1 Samuel

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1 Samuel 15 – Skeptic's Annotated Bible answered

A response and reply to the notes on 1 Samuel 15 in the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (SAB).

King James Version

SAB comment

My comment

1 Samuel also said unto Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD.

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

(15:2-3) God orders Saul to kill all of the Amalekites: men, women, infants, sucklings, ox, sheep, camels, and asses. Why? Because God remembers what Amalek did hundreds of years ago.

To kill or not to kill
Is God merciful?
The SAB author argues that when sin has been committed in the past, we should overlook it. Due to our limited abilities, our laws have a limited period in which crimes can be prosecuted. This is mainly due to the fact that it might be hard to gather sufficient evidence on something that happened a long time ago. It also urges the victim to come forward as soon as possible. But at least in some countries certain crimes can always be prosecuted, no matter how long ago they happened.
In God's case though, he is the perfect witness and has the perfect recall. And he judges the earth. Saul here is asked to execute God's punishment. That it has been long ago might be due to the fact that God works on a different time scale. And it is not as if the the children are punished for the sins of their fathers (Ezek. 18:2). Amalek kept walking in the ways of their fathers. And as we find in the book of Jonah (Jonah 3:10), repentence is possible.
But we find no evidence of that, but rather that they continued in cruelty as we can see in verse 33 (verse 33).

3 Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

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

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

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

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

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

(15:7-26) Saul killed everyone but Agag (the king) and the best of the animals. But still God was furious with Saul for not killing everything as he had been told to do. He said, "it repenteth me that I have set Saul up to be king."
It is not enough to hold most of God's commandments. God requires full obedience (Gal. 3:10). If you have to appear before court because of drink driving, arguments as I didn't speed, my car satisfied technical conditions spelled out in law, I used my indicator, etc. will be dismissed of course.
And Saul shouldn't be in Amalek to ransack the country. He was executing the judgement of the Lord. The judgement was so severe that he should have avoided any sign this was all about profit.

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

As can be seen in chapter 27:8 and chapter 30:1 a part, namely the king of the Amalekites, is taken for the whole, perhaps the nobility of the Amalekites. Saul did kill most of the Amalekites, but not all.

10 Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying,

11 It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.

(15:10-11, 35) These verses say that God repented of making Saul king. But just a few verses later (15:29) it says that God never repents.
Does God repent?
Words can have a different a meaning. This chapter is a clear example of the two meanings of the word repent. The first meaning is in this verse: it is used when God comes back on a promise, due to breaking of the promise by another party. God made Saul king, God was not required to do so. The condition of this was obedience, but Saul didn't obey, see verse 23 (verse 23).
The second meaning is in verse 29 (verse 23). When it is said that the Lord does not repent, it is said of something he will do, and which He has not made conditional at that point or somewhere else in the Bible.
As Samuel Rutherford says:

Repentance in God is not, as it is in us, a change of his mind, but a change of his method or dispensation. He does not alter his will, but wills an alteration. The change was in Saul.

See also Gen. 6:6.

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

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

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

15 And 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.

16 Then 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.

17 And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?

18 And the LORD sent thee on a journey, and said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed.

(15:18-19) Saul is rebuked by Samuel for "doing evil in the sight of the Lord" by failing to kill all of the Amalekites.

19 Wherefore 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?

Saul did fly upon the spoil. Later it appears that many Amelikites had fled. Saul was ransacking the country instead of executing God's judgement.

20 And 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.

21 But 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.

22 And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.

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

(15:23-26) Because Saul didn't kill everyone as God commanded, God changes his mind about him being king.

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

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

26 And Samuel said unto Saul, I will not return with thee: for thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD hath rejected thee from being king over Israel.

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

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

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

See verse 11 (verse 11).

30 Then he said, I have sinned: yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD thy God.

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

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

(15:32-34) To please God, Samuel hacks Agag in pieces "before the Lord." (I bet God enjoyed that!) -- after Agag pleads with him saying, "surely the bitterness of death has past."
Agag does not plead here, but utters a proud statement (he came to him delicately), believing that he is safe now Samuel's orders have been defeated by king Saul. And because he is a murderer, see the next verse, Samuel just executes the judgement here. But here and elsewhere the SAB author seems to held the opinion that criminals shouldn't be punished.

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

34 Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house to Gibeah of Saul.

35 And 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.