6 December 2018

1 Samuel 15:10-23

'Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.' (v 22)

Psalm: Psalm 134


Once again, we move forward in the story of Samuel’s long prophetic career, skipping over the heyday of Saul’s kingship when he seemed to be a young man full of promise. Now things are turning sour and Samuel once again has to speak uncomfortable truths in the name of God.

It has to be admitted that I Samuel 15 presents difficulties for the modern reader. It pictures a situation of holy war, in which Saul and the Israelites have been commanded to exterminate both the Amalekite population and the animals that belonged to them. It is Saul’s failure to complete this task that leads to God rejecting him. Christians (quite rightly) might find it hard to accept that a God of love could command such an act of violence and are embarrassed and angry when groups such as Islamic State claim extreme violence as the will of God. But 1 Samuel belongs to a rather different world and this difference should warn us against any fundamentalist use of scripture.

With that word of warning, there are still insights that we can learn from this ancient and uncomfortable story. One is that “I’m doing this for God” can never be an excuse for going against God’s word. This is what Saul is trying to say and it doesn’t work. “To obey is better than sacrifice.” says Samuel. Another is that none of us act simply on our own. Saul, according to Samuel, has forgotten his responsibilities as king; he must act on the people’s behalf.

This chapter prepares the way for the bringing in of a new king, the one who becomes the idealised monarch who points the way for the coming of Jesus as ‘Son of David’.


To Ponder

  • How do you deal with difficult passages in the Bible? How might God be speaking to you through them?
  • What excuses do you find yourself using for not doing what you know is right?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain. Between 2004 and 2017 he served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. Previously his ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.

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