Peace and blessings to all. In 1st Samuel 15:22-23 it states:

1 Samuel 15 22 And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.

23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

How (and why) is rebellion likened unto the sin of witchcraft and stubbornness as both iniquity & idolatry?

7 Answers 7


First of all, we must clarify some aspects regarding the Hebrew text. What KJV translates as stubbornness, actually what the Hebrew text הַפְצַ֑ר expresses is presumption. What KJV translates as witchcraft (חַטַּאת־קֶ֙סֶם֙) is actually the sin of divination, that while divination is in the realm of sorcery, the text specifically refers to the sin of divination. Then, the correct translation in KJV would remain: "For rebellion is as a sin of divination, and presumption is as idolatry and iniquity."

Starting from that very important point, now we are going to answer the question, and to answer this, we must look at the context. If you look at verse 12, it also has a translation error in KJV, but that is well translated in the New King James Version:

So when Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul, it was told Samuel, saying, “Saul went to Carmel, and indeed, he set up a monument for himself; and he has gone on around, passed by, and gone down to Gilgal".

This verse makes it clear that Saul erected a monument to himself, breaking the commandment of Exodus 20:

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth


So, in the expression "and presumption is as idolatry and iniquity" is a reminder comparison of those two sins committed by Saul, because, in the same context we see that Saul had the presumption to forgive Agag and the cattle, because this was not the command given by God. Saul argued in verse 20 that he had obeyed God, but God reminds him that the presumption he had at that time is equal to the idolatry and iniquity of having erected a monument to himself.

Now, the first part: ““ For rebellion is as a sin of divination ”, God uses it to remind Saul when he sinned by offering sacrifice instead of waiting for Samuel to do it, and we see in 1 Samuel 13:12

Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the Lord: I therefore forced myself, and offered a burnt offering.

In this way, Saul thought and supposed (guessed) that the Philistines would come against him, forgetting what God had said through Samuel in 1 Samuel 12: 14-15:

If you fear the Lord and serve him, and listen to his voice, and are not rebellious to the word of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reign over you serve the Lord your God, you will do well. But if you do not listen to the voice of the Lord, and if you are rebellious to the words of the Lord, the hand of the Lord will be against you as he was against your fathers.

That is to say, Saul only had to wait for Samuel and obey what God had determined, but his rebellion was equal to his sin of supposing or "guessing" that the Philistines could defeat him and therefore, he hastened to offer sacrifice as if to he would reciprocate that privilege at that time.

In conclusion, this whole sentence: "For rebellion is as a sin of divination, and presumption is as idolatry and iniquity." It is simply God reminding Saul through Samuel of the sins that he has committed."


This is a great question.

     For rebellion (meri) is like the sin of divination; 
     arrogance (haftsar) is like iniquity (aven) and idolatry (terafim). 

First, divination was not inherently evil -- the reference to casting of lots is common in scriptures and has the connotation of fearing God (Jon 1:7, Num 26.55, 1 Sam 14.41, Acts 1.26). Likewise the high priest used Urimm and Thummin and divined all the time (any time the old testament speaks of "inquire of the Lord", it is the Urimm and Thummin). So the issue is not trying to divine God's will. The question is who do you turn to when determining God's will? Do you ask the High Priest, or a prophet of God like Samuel, or do you ask a witch or a pagan like Balaam? If it is of the wrong source, then we call it "Witchcraft" or evil divination. Note that it does not matter whether the pagan priest or witch is giving an accurate message. The message itself is not the issue, the issue is who you are replacing God with. It is not the location of our travels but who we follow that determines whether we are obedient or rebellious. Any usurpation of the divine order is an example of rebellion. Thus withcraft is an example of rebellion.

As to this word, haftsar, the semantic range includes "stubbornness", "arrogance" - and it comes from the root meaning of "to press". So the connotation here is Balaam, pressing on (Num 22:22-33), even though the donkey is trying warn him. The idea of "pressing" is to do something from your own strength, risking God's wrath. The opposite of pressing/arrogance is waiting on God/humility. The connotation with idolatry again comes from inquiring of the wrong oracle with that oracle being yourself.


This passage comes parallel to king Saul not waiting on Samuel

Why is rebellion likened to witchcraft?

Because witchcraft is at its core a form of manipulation. All witches manipulate, whether it be people, times, objects, situations, outcomes. It therefore follows that someone who rebels, is not in agreement with the flow of events and wants to, or attempts to manipulate the outcome.

Why is stubbornness likened to iniquity and idolatry?

Because when someone wants what they want, no matter what, and they refuse to accept any deviation from their course they will resort even to breaking the law that they might achieve their own end. They will go so far as to say, if God doesn’t give me what I want I’ll make a pact with the devil or I’ll bow before another lord because I must have what I want.

King Saul was guilty on both counts. Sure he was pressed on all sides, but his decision during the crucible demonstrated what was in his heart, a desire to manipulate situations in his favor (witchcraft) this he tried like a witch would cast a spell, he thought the sacrifice itself will bring him his desired end (superstition). And he was stubborn, he was willing to break laws to achieve his own end, as opposed to David who even though given the opportunity was swayed in making decisions that would not anger God, think Abigail, think The two occasions to kill Saul but David said he would not touch the Lord’s anointed, even though David wanted out of the situation and was under a lot of pressure. Stubbornness is arrogance in that it is saying “I know better than God what should happen and His laws can be bent to meet my needs in the moment”.

  • Peace, thanks for the response... "Because witchcraft is at its core a form of manipulation"...how so exactly?
    – יהודה
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 20:10
  • Every form of witchcraft is at its core manipulative or controlling. If it’s manipulation then it’s witchcraft @יהודה. Just as every sport at its core is competitive, so witchcraft is all about manipulation, whether it be people or things. Manipulating be it through fear, intimidation, curses, pressure, allure (sexual and non sensual) and so on. The dictionary defines witchcraft as “the art or exercise of magical powers, the effect or influence of magical powers, or an alluring or seductive charm or influence.” exploiting, influencing, directing, steering, kind of like the Nachash to Eve Commented Jul 1, 2021 at 2:49

As the following quote truthfully points out, Satan was the first to rebel against God, and he still lives and works in rebellion against God and His government. To rebel, therefore, is to emulate Satan--the chief rebel of the universe. This is what so strongly connects rebellion with witchcraft--the worship and following of Satan.

"Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry." Rebellion originated with Satan, and all rebellion against God is directly due to satanic influence. Those who set themselves against the government of God have entered into an alliance with the archapostate, and he will exercise his power and cunning to captivate the senses and mislead the understanding. He will cause everything to appear in a false light. Like our first parents, those who are under his bewitching spell see only the great benefits to be received by transgression.

No stronger evidence can be given of Satan's delusive power than that many who are thus led by him deceive themselves with the belief that they are in the service of God. When Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rebelled against the authority of Moses, they thought they were opposing only a human leader, a man like themselves; and they came to believe that they were verily doing God service. But in rejecting God's chosen instrument they rejected Christ; they insulted the Spirit of God. So, in the days of Christ, the Jewish scribes and elders, who professed great zeal for the honor of God, crucified His Son. The same spirit still exists in the hearts of those who set themselves to follow their own will in opposition to the will of God.

Saul had had the most ample proof that Samuel was divinely inspired. His venturing to disregard the command of God through the prophet was against the dictates of reason and sound judgment. His fatal presumption must be attributed to satanic sorcery. Saul had manifested great zeal in suppressing idolatry and witchcraft; yet in his disobedience to the divine command he had been actuated by the same spirit of opposition to God and had been as really inspired by Satan as are those who practice sorcery; and when reproved, he had added stubbornness to rebellion. He could have offered no greater insult to the Spirit of God had he openly united with idolaters.

It is a perilous step to slight the reproofs and warnings of God's word or of His Spirit. Many, like Saul, yield to temptation until they become blind to the true character of sin. They flatter themselves that they have had some good object in view, and have done no wrong in departing from the Lord's requirements. Thus they do despite to the Spirit of grace, until its voice is no longer heard, and they are left to the delusions which they have chosen. (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 635)


Let's see the parallelism:

 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.

Rebellion || arrogance || Saul rejects the word of God

Divination || idolatry || God rejects Saul as king

This shows the binary nature of the Kingdom of God. You're either in or out. It doesn't matter how close you're to the Kingdom.

Matthew 12:30 New International Version

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

If one rebels against God, he is for Satan (divination, consulting Satan).

If one is arrogant (believing in himself more than in God), he is practicing idolatry.

If one rejects the word of the Lord, the Lord will reject him.

How is rebellion likened unto the sin of witchcraft and stubbornness as both iniquity & idolatry?

They are likened to evil due to the binary nature of royalty to God.


Describing how rebellion is likened to witchcraft and how stubbornness is likened to iniquity and idolatry is best answered in light of the gospel.

The story in 1 Samuel 15 is a metaphoric foreshadowing of the gospel of grace. In 1 Samuel 15 the Lord gave Saul specific instructions to utterly consume the Amalakites.

3 Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

So the instructions were clear but Saul did not complete God’s instructions 100%. Instead he allowed the people to save some livestock and Saul himself spared Agag the king.

This incomplete obedience by Saul is a metaphor for the Old Covenant in the “Gospel of the Grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Attempting to keep the Law of Moses on your own requires 100% success for as James tells us in James 2:10:

10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

Anyone who attempt to keep the law (or better said, attempts to seek righteousness on their own) must keep the whole law 100% of the time, which is impossible for any human. Paul tells us this is true in Romans 2:13:

11 For there is no respect of persons with God. 12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; 13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

In the New Testament, repentance is seen as humbling yourself and turning from your self righteous attempt at being holy and approaching God on your own to accepting the sacrifice of Christ to pay for your sin and provide you His righteousness for free. Humility is the key to accepting God’s word.

Saul did not complete God’s instructions exactly so he is removed from being the King of Israel. The reason for this is explained by Samuel when he tells Saul in 1 Samuel 15:17:

17 And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the Lord anointed thee king over Israel?

So the Lord tells us through Samuel that Saul’s issue was pride. Pride is the key to understand the OP’s question. Rebellion is likened to witchcraft and stuborness likened to idolatry when we attempt to keep God’s word through our own pride. We inherently “create our own reality” of what we believe God’s word should be. This truth is seen in 1 Samuel 15:9:

9 But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.

Here Saul interpreted God’s word to mean to keep the good stuff and destroy the vile.

So, our rebellion and stubbornness is akin to witchcraft and idolatry when we attempt to execute God’s word on our own. We then create our own reality of His will based on our own interpretation of good and evil and thereby replace God with ourselves.

  • Peace....."This incomplete obedience by Saul is a metaphor for the Old Covenant in the “Gospel of the Grace of God”, how were you able to come to that conclusion?
    – יהודה
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 20:06
  • By being able to see the correlation between the OT commands of God (eg, keep ALL that I command thee; Deut 28:15 But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day...) and Romans statements that "all have sinned" and 'there is none righteous". The metaphor jumps out at you when from a human perspective we see that Saul's actions were not that egregious but he failed to do ALL that God has commanded. In the NT we know that no work enables you to get into heaven.
    – alb
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 21:17

The euphoria of popularity makes us stupid, blind, and foolish.We are on cloud nine and think of ourselves as important enough to reckon with,to be taken seriously.The need for popularity makes us drunk with self, with pride. So when in this state we rebel, we are led by another carnal spirit whom we obey.Here comes the witchcraft and idolatry. We are ourselves the idol we obey.

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