Saul Violates Basic Civil Rights Principle
Saul was terminated as king of Israel for discriminatory execution of God’s judgment against the Amalekites. He was commanded to destroy all. Instead, he spared the “good” for special treatment while selecting the “despised and worthless” for total destruction. Thus, he applied personal criteria to modify the judgment. Based on the termination of his kingship for the violation, we understand that equality under the law is important to God as a fundamental principle of people versus government relationships.
We discuss interactions between Prophet Samuel and King Saul regarding God’s judgment of the Amalekites for total destruction. Saul was commanded to execute the judgment. However, instead of applying the judgment equally to all as commanded, he introduced personal criteria to distinguish between the “good” and the “despised and worthless.” He spared the first but utterly destroyed the other [1 Samuel 15:9]: “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.”
Equal execution of the judgment, i.e., equality under the law, required destruction of all Amalekites and their livestock irrespective of any differences or similarities among them. Saul violated the principle by discriminating between the “good” and “despised and worthless.” God terminated his kingship over Israel for the violation: “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments” [1 Samuel 15:11].
Recall that Saul’s kingdom was terminated earlier for violating the principle of separation of state and worship. But he was allowed to remain king. Termination of his kingdom meant his offspring will not succeed him as king. But he would have continued to be king and served out his tenure if not for his violation of the principle of equality under the law. God intended his kingdom to last forever, as we discuss in Punishment of Saul Conveys God’s Promise. However, both the kingdom and his tenure as king ended much sooner because he violated fundamental principles of people versus government relationships.
For the execution of the judgment against Amalekites, equality under the law implied equal application of punishment. However, the principle has broader implications: such as equal protection under the law, which Apostle Paul used in his defense during trials in Jerusalem and Caesarea (Civil Rights and Responsibilities); and equal access to facilities of society, which David enunciated to settle a developing dispute among his followers regarding sharing of battle proceeds (David Proclaims Civil Rights Principle). In this study, we discuss interactions between Samuel and Saul regarding Saul’s execution of judgment against the Amalekites and his termination as king of Israel.
Execution of Judgment Against Amalekites
Samuel informed Saul that God had judged the Amalekites for total destruction and commanded Saul to execute the judgment [1 Samuel 15:2–3]: “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
Saul attacked the Amalekites with an overwhelming force of two hundred and ten thousand. The Israelites took King Agag captive and spared him and “…the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs…” and all that they considered “good.” They spared those for later disposition. In contrast, they destroyed the rest of the people and any livestock they considered “despised and worthless.” Thus, Saul modified God’s judgment using personal criteria: God judged every Amalekite and their livestock for destruction but Saul spared the “good” and destroyed the “despised and worthless.” Therefore, his execution of the judgment violated the principle of equality under the law.
Lesson from Saul’s Disobedience
Saul modified God’s judgment to advance a personal purpose he thought would serve God better. As he explained to Samuel, “…the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal” [1 Samuel 15:21]. He believed he did right as he protested to Samuel: “But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites” [1 Samuel 15:20]. His defense implies he misunderstood God’s instruction and interpreted the mission his own way.
As we discuss in a previous study under Human Relationship with God Regarding Work, God provides sufficient guidance for his mission and will choose an effective channel for the guidance. He can provide guidance directly through the Holy Spirit or indirectly through a human channel.
Receiving God’s guidance directly requires spiritual connection he grants to every person that lives according to his principles. Thus, every person is potentially able to receive and process direct guidance from God. However, like a lamp that provides light while connected to the source of electricity, a person needs to remain connected to God in order to receive and process his guidance.
Saul received the Holy Spirit when God confirmed his anointing: “When they came there to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them” [1 Samuel 10:10]. However, his life focus changed so much during the subsequent period that his connection to God weakened or ended entirely. Therefore, he was unable to utilize direct guidance from God during the mission against Amalekites.
However, he also had guidance in terms of human instruction that God provided to him through Prophet Samuel [1 Samuel 15:3]: “Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” The instruction was clear in detail. Additionally, the instruction conveyed a principle that the judgment was to be executed equally on every Amalekite and livestock. That is, the instruction conveyed the principle of equality under the law. Apparently, Saul did not respect the instruction details or the embedded principle. However, we are able to learn the principle of equality under the law is important to God. He terminated Saul as king of Israel swiftly after Saul violated the principle.
Saul Terminated as King
God was displeased and terminated Saul as king of Israel. Samuel announced the termination: “…Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king” [1 Samuel 15:23]. Also, God had selected a different person to be king: “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you” [1 Samuel 15:28].
The termination was the second time that God took action to limit Saul’s reign over Israel. The first was when he violated the principle of separation of state and worship. For that violation, God terminated his kingdom (meaning—his offspring will not succeed him as king) but allowed him to continue to serve his tenure (see Punishment of Saul Conveys God’s Promise). The second time was due to his violation of the principle of equality under the law because of discriminatory execution of judgment against the Amalekites. God terminated his kingship tenure after the violation.
Summary of What We Learned
Saul was terminated as king of Israel for discriminatory execution of God’s judgment against the Amalekites. He was commanded to destroy all. Instead, he spared the “good” for special treatment while selecting the “despised and worthless” for total destruction. Thus, he applied personal criteria to modify the judgment.
He apparently misunderstood God’s instruction despite the instruction being clear in detail and conveying the embedded principle of equality under the law. Based on the termination of his kingship for the violation, we understand that equality under the law is important to God as a fundamental principle of people versus government relationships.