If we take the first reading as straight history, it is a gruesome story that makes the Lord’s servants into heartless men. But, maybe it is a parable.
Back when the Chosen People were making their way up to where they could cross into the Promised Land, the tribe of Amalek had tried to prevent them from moving on to the Promised Land.
The incidents recorded here would have taken place later, after the Israelites had made it past the Amalekites, and had managed the crossing into the Holy Land. According to this story, Samuel then went to Saul, telling him that in punishment for the Amalekites having tried to keep the Israelites from entering the Promised Land God had put the Amalekites and all their animals under the ban.Any people or beasts “put under the ban” were to be completely destroyed.
Saul’s army, that by then had grown powerful, moved against the Amalekites, slaughtering men, women, children, and most of the animals.
They hadn’t, however, slaughtered them all. Samuel, on his arrival heard sheep bleating, and then he saw that they were the prize animals. Saul and his men, stopping short of the ban God had ordered, had kept them for themselves.
in carrying out the ban they had done something worse. As a regal courtesy, Saul had spared the life of his fellow king, Agag.
If the Bible is to be taken as a parable, the tribe of the Amaekites must be seen as our bad habits, all our occasions of sin, that prevent us from reaching the Promised Land. If that is so, Saul’s stopping short of killing Agag could be seen as the equivalent of a reformed drunk saving one bottle of hooch for medicinal purposes.
If we take this as just a straight story, one old version of the Bible gave it quite a final scene. Old Samuel called for king Agag to be brought out. Agag then stood before him, fat and trembling, “and Samuel hewed him to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.”