The invasion of the Philistines. (1-7) Saul sacrifices, He is reproved by Samuel. (8-14) The policy of the Philistines. (15-23)
Verses 1-7 Saul reigned one year, and nothing particular happened; but in his second year the events recorded in this chapter took place. For above a year he gave the Philistine time to prepare for war, and to weaken and to disarm the Israelites. When men are lifted up in self-sufficiency, they are often led into folly. The chief advantages of the enemies of the church are derived from the misconduct of its professed friends. When Saul at length sounded an alarm, the people, dissatisfied with his management, or terrified by the power of the enemy, did not come to him, or speedily deserted him.
Verses 8-14 Saul broke the order expressly given by Samuel, see ch. ( 1 Samuel. 10:8 ) Saul offered sacrifice without Samuel, and did it himself, though he was neither priest nor prophet. When charged with disobedience, he justified himself in what he had done, and gave no sign of repentance for it. He would have this act of disobedience pass for an instance of his prudence, and as a proof of his piety. Men destitute of inward piety, often lay great stress on the outward performances of religion. Samuel charges Saul with being an enemy to himself. Those that disobey the commandments of God, do foolishly for themselves. Sin is folly, and the greatest sinners are the greatest fools. Our disposition to obey or disobey God, will often be proved by our behaviour in things which appear small. Men see nothing but Saul's outward act, which seems small; but God saw that he did this with unbelief and distrust of his providence, with contempt of his authority and justice, and with rebellion against the light of his own conscience. Blessed Saviour, may we never, like Saul, bring our poor offerings, or fancied peace-offerings, without looking to thy precious, thy all-sufficient sacrifice! Thou only, O Lord, canst make, or hast made, our peace in the blood of the cross.
Verses 15-23 See how politic the Philistines were when they had power; they not only prevented the people of Israel from making weapons of war, but obliged them to depend upon their enemies, even for instruments of husbandry. How impolitic Saul was, who did not, in the beginning of his reign, set himself to redress this. Want of true sense always accompanies want of grace. Sins which appear to us very little, have dangerous consequences. Miserable is a guilty, defenceless nation; much more those who are destitute of the whole armour of God.
1 Samuel 13:1 1 Samuel 13:2 . SAUL'S SELECTED BAND.
1. Saul reigned one year--(see Margin). The transactions recorded in the eleventh and twelfth chapters were the principal incidents comprising the first year of Saul's reign; and the events about to be described in this happened in the second year.
2. Saul chose him three thousand men of Israel--This band of picked men was a bodyguard, who were kept constantly on duty, while the rest of the people were dismissed till their services might be needed. It seems to have been his tactics to attack the Philistine garrisons in the country by different detachments, rather than by risking a general engagement; and his first operations were directed to rid his native territory of Benjamin of these enemies.
1 Samuel 13:3 1 Samuel 13:4 . HE CALLS THE HEBREWS TO GILGAL AGAINST THE PHILISTINES.
3, 4. And Jonathan--that is, "God-given."
smote the garrison of the Philistines . . . in Geba--Geba and Gibeah were towns in Benjamin, very close to each other ( Joshua 18:24 Joshua 18:28 ). The word rendered "garrison" is different from that of 1 Samuel 13:23 , 14:1 , and signifies, literally, something erected; probably a pillar or flagstaff, indicative of Philistine ascendency. That the secret demolition of this standard, so obnoxious to a young and noble-hearted patriot, was the feat of Jonathan referred to, is evident from the words, "the Philistines heard of it," which is not the way we should expect an attack on a fortress to be noticed.
Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land--This, a well-known sound, was the usual Hebrew war summons; the first blast was answered by the beacon fire in the neighboring places. A second blast was blown--then answered by a fire in a more distant locality, whence the proclamation was speedily diffused over the whole country. As the Philistines resented what Jonathan had done as an overt attempt to throw off their yoke, a levy, en masse, of the people was immediately ordered, the rendezvous to be the old camping ground at Gilgal.
1 Samuel 13:5 . THE PHILISTINES' GREAT HOST.
5. The Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen--Either this number must include chariots of every kind--or the word "chariots" must mean the men fighting in them ( 2 Samuel 10:18 , 1 Kings 20:21 , 1 Chronicles 19:18 ); or, as some eminent critics maintain, Sheloshim ("thirty"), has crept into the text, instead of Shelosh ("three"). The gathering of the chariots and horsemen must be understood to be on the Philistine plain, before they ascended the western passes and pitched in the heart of the Benjamite hills, in "Michmash," (now Mukmas), a "steep precipitous valley" [ROBINSON], eastward from Beth-aven (Beth-el).
1 Samuel 13:6-8 . THE ISRAELITES' DISTRESS.
6. When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait--Though Saul's gallantry was unabated, his subjects displayed no degree of zeal and energy. Instead of venturing an encounter, they fled in all directions. Some, in their panic, left the country ( 1 Samuel 13:7 ), but most took refuge in the hiding-places which the broken ridges of the neighborhood abundantly afford. The rocks are perforated in every direction with "caves," and "holes," and "pits"--crevices and fissures sunk deep in the rocky soil, subterranean granaries or dry wells in the adjoining fields. The name of Michmash ("hidden treasure") seems to be derived from this natural peculiarity [STANLEY].
8. he--that is, Saul.
tarried seven days--He was still in the eastern borders of his kingdom, in the valley of Jordan. Some bolder spirits had ventured to join the camp at Gilgal; but even the courage of those stout-hearted men gave way in prospect of this terrible visitation; and as many of them were stealing away, he thought some immediate and decided step must be taken.
1 Samuel 13:9-16 . SAUL, WEARY OF WAITING FOR SAMUEL, SACRIFICES.
9-14. Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings--Saul, though patriotic enough in his own way, was more ambitious of gaining the glory of a triumph to himself than ascribing it to God. He did not understand his proper position as king of Israel; and although aware of the restrictions under which he held the sovereignty, he wished to rule as an autocrat, who possessed absolute power both in civil and sacred things. This occasion was his first trial. Samuel waited till the last day of the seven, in order to put the constitutional character of the king to the test; and, as Saul, in his impatient and passionate haste knowingly transgressed ( 1 Samuel 13:12 ) by invading the priest's office and thus showing his unfitness for his high office (as he showed nothing of the faith of Gideon and other Hebrew generals), he incurred a threat of the rejection which his subsequent waywardness confirmed.
15, 16. Samuel . . . gat him . . . unto Gibeah . . . and Saul, and Jonathan his son, and the people that were present with them, abode in Gibeah--Saul removed his camp thither, either in the hope that, it being his native town, he would gain an increase of followers or that he might enjoy the counsels and influence of the prophet.
17, 18. the spoilers came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies--ravaging through the three valleys which radiate from the uplands of Michmash to Ophrah on the north, through the pass of Beth-horon on the west, and down the ravines of Zeboim ("the hyænas"), towards the Ghor or Jordan valley on the east.
19, 20. Now there was no smith found throughout . . . Israel--The country was in the lowest state of depression and degradation. The Philistines, after the great victory over the sons of Eli, had become the virtual masters of the land. Their policy in disarming the natives has been often followed in the East. For repairing any serious damage to their agricultural implements, they had to apply to the neighboring forts.
21. Yet they had a file--as a kind of privilege, for the purpose of sharpening sundry smaller utensils of husbandry.