The alternate Haftorah reading for the Shabbat Zachor (which means “remember”) precedes the Festival of Purim. It recalls how Amalek, the ruthless enemy of Israel, attacked them in the wilderness when they fled Egypt.
Not only did they attack Israel at Rephidim, they also resisted Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land. God, therefore, vowed to blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven and to be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation. (Exodus 7:14, 16)
The Almighty God has a long memory when it comes to attacks against His covenant people Israel. He remembered Amalek’s attack and generations later executed judgment against them:
“Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them.” (1 Samuel 15:3)
But King Saul did not fully obey God’s command. He spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites, and took the best of the livestock.
“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 Samuel 15:9)
Therefore, the Lord was sorry that He had ever made Saul to be King of Israel.
“I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” (1 Samuel 15:11)
When confronted by the prophet Shmuel (Samuel), King Saul did not own up to his sin, but instead tried to cover it. As Saul saw the prophet approaching he said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.” (1 Samuel 15:13)
The book of Proverbs tells us that those who cover their sins will not prosper but those who confess and forsake them will find mercy (Proverb 28:13).
Samuel explained to Saul that God desires our obedience more than our sacrifices. He also likened the sin of rebellion to witchcraft, and arrogance to idolatry (1 Samuel 15:22-23). These are serious sins indeed!
When Fear of Man is Stronger than Fear of God
In the end of this portion, Saul provides the reason for his failure to carry out the Lord’s command and instructions—fear of man!
“Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them.’” (1 Samuel 15:24)
Scripture says that the fear of man is a snare, but those who trust in the Lord will be safe (Proverbs 29:25).
Whatever the cost, we must fear God and not men, though it may cost us our reputation, our friends, or even our lives!
The apostle Paul said that seeking to please men prevents us from being a servant of Messiah.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Messiah.” (Galatians 1:10)
Purim and the Amalekites
Why is this portion of Scripture read just before Purim, the story recorded in the Book of Esther?
It’s because Haman, the villain in the story of Esther, was an Agagite, a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites.
“After these events, King Xerxes [Ahasuerus] honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles.” (Esther 3:1)
According to rabbinic tradition, between Saul’s capture and Samuel’s execution of King Agag, this Amalekite king, sired a child who was the forefather of Haman.
Had King Saul fully obeyed God’s command, the lives of the Jews of Persia may never have been threatened at all. (The story of Purim is about Haman’s devious plan to murder all of the Jews in the Persian Empire.)
This Haftorah (prophetic portion of Scripture) reminds us of the importance of fully obeying the voice of the Lord, and not giving only partial obedience to His word. The consequences for our choices may prove crucial to future generations.
Nevertheless, the Persian Jews had become complacent and were content to live under a foreign ruler in a foreign land. They did not feel an urgency to return to the Promised Land to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.
And just like Haman’s rise and fall led to a new direction, so too, more recently the rise and fall of Hitler led to a new direction for the Jewish People in the 20th Century.
It’s a fact of history that Hitler understood the significance of Purim.
He banned Jews from celebrating Purim. And in January of 1944, he said if the Nazis were defeated, the Jews could celebrate “a second Purim.”
Like the olive, the Jewish People had been beaten, pressed and crushed, but just a few years after Hitler made his statement, the State of Israel was reborn.