Samuel has a message for Saul. He is tasked with wiping out Amalek, Israel’s enemy from the desert. “Now, go, and you shall smite Amalek, and you shall utterly destroy all that is his, and you shall not have pity on him: and you shall slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass (Samuel I 15:3).” This harsh pronouncement leaves little room for confusion. Amalek has not been forgotten, and now that the Israelites are settled and strong, their enemy is to be fully destroyed, with no possibility of resurrection. Saul listens to these instructions, and gathers his men to fight Amalek.
“And he seized Agag, the king of Amalek, alive; and he completely destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword (Samuel I 15:8).” Saul doesn’t fully listen to the command from God. He’s supposed to show no mercy whatsoever, with even nursing babies being subject to destruction. Saul isn’t even saving a baby – he has pity on Agag, the king of Amalek himself. This clearly won’t end well. He saves Agag, and the livestock of the Amalekites, including their sheep and cattle. We are told that Saul had pity, demonstrating his soft heart. While I sympathize, in his compassion, he has ignored a direct command from God, and that’s never a good idea.
“‘I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me, and he has not fulfilled My words.’ And it distressed Samuel, and he cried out to the Lord all night (Samuel I 15:11).” God is very mad, to the point of expressing regret at His own actions. This isn’t Saul’s first mistake, and I’m wondering why he hasn’t learned by now that he has to follow all instructions to the letter, rather than making his own accommodations. Samuel confronts him, and Saul owns up to his actions, explaining his thought process. Although Saul asks for forgiveness, this time it isn’t coming. “And Samuel said to Saul, ‘I shall not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being a king over Israel (Samuel I 15:26).” In Saul, Israel has a failure for a first king. He has lost the crown because of his actions, and Samuel has to take over in some ways. He kills Agag, but even fixing Saul’s mistake can’t mend their relationship. Samuel and Saul don’t see each other again, and both Samuel and God Himself regret giving Saul the crown.