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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
Samuel sends Saul to destroy the Amalekites, and all their substance, 1 Samuel 15:1-3. Saul collects an immense army and comes against their city, 1 Samuel 15:4, 1 Samuel 15:5. He desires the Kenites to remove from among the Amalekites, 1 Samuel 15:6. He smites the Amalekites, and takes their king, Agag, prisoner, and saves the best of the spoil, 1 Samuel 15:7-9. The Lord is displeased, and sends Samuel to reprove him, 1 Samuel 15:10, 1 Samuel 15:11. The conversation between Samuel and Saul, in which the latter endeavors to justify his conduct, 1 Samuel 15:12-23. He is convinced that he has done wrong, and asks pardon, 1 Samuel 15:24-31. Samuel causes Agag to be slain; for which he assigns the reasons, 1 Samuel 15:32-35.
1Samuel also said unto Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD.
The Lord sent me to anoint thee - This gave him a right to say what immediately follows.
2Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt.
I remember that which Amalek did - The Amalekites were a people of Arabia Petraea, who had occupied a tract of country on the frontiers of Egypt and Palestine. They had acted with great cruelty towards the Israelites on their coming out of Egypt. (See Exodus 17:8 (note), and the notes there). They came upon them when they were faint and weary, and smote the hindermost of the people - those who were too weak to keep up with the rest. (See Deuteronomy 25:18). And God then purposed that Amalek, as a nation, should be blotted out from under heaven; which purpose was now fulfilled by Saul upwards of four hundred years afterwards!
3Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.
Slay both man and woman - Nothing could justify such an exterminating decree but the absolute authority of God. This was given: all the reasons of it we do not know; but this we know well, The Judge of all the earth doth right. This war was not for plunder, for God commanded that all the property as well as all the people should be destroyed.
4And Saul gathered the people together, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah.
Two hundred thousand - and ten thousand - The Septuagint, in the London Polyglot, have Four Hundred thousand companies of Israel, and Thirty thousand companies of Judah. The Codex Alexandrinus has Ten thousand of each. The Complutensian Polyglot has Two Hundred thousand companies of Israel, and Ten thousand of Judah. And Josephus has Four Hundred thousand of Israel, and Thirty thousand of Judah. All the other versions are the same with the Hebrew text; and there is no difference in the MSS.
5And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and laid wait in the valley.
Saul came to a city of Amalek - I believe the original should be translated, and Saul came to the city Amalek; their capital being called by the name of their tribe.
6And Saul said unto the Kenites, Go, depart, get you down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them: for ye shewed kindness to all the children of Israel, when they came up out of Egypt. So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.
Said unto the Kenites - The Kenites were an ancient people. Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, was a Kenite. Hobab his son (if the same person be not meant) was guide to the Hebrews through the wilderness. They had a portion of the promised land, near to the city Arad. See Judges 1:16; and for more particulars concerning them and the Amalekites, see the notes on Numbers 26:20-21 (note).
7And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur, that is over against Egypt.
From Havilah - to Shur - From Pelusium in Egypt, unto the Red Sea. - Josephus. But Havilah lay eastward from the Red Sea; the Amalekites lay between this and the way to Egypt towards Shur.
8And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.
9But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.
10Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying,
11It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.
It repenteth me that I have set up Saul - That is, I placed him on the throne; I intended, if he had been obedient, to have established his kingdom. He has been disobedient; I change my purpose, and the kingdom shall not be established in his family. This is what is meant by God's repenting - changing a purpose according to conditions already laid down or mentally determined.
12And when Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning, it was told Samuel, saying, Saul came to Carmel, and, behold, he set him up a place, and is gone about, and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal.
He set him up a place - Literally, a hand, יד yad. Some say it was a monument; others, a triumphal arch: probably it was no more than a hand, pointing out the place where Saul had gained the victory. Absalom's pillar is called the hand of Absalom, 2 Samuel 18:18.
13And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD.
14And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?
15And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.
The people spared the best of the sheep - It is very likely that the people did spare the best of the prey; and it is as likely that Saul might have restrained them if he would. That they might not love war, God had interdicted spoil and plunder, so the war was undertaken merely from a sense of duty, without any hope of enriching themselves by it.
16Then Samuel said unto Saul, Stay, and I will tell thee what the LORD hath said to me this night. And he said unto him, Say on.
17And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?
Little in thine own sight - Who can bear prosperity? Is it not of the Lord's great goodness that the majority of the inhabitants of the earth are in comparative poverty?
18And the LORD sent thee on a journey, and said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed.
19Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the LORD, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the LORD?
20And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.
21But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal.
To sacrifice unto the Lord - Thus he endeavors to excuse the people. They did not take the spoil in order to enrich themselves by it, but to sacrifice unto the Lord; and did not this motive justify their conduct?
22And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
Hath the Lord as great delight, etc. - This was a very proper answer to, and refutation of Saul's excuse. Is not obedience to the will of God the end of all religion, of its rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices?
23For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry - This is no translation of those difficult words, כי חטאת קסם מרי ואון ותרפים הפצר ki chattath kesem meri veaven utheraphim haphtsar. It appears to me that the three nouns which occur first in the text refer each to the three last in order. Thus, חטאת chattath, Transgression, refers to און aven, Iniquity, which is the principle whence transgression springs. קסם kesem, Divination, refers to תרפים teraphim, consecrated images or telesms, vulgarly talismans, used in incantations. And מרי meri, Rebellion, refers evidently to הפצר haphstar, Stubbornness, whence rebellion springs. The meaning therefore of this difficult place may be the following: As transgression comes from iniquity, divination from teraphim, and rebellion from stubbornness, so, because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king. All the versions are different.
24And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.
I have sinned - because I feared the people - This was the best excuse he could make for himself; but had he feared God more, he need have feared the People less.
25Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD.
Pardon my sin - Literally, bear my sin; take it away; forgive what I have done against thee, and be my intercessor with God, that he may forgive my offense against him; turn again with me, that I may worship the Lord.
26And Samuel said unto Saul, I will not return with thee: for thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD hath rejected thee from being king over Israel.
I will not return with thee - I cannot acknowledge thee as king, seeing the Lord hath rejected thee.
27And as Samuel turned about to go away, he laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and it rent.
28And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou.
29And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.
The Strength of Israel will not lie - What God has purposed he will bring to pass, for he has all power in the heavens and in the earth; and he will not repent - change his purpose - concerning thee.
We may say it was some extenuation of Saul's fault that the people insisted on preserving the best of the prey; for who could resist the demands of a victorious mob? But his crime was in consenting; had he not, the crime would have been theirs alone.
30Then he said, I have sinned: yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD thy God.
31So Samuel turned again after Saul; and Saul worshipped the LORD.
32Then said Samuel, Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites. And Agag came unto him delicately. And Agag said, Surely the bitterness of death is past.
Agag came unto him delicately - The Septuagint have τρεμων, trembling; the original, מעדנת maadannoth, delicacies; probably איש ish, man, understood; a man of delights, a pleasure-taker: the Vulgate, pinguissimus et tremens, "very fat and trembling."
Surely the bitterness of death is past - Almost all the versions render this differently from ours. Surely death is bitter, is their general sense; and this seems to be the true meaning.
33And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.
As thy sword hath made women childless - It appears that Agag had forfeited his life by his own personal transgressions, and that his death now was the retribution of his cruelties.
And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces -
1. What Samuel did here he did in his magisterial capacity; and,
2. It is not likely he did it by his own sword, but by that of an executioner. What kings, magistrates, and generals do, in an official way, by their subjects, servants, or soldiers, they are said to do themselves; qui facit per alterum, facit per se.
34Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house to Gibeah of Saul.
35And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.
And Samuel came no more to see Saul - But we read, 1 Samuel 19:22-24, that Saul went to see Samuel at Naioth, but this does not affect what is said here. From this time Samuel had no connection with Saul; he never more acknowledged him as king; he mourned and prayed for him, and continued to perform his prophetic functions at Ramah, and at Naioth, superintending the school of the prophets in that place.