Just as Samuel mourned for Saul but withdrew from him, so too does God use hard measures to soften hard hearts and produce real repentance.
“And Samuel went no more to see Saul until the day of his death. Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul, and the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel” (v. 35). - 1 Samuel 15:30-35
Following a service of worship that probably was intended to thank and praise God for Israel’s victory over Amalek, Samuel orders that the Amalekite king, Agag, be brought before him. We never are told precisely why Saul spared the life of this ruler; some commentators, including Matthew Henry, speculate that he may have hoped to secure a ransom for Agag. Although Saul was sent to wipe out the Amalekites, some escaped, for they appear again later in Israel’s history (1 Sam. 27:8; 30:1; 2 Sam. 8:12) and are not finally wiped out until Hezekiah’s reign (1 Chron. 4:43). Thus, it is not outside the realm of possibility that these people might seek to redeem their king. Perhaps even Agag is holding out hope for such an outcome, for he comes to Samuel “cautiously,” saying to himself, “ ‘surely the bitterness of death is past.’ ” He seems to think the worst is behind him.
However, Agag is seriously mistaken. When he comes before Samuel, the prophet addresses him in judgment, in effect pronouncing sentence upon him: “ ‘As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.’ ” He then hacks him to pieces “before the Lord,” that is, in accordance with God’s wishes and for His glory. Thus, Agag pays the price both for the ancient sins of his people and for his own crimes in war and elsewhere.
But then Samuel, in effect, pronounces an even worse sentence on Saul—he leaves him. He simply goes back to his home in Ramah, while Saul goes to his hometown of Gibeah. And, we are told, “Samuel went no more to see Saul.” Their paths will cross; for instance, it is said in 1 Samuel 19:24 that Saul prophesies in Samuel’s presence. But Samuel never again will go to Saul with a word from the Lord. God has withdrawn from Saul, so there is no reason for Samuel to remain with him. Saul, therefore, is bereft of God’s counsel. Still, Samuel is filled with sadness that it has come to this, that the king of Israel, God’s regent, has rebelled against his master. He mourns that Saul’s heart is so far from God. And God, too, is grieved by Saul’s sin. But He remains committed to the concept of monarchy in Israel, as He always has been, and will now place on the throne a man such as He desires—a man who will be faithful to His covenant and who will foreshadow the perfectly faithful King who someday will come.
Samuel mourned for Saul but withdrew from him. Jesus lamented for Jerusalem but left it (Matt. 23:37–39). Likewise, there may be times when, as a last resort, it is best to disassociate from people over whose hardness of heart we weep. God can use such a hard measure to soften a hard heart and produce real repentance.
Passages for Further Study
- Matthew 18:15–17
- Romans 16:17
- 1 Corinthians 5:9
- Thessalonians 3:6, 14