March 2, 2016
1 Kingdoms (1 Samuel) 15:1-3, 7-23, especially vs. 23: Because you rejected the word of the Lord, the Lord rejects you from remaining king over Israel.”
God is ever ready to forgive us when we confess our sins and truly repent. Among the Lord Jesus’ disciples, the repentance of Saint Peter confirms the ever-present possibility of forgiveness and restoration. By contrast, the dark, tragic example of Judas reminds us of what happens if we fail to seek forgiveness and change our values, but turn instead to self-destruction (Mt 27:3-5).
Today’s passage concerns King Saul, the first king of Israel. His behavior reveals the terrible cost of blindly ignoring God when repentance might lead him away from perdition, and even change the course of history. However, like Judas, the rebellious king turns from God, thus revealing the possible consequences for us when we avoid repentance: despair, madness, and even suicide (see 1 Kgs 31:4-6). The events recorded here are but the last in Saul’s tragic pattern of resisting the Lord.
Let us carefully trace Saul’s choice to disobey. In the most clear terms, the Lord tells the king, “Now go and strike down Amalek and Jerim and all of his things, and take nothing from him. You shall utterly destroy him. . . . And you shall slay both man and woman, infant and nursing child, calf and sheep, and camel and donkey” (1 Kgs 15:3). Here we see God’s full intent concerning Amalek: “You shall utterly destroy him. You shall curse him and every thing that is his. You shall not spare anything of his” (vs 3).
In our Septuagint translation we find the added word Jerim (vs. 3). This term does not refer to another individual or nation beside Amalek. Rather, God gives a specific command with two aspects: first, to place Amalek under a curse (herem in Hebrew), and second to destroy everything totally, as a sacrifice to God.
Jerim is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word herem, meaning “wholly dedicated to God.” The pronouns remain singular throughout, so we understand Jerim in connection with the verb, “to curse.” As a pair, the two words reveal an unusual divine order to destroy utterly.
For any group or thing to be declared herem, placed under a curse and committed to God, meant that everything connected with that group has come under divine edict. No exceptions will be brooked. The herem on the Amalekites meant the destruction of that people and all their property – a scorched earth. Nothing is be saved or left alive, for if “ abomination was committed among you . . . none of the accursed things shall remain in your hand” (see Dt 13:12-18). All of Amalekite culture, including the king, his city, its inhabitants, and the tainted property, is marked for destruction, consigned as “uninhabited forever” (1 Kgs 15:17).
Saul takes delight in himself, saying “I established all the many things the Lord said” (vs. 13). Samuel, not fooled, says, “Be quiet!” (vs. 16). He can hear the animals they have saved. The more Saul rationalizes, the more obvious the evidence of his disobedience. He seeks to shift the blame: “The people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, in order that they may be sacrificed to the Lord your God” (vs. 15). In the end, he only exposes his guilt: “But I also went in the ways the Lord sent me. I brought back Agag king of Amalek and utterly destroyed the Amalekites” (vs. 20). Truly? Quite fully? The Propeht Samuel sees clearly that they “had rushed down on the spoils and did evil before the Lord” (vs. 19).
During the Lenten season we implore God to help us stop rationalizing and gilding our sins, claiming we do God’s will when we do not. In God’s eyes, disobedience equals occult divination (vs. 23). Let us never believe that we may disobey God and escape all consequences!
Grant us to serve Thee in holiness, O most Holy God, through all the days of this life.