Saul’s next test as king comes when the Israelites and Philistines square off for battle, and it’s scarily obvious that Israel is underarmed and outnumbered. Saul’s soldiers start defecting and disappearing.
Anxious because of his dwindling forces, King Saul breaks God’s law and offers the burnt offering before battle—instead of following Samuel’s instructions and waiting for him, a priest, to do it. The king has sinned. Gravely. When Samuel arrives, he’s appalled. Because of Saul’s act of disrespect for God, God will remove him as king.
Trusting that God can defeat an entire army with one man, Jonathan and his armor-bearer approach the Philistine camp in broad daylight and boldly kill 20 Philistines. The Lord sends the Philistine army into panic. Israel’s enemies fall apart, and Saul leads Israel to victory.
God then gives Saul his next battle plan: Completely destroy the Amalekites—the tribe who attacked his vulnerable people as they were leaving Egypt, fresh out of slavery. Saul leads the army to victory, but doesn’t kill the Amalekite king or all of the livestock. In his disobedience, Saul has rejected God’s authority. God rejects him as king.
The King’s Heart
The well-armed Philistine army wasn’t a threat to God. The Creator and Sustainer could stop their heartbeats at any moment with just a thought in his mind. Victory over the enemies wasn’t what God was after—he could accomplish that in a millisecond. He wanted a king who knew and trusted his heart.
Saul was scrambling for a leg up on his enemies—even disobeying God to get it. All while the One who determines life looked on. “Rebellion is like the sin of divination,” Samuel told Saul (1 Samuel 15:23). It’s turning toward a power other than God to accomplish something. “Arrogance [is] like the evil of idolatry,” God’s prophet continued. It’s valuing our own strength more than we value God’s. Rebellion and arrogance say, “God, I don’t think you’re loving and that you want to help me,” or “I don’t believe you’re able to help me.” Yet God is both—he is loving and he is able.
“Do you know me? Will you trust me?” God was asking Saul.
“No,” Saul’s rebellious, arrogant actions resounded.
“I regret that I have made Saul king,” God grieved (1 Samuel 15:11).
That Saul killed all the people of Agag (1 Samuel 15:8) must have meant that the Israelites killed all the Amalekites they encountered. Some Amalekites survived (see 1 Samuel 27:8; 30:1). Even though Samuel killed Agag, the vile Haman is an Agagite (see Esther 3:1). Centuries later Haman is still looking for revenge—he attempts to destroy the Jews.