Old Account Settled

After his glorious victory over the Philistines, Saul turned his attention to the other foreign tribes that had prevented the Jewish people from leading a normal and peaceful life. One by one he settled accounts with Moab, Ammon, Edom, and others.

One day Samuel came to the king with the demand from G‑d to wage war against Amalek and destroy it completely. Without any provocation Amalek had attacked and inflicted untold suffering on the Jews while the latter were wandering in the desert on their way from Egypt. Fearing to attack the Jews openly, they had sniped sporadically at the weaker and less defended points of the line of march. G‑d had therefore commanded that when Israel was settled on their land, Amalek was to be annihilated.

Now the time had come. Saul was told to show no pity. Nothing was to remain of the entire nation and all its wealth, for as long as there were any Amalekites alive, there could be no peace for Israel. For Amalek was the incarnation of all evil.

Saul set out with an army of two-hundred and ten thousand men and met the enemy in the valley near their main city. After a bitter battle, the army of Amalek was annihilated, and the inhabitants of the city were put to the sword. None escaped alive except Agag, their king, on whom Saul took pity. Saul also permitted the Jews to appropriate the choicest among the animals. Saul's misplaced pity proved to be his undoing.

Samuel Rebukes Saul

When Samuel received word from G‑d of Saul's disobedience, he immediately set out to meet Saul in Gilgal.

Not realizing that his mercy and generosity had constituted failure to comply with the Divine command, Saul went out and received the prophet with the greeting, "Blessed be thou of the L-rd; I have performed the commandment of the L-rd." Samuel, in turn, demanded to know why Agag and the animals had been spared. Saul attempted to justify his actions by claiming that he had been influenced by the clamor of his men to spare Agag and to avoid the destruction of so much wealth.

But Samuel inexorably pointed out Saul's disobedience: he had received G‑d's distinct command to annihilate completely the Amalekites and their possessions; he had put his own judgment above the will of G‑d; he had committed an unpardonable sin. Again Saul meekly objected that the people had spared the oxen and the sheep for no other purpose than to sacrifice them to G‑d.

The prophet interrupted him sternly and said: "Though thou art humble in thine own sight, thou wast made the head of the Tribes of Israel... Why didst thou not obey the words of G‑d, but didst fly upon the spoil and didst evil in the sight of G‑d? "Hath G‑d delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of G‑d?... To obey is better than sacrifice. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and image-worship!... Thou hast rejected the word of G‑d, and G‑d hath also rejected thee from being king over Israel."

Saul acknowledged that he had sinned and implored Samuel to pray with him to the L-rd, so that he might be pardoned. But the prophet turned away relentlessly. In his agony of despair and humiliation, Saul laid hold of Samuel's mantle and clung to it entreatingly until it rent. And Samuel said to him, "The L-rd has rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and has given it to a neighbor of thine, that is better than thou."

And so, although the Jews had gained a national victory, Saul, in his weakness as leader, had lost his right to the kingdom. The two men parted never to meet again. Remorseful and morose, Saul returned to his capital, to brood over his ill fortune while Samuel made his way back to Ramah, where he too sorrowed over the king's tragic fate.