While Saul and his soldiers were on their way back north, following their triumph over the Amalekites, Samuel received a message from God (I Sam. 15:1-9).
“Samuel, I am not pleased with the man I set on the throne of Israel,” the Creator informed the elderly prophet. “He has rebelled. At this moment he is returning from the slaughter of the Amalekites. He performed that part of his task well which pleased the people, but he refused to carry out all the things he was plainly told to do on this mission. Go out tomorrow to meet him as he comes from the south. Then you will learn of the manner in which he has been disobedient in recent hours.”
Samuel was grieved at this report. He had a great affection for Saul, and it was discouraging to the old prophet to realize that the time had come for him to inform the younger man that he could no longer be king with such a rebellious attitude, that he spent all night praying that God would give Saul another opportunity to overcome his willful ways (I Sam. 15:10-11).
As dawn approached, Samuel gradually was aware that he was being too sentimental in this matter, and was praying for a lost cause. He ceased his petitions and prepared to go out to meet Saul.
“Saul and his men passed through here very early this morning,” Samuel was told by people who had been up and around before dawn. “Some of his soldiers mentioned that they had camped at Carmel, south of here, where Saul had a monument erected as a reminder of his destroying the Amalekites. They said that from there he intended to march straight through to Gilgal” (I Sam. 15:12).
At first Samuel was puzzled because of Saul’s not stopping to report his triumph to him. Then he realized that Saul had done something that he didn’t want him to know about. It was God’s orders that Samuel contact Israel’s king, so he set out at once for Gilgal.
“May God blessing be on you!” Saul smilingly greeted Samuel when the old prophet approached him in Gilgal that evening.
His smile faded a little as Samuel soberly come up to him.
“I’m pleased that you are safely back,” Samuel said in an earnest tone. “I trust that you carried out all the instructions that God gave me to give to you.”
“With God’s help, I accomplished what I set out to do, “Saul replied. “But why are you looking at me with a doubtful expression? As you know, we wiped out the Amalekites. Is it that you expected more than that?”
“I didn’t expect to hear the many animals sounds that I am now hearing, “Samuel observed. “Why is our conversation being interrupted by so much bleating of sheep and lowing of cattle? There must be some great accumulation of livestock out there in the dark” (I Sam. 15:13-14).
“Oh those are the herds my men brought back from the Amalekites,” Saul casually answered. “They picked out the very best animals to bring back to sacrifice to God.”
The king evaded the questioning look of the older man, perhaps because at that moment there was a loud braying of donkeys.
“Now listen, Saul,” Samuel said, lowering his voice so that others couldn’t hear.
“Just last night God spoke to me. he reminded me that He had chosen you as Israel’s leader when you had a humble attitude and thought of yourself as of little worth. But He is not pleased with you now because you more and more ignore your Creator’s instructions and take matters into your own hands. You were sent to destroy all the Amalekites and all their belongings. Why haven’t you obeyed?”
“But I did obey, “Saul argued. “I saw that all the Amalekites were destroyed except their ruler, whom I brought back as proof of our victory. It was my men who insisted on bringing back the livestock for sacrificing. I couldn’t very well deny them something that had to do with the worship of God.”
“With God, obedience comes before burnt offerings and sacrifices,” Samuel sternly reminded the king. “You know how God abhors witchcraft. Disobedience is as bad as witchcraft in God’s sight, and stubbornness such as yours is as evil as the worship of heathen idols! What your conduct adds up to is rebellion against God. Now I must tell you that God is rejecting you as king of Israel” (I Sam. 15:15-23)!
Saul stared unhappily at Samuel. He knew that the old prophet spoke the truth.
“It is the people who are to blame,” said Saul in a slightly quavering voice. “I was afraid what they might say. I just couldn’t be firmer with my men. Samuel, please go with me to offer sacrifices of repentance to God!”
“I can hardly do that,” Samuel explained. “I have already asked God to forgive you. He has refused to heed my prayers because you refuse to repent and do what He commands. He has rejected you as king, and nothing is going to change that” (I Sam. 15:24-26).
The old prophet turned away in disappointment. Saul quickly stepped after him, reaching out to detain him by seizing his coat. Samuel kept on walking, and to Saul’s embarrassment the coat ripped apart. The older man stopped, turned and gazed at the piece of his coat Saul was holding in his hand.
“This should be a sign to you,” Samuel pointed out to Saul. “Just as my coat was torn from me, so shall the kingdom of Israel be torn from you at this time. Besides, the rulership shall be turned over to one who lives only a short distance from here, and be assured that God will not change His mind about this matter” (I Sam. 15:27-29)!
Saul was shaken by this last remark. He begged the prophet not to forsake him, lest the people receive the impression that the two men weren’t in accord. Samuel was greatly respected in Israel, and Saul feared that his own popularity as king of Israel would lessen if the Israelites came to believe that he and Samuel were having some serious differences. He was intent on hanging on as long as he could as king.
“For the sake of the people,” Samuel finally agreed,” I’ll appear with you in public from time to time until God removes you from office” (I Sam. 15:30-31).
Samuel was disappointed and angered by Saul’s bringing the king of the Amalekites back as a prisoner. He knew that Saul had done it to build himself up as a national hero. But he didn’t discuss the matter at the time Saul had mentioned the Amalekite leader because he wanted to deal directly and as soon as possible with the enemy king before there could be any interference from Saul, and before any public display of the pagan ruler could be made. Samuel demanded that Agag, the Amalekite king, be brought before him in a private place.
When he was brought in between two soldiers, he appeared rather smug for a prisoner of war. He was wearing an expensive robe on which were fastened the insignias of royalty and power of his nation.
“I understand that I was to have an audience with Saul, the king of Israel,” Agag observed curtly. “Who are you?”
“I am Samuel, a friend of the king,” the old prophet answered after a pause.
“Then you will see that I am treated with respect, as Saul promised I would be?” the Amalekite king asked hesitantly.
“You shall be treated with all the respect you deserve,” Samuel told him. “Men, let go of this man.”
The two soldiers stepped back from the prisoner, who hunched his shoulders with relief and grinned weakly at Samuel. He seemed to have little concern about the destruction of his nation. His consuming interest now was to be regarded as a guest.
“There is really no reason to allow our past differences to cause further violence, the Amalekite observed as he shrugged his shoulders. “I can well pay for my freedom by showing you where treasures are hidden that your men didn’t find during their attack on my people.”
“You misunderstand my motive for telling the soldiers to let go of you,” Samuel frowned. “They couldn’t very well execute you by standing so close!”
“What do you mean?” Agag snapped fearfully as he whirled to glance back at the two men who had brought him in.
“I mean,” Samuel pointed out sternly, “that too many women have become childless by the sword because of your commands! Now as far as you are concerned, your mother is to become childless!”
At a command from Samuel, the soldiers whipped out their swords and leaped toward the cringing Amalekite. A minute or two later, when Samuel left, he couldn’t help viewing Agag for the last time. The pagan ruler had been chopped to pieces just as he had cut to pieces infants in war. Thus Samuel had given an order for execution that Saul had refused to give (I Sam. 15:32-33).
At this point, a few overly sensitive readers particularly parents who are reading this account to their children will be horrified at the bloody ending of Agag. Some will even write letters to protest the printing of narratives of such violence in the Bible.
“Why do you use such horrible material?” people ask. “Why not pick out the good and the lovely things?”
Again it should be pointed out that the Bible is the source of this account. It shows human nature as it really is. No part of the Bible should be kept from anyone, though many falsely believe that some areas of the scriptures are unfit to read. That sort of warped thinking has helped to develop and promote the hundreds of so-called Christian sects that exist today. None of these churches can rightfully claim to be God’s churches unless they teach all of the Bible. God inspired and observed and keeps all of God’s rules for the right way of living.
Samuel returned to Ramah. Greatly displeased by what had been done to Agag, Saul went to his home in Gibeah. From that time on Samuel never referred to Saul as the king of Israel, though he continued to have a fatherly feeling toward the younger man (I Sam. 15:34-35).
“How long must you go on feeling sorry for Saul?” God later inquired of Samuel. “You know he is no longer king in my eyes, so forget about him. Fill your horn with olive oil for anointing and go to Bethlehem. I will send you to a man called Jesse. From his sons I have chosen one who will be the next king of Israel. You are to anoint him as such.”
“But Saul is very angry with me,” Samuel told God. “If I should be picked up by his men and if they should find out why I am going to Bethlehem, they would probably kill me.”
“Don’t be concerned,” God answered. “Take a young cow with you, and if anyone asks you questions, explain that you are taking the heifer for a sacrifice. When you arrive in Bethlehem, request that Jesse and his sons go with you to sacrifice. After that I shall let you know what to do” (I Sam. 16:1-3).
Samuel reached Bethlehem without being accosted by any of Saul’s men. When it was reported to the leaders of the city that the prophet was entering the gates, the chief men hurried to meet him, but not because they were overjoyed at his coming,
“We are honored that you should visit our city,” they greeted him nervously. “We trust that you come on some mission of peace.”
“I do,” Samuel answered, pointing to is young cow. “I have come to sacrifice this animal. Prepare yourselves as you should for sacrificing and come and join me, if you will. But first I must visit the home of a man called Jesse. Kindly tell me where he lives.
The leaders were relieved. Bethlehem didn’t have the best of reputations for an Israelite city, and they had feared that the prophet had come to pronounce some kind of curse on the people there. Samuel was directed to where he wanted to go. It turned out to be a home at the edge of Bethlehem. Jesse was a rugged, very elderly livestock grower who was surprised and pleased that the prophet had come to visit his family.
“I have been told that you have several very fine sons,” Samuel explained to Jesse. “I am looking for a young man to anoint into a special service for Israel a position I’ll explain later, and I hope to find the man I need in your family. Would it be possible to meet your sons?”
“Indeed it would!” Jesse answered, wondering why the prophet had come all the way to Bethlehem and to his home to look for help in this special service, whatever it could be. “My sons would be honored to meet you. One of them is working just outside. I’ll have him come in.”
Moments later a tall, handsome, muscular young man stepped into the room. Jesse introduced him as Eliab, and obviously was quite proud of him. Samuel was greatly impressed by the size and the bearing of Eliab. He concluded at once that this was the man whom God had picked as the next leader of Israel (I Sam. 16:4-6).
“Do not be hasty!” a small voice came to Samuel, as if from inside his head. “Don’t try to determine what a man is like by his appearance only. I judge men by what is in their minds. This is not the man I have chosen to succeed Saul.”
Jesse called in another son, Abinadab, who also impressed Samuel. But again, the voice informed him that Abindab wasn’t the one. A third son, named Shammah, was brought in. Samuel was told not to anoint him. Four more young men appeared, but the voice warned that none of them was the right one.
“These are all of your sons?” Samuel asked Jesse. “Not one of them quite fits into the work I have in mind.”
“I am sorry to have disappointed you,” Jesse said in an apologetic tone. “I have another son, David, but he is my youngest and he is out taking care of our sheep. You wouldn’t be interested in him.”
“But I am,” Samuel insisted. “Send for him. We won’t sit down until I see this David” (I Sam. 16:7-11).
A little later young David came in, having run in from some distance after being told that he was wanted at the feast immediately. Samuel noticed at once that he was the smallest of Jess’s sons, though the most wholesome and bright-appearing. He was healthy and tanned from his outdoor task of herding sheep.
“This is the one!” the voice came to Samuel.
Samuel walked up to David and regarded him earnestly.
“I am about to perform a brief but very important ceremony,” the prophet informed the lad, placing his hands-on David’s shoulders. “I know this will come as a great surprise to you, but you are now chosen by God to be ordained to a very high office.”
The young prophet opened his horn of oil and poured some of it on David’s head.
“David, in the name and by the authority of the God of Israel, I proclaim you the king of all Israel!” Samuel declared. “May the Eternal guide and protect you in your reign over the nation that God has chosen to use you in carrying out His divine purpose!”
There was a long silence as Jesse and his family, startled by Samuel’s words, wondered if this could be a fantastic dream. David was the most amazed, inasmuch as he couldn’t imagine, at the moment, why he had been made the king of Israel.
“Prepare yourselves to go with me to sacrifice to God,” Samuel told Jesse and his family before a spirited conversation could get started. “As for what has happened here, it would be wise to say nothing about it to others. I shall be in touch with you later about the matter.”
After Samuel had returned to Ramah and excitement had abated in Jesse’s household, a change came over David. Although he had been taught to observe God’s laws, a new outlook and special understanding began to come to him. God was imbuing him with a gift of unusual wisdom, as well as with a confident, peaceful state of mind (I Sam. 16:12-13).
As the same time a change was taking place in Saul. He became more irritable and worried. He brooded over what Samuel had told him. He had growing periods of depression, and suspected those about him as spies. God was taking from him the comfort of a sound and peaceful mind (I Sam. 16:14).
Be watching for the next installment of the Story of the Bible.