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Q. Does The Bible Contradict Itself In 1 Samuel 15 And 27?


So let’s begin with a word about presuppositions, and how we approach apparent contradictions in the Bible. Then we will turn to the actual texts of Scripture in question.

I come to the Bible with the assumption (firm conviction) that it is the Word of God, and thus apparent contradictions are just that, apparent. With this in mind, I look at the pertinent texts in order to find the solution or explanation for the apparent problem. In other words, I assume the Bible is right, and that my perception or understanding of the text is what is flawed. I look more carefully to see what I’ve missed.

With this assumption in mind, let’s take a look at the actual texts of Scripture:

Then Samuel said to Saul, “I was the one the LORD sent to anoint you as king over his people Israel. Now listen to what the LORD says. 2 Here is what the LORD of hosts says: ‘I carefully observed how the Amalekites opposed Israel along the way when Israel came up from Egypt. 3 So go now and strike down the Amalekites. Destroy everything that they have. Don’t spare them. Put them to death– man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep, camel, and donkey alike.’” So Saul assembled the army and mustered them at Telaim. There were 200,000 foot soldiers and 10,000 men of Judah. 5 Saul proceeded to the city of Amalek, where he set an ambush in the wadi. 6 Saul said to the Kenites, “Go on and leave! Go down from among the Amalekites! Otherwise I will sweep you away with them! After all, you were kind to all the Israelites when they came up from Egypt.” So the Kenites withdrew from among the Amalekites. 7 Then Saul struck down the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, which is next to Egypt (1 Samuel 15:1-7, NET).

David said to Achish, “If I have found favor with you, let me be given a place in one of the country towns so that I can live there. Why should your servant settle in the royal city with you?” 6 So Achish gave him Ziklag on that day. (For that reason Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah until this very day.) 7 The length of time that David lived in the Philistine countryside was a year and four months. 8 Then David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites. (They had been living in that land for a long time, from the approach to Shur as far as the land of Egypt.) 9 When David would attack a district, he would leave neither man nor woman alive. He would take sheep, cattle, donkeys, camels, and clothing and would then go back to Achish. 10 When Achish would ask, “Where did you raid today?” David would say, “The Negev of Judah” or “The Negev of Jeharmeel” or “The Negev of the Kenites.” 11 Neither man nor woman would David leave alive so as to bring them back to Gath. He was thinking, “This way they can’t tell on us, saying, ‘This is what David did.’” Such was his practice the entire time that he lived in the country of the Philistines. 12 So Achish trusted David, thinking to himself, “He is really hated among his own people in Israel! From now on he will be my servant” (1 Samuel 27:5-12).

First, note the size of the two battles. Saul’s battle involved 210,000 men of war (1 Samuel 15:4). His attack was against the “city of Amalek” (1 Samuel 15:5). We should keep in mind that Saul was not zealous to precisely fulfil the command of the Lord, and thus he left alive the finest animals (1 Samuel 15:9). Saul seems to have killed all the Amalekites he encountered in that city, but he was not zealous to fully carry out his mission. His focus was on the one city, where obviously a large number of Amalekites lived, but there is no indication that he sought to seek out and kill the Amalekites who lived elsewhere. (How could you completely kill of an entire population of Amalekites? There would always be a scattering of them in a number of places. So, when it says Saul “killed all the people” I believe it means that Saul killed all the Amalekites who were dwelling in “the city of Amalek,” but a number of others would be living in various location in the land.

David, on the other hand, is not living in or near Shur, but in Philistine territory, in the city of Ziklag. A number of Amalekites were living nearby. Apparently they had migrated there from Shur (1 Samuel 15:8). There were other peoples nearby as well – the Geshurites and the Girzites. Saul would not have gotten to these people, especially in Philistine territory, and so they survived. David killed all of these peoples in the places he raided.

Also, note the size of David’s army – 600 men (1 Samuel 27:2; 30:9). Obviously David’s army was a much smaller one, and the number of Amalekites killed were much fewer as well (only 400 escaped – 1 Samuel 30:17).

So in 1 Samuel 15 Saul waged a major campaign against the Amalekites, but in just that one city of the Amalekites. I take it he killed all of them, except Agag, their king (1 Samuel 15:9). Thus “all of them” does not mean “every Amalekite who was alive at that time,” but rather “every Amalekite in that city that was defeated by Saul.” So also in 1 Samuel 27, for those living in places David raided.

So the “all” who were killed by Saul was all of those in the “city of the Amalekites.” But it was not “all Amalekites.” Some of those Amalekites who remained alive were killed by David, who killed all that he encountered.

Thus, there is no contradiction.

Hope this helps,

Bob Deffinbaugh

Related Topics: Bible Study Methods

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