Agag (אגג) was the king of the Amalekites, mentioned by Balaam in Numbers xxiv.7 in a way that gives probability to the conjecture that the name was a standing title of the kings of Amalek. The name or title may mean "flame" in ancient West Semitic.
Another Amalekite ruler named Agag was taken alive by King Saul after destroying the Amalekites (I Sam. xv.). His life was spared by Saul and the Israelites took the best of the sheep, cattle, fat calves and lambs from the Amalekites.
According to the Bible, the prophet Samuel regarded this clemency as a defiance of the will of YHWH, which was "to completely destroy" the Amalekites. Samuel put Agag to death at Gilgal saying that "[a]s your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women." (See retributive justice in the Book of Judges or being brought out and cut in pieces 1 Sam. 15:8-33. Comp. Exodus 17:11; Numbers 14:45).
The story also indicates that this is the last time Samuel and Saul ever saw each other. As a result of this incident, Samuel said to Saul that "[y]ou have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel."
In rabbinical literature
taught that the Jews took vengeance on Agag for the cruelties they had undergone at the hands of the Amalekites, who, to mock at the Israelites, their God, and the rite of circumcision
, mutilated every Jew that fell into their power; Samuel, they say, treated Agag in the same way. According to some authorities, the death of Agag, described in the Bible by the unusual word wa-yeshassef
("hewed in pieces," I Sam. xv. 33), was brought about in a much more cruel way than the word denotes. Others think that the only unusual thing in the execution of Agag consisted in the fact that it was not carried out strictly in accordance with the provisions of the Jewish law
, requiring witnesses to prove the crime; nor had he been specifically "warned" as the law required. But, Agag being a heathen, Samuel convicted him according to the heathen law, which demanded only evidence of the crime for condemnation (Pesiq. iii. 25b, Pesiq. R. xii. xiii. and the parallel passages quoted by Buber in Pesiq.). The execution of Agag, however, occurred in one respect too late, for had he been killed one day sooner—that is, immediately upon his capture by Saul—the great peril which the Jews had to undergo at the hands of Haman
would have been averted, for Agag thereby became a progenitor of Haman (Megillah 13a, Targ. Sheni to Esth. iv. 13).