Return to Gilgal
(Concerning 1 Samuel 15)

It seems to me that many chapters in First Samuel were written in pairs or triads. Generally the first and third of a triad are reflections of each other. The middle of the three usually presents a contrasting theme. We have come to the third chapter of such a triad. Notice how this chapter of First Samuel parallels chapter thirteen and brings us a sense of “deja vu.”

“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 .” (I Samuel 15:1)

Samuel was leaving no possibility that Saul would misunderstand. He was almost saying, “Hey, Saul, read my lips!” It is probable that when Saul thought of how he became king, he focused on the demands of the people for a King, rather than on God’s sovereign choice to make him the anointed of the Lord. David’s heart never failed to remember that Saul was the anointed of the Lord, but tragically, Saul’s heart sometimes forgot. Samuel was encouraging Saul to remember that God chose him.

“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.’ ” (I Samuel 15:3)

Many kinds of miracles are common to both the Old and New Testaments, but the forceful driving out of demons is unique to Christ and His Church. In the Old Testament, the only way of forcefully separating a demonized man from his tormentor was to separate his body from his spirit by killing him. Interesting isn’t it that the same age that saw the Church authorized to cast out demons, also saw them thenceforth forbidden to take up the sword lest they “die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)

The whole of Israelite experience and history was for the purpose of providing a place, a context, and a framework for the coming of Christ. Part of what was necessary to providing a “landing strip” for the Messiah was the preparation of the land we call Israel. God told Abraham that his seed would be given Canaan after the sins of its then present population had “reached full measure.” (Genesis 15:16 ).

This seems to mean that Canaan would come to a critical mass in the spirit realm where the peoples who lived there became so saturated with demons that they were incorrigible. Even their children and animals were overwhelmingly given over to evil spirits. As I said, in the era before the cross, the only way to “drive out” evil spirits was with the sword. (This becomes very important later.) This was the situation when God told his people to “totally destroy” a nation. Also, the Amalekites had been guilty of an outright attack on Israel.

“So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim-two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand men from Judah. Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine. Then he said to the Kenites, “Go away, leave the Amalekites so that I do not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites moved away from the Amalekites. Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs-everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.”                    (I Samuel 15:9)

The Hebrew word for “totally destroy” means irrevocably giving as a sacrifice a particular thing to Jehovah. It is, in the truest sense, a priestly act. All the men of Israel were not just eligible to enter in to this act of worship, but were actually commanded to participate in it. However, Saul and his men declined to perform this act of sacrifice, though they had clearly been commanded to carry it out. In chapter thirteen Saul offered a sacrifice he was supposed to leave alone. His motive was to control the people. Here he refused to offer a sacrifice, but his motive was the same – he wanted to win the favor of the people.

And notice the “outward appearance” theme to what Saul did. The motive for saving the notorious Agag, King of Amelek, was Saul’s desire to show him off like a trophy buck to the Israelite crowds. Triumphant monarchs treating defeated kings in this manner has been common practice throughout the ages. “The best of the sheep and cattle” were not  saved to be sacrificed to the Lord. Saul had allowed the men, who were by and large professional stockmen, to take them as booty, which he doubtless believed would build him up in the eyes of his men. In other words, Saul was making his “sacrifice” to the “god” he really adored, the approval of his men. [Faithless manipulations for and with livestock abound in the history of Israel previous to Saul, making it a generational issue to be overcome by their first king: Jacob and Laban in Genesis 30; Jacob and Esau in Genesis 32; Simeon, Levi and the men of Shechem in Genesis 34; Moses and the Israelites in both Exodus 16 and 17;]

“Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.” (I Samuel 15:11)

Whatever grieves God always grieves his true friends, the prophets. Also, Samuel knew with certainty that this turn of events spelled disaster for Israel.

“Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.” (I Samuel 15:12)

Saul’s construction of an altar in chapter fourteen appears on the surface to be an act of true worship. Really, it was an altar to commemorate what a “good job” he had done leading the troops into victory and then keeping them straight with the Law of Moses. But, sin has a way of becoming less subtle with time. Setting up a regular monument to himself was flaming, flagrant PRIDE! He did not know that his return to Gilgal would bring him to the place where the uncircumcision of his heart would become glaringly evident.

“When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord ‘s instructions”. But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” (I Samuel 15:14)

If Saul had “carried out the Lord’s instructions,” then why was he having to yell (my inference) to make himself heard? Sometimes “the more words, the less meaning”! He was obviously self conscious of his disobedience, but instead of running toward the truth, he was trying to make a preemptive strike against the truth.

“Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.” (I Samuel 15:15)

“The soldiers…they…” said Saul. “The woman You gave me,” said Adam to God when God asked why he disobeyed. Saul was at once saying that it was those guys who committed this sin, but really it was not a sin because of their supposed intentions. “Yes, uh, and ‘we totally destroyed the rest.'” But you can’t “totally destroy” part of something. Also, …” the Lord your God ….” Tragically, Saul’s heart did not know that he belonged to God and God belonged to Him.

“Stop!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” [ I believe there may have been a pause of several seconds between the above statement, and Saul’s reply below.] “Tell me,” Saul replied.” (I Samuel 15:16)

[“Tell me”, may have been spoken in a hushed voice. “Let’s lower our voices a little bit here, Sam ol’ boy! Everybody doesn’t have to hear this …”]

I believe a major priority for the Spirit of God in writing the Book of Samuel is giving insight into the ways of God with regard to what is required to hear from God. Watch for the “why” of various persons “inquiring of God” in this book, and how and when God does or does not answer them. Students of the prophetic, listen up: You can make some real progress by listening attentively to what God says about the prophetic in this book. Saul’s heart did not want to know what God was saying for fear he would have to give up lordship of his life. The David heart wanted to hear every heart beat of God, and price was no object. Here, as Saul was being cornered by the truth of who he was, Samuel was in effect asking him, “Do you want to hear what God has to say?” Yes, I’m pretty sure there was a little pause before Saul replied.

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 ?” “But I did obey the Lord ,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.” (I Samuel 15:17-19)

Saul was still hoping against hope that he could pull off the salvation of his flesh. He was trying desperately to “save his life,” and, as Jesus said, he would therefore surely “lose his life.”

“But” Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord ? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord , he has rejected you as king.” (I Samuel 15:23)

Thus the ax fell. The sentence was officially pronounced. The public humiliation Saul feared had come upon him. It was at this point too late to humble himself voluntarily – someone else had done it for him! Samuel had said, “Whether you admit you were wrong or not, you were wrong and here are the full consequences of what you’ve done”. Repentance before this point would have ameliorated Saul’s sentence, but now it was too late. As Bob Dylan said, “When you aint got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose!” Saul had nothing left to lose, so when he began to mouth the words of repentance in the following verses he was merely doing selfish damage control. He was now pretending to repent for the same reason he had refused to admit he was wrong earlier: self preservation.

“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.” (I Samuel 15:24)

Full disclosure about his sin came rushing out in a torrent: “I did what I did because of the fear of man!” But he could not seem to muster the strength to see or admit that his overriding concern even at this point was damage control, which was why he said:

“Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord .” (I Samuel 15:25)

He was saying, basically: “Well, I said I was sorry, so come back and re-endorse me before the people by doing the sacrifice with me so everybody will see that I’m ‘in good with God’ again. My men heard you say God has rejected me and that might make them REJECT me. I fear men more than God to such an extent that I am willing to admit that I fear men more than God! I’m willing to admit you’ve caught me red-handed, but I’m not willing to embrace the consequences of my sin.” He quailed at the thought of men’s rejection, but he didn’t even notice that Samuel had said that God had rejected him. This made it clear once again who his “god” really was: the people’s approval.

“But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the Lord , and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!” As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore.” (I Samuel 15:27)

I believe “push” had quite literally come to “shove” and “king size” Saul gave Samuel a really hard backward jerk, though as subtly as possible, for the people were watching. I believe he was saying with this action, “Samuel, get your wormy little carcass back over here with me before I break your scrawny neck! Play along with me or else!”

“Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors-to one better than you. He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.”
(I Samuel 15:29)

The fact that Saul’s arrogance increased while he was being charged by God with arrogance sealed his fate. As Saul was tearing the robe of Samuel, God was tearing the Kingdom from his hand. God was doing it, but He was doing it by Saul’s own hand. Saul’s sin had its own penalty built in. He who tore the hem of the prophet’s robe was “among the prophets.” His own robe would later have its hem cut clean off by David, symbolically signifying the final separation of Saul from his kingdom.

Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.” (I Samuel 15:30)

Saul again made it clear where his heart was and who his “god” was. But beyond his words, I think that the tone of this interchange was “come back or die right here.” Otherwise Samuel would not have complied with his request.

“So Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshipped the Lord.” (I Samuel 15:31)

The word for “Lord” here is generic. It can mean any god, not just Yahweh.

“Then Samuel said, “Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites.” Agag came to him confidently, thinking, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” (I Samuel 15:32)

Samuel was saying to Saul, “You’ve made me come back and do a ritual, and now I’m going to make the sacrifice you were supposed to make.”

“But Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel put Agag to death before the Lord at Gilgal. Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel.
(I Samuel 15:35)

It is important to know that when Saul and his men were slaying the Amelekites and their livestock, homeless demons were flying around everywhere looking for lodging. As long as Saul and his men were in obedience to the Creator of all spirits, they were immune to demonization. But Saul had at this point totally refused to obey God from his heart. He had also insisted that Samuel make a sacrifice. As far as Samuel was concerned, he was “sacrificing” Agag to the Yahweh; as far as Saul was concerned, Agag was being sacrificed to the spirit of the fear of men. When Agag’s demons left his corpse, you may be sure where they went: straight into Saul.

I already mentioned that Saul brought Agag home in order to show him off to the people. This is a very good picture of something the New Testament warns us against: rejoicing that the demons are subject to us. (Luke 10:20) If you want to make Satan laugh while you pick up a spirit of the fear of man, exult openly in the fact that you “eat demons for breakfast and walk on Ol’ Scratch like he’s dirt!”

Once I was in a very lively worship service in which we were singing “He’s under my feet, he’s under my feet, Satan is under my feet!” I turned to a fellow pastor who was enthusiastically singing this lyric over and over and said to him, “Boy, I’m rejoicing tonight that the demons are subject to me, aren’t you?” “I sure am!” was his reply. A few minutes later he realized what he’d said and he looked at me like I’d hit him with a baseball bat! It’s enough that the scripture tells us not to rejoice that the demons are subject to us but I believe we are also hearing the Spirit of God say this is a very important teaching in the present hour. We can’t afford to pick up any demonic attachments at this late stage in the game, least of all a religious spirit.

Saul utterly failed his test. His opportunity to destroy Amelek was over. His positional anointing remained till his death, but the full legitimacy of his administration was past. Amelek means “toil.” It was foreknown in God that Israel’s first king would have to take on the task of settling accounts with the nation of Amelek. A detour to review the history that led to “war against Amelek from generation to generation” will be fruitful here .

When Israel saw God’s triumph over Pharaoh at the Red Sea, she was jubilant and full of hope. Three days into their trip across the desert they were without water and having second thoughts about the wisdom of following Jehovah. (Exodus 15) They began the “toil” of grumbling at God’s seeming lack of provision. Then Moses was empowered by God to purify the bitter waters of Marah, and Israel’s thirst was slaked. For these Israelites, (in whom was much guile), this was a heart-hardening blessing.

Soon they were also hungry, and though they had plenty of livestock, the thought occurred to them that they might try grumbling again and keep their livestock for breeding stock in the promised land, (a cowboy’s inference) (Exodus 16). They were ready to take advantage of God’s anointing in order to preserve their herds, just as Saul’s men wanted to use their God given success against Amelek to augment their herds. Sure enough, grumbling got them manna and quail, and a stronger conviction that Jehovah is a God who can be manipulated for one’s own benefit.

In Exodus 17, they were again thirsty, so of course they grumbled even more bitterly. Though water was indeed forthcoming they had committed suicide of the heart. David later explained (in Psalm 95) that when they grumbled the third time at “Massah Meribah,” (the Exodus 17 event), they had done an irreversible thing. “…they shall never enter my rest…” (Psalm 95:11). They were hardened into believing they could operate God. This is ultimate “toil,” for the spirit-covenant was never for the man who works (toils), but for the man who trusts God. (Romans 4:5)

It is immediately following Massah Meribah, where they had totally ruined themselves by toiling, that the Amelekites attacked them. Doubtless the Amelekites were a natural nation of men, but they profoundly signify man’s stubborn tendency to be self reliant, when God is calling us to become as trusting and dependent on God as little children. Thus, being attacked by Amelek was being attacked by “toil.” It was the first fruit of trying to control God. Israel’s first king had to do war with Amelek, and though he won a military victory, he was profoundly defeated.

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