Becoming a Christian means changing your way of life to live the way that God wants, primarily by turning from sin. While it's easy to reject sins such as murder, some of the more “harmless” or “fun” sins can be hard to let go of. You may even be fooled into thinking that they are better than what God commands! The story of Saul and King Agag speaks powerfully to this issue, providing a lesson that we should examine ourselves by.
In 1 Samuel 15:3 1 Samuel 15:3Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.
American King James Version×, God commanded Saul to wipe out the Amalekites, specifically telling him to kill every man, woman, child and animal in their land. As happened so often in those days, Saul and his army didn't follow that command to the letter:
“[Saul] also took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 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” (1 Samuel 15:8-9 1 Samuel 15:8-9 8 And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 9 But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatted calves, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.
American King James Version×).
Saul and his men did exactly what people today do: they obeyed the part of the commandment that made sense to them, that fit in with the view that they already had, and then they threw the rest out the window while still thinking that they were pleasing God! Saul was certainly satisfied with himself when he told Samuel in verse 13, “I have performed the commandment of the LORD” (1 Samuel 15:13 1 Samuel 15:13And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said to him, Blessed be you of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD.
American King James Version×), but Samuel delivered the harsh reality to him that this sin would ultimately end his reign as king. Saul continued to try to justify what he had done, even claiming that the livestock had only been kept alive to be an offering to God (1 Samuel 15:21 1 Samuel 15:21But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.
American King James Version×). While this may sound reasonable—after all, God likes offerings—their good intentions did not change the fact that they had disobeyed God's word (1 Samuel 15:22-23 1 Samuel 15:22-23 22 And Samuel said, Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.
American King James Version×).
God put this story in the Bible so that we could learn a lesson from Saul's mistake: God, not us, decides what is right, wrong, good, and bad; and it is sinful for us to think that we know better than He does or to try to get away with doing less than He commands. For centuries, even to this day, professing Christians have been plagued by this exact problem by obeying only the parts of God's law that they thought were good, and they have made all kinds of justifications for their behavior, just as Saul did.
It is easy to denounce murder, abortion, adultery, and theft because these are almost universally accepted by every culture as bad behavior - these are like the “despised” and “worthless” things that Saul destroyed from the Amalekites - but the same God who commanded “do not murder” also gave many commands that people disregard because they do not see anything wrong with them. For example, God said to keep the Sabbath day holy (this is even one of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:8-11 Exodus 20:8-11 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shall you labor, and do all your work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates:
11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
American King James Version×), to celebrate His appointed festivals (Leviticus 23:2 Leviticus 23:2Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts.
American King James Version×), and to only eat certain kinds of animals (Leviticus 11:2 Leviticus 11:2Speak to the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which you shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth.
American King James Version×). Instead of obeying the clear commandments of God, the bulk of Christians today do whatever they want on the Sabbath day, celebrate man-made holidays such as Christmas and Easter instead of the God-given ones, and eat whatever they please.
Saul repented after Samuel continued to confront him, and Agag was “hacked in pieces before the LORD” (1 Samuel 15:33 1 Samuel 15:33And Samuel said, As the sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.
American King James Version×). Likewise, God has said that a time is coming when “the way of the ungodly shall perish” (Psalms 1:6 Psalms 1:6For the LORD knows the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
American King James Version×)! If you have been sparing Agag in your life, take this opportunity to learn the truth about how to live the way of life that God says will not perish—“the way of the righteous” (Psalms 1:6 Psalms 1:6For the LORD knows the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
American King James Version×). Our free booklet The New Covenant: Does it Abolish God's Law? is a great starting point for understanding what God's law is, what its role in the New Covenant is, and what God expects from you as a Christian.