Somehow the discussion did not center around the question of why our murderous deity would command genocide and then burn with anger when his servants fail to carry it out. Instead, the main thrust of the lesson seemed to be Samuel's words in verse 22:
But Samuel replied:
"Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams."
Ah yes, obedience. I was just thinking it had been at least seven days since I heard a lesson about that.
At some point, someone in the class did raise the question of why Saul had such a problem killing the best few cattle when he apparently had no problem killing every Amalekite man, woman, and child. And eventually, the instructor asked the class why it was necessary to obliterate every living creature in the rival civilization at all.
Various participants came up with a number of rationalizations. The Amalekites were evil and perverted. They worshiped false gods. They wanted to lead the Israelites away from their true religion or covenants or whatever. Someone said that it may have been the same reason God told Nephi to kill Laban in the Book of Mormon. I think someone said that God has his reasons, and that even if we don't understand the reasons, we just need to obey.
I'm sorry, but these ideas are crap. Not only are they pure speculation, but even if it were possible for every single person in a society to be irredeemably evil, that does not justify the murder of children. The Bible is not the only religious book that advocates slaughtering infidels in defense of the faith. We don't tend to think very highly of other religious folks that perpetrate large-scale violence in the name of their god. Why should we seek to justify genocide simply because the religious text is ours?
These kinds of stories are not what the world needs right now. This is a tale of Bronze Age warfare, not an Information Age life lesson. I hate sitting through discussions about how we can learn obedience from Old Testament war stories, and how we can try to apply it to our lives today. Can we just admit that some things in the Bible just do not apply? Can we admit that some things in the Bible are truly fucked up? Can we please admit that if this story is literally true, then God is a sadistic, twisted puppy? No, you can't say that out loud in Sunday school. So I'm saying it here.