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Poole on 1 Samuel 15:32-35: The Execution of Agag

Verse 32:[1] Then said Samuel, Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites. And Agag came unto him delicately. And Agag said, Surely the bitterness of death is past.

[To him was offered Agag, exceedingly fat and trembling, מַעֲדַנֹּת[2]] With, or in, his ornaments (Pagnine, Montanus, Junius, Piscator); delicately (Munster, Castalio); delicate (Tigurinus); delicately ornamented (Piscator out of Junius and Tremellius); of ornaments, that is, a man (Osiander); with delights; with a step and procession royal and proud (Vatablus out of Munster), just as if he was not at all dreading death (Munster), but was preferring it to life (Vatablus). Others translate it, in chains or bonds (Kimchi and Cajetan in Sanchez), as if they were leading him bound. Thus the term is taken in Job 38:31[3] (Malvenda).

Delicately, or in delights, or in his ornaments, that is, he came not like an offender, expecting the sentence of death, but in that garb and gesture which became his quality. And Agag said, or, for Agag said; this being the reason why he came so.

[Does bitter death thus separate?] From riches, delights, a kingdom, life. See Ecclesiasticus 41:1[4] (Menochius).

[But the Hebrew has it thus: אָכֵ֖ן סָ֥ר מַר־הַמָּֽוֶת׃] [They render it variously:] Behold, my Lord, death is bitter (Jonathan in Munster). Explaining סָר, it has departed, by בְבָעֻו/behold, which sometimes is an interjection of one suffering (Munster). Death is truly bitter (Syriac, similarly the Arabic). If thus [as if in the place of אָכֵן/surely they had read אִם כֵּן, if thus] bitter is death (Septuagint). Truly, or certainly, the bitterness of death has departed (Montanus, Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, Tirinus, similarly Castalio, Strigelius). [But they understand this in diverse ways.] I have evaded the danger of death, seeing that I am being lead away from the armed king to the aged Prophet (Junius, Piscator, Rabbi Levi in Munster). Others think that he spoke these words, so that he might show himself to despise death; saying, the fear of bitter death has departed from me. I approach undaunted; it is unthinkable that I should be made a suppliant for my freedom (Munster). Others translate it otherwise: Verily the bitterness of death, or bitter death, comes, or approaches (Munster out of Kimchi, Pagnine, Mariana, Vatablus in Tigurinus Notes). The bitterness of death has come down, understanding, upon me; that is, it has rushed upon me, or assaulted me; that is to say, it is accomplished concerning me. I am now dying (Vatablus). Others: סָר, it has departed, in the Qal, is taken for the Hiphil, it causes to depart, that is, it separates (Lapide).

The bitterness of death is past: I who have escaped death from the hands of a warlike prince in the fury of battle, shall certainly never suffer death from an old prophet in time of peace.

Verse 33:[5] And Samuel said, (Ex. 17:11; Num. 14:45; see Judg. 1:7) As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.

[Just as thy sword hath made, etc.] Hebrew: just as it has bereaved,[6] understanding, of children, or husbands (Vatablus). The Law of Rhadamanthus.[7] See Concerning the Law of War and Peace 1:2:5 (Grotius). This is said of Agag. Either, 1. Not in his own person, but of that king Amalek, concerning whom Exodus 17; Numbers 14; Deuteronomy 25 (Hebrews in Lyra). Or, 2. Concerning that very Agag, who either of his own agency, or through others, killed, etc. (thus Sanchez, Lapide). Note that delicate men, of which sort was Agag, are often cruel; because they expend all the love that they have upon themselves: and they spoil others, so that they might have those things wherewith they shall be enticed (Lapide).

Thy sword hath made women childless; whereby it appears that he was a cruel tyrant, and guilty of really bloody actions, and that towards God’s people, though it be not related elsewhere. And this seems to be added for the fuller vindication of God’s justice, and to show, that although God did at this time remember and revenge a crime committed by this man’s ancestors four hundred years ago, yet he did not punish an innocent son for his father’s crimes, but one that allowed and persisted in the same evil courses.

[Samuel hewed him into pieces] Either, 1. By his own hand (thus Serarius, Sanchez, Menochius, Martyr). The words express as much (Menochius, similarly Sanchez). Taking nothing from Samuel’s character or piety. For the same had been done by the Levites, Exodus 32; by Phinehas, Numbers 25:8; by Elijah, 1 Kings 18 (Sanchez). Samuel was executioner, but for God, which is honorable (Martyr). Or, 2. Through his men (Lapide out of Josephus). Question: By what right did Samuel, as a private man, kill Agag? Responses: 1. Some think that Samuel was not altogether without civil power, which is not satisfying to me. 2. Samuel did not have an ordinary sword: But God is bound by no laws, as if He were not able to give His sword to whom He wills. 3. Samuel did this by divine impulse (Martyr). With the Kings being remiss in duty, God was often executing the sanctions of His law through the Prophets, 1 Kings 18 (Grotius). Nevertheless, we are to live by laws, not examples, as Demosthenes[8] rightly says; And certain examples of illustrious men are more to be admired than imitated. Moreover, observe here the variety of dispositions. Saul, exceedingly cruel in all of life, spare Agag, namely, out of pride, so that he might consult his own glory. Samuel, always quite merciful (for he prayed for Saul, his most bitter foe) killed Agag, but at the command of God. Here, we also see the ancient prophecy [concerning which see Numbers 24] confirmed. These things were expressly predicted concerning Agag four hundred year previously. Thus Cyrus and Josiah were foretold by name before they were born[9] (Martyr).

Samuel hewed Agag in pieces by Divine instinct, and in pursuance of God’s express and particular command, above, verse 3, which being sinfully neglected by Saul, is now executed by Samuel. See the like example 1 Kings 18:40. But these are no precedents for private persons to take the sword of justice into their hands; for we must live by the laws of God, and not by extraordinary examples.

[Before the Lord] Either before the Ark, which was perhaps present at that time (Malvenda). Or before the altar, which had been constructed there; or in the full meeting and sacred assembly (Malvenda, similarly Martyr). Where the people of God are, there God is. (Let us be mindful, therefore, with what great reverence we ought to carry ourselves in the sacred assembly.) Or, that he killed him for the honor of God. For, it is after the likeness of a sacrifice, when the impious are killed at the commandment of God (Martyr). He was a sacrificial victim to the Lord, as it were, and, as it was done in burnt offerings, he was cut into pieces. Neither is it unusual in Scripture that the slain of the enemies of God is called a sacrificial victim, Isaiah 34:6 (Menochius out of Sanchez).

Before the Lord; either before the ark, which, it seems, Saul carried with him in this, as he did in his former expedition, 1 Samuel 14:18; or before God’s altar; or in the public assembly.

Verse 34:[10] Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house to (1 Sam. 11:4) Gibeah of Saul.

Verse 35:[11] And (see 1 Sam. 19:24) Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel (1 Sam. 15:11; 16:1) mourned for Saul: and the LORD (1 Sam. 15:11) repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.

[And Samuel did not see Saul any more until the day of his death] That is, at no time did he go to see him. Thus until often signifies. See Genesis 28:15; Deuteronomy 34:6; 2 Samuel 6:23. In all which, the preceding time is simply posited, not attending to subsequent time (Glassius’ “Grammar” 456). You will say that Samuel saw Saul in 1 Samule 19:24. Response: The sense: He did not go to visit, or approach, him, on account of office or friendship (Tirinus out of Sanchez, similarly Estius); or for the purpose of giving counsel (Estius, Menochius). In this sense to see is taken, in 1 Samuel 20:29, let me get away, and I will see my brethren: and in 1 Kings 14, Come, and let us see; and in Hebrews 13:23, I will see you (Estius).

To see Saul, that is, to visit him, either in token of respect or friendship; or to seek counsel from God for him, or to give counsel to him. Seeing is put for visiting here, and 2 Kings 8:29. Otherwise he did see him afterwards, 1 Samuel 19:24. Though indeed it was not Samuel that came thither with design to see Saul, which is implied in the phrase here; but Saul went thither to see Samuel, and that accidentally.

[Samuel mourned for Saul[12]] The verb in the Hithpael signifies a great and continual mourning: now, he was morning, 1. that Saul was deprived of the kingdom. 2. Fearing that he would be deprived of eternal life (Lapide). Note here a difference between Samuel and Saul. Samuel transgressed not at all, and yet he mourns: Saul transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and he is moved not at all. For it is not written that he humbled himself. Samuel rightly withdrew from Saul, for there ought to be no familiar dwelling with the wicked. Yet rightly does he pray for him; for thus we ought to conduct ourselves, even against the excommunicated (Martyr).

Samuel mourned for Saul; partly for Saul’s sake, whose sad condition he lamented; and partly for Israel’s sake, whose estate he feared might by this means be doubtful and dangerous.

[1] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שְׁמוּאֵ֗ל הַגִּ֤ישׁוּ אֵלַי֙ אֶת־אֲגַג֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ עֲמָלֵ֔ק וַיֵּ֣לֶךְ אֵלָ֔יו אֲגַ֖ג מַעֲדַנֹּ֑ת וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲגָ֔ג אָכֵ֖ן סָ֥ר מַר־הַמָּֽוֶת׃ [2]עָנַד signifies to bind around; עָדַן, to luxuriate; מָעַד, to totter. [3] Job 38:31: “Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades (מַעֲדַנּ֣וֹת כִּימָ֑ה, the bands of Pleiades), or loose the bands of Orion?” [4] Ecclesiasticus 41:1: “O death, how bitter is the remembrance of thee to a man that liveth at rest in his possessions, unto the man that hath nothing to vex him, and that hath prosperity in all things: yea, unto him that is yet able to receive meat!” [5] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שְׁמוּאֵ֔ל כַּאֲשֶׁ֙ר שִׁכְּלָ֤ה נָשִׁים֙ חַרְבֶּ֔ךָ כֵּן־תִּשְׁכַּ֥ל מִנָּשִׁ֖ים אִמֶּ֑ךָ וַיְשַׁסֵּ֙ף שְׁמוּאֵ֧ל אֶת־אֲגָ֛ג לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָ֖ה בַּגִּלְגָּֽל׃ [6] Hebrew: כַּאֲשֶׁ֙ר שִׁכְּלָ֤ה. [7] In Greek mythology, Rhadamanthus was the King of Crete, son of Zeus and Europa. His fame for strict justice (including rights of self-defense against unjust violence) was such, that he was made a judge of the dead in the underworld. [8] Demosthenes (384-322 BC) was a Greek orator, stateman, and lawyer. [9] Isaiah 44:28; 45:1; 1 Kings 13:2. [10] Hebrew: וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ שְׁמוּאֵ֖ל הָרָמָ֑תָה וְשָׁא֛וּל עָלָ֥ה אֶל־בֵּית֖וֹ גִּבְעַ֥ת שָׁאֽוּל׃ [11] Hebrew: וְלֹא־יָסַ֙ף שְׁמוּאֵ֜ל לִרְא֤וֹת אֶת־שָׁאוּל֙ עַד־י֣וֹם מוֹת֔וֹ כִּֽי־הִתְאַבֵּ֥ל שְׁמוּאֵ֖ל אֶל־שָׁא֑וּל וַיהוָ֣ה נִחָ֔ם כִּֽי־הִמְלִ֥יךְ אֶת־שָׁא֖וּל עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ [12] Hebrew: כִּֽי־הִתְאַבֵּ֥ל שְׁמוּאֵ֖ל אֶל־שָׁא֑וּל.

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Thomas Brooks' Heaven on Earth: 'Believe it, souls, you must fall a-cutting your bosom sins in pieces by the sword of the Spirit, as Samuel cut Agag in pieces in Gilgal before the Lord, or else you will never obtain a perfect cure, 1 Samuel 15:33. Slight skirmishes will not do it; you must pursue your bosom sins to the death, or they will be the death of your souls.'


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Matthew Henry: 'Samuel, as a prophet, is here set over kings, Jeremiah 1:10.

I. He destroys king Agag, doubtless by such special direction from heaven as none now can pretend to. He hewed Agag in pieces. Some think he only ordered it to be done; or perhaps he did it with his own hands, as a sacrifice to God's injured justice (1 Samuel 15:33), and sacrifices used to be cut in pieces. Now observe in this,

1. How Agag's present vain hopes were frustrated: He came delicately, in a stately manner, to show that he was a king, and therefore to be treated with respect, or in a soft effeminate manner, as one never used to hardship, that could not…


Dr. Dilday
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Study 1 Samuel with the illustrious Matthew Poole!

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