I'm a bit puzzled regarding King Sha'uls (Saul) conversation with Shmu'el (Samuel) upon his return from the war against Amalek. We know that Sha'ul didn't fulfill G-d's commandment to destroy everything from Amalek, and instead he took flocks and spared King Agag.

Citing Shmuel (Samuel I) 15:19-21: (English cited from mechon mamre (JPS)

19 Wherefore then didst thou not hearken to the voice of the LORD, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst that which was evil in the sight of the LORD?'

20 And Saul said unto Samuel: 'Yea, I have hearkened to 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.

21 But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the devoted things, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal.'

It appears that there are a few problems happening in Sha'ul's answer. First, it seems he is convinced that he really didn't do anything wrong, because he starts by saying that he DID listen to G-d's command. He also says, "I have destroyed the Amalekites." No, not really, because he kept the king alive! That's not destroying ALL the Amelikites.. Is it not obvious in Sha'ul's own words that he is contradicting himself? And, was Sha'ul so clueless as to argue with Shmu'el, a prophet, who is relaying G-d's word, and who even explained to him before the battle, what to do?

Additionally, he seems to blame the taking of the sheep on the people, as it was the people's fault!

I'm a bit puzzled as to what Sha'ul was thinking. Did he think he really did nothing wrong at all, or was he so weak at the least minute that the people pressured him into taking the best of the sheep and cattle to offer sacrifices that this action alone blinded Sha'ul into thinking that this was the right thing to do? Essentially, what factors caused Sha'ul to forget what Shmu'el and G-d commanded him to do? Was it more his own personal blindness to the problem or being pressured by the people?


2 Answers 2


Based on the Malbim's explanation to this chapter.

Shaul and Shmuel were looking at this campaign from different angles.

Shmuel- based on Hashem's command - had in mind to destroy Amalek totally and wipe out all traces of them. This was a punishment for Amalek attacking the Jews while they were in the desert for no other reason than to prove that Gcd couldn't protect them. I.e. Blasphemy. Now that there was a king that everybody revered, it was time to do this Mitzva.

Shaul understood that this entire campaign was as a revenge for Amalek's cowardly attack on the Jews. To celebrate this successful campaign he would kill everybody but the strongest (i.e. their king). Wiping out their property would happen at a grand finale consisting of sacrificing their best aminals to Gcd; as a sign of victory and thanking Him for it.

Shaul is neither weak nor blind; he misunderstood the instructions.

So we read that Shaul meets Shmuel and proclaims "mission accomplished - come join the victory party!".

Shmuel is aghast at what he sees and hears (and knows from a prophecy) - and questions Shaul about it, in the hope that Shaul would repent for not doing the Mitzvah properly.

Like 2 ships passing in the night, Shaul doesn't understand what Shmuel wants from him until Shmuel finally spells it out in full: "You misunderstood the Mitzvah".

At this point, the penny drops. Tragically, Shaul decides to blame the people (instead of taking responsibility) and was thus deemed unfit to be the ancestor of the Jewish Royal Family.

  • "At this point, the penny drops." - You must live in Israel, since you use this expression! Correct? I'm curious if Sha'ul had admitted he was wrong and done teshuva immediately instead of assigning blame, if he would have been forgiven and remained king. Or was it the actual failure to perform what G-d wanted that decided things?
    – DanF
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 16:25
  • @DanF, correct, as my profile states, I live in The Holy Land. Your question is philosophical - not a clue how to answer it. Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 9:54

While this may be more על דרך דרוש or מוסר, one of the answers I have heard is that he saw ברוח קדשו the great קידוש השם that would occur during the time of פורים and he knew if he wiped them out that would not be. The lesson of that is that we don't have the right to make such חשבונות and when we have a מצוה like that to do it doesn't matter what will be.

  • Interesting Drash. I'm still seeking a more direct answer based on the conversation and the role of Shmu'el as Navi. My understanding is that the king is still ultimately subservient to the Navi, esp. when he relays G-d's command.
    – DanF
    Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 2:55
  • That is predicated on Shaul having missed one of the most fundamental points of Judaism! That we don't have the discretion to pick and choose mitzvos.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Feb 15, 2015 at 17:52

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .