In 1Samuel 15:1-23, king Saul, the first king of the united kingdom of Israel, received from the LORD an extra-ordinary mission:
• To destroy completely the Amalekites
• Destroy completely all their livestock
Sounds like genocide. But why is the judgment so severe against the Amalekites? Four hundred (400) years earlier, the Amalekites attacked Israel when they came out of Egypt. There was no justification for the attack except violence and greed. The Amalekites intention was to destroy Israel in its weakest state, inflict pain and suffering and take possession of their livestock and other valuables.
Funny thing is, Israel and Amalek are related because Amalek is a descendant of Esau or Edom – who is the brother of Jacob / Israel. Instead of helping, Amalek used its military might and advantage by attacking the ragtag band of Israel in an ambush from its rear column, as Moses led them out of Egypt. (Exo 17:14-16; Deut. 25:17-19)
God does not forget injuries done to His people. God hates it when the strong take advantage of the weak. Especially if the weak were His own chosen people. The military attack of Saul king of Israel was God’s judgment on Amalek – a judgment fitting for its sin. Without true repentance , the passage of time does not erase the sins before the LORD.
Meanwhile, the Kenites were probably related to Jethro – the father in law of Moses. They lived in tents. Saul warned them beforehand to leave the Amalekites; so they separated from the Amalekites and they were spared from destruction. In their case, God did not forgot the kindness they have shown to His people. A good man leaves blessings as an inheritance to his children and his children’s children.
As it turns out, king Saul’s campaign was a success: Israel partially destroyed the Amalekites, while the best livestock were taken as plunders / spoils of war.
The problem is, both were contrary to what God has commanded them to do. In his report, King Saul declared that he completely destroyed the Amalekites, and he completely destroyed all the livestock. The truth, however, seems to be entirely different as the prophet Samuel saw evidence that King Saul disobeyed the LORD.
• Agag, the king of Amalek is still alive (perhaps Saul wanted ransom money for him, or just for the vanity of capturing a powerful king inflates his ego)
• Samuel heard bleating of sheep and lowing of the oxen (the Israel army kept the best of the livestock)
• Other Amalekites were probably spared, especially those who were able to pay ransom money as evidenced later in 1Sam 27:8; 30:1; 2Sam 8:12. In fact, Haman – the evil adviser of king Xerxes in the book of Esther – who almost destroyed the entire Jewish race was a direct descendant of Agag. (Esther 3:1)
Furthermore, king Saul built a monument to commemorate his victory, instead of dedicating the victory to the LORD (Pride / Arrogance). Seeking his honor more than seeking the honor/glory of God. And to add to all of these blatant disregard to God’s command, by not killing king Agag of the Amalekites, king Saul showed Israel that disobeying the LORD is acceptable. His disobedience legitimized the action of the Israel army of keeping the best of the livestock as plunder. (Imitation sin).
The Results of Disobedience
King Saul was rejected by God as king of Israel (his descendants were also rejected later on) and the kingdom was given to David – a man after God’s own heart. Moreso, in a twist of irony, king Saul was later killed by an Amalekite (2Sam 1:8-10) during his last battle.
• Rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. (binary sin; disobedience has a twin sister – pride, etc.)
• Partial obedience is the same as complete disobedience – king Saul obeyed the LORD when it suits him
• You cannot please people and please God at the same time. (people pleasing vs. pleasing the LORD). Something has to give way.
• Repentance is impossible when you point the blame to others, instead of looking at your own heart.
To obey the LORD is better than any sacrifice. To hear and do what God says in His Word is better than any offering. When we offer a sacrifice, we give only things that don’t really matter much to us; when we obey the LORD, we give what matters most to us: our heart. Obedience to the LORD takes a lot of heart, a lot of courage. In a sense, to obey the LORD you must deny yourself (your sinful / rebellious nature), take up your cross daily (bear the burden as the LORD will give you strength) and follow what God asks you to do.
Saul disobeyed the LORD and he was rejected as king of Israel. Leaders have a heavy responsibility to make the people understand that obedience to the LORD is the best way to serve Him. When we obey, we are continuously making ourselves a living sacrifice – holy and pleasing before the LORD.