1 Sam 15:1 Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD.

Dean Stanley said of Saul: ‘His religion was never blended with his moral nature – his religious zeal was always breaking out in wrong channels on irregular occasions in his own way … It broke out in wild, ungovernable acts of zeal and superstition, and then left him a prey more than ever to his own savage disposition.’

‘Yet there was a strange charm about him too.  Even as in our own day we may know some reckless youth, with frank, impetuous disposition, and occasional impulses to right things, who is making shipwreck of himself, and whom, in spite of his folly, we can not help liking, so we are drawn toward Saul notwithstanding his wickedness, and we can well understand how Samuel felt when he “mourned” over him.  He had hoped so much from him; he had seen so much that was lovable about him; and yet he had been so sadly disappointed in him, that we do not wonder at his sorrow.’ (Taylor)

1 Sam 15:2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.

1 Sam 15:3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

‘The Amalekites, in their persistent refusal to fear God (Dt 25:18), sowed the seeds of their own destruction. God is patient and slow to anger, “abounding in love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6); he nevertheless “does not leave the guilty unpunished” (v.7). The agent of divine judgment can be impersonal (e.g., the Flood or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah) or personal (as here), and in his sovereign purpose God permits entire families or nations to be destroyed if their corporate representatives are incorrigibly wicked (cf. Jos 7:1, 10–13, 24–26).’ (EBC)

See this article by John Allister.

The ten 'worst verses in the Bible

I think it was back in 2009 that the Ship of Fools website reported on its poll to find the ‘worst’ (that is to say, the most unpopular) verses of the Bible.

For a supposedly satirical website, the SoF had a surprisingly po faced aim.  They wanted, apparently, to rescue the Bible both from its enemies, who think that it’s a complete pile of rubbish, and some of its friends, who suppose that it’s a ‘textbook of infallible information and unbreakable laws’.  The Bible, they claim, can still be ‘God’s book’ without us having to rush to either of these extremes.

And the top ten worst Bible passages?  Here we go:-

  1. “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” (1 Timothy 2:12)
  2. “This is what the Lord Almighty says… ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'” (1 Samuel 15:3)
  3. “Do not allow a sorceress to live.” (Exodus 22:18)
  4. “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” (Psalm 137:9)
  5. “So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go.” (Judges 19:25)
  6. “In the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:27)
  7. “And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt-offering.'” (Judges 11:30-1)
  8. “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” (Genesis 22:2)
  9. “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22)
  10. “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel.” (1 Peter 2:18)

OK, so there are some deeply unsettling passages here.  But do we, as Christians, just shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, what do you expect in an ancient book like the Bible?  Obviously, it contains some things that we can accept as ‘the word of God’ and other things that common sense and modern enlightenment show us to be unacceptable.  Welcome the good, reject the bad.”

But to take such an attitude neglects a number of vital things:-

Firstly, the bits of the Bible many of us seem to find so offensive don’t seem to have bothered Christ.

Secondly, some of the really ‘offensive’ stuff came from the lips of Christ himself.  Hellfire, for example.  But maybe our sensible, middle-of the-road Christians are too polite to nominate of any Jesus’ teaching as belonging among thew ‘worst verses of the Bible.’  Or maybe they do a side-shuffle, and say, “Well we don’t like it, so probably the real Jesus didn’t say such things at all.  Blame it on Paul, or someone like that.”

Thirdly, do those who nominate these verses ever think?  Do they ever try to read a Bible passage in context?  I’m not going to claim that all ten passage can be dealt with easily, but at least two can be eliminated from the ‘hateful’ list after just one moment’s thought.  These are Judges 11:30-1, and Judges 19:25.  In both cases, the error committed by those who complain about them is to assume that the Bible approves of everything it records.  If you can’t see just how horrified the author of these passages was, and how they exemplify his theme of ‘everyone did right in his own eyes’, then you must be sitting in a darkened room, wearing a blindfold, with your eyes closed.

Fourthly, we balk at Bible teaching that says that the God of heaven and earth has the right to judge, both in this life and at the end of the age, then we are missing a vital element in God’s self-revelation.  It is indeed ‘a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’  I, for one, am not prepared to cut and trim the word of God so that I end up believing the bits that I like, and rejecting all the rest.  The bits that I like are easy to deal with; it’s the difficult bits that challenge me to better thinking and better obedience.

For the rest, I’m not going to claim that there are easy answers.  But I have linked the reference above to my Bible Study Notes, where I have tried to engage with some of these troublesome passages in a thoughtful way.

1 Sam 15:4 So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim—two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand men from Judah.

1 Sam 15:5 Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine.

1 Sam 15:6 Then he said to the Kenites, “Go away, leave the Amalekites so that I do not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites moved away from the Amalekites.

1 Sam 15:7 Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt.

1 Sam 15:8 He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword.

‘The description of the total destruction of “all” the people is hyperbolic, since the Amalekites survived to fight again (cf. 1 Sam 30:1).’ (EBC)

1 Sam 15:9 But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs— everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

1 Sam 15:10 Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel:

1 Sam 15:11 “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the LORD all that night.

1 Sam 15:12 Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honour and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.”

1 Sam 15:13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.”

1 Sam 15:14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

1 Sam 15:15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

1 Sam 15:16 “Stop!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.” “Tell me,” Saul replied.

1 Sam 15:17 Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel.

1 Sam 15:18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.’

1 Sam 15:19 Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?”

1 Sam 15:20 “But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king.

1 Sam 15:21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.”

1 Sam 15:22 But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

1 Sam 15:23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.”

1 Sam 15:24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them.

1 Sam 15:25 Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD.”

1 Sam 15:26 But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!”

1 Sam 15:27 As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore.

1 Sam 15:28 Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbours—to one better than you.

1 Sam 15:29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.”

1 Sam 15:30 Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honour me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD your God.”

1 Sam 15:31 So Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshipped the LORD.

1 Sam 15:32 Then Samuel said, “Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites.” Agag came to him confidently, thinking, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.”

1 Sam 15:33 But Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel put Agag to death before the LORD at Gilgal.

1 Sam 15:34 Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul.

1 Sam 15:35 Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel.