuel went away in sorrow. He mourned for Saul. He did not part with him because his heart was steeled against him, or because of any unkindly feeling towards him personally, he yearned after the king with all the affection of a broken-hearted parent. Samuel mourned for Saul, for he pitied the people. Saul was a king according to their mind, and it was to be feared that they would approve of his infatuated policy, and thus turn away from God. Perhaps this had an influence upon his determination to separate from Saul, that all Israel might see that he was no more a party to their monarch’s ways. When so good a man as Samuel retired from fellowship with Saul, they might perhaps reflect upon their own safety. But people are blind, and require long discipline to correct their sins and reform their ways. (R. Steel.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 15". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/1-samuel-15.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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