Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Prophet Samuel (8) - Saul and the Amalekites

The next intervention by Samuel in Saul’s life was quite strange.

Samuel said to Saul, "I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD (1 Sam 15:1).
Saul knew who Samuel was and that he was a prophet, so Saul had no need to be reminded that Samuel had anointed him as king. There is no evidence in the passage that the Lord told Samuel to speak to Saul, so it seems like he was acting on his own initiative. Maybe Samuel reminded Saul of his role as kingmaker to build up his personal authority, because he did not have authority from God.

Samuel told Saul that God wanted him to attack the Amalekites.
This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys'.
This was a ruthless message straight out of the blue. Samuel said that he spoke in the Lord’s name, but his strange introduction suggests that this was not true. God had promised that he would wipe out the Amalekites (Ex 17:14), but he did not say how he would do it. There is nothing in the scriptures to indicate that God intended Saul to do it.

Telling Saul to totally destroy everyone, including women and children was really drastic. This command has given God a bad name, because it does not seem to be justified and is inconsistent with Deuteronomy 20:14. This was not a command from God, but Samuel was acting on his own initiative.

Saul gathered a large army and attacked the Amalekites. He captured their king and totally destroyed all the people. Then the Lord spoke. Unlike in the early part of the chapter, this time the word of the Lord did come to Samuel.
Now the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.” And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the LORD all night (1 Sam 15:10-11).
The usual interpretation is that the Lord was upset, because Saul had allowed the King to live, but this is not what the word of the Lord said. The word was that Saul had not performed or kept his commandments. The reality was that Saul had not observed God’s commandments for kings. This was the reason that God rejected Saul’s kingship.

It is interesting that Samuel grieved all night. In the earlier events, he seemed to undermine Saul’s kingship, so I doubt that he was grieving about Saul’s fate. I suspect that he was upset, because he was beginning to realise that he had given bad advice to Saul. Usually when the Lord initiates something, his word comes to the prophet to get things started. The word of the Lord coming after an event is a sign that Samuel had been out of order in stirring Saul up to fight.

The other interesting issue is that when Samuel spoke to Saul the next day he did not repeat the word that Lord had spoken. He said something quite different.
Samuel said, "Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. And he sent you on a mission, saying, 'Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.' Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD " (1 Sam 15:17-19)?
The Lord had not mentioned the Amalekites or the plunder to Samuel, but this is what Samuel focused on. He put a different spin on the word of the Lord.

After some argument Saul admitted that he was wrong.
Then Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned. I violated the LORD's command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD” (1 Sam 15:24-25).
It is interesting that Saul confessed to violating the commandments of God and disobeying Samuel’s instructions. This is a hint that Samuels instructions went beyond the Lord’s commandments.

Despite Saul repenting, Samuel did not offer to intercede with the Lord for him. This is strange because the Lord usually responded positively to repentance. When Samuel left Saul that day he never spoke with Saul again.

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