This is what the LORD of Hosts says: 'I witnessed what the Amalekites did to the Israelites when they hindered them on their way up from Egypt.
1 Samuel 15:1-9. (GIBEAH.)
1. The fidelity of Saul to the principle of his appointment, viz. obedience to the will of Jehovah, was once and again put to the test. He had been tried by inaction, delay, and distress, which became the occasion of his being tempted to distrust, and the use of his power for his own safety, in opposition to the word of God (1 Samuel 13:11). He had been tried by enterprise, encouragement, and the expectation of brilliant success, which became the occasion of his being tempted to presumption in entering rashly upon his own ways, and adopting "foolish and hurtful devices" for conquest and glory, independently of the counsel of God (1 Samuel 14:19, 24). He must now be tried by victory, power, and prosperity. Having chastised his enemies on every side (1 Samuel 14:47), his assured success becomes the final test of his character and fitness to rule over Israel.
2. The temptations of Saul may he compared with those of others, and especially with the three temptations of Christ (Matthew 4:1-10; Luke 4:1-12), which are "an epitome of all the temptations, moral and spiritual, which the devil has contrived for man from the day of his first sin unto this very hour." The antecedents in both cases, the circumstances under which the temptations occurred, the principles to which they appealed, the inducements which they presented, the means afforded for their resistance, and their result, are all suggestive. Where the first king of Israel failed the last King of Israel prevailed, and whilst Saul was rejected, Jesus was perfected, and "crowned with glory and honour" (Luke 22:28, 29; Hebrews 2:10, 18).
3. The commission of Saul to execute judgment upon the Amalekites was brought to him by Samuel, whose authority as the prophet of the Lord he never called in question, however much he may have acted contrary to his directions. After Saul exhibited a determination to have his own way, Samuel seems to have exerted little influence over him. At the battle of Michmash the high priest Ahiah was his only spiritual counsellor. It became more and more evident that he wished to establish a "kingdom of this world," like the surrounding heathen kingdoms, in opposition to the design of God concerning Israel, which the prophet represented and sought to carry into effect; and it was inevitable that, with such contrary aims, a conflict should arise between them. "The great prophet's voice brings him a new commission from his God, and preludes it by a note of very special warning: 'The Lord sent me,' etc. This tone of adjuration surely tells all. It speaks the prophet's judgment of his character, of prayers and intercessions, of days of watching and nights of grief for one he loved so well, as he saw growing on that darkening countenance the deepening lines of willfulness. The prophet sees that it will be a crisis in that life history with which by God's own hand his own had been so strangely entwined? The commission was -
I. DIVINELY APPOINTED (ver. 1).
1. When a communication enjoining the performance of any action comes unquestionably from God. it should be unhesitatingly obeyed. His authority is supreme, his power is infinite, and his commands are right and good. It does not follow that everything he directs men to do in one age is obligatory on all others in every age. But some things he has undoubtedly enjoined upon us all.
2. When such a communication is made with peculiar directness and solemnity, it should be obeyed with peculiar attention and circumspection, for important issues are involved in its faithful or faithless observance. "if thou hast failed in other things, take heed that thou fail not in this."
3. When special privilege and honour have been bestowed upon men by God they are placed under special obligations of obedience to him. "Though thou wast little in thine own sight," etc. (ver. 17).
II. JUSTLY DESERVED by those against whom it was directed (ver. 2) - "the sinners the Amalekites" (ver. 18).
1. Some sins are marked by an unusual degree of criminality and guilt. Like the people of Israel, the Amalekites were descendants of Abraham (Amalek being the grandson of Esau - Genesis 36:12, 16); but they attacked them at Rephidim on their way through the desert, and strove to annihilate them (Exodus 17:8-16); they lay in wait for them secretly and subtly, and smote the hindermost, the feeble, the faint and weary, and "feared not God" (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Their conduct was ungenerous, unprovoked, cruel, and utterly godless.
2. Special sins are perpetuated in families and nations and increase in intensity. The Amalekites were hereditary, open, and deadly foes of Israel (Numbers 14:45; Judges 3:13; Judges 6:3). They lived by plunder, and were guilty of unsparing bloodshed (ver. 33). Some fresh act of cruelty may have shown that they were "ripe for the judgment of extermination."
3. Sinners long spared and persisting in flagrant transgression bring upon themselves sudden, signal, and overwhelming destruction. If judgment is pervaded and limited by mercy, mercy has also limits beyond which it does not pass, and they who despise it must perish. Men may forget what God has spoken (Exodus 17:14); but he remembers it, and fulfils his word at the proper time. "Injuries done to the people of God will sooner or later be reckoned for." Impenitent sinners "treasure up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath" (Romans 2:5). It accumulates like a gathering thundercloud or an Alpine avalanche (Luke 11:50, 51), and it frequently comes upon them by ways and means such as they themselves have chosen. The Amalekites put others to the sword and spared not; they must themselves be put to the sword and not be spared. The moral improvement of inveterate sinners by their continuance on earth is sometimes hopeless, and their removal by Divine judgment is necessary for the moral improvement and general welfare of other people with whom they are connected, and teaches valuable lessons to succeeding ages.
III. FULLY EXPRESSED (vers. 3, 18). The will of God is made known in different forms and with various degrees of clearness, and some men, whilst.acknowledging their obligation to obey it, have sought to justify themselves in the neglect of particular duties on the ground of their not having been fully directed. But this could not be the case with Saul, whose commission was -
1. Imperative; so that there could be no excuse for evasion. "Go and smite Amalek."
2. Plain; so that its meaning could not be mistaken, except by the most inattentive and negligent of men. "Utterly destroy (devote to destruction). Fight against them until they be consumed."
3. Minute; so that no room was left for the exercise of discretion as to the manner or extent of its fulfilment. It required simple, literal obedience, such as is now required in many things. "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it."
IV. ZEALOUSLY COMMENCED (vers. 4, 5, 7). The "journey on which he was sent" (ver. 18) was entered upon by Saul with something of the same energy and zeal which he had formerly displayed against the Ammonites, but the deterioration which had since taken place in his character by the possession of power soon appeared.
1. The work to which men are called in the way of duty sometimes bears a close affinity to their natural temperament and disposition.
2. Men may appear to others, and even to themselves, to be very zealous for the Lord whilst they are only doing what is naturally agreeable to themselves. "Come with me," said Jehu, "and see my zeal for the Lord" (2 Kings 10:16, 31). "But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel." Saul of Tarsus, like Saul of Gibeah, appeared to be fighting for God when he was really fighting against him.
3. The real nature of their zeal is manifested when the requirements of God come into collision with their convenience, pleasure, ambition, or self-interest. Then the hidden spring is laid bare.
V. UNFAITHFULLY EXECUTED (vers. 8, 9). "Spared Agag, and the best of the sheep," etc., "and would not destroy them." "He hath turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments" (ver. 11).
1. There may be the performance of many things along with the neglect or refusal to perform others of equal or of greater importance. Saul was "a type of those who are willing to do something as against the world and on behalf of Christ, but by no means willing to do all that they ought to do." Herod "did many things, and heard John gladly" (Mark 6:20), but he would not give up his ruling passion.
2. Disobedience in one thing often manifests the spirit of disobedience in all things. It shows that the heart and will are not surrendered to the Lord, and without such a surrender all else is worthless. In Saul's sparing Agag and the best of the sheep, etc, we have "a melancholy example of sparing sins and evils that should be slain, and sheltering and harbouring them under false pretences by unworthy pleas and excuses."
3. The love of self is the supreme motive of those who refuse to obey God. Saul was actuated by covetousness (ver. 19), worldly mindedness (Matthew 4:9; 1 John 2:15, 16), and vainglorious pride, which are only different forms of the love of self. "Behold, he set him up a monument, and is gone about (as in a triumphal procession), and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal" (ver. 12), intending probably to make a display of the royal captive for his own glory; perhaps to make him a tributary prince and a source of profit. "Pride arising from the consciousness of his own strength led him astray to break the command of God. His sin was open rebellion against the sovereignty of the God of Israel; for he no longer desired to be the medium of the sovereignty of Jehovah, or the executor of the commands of the God king, but simply wanted to reign according to his own arbitrary will" (Keil). - D.
Genesis 36:12) But against this view it may he forcibly objected:
Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel.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.)
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.)
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