The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 61: Saul Rejected
Saul had failed to bear the test of faith in the trying situation
at Gilgal, and had brought dishonor upon the service of God;
but his errors were not yet irretrievable, and the Lord would
grant him another opportunity to learn the lesson of unquestioning
faith in His word and obedience to His commands.
When reproved by the prophet at Gilgal, Saul saw no great
sin in the course he had pursued. He felt that he had been
treated unjustly, and endeavored to vindicate his actions and
offered excuses for his error. From that time he had little
intercourse with the prophet. Samuel loved Saul as his own son, while
Saul, bold and ardent in temper, had held the prophet in high
regard; but he resented Samuel's rebuke, and thenceforth avoided
him so far as possible.
But the Lord sent His servant with another message to Saul.
By obedience he might still prove his fidelity to God and his
worthiness to walk before Israel. Samuel came to the king and
delivered the word of the Lord. That the monarch might realize
the importance of heeding the command, Samuel expressly declared
that he spoke by divine direction, by the same authority
that had called Saul to the throne. The prophet said, "Thus saith
the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel,
how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from
Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that
they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman,
infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." The Amalekites
had been the first to make war upon Israel in the wilderness;
and for this sin, together with their defiance of God and their
debasing idolatry, the Lord, through Moses, had pronounced
sentence upon them. By divine direction the history of their cruelty
toward Israel had been recorded, with the command, "Thou [p. 628] shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven;
thou shalt not forget it." Deuteronomy 25:19. For four hundred
years the execution of this sentence had been deferred; but the
Amalekites had not turned from their sins. The Lord knew that
this wicked people would, if it were possible, blot out His people
and His worship from the earth. Now the time had come for the
sentence, so long delayed, to be executed.
The forbearance that God has exercised toward the wicked,
emboldens men in transgression; but their punishment will be
none the less certain and terrible for being long delayed. "The
Lord shall rise up as in Mount Perazim, He shall be wroth as in
the valley of Gibeon, that He may do His work, His strange
work; and bring to pass His act, His strange act." Isaiah 28:21.
To our merciful God the act of punishment is a strange act.
"As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death
of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live."
Ezekiel 33:11. The Lord is "merciful and gracious, long-suffering,
and abundant in goodness and truth, . . . forgiving iniquity
and transgression and sin." Yet He will "by no means clear the
guilty." Exodus 34:6, 7. While He does not delight in vengeance,
He will execute judgment upon the transgressors of His law. He
is forced to do this, to preserve the inhabitants of the earth from
utter depravity and ruin. In order to save some He must cut off
those who have become hardened in sin. "The Lord is slow to
anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked."
Nahum 1:3. By terrible things in righteousness He will vindicate
the authority of His downtrodden law. And the very fact of His
reluctance to execute justice testifies to the enormity of the sins
that call forth His judgments and to the severity of the retribution
awaiting the transgressor.
But while inflicting judgment, God remembered mercy. The
Amalekites were to be destroyed, but the Kenites, who dwelt
among them, were spared. This people, though not wholly free
from idolatry, were worshipers of God and were friendly to
Israel. Of this tribe was the brother-in-law of Moses, Hobab,
who had accompanied the Israelites in their travels through the
wilderness, and by his knowledge of the country had rendered
them valuable assistance.
Since the defeat of the Philistines at Michmash, Saul had
made war against Moab, Ammon, and Edom, and against the [p. 629] Amalekites and the Philistines; and wherever he turned his
arms, he gained fresh victories. On receiving the commission
against the Amalekites, he at once proclaimed war. To his own
authority was added that of the prophet, and at the call to battle
the men of Israel flocked to his standard. The expedition was not
to be entered upon for the purpose of self-aggrandizement; the
Israelites were not to receive either the honor of the conquest or
the spoils of their enemies. They were to engage in the war solely
as an act of obedience to God, for the purpose of executing
His judgment upon the Amalekites. God intended that all nations
should behold the doom of that people that had defied His
sovereignty, and should mark that they were destroyed by the
very people whom they had despised.
"Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest
to Shur, that is over against Egypt. And he took Agag the king
of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with
the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag,
and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings,
and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly
destroy them: but everything that was vile and refuse, that they
This victory over the Amalekites was the most brilliant victory
that Saul had ever gained, and it served to rekindle the pride of
heart that was his greatest peril. The divine edict devoting the
enemies of God to utter destruction was but partially fulfilled.
Ambitious to heighten the honor of his triumphal return by the
presence of a royal captive, Saul ventured to imitate the customs
of the nations around him and spared Agag, the fierce and warlike
king of the Amalekites. The people reserved for themselves
the finest of the flocks, herds, and beasts of burden, excusing their
sin on the ground that the cattle were reserved to be offered as
sacrifices to the Lord. It was their purpose, however, to use these
merely as a substitute, to save their own cattle.
Saul had now been subjected to the final test. His presumptuous
disregard of the will of God, showing his determination to
rule as an independent monarch, proved that he could not be
trusted with royal power as the vicegerent of the Lord. While
Saul and his army were marching home in the flush of victory,
there was deep anguish in the home of Samuel the prophet. He
had received a message from the Lord denouncing the course of [p. 630] the king: "It repenteth Me that I have set up Saul to be king:
for he is turned back from following Me, and hath not performed
My commandments." The prophet was deeply grieved
over the course of the rebellious king, and he wept and prayed all
night for a reversing of the terrible sentence.
God's repentance is not like man's repentance. "The Strength
of Israel will not lie nor repent: for He is not a man, that He
should repent." Man's repentance implies a change of mind.
God's repentance implies a change of circumstances and relations.
Man may change his relation to God by complying with
the conditions upon which he may be brought into the divine
favor, or he may, by his own action, place himself outside the
favoring condition; but the Lord is the same "yesterday, and today,
and forever." Hebrews 13:8. Saul's disobedience changed
his relation to God; but the conditions of acceptance with God
were unaltered—God's requirements were still the same, for with
Him there "is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."
With an aching heart the prophet set forth the next morning
to meet the erring king. Samuel cherished a hope that, upon
reflection, Saul might become conscious of his sin, and by
repentance and humiliation be again restored to the divine favor.
But when the first step is taken in the path of transgression the
way becomes easy. Saul, debased by his disobedience, came to
meet Samuel with a lie upon his lips. He exclaimed, "Blessed
be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of
The sounds that fell on the prophet's ears disproved the statement
of the disobedient king. To the pointed question, "What
meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the
lowing of the oxen which I hear?" Saul made answer, "They
have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared
the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord
thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed." The people had
obeyed Saul's directions; but in order to shield himself, he was
willing to charge upon them the sin of his disobedience.
The message of Saul's rejection brought unspeakable grief to
the heart of Samuel. It had to be delivered before the whole army
of Israel, when they were filled with pride and triumphal rejoicing
over a victory that was accredited to the valor and generalship [p. 631] of their king, for Saul had not associated God with the success of
Israel in this conflict; but when the prophet saw the evidence
of Saul's rebellion, he was stirred with indignation that he, who
had been so highly favored of God, should transgress the
commandment of Heaven and lead Israel into sin. Samuel was not
deceived by the subterfuge of the king. With mingled grief and
indignation he declared, "Stay, and I will tell thee what the Lord
hath said to me this night. . . . When thou wast little in thine
own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel,
and the Lord anointed thee king over Israel?" He repeated the
command of the Lord concerning Amalek, and demanded the
reason of the king's disobedience.
Saul persisted in self-justification: "Yea, I have obeyed the
voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent
me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly
destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep
and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly
destroyed, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal."
In stern and solemn words the prophet swept away the refuge
of lies and pronounced the irrevocable sentence: "Hath 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 hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of
witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because
thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected
thee from being king."
As the king heard this fearful sentence he cried out, "I have
sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord,
and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their
voice." Terrified by the denunciation of the prophet, Saul
acknowledged his guilt, which he had before stubbornly denied;
but he still persisted in casting blame upon the people, declaring
that he had sinned through fear of them.
It was not sorrow for sin, but fear of its penalty, that actuated
the king of Israel as he entreated Samuel, "I pray thee, pardon
my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the Lord."
If Saul had had true repentance, he would have made public
confession of his sin; but it was his chief anxiety to maintain
his authority and retain the allegiance of the people. He desired
the honor of Samuel's presence in order to strengthen his own
influence with the nation. [p. 632]
"I will not return with thee," was the answer of the prophet:
"for thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath
rejected thee from being king over Israel." As Samuel turned to
depart, the king, in an agony of fear, laid hold of his mantle to
hold him back, but it rent in his hands. Upon this, the prophet
declared, "The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee
this day, and hath given it to a neighbor of thine, that is better
Saul was more disturbed by the alienation of Samuel than by
the displeasure of God. He knew that the people had greater
confidence in the prophet than in himself. Should another by
divine command be now anointed king, Saul felt that it would
be impossible to maintain his own authority. He feared an
immediate revolt should Samuel utterly forsake him. Saul entreated
the prophet to honor him before the elders and the people by
publicly uniting with him in a religious service. By divine
direction Samuel yielded to the king's request, that no occasion
might be given for a revolt. But he remained only as a silent
witness of the service.
An act of justice, stern and terrible, was yet to be performed.
Samuel must publicly vindicate the honor of God and rebuke
the course of Saul. He commanded that the king of the Amalekites
be brought before him. Above all who had fallen by the
sword of Israel, Agag was the most guilty and merciless; one who
had hated and sought to destroy the people of God, and whose
influence had been strongest to promote idolatry. He came at
the prophet's command, flattering himself that the danger of
death was past. Samuel declared: "As thy sword hath made
women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women.
And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord." This done,
Samuel returned to his home at Ramah, Saul to his at Gibeah.
Only once thereafter did the prophet and the king ever meet
When called to the throne, Saul had a humble opinion of his
own capabilities, and was willing to be instructed. He was
deficient in knowledge and experience and had serious defects of
character. But the Lord granted him the Holy Spirit as a guide
and helper, and placed him in a position where he could develop
the qualities requisite for a ruler of Israel. Had he remained
humble, seeking constantly to be guided by divine wisdom, he [p. 633] would have been enabled to discharge the duties of his high
position with success and honor. Under the influence of divine
grace every good quality would have been gaining strength,
while evil tendencies would have lost their power. This is the
work which the Lord proposes to do for all who consecrate themselves
to Him. There are many whom He has called to positions
in His work because they have a humble and teachable spirit.
In His providence He places them where they may learn of
Him. He will reveal to them their defects of character, and to
all who seek His aid He will give strength to correct their errors.
But Saul presumed upon his exaltation, and dishonored God
by unbelief and disobedience. Though when first called to the
throne he was humble and self-distrustful, success made him
self-confident. The very first victory of his reign had kindled that
pride of heart which was his greatest danger. The valor and
military skill displayed in the deliverance of Jabesh-gilead had
roused the enthusiasm of the whole nation. The people honored
their king, forgetting that he was but the agent by whom God had
wrought; and though at first Saul ascribed the glory to God, he
afterward took honor to himself. He lost sight of his dependence
upon God, and in heart departed from the Lord. Thus the way
was prepared for his sin of presumption and sacrilege at Gilgal.
The same blind self-confidence led him to reject Samuel's reproof.
Saul acknowledged Samuel to be a prophet sent from God; hence
he should have accepted the reproof, though he could not himself
see that he had sinned. Had he been willing to see and confess
his error, this bitter experience would have proved a safeguard
for the future.
If the Lord had then separated Himself entirely from Saul,
He would not have again spoken to him through His prophet,
entrusting him with a definite work to perform, that he might
correct the errors of the past. When one who professes to be a
child of God becomes careless in doing His will, thereby
influencing others to be irreverent and unmindful of the Lord's
injunctions, it is still possible for his failures to be turned into
victories if he will but accept reproof with true contrition of
soul and return to God in humility and faith. The humiliation
of defeat often proves a blessing by showing us our inability to
do the will of God without His aid.
When Saul turned away from the reproof sent him by God's [p. 634] Holy Spirit, and persisted in his stubborn self-justification, he
rejected the only means by which God could work to save him
from himself. He had willfully separated himself from God. He
could not receive divine help or guidance until he should return
to God by confession of his sin.
At Gilgal, Saul had made an appearance of great conscientiousness,
as he stood before the army of Israel offering up a sacrifice
to God. But his piety was not genuine. A religious service
performed in direct opposition to the command of God only served
to weaken Saul's hands, placing him beyond the help that God
was so willing to grant him.
In his expedition against Amalek, Saul thought he had done
all that was essential of that which the Lord had commanded
him; but the Lord was not pleased with partial obedience, nor
willing to pass over what had been neglected through so plausible
a motive. God has given men no liberty to depart from His
requirements. The Lord had declared to Israel, "Ye shall not do
. . . every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes;" but ye shall
"observe and hear all these words which I command thee."
Deuteronomy 12:8, 28. In deciding upon any course of action we are
not to ask whether we can see that harm will result from it, but
whether it is in keeping with the will of God. "There is a way
which seemeth right unto a man; but the end thereof are the
ways of death." Proverbs 14:12.
"To obey is better than sacrifice." The sacrificial offerings
were in themselves of no value in the sight of God. They were
designed to express on the part of the offerer penitence for sin
and faith in Christ and to pledge future obedience to the law of
God. But without penitence, faith, and an obedient heart, the
offerings were worthless. When, in direct violation of God's
command, Saul proposed to present a sacrifice of that which God had
devoted to destruction, open contempt was shown for the divine
authority. The service would have been an insult to Heaven. Yet
with the sin of Saul and its result before us, how many are
pursuing a similar course. While they refuse to believe and obey
some requirement of the Lord, they persevere in offering up to
God their formal services of religion. There is no response of the
Spirit of God to such service. No matter how zealous men may
be in their observance of religious ceremonies, the Lord cannot
accept them if they persist in willful violation of one of His
commands. [p. 635]
"Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as
iniquity and idolatry." Rebellion originated with Satan, and all
rebellion against God is directly due to satanic influence. Those
who set themselves against the government of God have entered
into an alliance with the archapostate, and he will exercise his
power and cunning to captivate the senses and mislead the understanding.
He will cause everything to appear in a false light.
Like our first parents, those who are under his bewitching spell
see only the great benefits to be received by transgression.
No stronger evidence can be given of Satan's delusive power
than that many who are thus led by him deceive themselves with
the belief that they are in the service of God. When Korah,
Dathan, and Abiram rebelled against the authority of Moses,
they thought they were opposing only a human leader, a man
like themselves; and they came to believe that they were verily
doing God service. But in rejecting God's chosen instrument they
rejected Christ; they insulted the Spirit of God. So, in the days of
Christ, the Jewish scribes and elders, who professed great zeal for
the honor of God, crucified His Son. The same spirit still exists
in the hearts of those who set themselves to follow their own will
in opposition to the will of God.
Saul had had the most ample proof that Samuel was divinely
inspired. His venturing to disregard the command of God
through the prophet was against the dictates of reason and sound
judgment. His fatal presumption must be attributed to satanic
sorcery. Saul had manifested great zeal in suppressing idolatry
and witchcraft; yet in his disobedience to the divine command
he had been actuated by the same spirit of opposition to God and
had been as really inspired by Satan as are those who practice
sorcery; and when reproved, he had added stubbornness to rebellion.
He could have offered no greater insult to the Spirit of
God had he openly united with idolaters.
It is a perilous step to slight the reproofs and warnings of
God's word or of His Spirit. Many, like Saul, yield to temptation
until they become blind to the true character of sin. They
flatter themselves that they have had some good object in view,
and have done no wrong in departing from the Lord's requirements.
Thus they do despite to the Spirit of grace, until its voice
is no longer heard, and they are left to the delusions which they
have chosen. [p. 636]
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In Saul, God had given to Israel a king after their own heart,
as Samuel said when the kingdom was confirmed to Saul at Gilgal,
"Behold the king whom ye have chosen, and whom ye have
desired." 1 Samuel 12:13. Comely in person, of noble stature and
princely bearing, his appearance accorded with their conceptions
of royal dignity; and his personal valor and his ability in the
conduct of armies were the qualities which they regarded as best
calculated to secure respect and honor from other nations. They
felt little solicitude that their king should possess those higher
qualities which alone could fit him to rule which justice and
equity. They did not ask for one who had true nobility of
character, who possessed the love and fear of God. They had not
sought counsel from God as to the qualities a ruler should possess,
in order to preserve their distinctive, holy character as His
chosen people. They were not seeking God's way, but their own
way. Therefore God gave them such a king as they desired—one
whose character was a reflection of their own. Their hearts were
not in submission to God, and their king also was unsubdued by
divine grace. Under the rule of this king they would obtain the
experience necessary in order that they might see their error,
and return to their allegiance to God.
Yet the Lord, having placed on Saul the responsibility of the
kingdom, did not leave him to himself. He caused the Holy
Spirit to rest upon Saul to reveal to him his own weakness and
his need of divine grace; and had Saul relied upon God, God
would have been with him. So long as his will was controlled by
the will of God, so long as he yielded to the discipline of His
Spirit, God could crown his efforts with success. But when Saul
chose to act independently of God, the Lord could no longer be
his guide, and was forced to set him aside. Then He called to the
throne "a man after His own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14)—not one
who was faultless in character, but who, instead of trusting to
himself, would rely upon God, and be guided by His Spirit; who,
when he sinned, would submit to reproof and correction.
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"The Anointing of David"