1 Samuel 15:31
So Samuel turned again after Saul; and Saul worshipped the LORD.
God proves his servants, and does not show them the fulness of his favour and confidence till they have been tested. Abraham was tried and found faithful; so was Moses; so was David; so was Daniel. Abraham, indeed, was not without fault, nor Moses either. David once sinned grievously. But all of these were proved true at heart and trustworthy. Saul is the conspicuous instance in the Old Testament of one who, when called to a high post in Jehovah's service, and tested therein again and again, offended the Lord again and again, and was therefore rejected and disowned.
1. The question on which the king was tested was the same as before. Would he obey the voice of the Lord, and rule as his lieutenant, or would he be as the kings of the neighbouring nations and tribes, and use the power with which he was invested according to his own will and pleasure? On this critical question the prophet Samuel had exhorted both Saul and the people when the monarchy was instituted. If the king erred, he could not plead that he had not been forewarned. The accepted principle of modern constitutional government is that the ruler exists and is bound to act for the public good, and not for his own aggrandisement or pleasure. At root this is the very principle which Samuel inculcated 3000 years ago. The Old Testament required a king to reign in the fear of the Lord, and loyally execute his will. The New Testament describes the ruler as a "minister of God for good." Now the Divine will and the public weal are really the same, and the most advanced political principle of modern intelligence is no other than the old doctrine of the Bible. There is no Divine right of kings to rule as they think proper. That doctrine of base political subservience is opposed to both the spirit and the letter of the sacred writings. The king is for God, not God for the king. The king is for the people, not the people for the king. The voice of the people may not always be the voice of God, but the good of the people is always the will of God.
2. The test to which the king was new subjected was, like the former one, specific, and publicly applied. Would he obey the Lord in the extermination of Amalek or no? And he disobeyed. If there was one of all the Amalekite race who deserved to forfeit his life, it was the king, Agag, a ruthless chief, whose sword, as Samuel expressed it, had "made women childless;" yet him Saul spared when he showed no mercy to others. It was not at all from a feeling of humanity or pity. To have scrupled about shedding the blood of a hereditary foe would not have occurred to any Oriental warrior of the period. But Saul would reserve the royal captive to grace his triumph, and be a household slave of the king of Israel. It was the pride of the chiefs and kings of that age to reduce the princes whom they had conquered to slavery in their courts. Adonibezek is said to have kept seventy such captives, whose hands and feet he had mutilated to unfit them for war, and who, as slaves, gathered from his table. Besides Agag, the best of the sheep and cattle belonging to Amalek were spared by Saul and his army. They used their success to enrich themselves, and forgot that the sentence of God against that nation was the only justification of the war.
3. The Divine censure on the disobedient king was pronounced by Samuel. The prophet was deeply grieved. He had loved the young man on whose lofty head he had poured the sacred oil, and whose failure to fulfil the early promise of his reign had already caused him, if not much surprise, distress unfeigned. And Samuel was concerned for the nation. If the new government was so soon discredited, and Saul forfeited his kingly seat, what but anarchy could come upon Israel, and with anarchy, subjection, as before, to the Philistines or some other warlike nation of the heathen? The prophet fulfilled his commission, however painful; gravely reproved the king, brushed aside his excuses and evasions, and refused, not without a touch of scorn, his offered bribe of animals for sacrifice.
4. Samuel took occasion to declare that "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." These words contain the very quintessence of the testimony of the prophets; not Samuel only, but Hoses, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and in fact all the great teachers whom Jehovah sent to his ancient people. Sacrificial oblations could never be accepted in lieu of practical obedience, and a rebellious, wilful temper was as offensive to the Lord as any kind of idolatry. Priests and Levites were appointed for religious ceremonial, but the great function of the prophets was to maintain the supremacy of what is moral over what is ceremonial, and to lift up fearless voices for mercy and truth, judgment and righteousness, integrity and probity, reverence for Jehovah, and obedience to his revealed will. Such was the testimony of the Lord Jesus himself, as the greatest of prophets. He recognised and respected the sacrifices appointed in the law, but did not in his conversations or discourses dwell on them. His aim was to cause men to hear the word of God, and do it. And such is the message or burden of all New Testament prophets, and of those who know how to guide and teach Christians. To be lax and indulgent on questions of moral conduct, while strict about services and offerings to God and the Church, is the part of a false prophet. The true prophet, while witnessing to free forgiveness in the blood of Christ, will enjoin all who seek that forgiveness to cease to do evil and learn to do well, will faithfully declare to them that they cannot be kept in the love of God if they are not obedient to his word.
5. The behaviour of Saul under reproof betrayed a shifty, superficial character. He showed no real sense of sin, or desire of Divine forgiveness. David, during his reign, committed a more heinous offence against domestic and social morality than anything that Saul as yet had done; but he was pardoned and restored because when charged with the sin - "Thou art the man" - he confessed it, and excused not himself. And then he cried to God, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean." But Saul, when charged with disobedience, showed no shame or sorrow on its account. He at once put himself in a defensive attitude, stooped to subterfuge, laid the blame on others, had no feeling but a desire to escape consequences. He would propitiate the Lord and his prophet by sacrifices; but his former religious sensibility was now almost quite gone from him, and he was becoming, like Esau, a "profane person," hard and godless. It is pitiful to see that the king looked no higher than to Samuel, and asked no more than that the prophet would pardon him, and favour him so far as to join with him while he publicly worshipped the Lord. Evidently his object was to have his credit upheld by the venerated presence of Samuel; and, on his repeating the request, the prophet thought fit to yield to his wish, probably to avoid the weakening of the royal influence, and the premature fall of the monarchy.
6. The rejection of Saul took no sudden effect. Gravely and sadly it was pronounced by Samuel; but it brought about no immediate catastrophe. None the less was it a sure and fatal sentence. We know that Saul was not dethroned. He had a long reign, and died on the battle field. But the process was already begun which led him to dark Gilboa, which led one better than him to Hebron and to Jerusalem; and the remainder of this book is occupied in showing how the Divine rejection of Saul took effect, and how the Lord brought forward and trained the son of Jesse for the kingdom. It is a thought full of solemnity, that a man may long keep his place and hold his own in Christian society who yet is rejected by the Lord, and is growing at heart more and more profane, till at last the evil spirit rules him instead of the good, and he dies as one troubled and God forsaken. The process may be long, but it is none the less tragical. May God keep us from the beginnings of declension, and from all excusing of our sins, or laying of the fault upon others I Lord, take not thy Holy Spirit from us! - F.
Parallel VersesKJV: So Samuel turned again after Saul; and Saul worshipped the LORD.