March 31 Reading: I Samuel 15-17 Commentary
“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 heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.” (I Sam. 15:22-23)
“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'” (I Sam. 16:7)
“You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” (I Sam. 17:45)
I Samuel 15 – Saul Spares a King
God had a task for King Saul. Through the prophet Samuel, God told Saul:
“I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (vv. 2-3)
That’s a pretty straight forward command. It may seem harsh but God needed to bring judgment on Amalek for all the sins they had committed against Israel in the past. How could Saul possibly mess this up?
Saul went and attacked Amalek like the Lord commanded (vv. 4-8). By all accounts it was a complete victory. He took Agag, king of the Amalekites alive and destroyed all the people (v. 8).
But then Saul decided to do something on his own. “Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.” (v. 9)
This wasn’t what God told him to do. The command was to spare no one and no thing. But Saul decided his way was better than God’s way. And in the end, the consequences for him were devastating.
What a discouragement it must have been for Samuel to receive this news from the Lord:
“I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments” (v. 11).
It grieved Samuel so much that “he cried out to the Lord all night” (v. 11), perhaps in an attempt to have the Lord change his mind. In this case, that did not happen.
When they meet up after the battle with Amalek, Saul is overjoyed to see Samuel (v. 13). He reports to Samuel that he has done all the Lord commanded. To which Samuel replies, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” (v. 14).
Saul doesn’t understand or he doesn’t see the issue. He told Samuel that the people kept the best of the sheep and oxen to sacrifice to the Lord (v. 15).
Samuel is having none of his reasoning. He reiterated to Saul what God had told him to do – to “utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed” (v. 18). In this case, there was no room for leniency. And God never told Saul to take any of the spoils or spare the king.
Saul still doesn’t see it. He thinks he has obeyed the voice of the Lord (v. 20). He blamed the people for taking all the plunder from the battle (v. 21). And he still felt as though his intentions were pure in wanting to make sacrifices to the Lord.
The Consequences of Disobedience
Normally, God would approve of sacrifices offered in his name. Much of the Mosaic Law focused on such. But in this instance, sacrifices were not appropriate. As the saying today goes, the ends do not justify the means.
Samuel points this out to Saul in verse 22:
“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 heed than the fat of rams.”
And because he chose to not obey, Samuel offered Saul this bad news:
“Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.” (v. 23)
To his credit, Saul confessed his sin and to bending to the people’s will. He asked Samuel to return with him so that they could worship the Lord together, but Samuel initially refused (v. 26). When Samuel went to leave, Saul grabbed the edge of his robe and it tore (signifying God tearing the kingdom away from Saul) (v. 27).
Saul appeared more contrite in verse 30 when he confessed his sin again. This time, Samuel agreed to return with Saul so that he could worship the Lord. And Samuel finished the work that Saul did not complete by killing King Agag (vv. 32-33).
Samuel and Saul departed and went to their respective homes. This was the last time they met while Samuel was alive (v. 35).
I Samuel 16 – God Selects a New King
Samuel mourned for Saul for some time. God finally had to snap Samuel out of it saying, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel?” (v. 1). He told Samuel to take some oil in a horn and go to a man named Jesse in Bethlehem. Samuel is told one of Jesse’s sons is the new king.
Upon arrival in Bethlehem, Samuel told the elders he came peaceably to offer sacrifices. He invited Jesse and his sons to the sacrifice and consecrated them (v. 5).
As the sons came into attendance at the sacrifice, Samuel noticed Eliab, Jesse’s firstborn. His appearance and stature must have impressed Samuel. “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!” Samuel said (v. 6).
But it was not him. God reminded Samuel that there is more to a person than outward appearance. God said: “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (v. 7).
God continued to say “It’s not him” as each successive son was brought before Samuel. Finally, after all seven sons were rejected, Samuel asked if that was it? He is told that there is one more, the youngest, who was out tending sheep (v. 11).
Samuel ordered them to bring the youngest son David to him. When he came the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!” (v. 12). So Samuel anointed him in the presence of his brothers. And God’s spirit came upon him from that day forward (v. 13).
Saul is Tormented
God was no longer with King Saul. He’d removed his favor from the king because of Saul’s disobedience. Because of this, Saul was troubled from time to time with “a distressing spirit” (v. 14).
Whether Saul was possessed, under demonic attack or just emotionally discontent we do not know. Whichever it was, must have radically changed Saul’s demeanor because his servants could notice it right away (v. 15). So they sought a man who could play music on the harp to soothe Saul’s spirit (vv. 16-17).
Who would they find but David. We don’t know how Saul’s servants knew that David could play the harp. He must have been good enough that his name was known by people in the region.
So David is brought into Saul’s court to play. “…so it was, whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him” (v. 23). Saul came to love David and he also became Saul’s armor bearer (v. 21).
I Samuel 17 – Goliath Challenges Israel
One of the most well-known of all Bible stories takes place in I Samuel 17. It’s the telling of David’s encounter with the Philistine giant Goliath. It not only is a testament to personal courage and faith in God but it launched David into the national spotlight.
Goliath is described as the Philistine champion (v. 4). His height was “six cubits and a span”, which in today’s measurements, puts him about nine feet, nine inches tall. He also:
“…had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze [125 pounds]. And he had bronze armor on his legs and a bronze javelin between his shoulders. Now the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his iron spearhead weighed six hundred shekels [17 pounds]” (vv. 5-7).
Needless to say, Goliath was an imposing and scary figure.
In the Valley of Elah where the opposing armies camped (v. 2), Goliath made routine challenges to the army of Israel. He taunted them to provide a man who could beat him in individual combat saying, “I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together” (v. 10). All were afraid [even Saul and his commanding officer Abner] to face him (v. 11), knowing that defeat meant becoming servants to the Philistines (v. 9).
This taunting by Goliath went on for 40 days, twice a day, morning and evening (v. 16)
David Hears About Goliath
Three of David’s older brothers were part of Saul’s army. David would go back and forth from Saul to home to tend his father’s sheep. On one of those occasions when David was at home, Jesse sent him with food and supplies for his brothers and asked David to bring back news of how the battle was going.
It just so happened that when David arrived and dropped off his supplies, Goliath came out to make another challenge (v. 23). David and all the men heard the giant mock Israel again. And David saw all the men who “fled from him [Goliath] and were dreadfully afraid” (v. 24), even though Saul had promised great rewards to the man who defeated Goliath (v. 25).
Young David however, had another mindset: “Then David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, ‘What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?'” (v. 26). David simply could not believe what he is hearing, how Goliath is mocking Israel’s army and Israel’s God.
Not everyone sees it this way. David’s brother Eliab accuses him of ulterior motives saying, “I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle” (v. 28). It’s the same word picture used here that described the jealousy and hatred of Joseph’s brothers against him (see Gen. 37).
David is insistent that his motives are pure. Furthermore, “Is there not a cause?” he said (v. 29). It’s a direct call to all who heard him to step up to Goliath’s challenge.
David Preps for Battle
David’s bold statement reached the ears of King Saul (v. 31). When David approached the king, he said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (v. 32). Saul didn’t think this was a wise decision considering David’s youth (v. 33). He’s clearly no match for the stronger and more experienced soldier.
However, David pointed out that he’d faced danger before, having killed a bear and a lion while tending to his father’s sheep (vv. 34-35). David saw Goliath no differently. But more than that, David knew God was with him, telling Saul: “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (v. 37).
Saul gave David his blessing. Additionally, he tried to outfit David with some armor. However, it was too bulky and clumsy for the shepherd boy so he discarded them (vv. 38-39).
All he took to face Goliath was his staff, his sling and five smooth stones he pulled from a nearby stream (v. 40).
David Faces Goliath
Goliath is unimpressed as he drew near to David for their one on one confrontation. In fact, it’s worse than being unimpressed. He’s indignant that Israel would send someone so unworthy to challenge him. He says, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” (v. 43).
But it goes beyond insults. Goliath cursed David by his gods. In doing so, he’s insulting the God of Israel (v. 43).
David is not deterred by Goliath’s words. He responded by saying,
“You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you…Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.” (vv. 45-47)
As they face one another, Goliath did not anticipate David’s method of attack. David ran toward him (v. 49) and at some point took a stone he had gathered from the stream, put it in his sling, and slung it at Goliath. The stone was hurled so hard and fast that it struck Goliath and “sank into his forehead” (v. 50).
With that impact, Goliath fell on his face. And to make sure he was dead, David took Goliath’s sword, stood over him and cut off his neck (v. 51).
When the Philistines saw their dead champion, they panicked and fled in fear. Israel’s armies pursued, killing many of them and plundering their tents (vv. 51-54). And everyone marveled at what David had done and wanted to know who was his father (v. 55-58) (presumably so that he could receive the reward Saul offered – see v. 25).
Questions to Consider:
“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – I Samuel 16:7
How do you judge a person? Is it by their looks? It’s easy to do that in our culture today. God’s not concerned about that. His focus is on our heart attitude. That’s what he saw in David, a man who would be passionate for the things of God. Are you that person?
Are you willing to stand up against those who mock your God?
What other points would you want to know about in our I Samuel 15-17 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.