20 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I did obey the voice of the Lord, and went on the [k]mission on which the Lord sent me, and have brought back Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21 But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God at Gilgal.” 22 Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
23 “For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He has also rejected you from being king.”
24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned; I have indeed transgressed the [l]command of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and listened to their voice. 25 Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me, that I may worship the Lord.” 26 But Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” 27 As Samuel turned to go, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. 28 So Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to your neighbor, who is better than you. 29 Also the [m]Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.” 30 Then he said, “I have sinned; but please honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and go back with me, that I may worship the Lord your God.” 31 So Samuel went back following Saul, and Saul worshiped the Lord.
32 Then Samuel said, “Bring me Agag, the king of the Amalekites.” And Agag came to him [n]cheerfully. And Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” 33 But Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hewed Agag to pieces before the Lord at Gilgal.
34 Then Samuel went to Ramah, but Saul went up to his house at Gibeah of Saul. 35 Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death; for Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.
So much going on here, but the thing that stands out to me here and later in Saul’s life is the lack of repentance. It seems he was unwilling to lay down his pride and admit that he had done wrong. He tries to blame it on his fear of the people (in reality pride), and then before Samuel leaves, Saul begs Samuel to go back with him. Why? So he will be honored and no one else will know how bad he messed up.
Saul didn’t want anyone to know he had messed up and disobeyed God’s command. It wasn’t just that he spared Agag, or the animals, it seems they must have spared women, possibly children or men, because their descendants would later seek revenge, and almost cause the destruction of the people of Israel.
Then we see that Samuel never saw Saul again, even though Samuel grieved over Saul. Samuel’s rebuke was potentially prophetic when he says rebellion is as divination, for Saul would later consult a witch because he felt there was no other place to turn.
Ultimately, I think if Saul had actually repented, humbled himself, and turned back to God, we would have seen a totally different story. But as Samuel aptly noted, God does not change His mind. He couldn’t just say “oh Saul, no big deal, we’ll ignore your mistake.” No, God knew exactly what would come of this mistake, and He knows exactly what will come of our mistakes.
That’s not to say He can’t redeem them, but He won’t override the natural consequences. Only we can do that with our repentance and humble submission to His will.