Now, on with the show.
In my last entry, we focused in on the first account of the fall of King Saul, the one where he had the kingdom taken away from him for doing things only the priests could do (you should really at least read the last blog…it’s kind of important).
Today, we will look more closely at the second account of just how Saul managed to lose the kingdom. This account is altogether different than what we just looked at in chapter 13 of 1 Samuel. And, it is substantially more problematic. Perhaps in ancient times, this story was the more popular, easier to swallow account of what happened, but it is far more difficult for our modern ears to accept.
In this account, the prophet Samuel comes to Saul and reminds him that he is the king that God has selected to rule over His people (it is almost as though this story wasn’t aware of the fact that Samuel had already rejected Saul as the chosen one of God…but I digress). As such, it would do Saul well to obey every word that Samuel tells him.
The word he hears from God through Samuel is to utterly destroy the Amalekites. He is divinely instructed to kill every man, woman, child, baby, animal…EVERYTHING! The word “destroy” here carries with it the idea that this plundering of the Amalekites will be an offering unto God, a sacrifice of sorts (apparently Kings are allowed to make these types of offerings).
So, Saul goes and it really couldn’t have gone any better. They beat down the Amalekites, just as God had said they would.
Well, they did have one small issue.
Saul didn’t actually offer up everything to God by killing everyone and everything.
No, he decides to save the innocent women and children in an effort to be the moral leader the ancient world so desperately needed.
Okay. That’s not true.
He actually does kill nearly everyone: women, babies and non-combatants alike. He only lets the king live, and he decided to keep the best of the flocks for his people.
This, of course, is in direct opposition to what God had told Saul to do. And boy is Samuel furious as he approaches the first king of Israel and hears the lowing of the cattle and the bleating of the sheep that were supposed to be dead.
King Saul, of course, tries to explain that he was actually taking the finest of the livestock and the king to be sacrificed more properly to God at Gilgal. Samuel all but calls him a liar, thinking that Saul had intended to keep the bounty for himself. But Saul insists that he is telling the truth. He tries to persuade Samuel that he is in the very act of listening to and obeying the command of God.
Samuel, convinced that he is trying to be duped, silences King Saul (if you are wondering how a prophet could possibly scare Saul, a man known for his battle skills and size, just take a moment and read about who Samuel was…he was a very scary man). He then makes this announcement, as though for the first time: “You have rejected the word of the Lord, so the Lord has rejected you as king.”
And this is the account of the second fall of King Saul.
Okay, so…we’ve got some problems. Well, I have some problems and, honestly, I am hoping you do too!
The God revealed through Jesus told us to love our enemies, to pray for them. The Gospel of Luke tells us of a time when the Samaritans had rejected Jesus. His disciples want to call down fire from heaven to consume them, but Jesus insists that this is not how God operates. Jesus, while ont he cross, cries out to the Father to forgive them. When Jesus’s teachings and actions are compared to 1 Samuel 15 and the commands found there, we see polar opposites.
The primary struggle I have, however, isn’t the commands of God to murder and plunder. I have my own theories about this, but that will need to be approached at a different time.
No, my issue is what happens just after Saul is told that he is done being king.
Upon the news, Saul immediately repents of what he had done, stating that he feared the men (he does this on occasion) and what they might do if he told them that the must offer up everything. He begs to be forgiven of his wrong, pleading that Samuel would go with him to Gilgal so that he might be able to continue to worship God. Samuel will not have it. God will not either.
This, of course, goes hand in hand with the last point I want to make. Saul, though repentant, is not forgiven. And keep in mind that forgiveness of sin during his time was not a simple matter of believing that God would not hold his sins against him on the day of judgement. As far as we can tell, Saul had no concept of a day of judgement. For him, to be forgiven is to be allowed to carry on as king of Israel, that his family would take his place at his passing.
This, as we know, didn’t happen.
Since when did God not forgive the repentant? It is tempting at this point to proclaim, due perhaps to some sort of secret knowledge, that Saul didn’t actually repent. That Saul was just pretending to repent, trying to hold on to power.
Firstly, we haven’t yet reached the portion of Saul’s life where he had become consumed with the hunger for power and control. The story of the second fall of King Saul appears to occur early on in his reign as it makes no mention that he had even reigned very long at all. Where as chapter 13 made note of how long Saul and ruled, this story begins with Samuel reminding him that he had been called by God to be king, as if this was still a new concept for Saul.
Had he really become consumed with power so quickly?
Regardless, to state with certainty that Saul feigned repentance is to add to what we are told. It is fine to suspect that this may be the case, but that suspicion must be held humbly, recognizing that this is nowhere in the story. It is simply something we add so help this already difficult story less unpleasant.
So, what are we left with?
Are we to walk away from this story believing that the God who loved the world so much that He gave His only Son is also responsible for the command to kill babies? Or, is our takeaway that there may well be times when we will repent and remain unforgiven? You might not like how I just said that, but I am certain that we agree the answer is “no.”
One of the things I take away from this story is this: people have always understood God on their terms, at their level. For them, God commanding that they kill and annihilate was just something God did. More than likely a command such as this didn’t raise too many moral questions for them.
Even when it did raise the occasional questions regarding the morality of killing and war, they could always remember the story of Abraham as he pleaded with God to not kill the innocent with the guilty. The moral of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is that when God wipes out a group of people, you can rest assured that they were all guilty. And if He tells them to utterly destroy the Amalakites, right down to the babies, it is safe to assume that God wouldn’t command them to kill the innocent.
You might be hoping that I have some positive insight for you, an application that is sure to redeem this story. But I do not. For now, I am okay with that.
I do have one other struggle with this story from our sacred text, but I will save it for next time.