15 Saul Sparing Agag

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“Then said Samuel, Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites. And Agag came unto him delicately. And Agag said, Surely the bitterness of death is past. “And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.” I SAM. xv. 32 , 33.

THE Amalekites are represented in Scripture as a powerful, deceitful, treacherous, and cruel people. They dwelt in the habitable part of Arabia extending from the Red Sea to the Salt or Dead Sea, a district probably three hundred miles in length. They were dreaded alike for their malice and their subtlety. They appeared in battle array against the Israelites, in the early part of that people’s march into the wilderness; and by a most obstinate conflict with them, while they were yet poorly armed and unaccustomed to self-dependence, sought to extinguish them altogether. Having failed in that, they hung round them on their march; and like deadly but wily savages, they slew any who from weakness or weariness fell behind the main body. They never spared where they were able to destroy (Deut. xxv. 17-1 9). Sometimes the Amalekites joined with other nations in invading and destroying Israel (Num. xiv. 43-45). They never seem to have missed an opportunity of infesting the Israelites, and doing them all the harm they could. They had a bitter aversion to the sons of Israel; and while with other nations there was sometimes peace and sometimes war, with Amalek there was a constant life-and-death struggle. Hence it is written, “Because his hand is against the throne of the Lord, the Lord shall have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (for such is the true rendering of the words in Ex. Xvii. 16).

The name Amalek, He who licks up, or He who takes away all, is very expressive of the malignant character of this people, and of the utter destruction they sought to inflict upon the objects of their ferocious hatred. Agag signifies the roof, and was probably the title of all their rulers, as we find an Agag in the title of Balaam (Nurn. XXIV. 7), as well as at the period referred to in our text. It probably imported the crown, the head, and was used as “Pharaoh” by the Egyptians, and “Abimelech” by the Philistines, and as “caesar” or “czar,” “king,” “emperor,” and “sultan” are at the present day. The Amalekites were very powerful in the time of Balaam. He calls them “the head of the nations” (Num. xxiv. 20); although he announces at the same time that their final lot will be “that they will perish for ever.”

The long, bitter, and powerful enmity of Amalek afforded a sufficient reason for the command to Saul to go and extirpate this terrible foe. The power of Israel was now placed in one firm hand; and if it were wielded faithfully, vigorously, and prudently, this old and fearful foe would cease to harass or to destroy. Saul’s want of perfect obedience in carrying out the direction of Samuel, lost his family the kingdom, and himself at last his life; for while he lay sorely wounded, the finishing stroke which dealt death to him was inflicted by a man of Amalek (2 Sam, i. 8, 13).

But it is not as a record of outward broil and battle that the conflicts narrated in the Bible have their chief interest; it is as a mirror of the conflicts in the soul. There are enemies in the kingdom within each man far more terrible than any outward foe; and it is with their destruction, and with spiritual victory, that the Word has really to do in all those narratives which outwardly relate to the military exploits of Israel. The spiritually-minded man says with the Apostle Paul, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood; but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness In high (that is, interior) places” (Eph. VI. 12).

The evils which are the enemies of the soul are as numerous and as varied as the enemies of Israel were, some are more deadly, some are less so. Some are external, some are internal. Some are palpable, and disdain covering; some are subtle and hidden under smooth pretences and pious professions. Some are the results of light-hearted heedlessness; some of inward aversion to everything pure, holy, and true. Some evils are from ignorance, from false teaching, and from the circumstances in which a person has lived and been trained; others are from malice, and in spite of the clearest instructions. Some people grope in the dark because they cannot yet help it; some love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. There are, as the Apostle John says, sins unto death, and there are sins not unto death. All unrighteousness is sin.(1 John. 16, 17).

The differences between crime and crime in the sight of men, are chiefly estimated by the damage they cause; and in this point of view, it is quite right to regard more sternly the plunderer of thousands of pounds than the pilferer who filches sixpence. But the leading difference in the sight of God between sin and sin is the ground from which they flow. The untruthful exaggeration which is uttered to raise a laugh, though always to be avoided, is a very different thing from the falsehood which is intended to take away virtue, or character, or life; and still more from the deep malignant falseness which makes the whole life a lie, however fair or however smooth. This inner malignity which constitutes the essence of evil which is ready, to rush in whenever the soul is weary or weak or lagging, to betray it to despair or goad it to sin, is Amalek.

Amalek is aversion to heaven. It has no misgivings. It says, with Milton’s Satan, “Evil, be thou my good.” It hates truth, because truth leads to good. It will, however, sometimes covers itself with forms of piety and religion, will enter into religious functions and seek the highest places, conforming itself to sanctimoniousness for the greater part of a life; like Gobet, archbishop of Paris, who, though he had passed most of his lifetime in apparent devotion, renounced and caricatured religion at the time of the French Revolution; or like many a vile pope in the middle ages: and yet have underneath neither gratitude, love, nor reverence to the Lord; neither respect nor regard for anything tending to the virtue or the good of mankind. Such is Amalek; it takes away all: and such an Amalek lies hidden in every unregenerate heart. The work of everyone is to beware of it, and have war with it, from stage to stage until it is destroyed.

This hidden evil is so covered over by the courtesies of society and the discipline of social life, that few suspect anything so malignant to be really contained under the fair appearances of youthful and polite life. Like Hazael, when the aged prophet told him what enormities he would commit we are ready to say, “Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this great thing?” (2 Kings viii. 13.) But alas, when the changes of time have taken the gloss from men, and the wear and tear of actual struggle in society have revealed them to themselves, and the circles of family and business existence, what revelations are often made! The warm-hearted, genial, courteous youth frequently becomes the bloated, brutal, sensual man, who would fain absorb in selfish indulgence all upon which he can lay his hands. He has often stopped in his career and made resolutions for the future; he has seemed for a short period to be reclaimed, and there has been joy with all who loved him; but he has become weary and lagged behind; old yearnings have come over him, and down came Amalek and made him a brute again. The giant was stunned, but not slain. The volcano had smouldered under the covering, not been cleared out. And again, and again, the hidden horrors burst forth, until the poor soul is a blighted wreck, an object piteous to men and angels. Oh how often should we pray in the language of the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. cxxxix, 23, 24).

The army of two hundred thousand footmen and ten thousand men of Judah, which composed the force of Saul, represented a state of soul fully furnished for spiritual victory. The two hosts, or two hundred thousand footmen, indicate a complete equipment of goodness and truth in daily life; the ten thousand men of Judah represent interior principles of praise and worship in fulness. Telaim, where they were assembled (I Sam, xv. 4), which was a small city of Judah, and whose name signifies their humility, is expressive of the humble spirit in which alone any spiritual combat ought to be undertaken. In the state of soul meant, all is ready; only faithfulness and perseverance are needed now.

The charge to Saul was; “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:” which implies that the interior malice which is opposed to heavenly things, with all belonging to it, ought to be extirpated. Man and woman, in the spiritual sense, signify intellect and affection; infant and suckling represent the first beginnings of evil desire, and every disposition to suck in nourishment or confirmation of it. The sheep and ox are the symbols of good affections of charity and obedience perverted to cover inward sin and make it courteous and agreeable; while the camel and the ass represent science and natural thought which have also been pressed into the service of wickedness, To smite the whole is to renounce the evil state in which we have been both in essence and in act, in thought and in word, in association and in conduct, in confirmation and in persuasion. All that is at enmity with God must be dangerous for us, and should be resolutely declined and repressed.

There is a noble decision of character, a sacred bluntness, that every true servant of the Lord has to learn. It is a blessed thing to say ” No!” boldly to those who are still in the sin we have learned to dread. Rudeness for right is better far than obsequiousness to wrong. Evil is never overcome by half measures. Repentance requires that we should shun the company of the vicious, turn our minds away from their wiles, their smiles, their very modes of thinking and of speech. Gilded sin is far more to be dreaded than open vice. “The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel” (Prov. xii. 10). The smooth tongue, the sleek caress, the artful speciousness which decorates vice with the semblances of friendship, virtue, and courtesy, these are the insidious snares that, Judas-like, betray the soul with a kiss. The Word of God, our Samuel, ever says, then, smite all belonging to Amalek. Everything is tainted and dangerous. “Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest; because it is polluted, it shall destroy you, even with a sore destruction” (Micah ii. 10). Such is the import of the charge to Saul; and every true penitent must often use that portion of the Divine Prayer which says, “Lead us not into temptation.” The danger of open vice is slight; it is in the concealed approach that treason lurks and ruins. The poison is in the poppy, although it looks bright and pleasant. Dread the first step, and you will never make the second. Shun the siren whose alluring smiles seek to win you to wrong, and whose steps leads down to hell.

Saul was successful against all opposition. “He smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur” (I Sam. xv. 7); that is, from the western border of Judah to the site of the present Suez. He smote the common people of that part of the land of Amalek, but he “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 vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.” This tampering with the divine command, and saving the king shewed a heart not right with God. The whole statement represents the condition of those who war against the effects of evil, but RETAIN THE CAUSE. There are many people who lament the misery which sin occasions, but never mount, up to the source, and abhor sin as sin in the sight of God. They reject sin when it is vile and refuse; but when it is respectable, and, like Agag, comes forward delicately, they do not see that there is very much amiss. Such may see somewhat of the evil of sin, but they do not perceive the sinfulness of evil. If wickedness could always be successful, they would know no difference between it and goodness. They do not look below the surface. They reject rough sins because they are rough, not because they are sins. The smooth and treacherous vices, though immeasurably more deadly and far-reaching in the ruin they induce, they pass by, or perhaps support. These are they who take what they call the good things of Amalek, and spare Agag, making a deceitful peace where there is no real peace.

He who spares the Agag of sin in spirit, is sparing his deadliest foe. He may go on smoothly for a time, but only for a time, The traitor in his heart will surely ruin him. He may think, like Saul, he has done well; but when Samuel comes, or when the Divine Word is truly seen by him, he will find his conduct to be utterly condemned. The excuse of Saul, that the best of the sheep and the oxen had been preserved to sacrifice to the Lord, was wholly unsatisfactory. To do evil in conduct, that we may worship more daintily, is an ancient, but grave self-deception. We are not to do evil that good may come. How weighty is the reproof of Samuel in this respect. “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” (1 Sam, xv. 22). Prayer without obedience, piety without justice, are of no value in the divine sight, although the error of Saul has been the error of ages. Obedience first, and worship afterwards, is divine order. It is on obedience to the commands of the Lord, and especially on resisting by His grace every sin against them to which we are prone, that regeneration proceeds, and blessings come down to us from heaven.

Saul was for the time convinced of his sin, yet not so deeply as to lead to real interior change. He set up an excuse, a false plea. He said he had done wrong out of fear of the people. There is no intimation of this before, and probably it was a mere afterthought. The true penitent always condemns himself the false one always blames others. “God be merciful to me a sinner,” is the cry of the man of sincere and lowly heart; he does not justify himself but humbles himself in the dust, and owns himself wholly without vindication or apology. Saul seems soon to have ceased to trouble himself about his sin, but craved to be honoured in the sight of the people. A genuine penitence would never have thought about estimation before the people, but would have sought the one thing needful, acceptance with the Lord.

Samuel proceeded to say, “Bring forth Agag the king of the Amalekites.” Samuel, as we have said, represents the Word of God; and his judgment on the present occasion represents the judgment of the Word at all times, Our Lord said, “The Word which I have spoken unto you, the same shall judge you at the last day” (John xii. 48). The Word is always directed against sin itself, interior sin. “The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh upon the outward appearance (the eyes), but the Lord looketh upon the heart” (1 Sam. Xvi. 7). This sin of the heart is represented by Agag, the king of the Amalekites. Too many, when reading the Word, read it as if it spoke of the Lord Jesus taking their punishment away from them. They cry out in the hour of danger, and in the dread of death, to be forgiven their sins; meaning that they do not want to be punished. But the Word says far more about sin than about punishment. Let sin be removed, and sorrow will die of itself. Hence we read, “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin” (Ezek. xviii, 30). “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins'” (Matt. I. 21). “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world (John I. 29). Well will it be for us, if we listen to the voice of Divine Truth to-day, when it says, Bring out Agag, the king of the evil world within you, that he may be judged and destroyed now, and not wait for the disclosures of the eternal world.

What is our Agag? Is it the pride that disdains aught but its own self-will; that despises the laws of truth and goodness, and cannot tolerate the least contradiction either to our wishes or our views? Are we bitter, violent, passionate, if our caprices are contravened? Is our Agag vanity, the desire to dazzle the world and win its applause by vain show? Do we spend our time in devising fresh means of attracting the admiration of those who are as light and frivolous as ourselves, and who repay our efforts by insincere applause and secret envious scandal? Is our Agag sensual pleasure? Do we indulge our appetites at the expense of all the noble aims of human life? Has Agag destroyed in us all the yearning after wisdom, virtue, and the public good? Ha she made us deaf to generous impulses, blind to all exalted truths, and buried us in the sordid gratification of coarse and brutal appetites? Bring forth Agag and let him be seen.

Agag is said to have come forth “delicately,” or, as it might be rendered, “as a man of delights.” ‘The ruling love always seems delightful to the man. A wicked love seems full of delights, until it brings its wretched results in ruin and misery.

The exclamation, “Surely the bitterness of death is past,” expresses the expectation of evil in one who has spared it long, that it will still be spared. But the utterance of Samuel exhibits its real nature and its proper treatment, “As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. “The cruel character of this man Agag was expressed literally; but in the spiritual sense it unveils the ferocious character of inward sin. It always makes women childless; that is, destroys all the sweet germs of innocence, hope, and joy. The affections in the soul, like the Graces of the ancients, were intended to fill their little world with all that is lovely, pure, and good. Sin blights this fair promise, and fills the soul with hates, impurities, and miseries.

Happy is it when we take the sword of truth and hew it in pieces before. the Lord. We should rejoice in making its mother, that is, THE LOVE OF IT, childless. To extinguish sin in ourselves is to destroy a brood of serpents. It is to dry up the source of a thousand sorrows. It is to root out the vilest of tares. It is to extinguish the issues of death, and to open the way for a new Eden of life, beauty, and blessing.

To do it before the Lord is to do it sincerely; and it was done In Gilgal, because this word signifies a revolution; and when we destroy our Agag, the grandest possible revolution is effected; the revolution which breaks the fetters of the soul transforms one who has been the bond-slave of the vilest of tyrants into an angelic freeman, a partaker of the glorious liberty of the children of light. If this great work yet remain to be done In us, let us take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and hew our Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.

Author: Jonathan Bayley— The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)