While the early days of Saul’s reign were effective, after the Israelites grew cowardly and deserted before the Philistines, the king took matters into his own hands. He could no longer wait on Samuel to arrive and offer the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before going to battle. He hastily offered them himself, in disobedience of the Lord’s command. Samuel arrived just after Saul finished with the sacrifices, and he told the king that the Lord would replace him with a man loyal to Him (1 Sam 13:14).
Samuel’s word leaves the reader wondering “Who will this one be? When will he arrive and deliver Israel from their enemies?” The answer comes sooner rather than later. Saul, in an uncharacteristically mellow attack on the Amalekites, spared their king and the best of the plunder. This was another act of unfaithfulness and proved grounds for dismissal from the throne.
In 1 Samuel 15, there is a recognizable sequence to Saul’s demise. The Lord commanded Saul to “attack the Amalekites and completely destroy everything they have. Do not spare them. Kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys” (1 Sam 15:3). Saul struck the Amalekites and destroyed “all the worthless and unwanted things” (1 Sam 15:9a), but, “spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, cattle, and fatlings, as well as the young rams and the best of everything else” (1 Sam 15:9b). From the best of these things, the Amalekites could eventually repopulate and survive—defying the will of the Lord. Further displaying his true colors, Saul set up a monument to himself in Carmel (1 Sam 15:12).
Samuel confronted Saul, saying he had done “evil in the LORD’s sight” (1 Sam 15:19) by sparing the best sheep and cattle for sacrifice. Samuel’s interrogation of Saul was pointed, “Does the LORD take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD?…Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has rejected you as king” (1 Sam 15:22-23). Saul, semi-repentant, wanted Samuel to yet accompany him for worship, which could have served as an affirmation to the people that Saul’s rule was secure (1 Sam 15:24). After a visual display that Saul’s reign was over, Samuel returned with him, and there “hacked Agag to pieces before the LORD” (1 Sam 15:33).
Because Saul was zealous for personal glory, God simply replaced him with someone who would be more faithful (1 Samuel 16). The Lord sent Samuel to Jesse in Bethlehem, saying, “I have selected a king from his sons” (1 Sam 16:1). In the end, all discovered that the Lord had chosen the youngest, David, a healthy and handsome young man, who was out tending the sheep (1 Sam 16:11-12). Ironically, David soon found himself ministering in Saul’s court as a musician whose harp could relieve Saul of the evil spirit the Lord had sent upon him (1 Sam 16:14-23). There young David observed life in the palace of Israel’s king and learned military protocol (1 Sam 16:21)—schooling that would soon prove invaluable.
The anointing of David casts a long shadow in God’s unfolding redemptive plan. In Paul’s first recorded sermon in Acts, he surveyed high points of the Old Testament, including 1 Samuel 15-16, in order to help his listeners in Pisidian Antioch understand Jesus in light of what God had done for His people in the past. Paul noted that during the ministry of Samuel, the people had asked for a king and the Lord gave them Saul (Acts 13:21). “After removing him,” Paul continued, “He raised up David as their king, of whom He testified: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will carry out all My will’” (Acts 13:22). From Paul’s reference to 1 Sam 15:23, 26 and 16:13, the apostle turned straightaway to testify about Jesus, proclaiming that from David’s line, “according to the promise, God brought the Savior, Jesus, to Israel” (Acts 13:23).