Remember… Lessons from Samuel, Saul, and the Amalekites

It’s been several months since I purchased my MacBook, and I’m still acclimating myself to its features and programs. Well, more truthfully, I’m still acclimating myself to using a calendar, in this case Apple’s iCal software. Ordinarily I defer to my loverly wife to keep track of dates for us, but if I can get into the habit of noting them myself, maybe I won’t be so surprised when events draw nearer.

One of the neat things about iCal is that I can subscribe to any of a variety of calendars available on Apple’s downloads site. I quickly subscribed to the “US Holidays” and “Christian Holidays” calendar, as they are most likely to be of most use to me. However, out of curiosity, I also subscribed to the “Jewish Holidays” calendar.

My first impression was one of amazement. There are tons of named holidays/festivals throughout the year, some of which I’m familiar with… Others I had never heard of.

Yesterday,* for instance, was “Shabbat Zachor,” the Sabbath before Purim — Purim being the annual commemoration of the deliverance of the Jewish people from Haman’s plot to destroy them. If that sounds utterly foreign to you, reread the Book of Esther. ;)

According to HebCal.com, these two portions of Scripture are meant to be read on this particular Sabbath day: Deuteronomy 25:17–19 & 1 Samuel 15:2–34.

First, a selection from the Torah:

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, 18how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. 19Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget. The Book of Deuteronomy 25:17–19

That reading would be followed by the haftarah, which served as a parting blessing. Here it is for Shabbat Zachor:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. 3Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'”

4So Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand men on foot, and ten thousand men of Judah. 5And Saul came to the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley. 6Then Saul said to the Kenites, “Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. 7And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. 8And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. 9But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction.

10The word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11“I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night. 12And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, “Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.” 13And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandments of the Lord.” 14And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” 15Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.” 16Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me this night.” And he said to him, “Speak.”

17And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ 19Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?” 20And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. 21But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” 22And Samuel said,

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
23For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has also rejected you from being king.”

24Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 25Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may worship the Lord.” 26And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” 27As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. 28And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. 29And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” 30Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the Lord your God.” 31So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul bowed before the Lord.

32Then Samuel said, “Bring here to me Agag the king of the Amalekites.” And Agag came to him cheerfully. Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” 33And Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.

34Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. The First Book of Samuel 15:2–34

Shabbat Zachor is the “Sabbath of Remembrance,” as called for in the Deuteronomy passage. Amalek had set himself up as an enemy to God’s people, but God promised deliverance.

In the haftarah we read of Saul’s failed attempt to eradicate the Amalekites, but from his failure we learn the importance of obeying the commandments of God.

You see, Saul did what many people in the church do: He did what seemed right in his own eyes. Spare the best sheep and use them to sacrifice unto God? What could possibly be wrong with that! It didn’t matter that God hadn’t asked for such a sacrifice, nor did it matter that He explicitly called for the annihilation of the Amalekite society.

We find out that Saul’s disobedience would cost him his position, his kingship over the Jews. We also find out from Samuel’s speech that rebelling against God’s commands is no better than witchcraft or divination. Did God say jump? Don’t ask how high, just jump!

Also from Samuel, we learn that “presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.” There’s a lot of presumption in the church nowadays. The Scriptures may say women shouldn’t preach, but it is presumed that certain parts of the Scriptures can be ignored for whatever reasons. The Scriptures may say that all of those who do not believe in Jesus Christ are condemned already, but it is presumed by many that in the end, everyone will be saved. The Scriptures may say that homosexuality is a sin, but it is presumed that the word of God couldn’t possibly adequately speak to today’s culture.

Idolatry! When you presume things like that, you are setting your own thoughts, reasons, and ideals up as your final authority, superseding the Word of God. God doesn’t desire what you think is good; He wants what He has commanded, period.

Then there’s poor King Agag who, after having suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Saul and the Jews, was captured and brought before Samuel. I can’t help but picture Agag swaggering into the room and, in effect, saying “Hey, man, how ’bout we let bygones be bygones.”

Samuel would have none of that, and within moments, Agag had been “hacked … to pieces.” Given Samuel’s curse upon Agag, I can’t help but imagine what the prophet would today in the age of abortion: “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.”

Whether you keep the Sabbath or not, let us remember the legacy of Amalek and the Amalekites, that it is futile to withstand God’s people. May we remember Saul, and the importance of simple obedience. And may we remember Samuel, and may his leadership cause us to lament the limp-wrist leadership infecting evangelicalism today.

Just how hardcore was Samuel? Even after he died, he was able to come back as a spirit to preach to Saul (1 Samuel 28). Handy with the sword and able to transgress the barrier between death and life? I can’t help but wonder if Samuel may have served as inspiration for a certain pop culture sage…

Samuel-Wan Kenobi?
Samuel-Wan Kenobi?

* Technically, it wasn’t a “Saturday” thing; the Jews’ days begin at six on the previous evening, so Shabbat Zachor was from 6pm on March 5 to 6pm on March 6.

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