1 Samuel 15: The repenting LORD

The genealogy at the end of chapter 14 ushers in the defining identity of Saul as the rebellious first king of Israel, and that the second king of Israel shall redeem the nation unto the LORD – just as we have sinned through the first Adam and have become righteous through the second Adam.  The election of David over Saul is exactly that of the Father’s will, for it is His will to elect Jacob over Esau, as it is ultimately portraying the greater significance that Christ has always been the only true Mediator between man and God.  Adam, Saul and Esau – none of them ever bore their titles truly as privileged firstborn – for they are replaced by the spiritual firstborn children of the LORD represented by the true firstborn Jesus Christ.  And so, “The LORD sent [Samuel] to anoint [Saul] king over the people Israel” (v.1), just as Adam was given the LORD’s breath of life but was a mere shadow of the One who was filled with the Spirit without measure.  The true anointing will be on David, the far better type of Christ than Saul whose anointing was filled with omens that he would lead the Israelites astray.

And like the first man of Eden, so Saul decided to choose what is good and evil in his own eyes – a consequence of our first ancestor eating from that forbidden fruit of the tree.  Did God’s words fall on deaf ears (v.3)?  Why are the Kenites, the apparent allies of Amalek, given reprieve?  Though they looked upon Israel with favour, is their allegiance to the Amalekites entirely overlooked?  Is it for Saul to decide what is worthless and despised by sight but fail to see that the best of the sheep, oxen, calves and lambs, under the headship of Agag, are all spiritually adulterous and unclean in the LORD’s spiritual sight?

Like Eve who saw the goodness of consuming the forbidden fruit and shared it with Adam, so also Saul committed the grave sin of walking by sight by not by faith of what these ‘good’ but forbidden things represented.  They belonged to Agag, just as the fruit belonged not to the tree of life but otherwise.  And though the serpent is spared in the garden by the first adam, yet the serpent is destroyed by Christ as typified in Samuel by His work on the cross.  Where the king who aimed to overtop (“Agag”) was returned to his rightful role of mere tool of God, his self-exaltation is immediately humbled by Christ’s exaltation.  There can be no fellowship between light and darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14), and the servants indeed merely emulated what their head had done – to pounce on the spoils like a ravenous wolf (v.19, c.f. chapter 14:32). The people took the spoils (v.21)?  Another adamic retort, only to shamefully concede and reveal that it is Saul who had listened to the people (v.24), just as Adam had listened to Eve.  Does the head of a church ever submit to the church?  That would be a false gospel (Ephesians 5:22-33):  and so the kingdom is torn from Saul, just as the tearing of the curtain of the Holy Place and Holiest of Holies signified the fulfilment of the law, the end of Saul’s kingdom of Pharisaic obedience – and the beginning of David’s, of the typological second Adam’s, kingdom of Christian faith.  It is indeed better to obey, than to sacrifice (v.22); so it is indeed better to look to Sabbath rest (v.34 – Ramah, the peaceful hometown of Samuel), than to pursue one’s identity in the glories of battles and wars (v.52, v.34 – Gibeah, the hills which bury the memories of tension between Israel and the neighbouring nations).

Thus, the reproach of Egypt is rolled off of Israel, symbolised in the punishment given to Agag in Gilgal (v.33, c.f. Joshua 5:9).  Yet, what of the LORD repenting of his decision to appoint Saul?  Samuel is quick to assume that the LORD is not a man – and yet the Spirited writing of this chapter lead us to conclude that we are indeed made in His Son’s image, that He would grieve and repent of adam’s death, though it would grieve Him far more to subject His son to such divine wrath on our behalf.  The humanity of our LORD is emphasised so much in the final verse of chapter 15:   “And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.”  Our LORD is indeed with us – the truth of Immanuel, God with us, is truly expressed here.  The LORD is weeping with Samuel – he has regretted that man was made, echoing the repentance in Genesis 6:6 (the same Hebrew word used: nacham נחם).  And so we should remember to grieve for Adam as the LORD had also; yet, the greater tragedy is not found in the fall of Saul, but in the symbolized fall of mankind.  Though Saul admits of his sins, it was truly the men who had appointed this wretched king – and it pained the LORD to allow them to anoint this false king.  It pained the LORD to see Adam choose himself as king when there is already a walking Mediator between the Father and him (Genesis 3:8).  Yet this regret is more founded upon the emotion of pity; the emotion of sighing – for we know that the LORD had long prophesied the fall of Saul (chapter 8), and thus this regretting has nothing to do with a change of mind.  In spite of this, it does not lessen the weight of sin and the weight of seeing one’s child fall however much one perceives it.  Such is the LORD Who is with us.

1 Samuel 15: The repenting LORD