The intercourse between Saul and Samuel was as yet unknown to the people. The "anointing" had been in secret. But now the time had come when the transaction must be confirmed by the nation. Samuel accordingly summoned the people to a solemn assembly "before the Lord" at Mizpeh. Here the lot was drawn ( 10:17-27 ), and it fell upon Saul, and when he was presented before them, the stateliest man in all Israel, the air was rent for the first time in Israel by the loud cry, "God save the king!" He now returned to his home in Gibeah, attended by a kind of bodyguard, "a band of men whose hearts God had touched." On reaching his home he dismissed them, and resumed the quiet toils of his former life.
Soon after this, on hearing of the conduct of Nahash the Ammonite at Jabeshgilead (q.v.), an army out of all the tribes of Israel rallied at his summons to the trysting-place at Bezek, and he led them forth a great army to battle, gaining a complete victory over the Ammonite invaders at Jabesh ( 11:1-11 ). Amid the universal joy occasioned by this victory he was now fully recognized as the king of Israel. At the invitation of Samuel "all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal." Samuel now officially anointed him as king ( 11:15 ). Although Samuel never ceased to be a judge in Israel, yet now his work in that capacity practically came to an end.
Saul now undertook the great and difficult enterprise of freeing the land from its hereditary enemies the Philistines, and for this end he gathered together an army of 3,000 men ( 1 Samuel 13:1 1 Samuel 13:2 ). The Philistines were encamped at Geba. Saul, with 2,000 men, occupied Michmash and Mount Bethel; while his son Jonathan, with 1,000 men, occupied Gibeah, to the south of Geba, and seemingly without any direction from his father "smote" the Philistines in Geba. Thus roused, the Philistines, who gathered an army of 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen, and "people as the sand which is on the sea-shore in multitude," encamped in Michmash, which Saul had evacuated for Gilgal. Saul now tarried for seven days in Gilgal before making any movement, as Samuel had appointed ( 10:8 ); but becoming impatient on the seventh day, as it was drawing to a close, when he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, Samuel appeared and warned him of the fatal consequences of his act of disobedience, for he had not waited long enough ( 1 Samuel 13:13 1 Samuel 13:14 ).
When Saul, after Samuel's departure, went out from Gilgal with his 600 men, his followers having decreased to that number ( 13:15 ), against the Philistines at Michmash (q.v.), he had his head-quarters under a pomegrante tree at Migron, over against Michmash, the Wady esSuweinit alone intervening. Here at Gibeah-Geba Saul and his army rested, uncertain what to do. Jonathan became impatient, and with his armour-bearer planned an assault against the Philistines, unknown to Saul and the army ( 14:1-15 ). Jonathan and his armour-bearer went down into the wady, and on their hands and knees climbed to the top of the narrow rocky ridge called Bozez, where was the outpost of the Philistine army. They surprised and then slew twenty of the Philistines, and immediately the whole host of the Philistines was thrown into disorder and fled in great terror. "It was a very great trembling;" a supernatural panic seized the host. Saul and his 600 men, a band which speedily increased to 10,000, perceiving the confusion, pursued the army of the Philistines, and the tide of battle rolled on as far as to Bethaven, halfway between Michmash and Bethel. The Philistines were totally routed. "So the Lord saved Israel that day." While pursuing the Philistines, Saul rashly adjured the people, saying, "Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening." But though faint and weary, the Israelites "smote the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon" (a distance of from 15 to 20 miles). Jonathan had, while passing through the wood in pursuit of the Philistines, tasted a little of the honeycomb which was abundant there ( 14:27 ). This was afterwards discovered by Saul (ver. 42), and he threatened to put his son to death. The people, however, interposed, saying, "There shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground." He whom God had so signally owned, who had "wrought this great salvation in Israel," must not die. "Then Saul went up from following the Philistines: and the Philistines went to their own place" ( 1 Samuel 14:24-46 ); and thus the campaign against the Philistines came to an end. This was Saul's second great military success.
Saul's reign, however, continued to be one of almost constant war against his enemies round about ( 1 Samuel 14:47 1 Samuel 14:48 ), in all of which he proved victorious. The war against the Amalekites is the only one which is recorded at length ( 1 Samuel 15 ). These oldest and hereditary ( Exodus 17:8 ; Numbers 14:43-45 ) enemies of Israel occupied the territory to the south and south-west of Palestine. Samuel summoned Saul to execute the "ban" which God had pronounced ( Deuteronomy 25:17-19 ) on this cruel and relentless foe of Israel. The cup of their iniquity was now full. This command was "the test of his moral qualification for being king." Saul proceeded to execute the divine command; and gathering the people together, marched from Telaim ( 1 Samuel 15:4 ) against the Amalekites, whom he smote "from Havilah until thou comest to Shur," utterly destroying "all the people with the edge of the sword", i.e., all that fell into his hands. He was, however, guilty of rebellion and disobedience in sparing Agag their king, and in conniving at his soldiers' sparing the best of the sheep and cattle; and Samuel, following Saul to Gilgal, in the Jordan valley, said unto him, "Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he also hath rejected thee from being king" ( 15:23 ). The kingdom was rent from Saul and was given to another, even to David, whom the Lord chose to be Saul's successor, and whom Samuel anointed ( 16:1-13 ). From that day "the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him." He and Samuel parted only to meet once again at one of the schools of the prophets.
David was now sent for as a "cunning player on an harp" ( 1 Samuel 16:16 1 Samuel 16:18 ), to play before Saul when the evil spirit troubled him, and thus was introduced to the court of Saul. He became a great favourite with the king. At length David returned to his father's house and to his wonted avocation as a shepherd for perhaps some three years. The Philistines once more invaded the land, and gathered their army between Shochoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim, on the southern slope of the valley of Elah. Saul and the men of Israel went forth to meet them, and encamped on the northern slope of the same valley which lay between the two armies. It was here that David slew Goliath of Gath, the champion of the Philistines ( 17:4-54 ), an exploit which led to the flight and utter defeat of the Philistine army. Saul now took David permanently into his service ( 18:2 ); but he became jealous of him (ver. 9), and on many occasions showed his enmity toward him (ver. 10,11), his enmity ripening into a purpose of murder which at different times he tried in vain to carry out.
After some time the Philistines "gathered themselves together" in the plain of Esdraelon, and pitched their camp at Shunem, on the slope of Little Hermon; and Saul "gathered all Israel together," and "pitched in Gilboa" ( 1 Samuel 28:3-14 ). Being unable to discover the mind of the Lord, Saul, accompanied by two of his retinue, betook himself to the "witch of Endor," some 7 or 8 miles distant. Here he was overwhelmed by the startling communication that was mysteriously made to him by Samuel (ver. 16-19), who appeared to him. "He fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel" (ver. 20). The Philistine host "fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and fell down slain in Mount Gilboa" ( 31:1 ). In his despair at the disaster that had befallen his army, Saul "took a sword and fell upon it." And the Philistines on the morrow "found Saul and his three sons fallen in Mount Gilboa." Having cut off his head, they sent it with his weapons to Philistia, and hung up the skull in the temple of Dagon at Ashdod. They suspended his headless body, with that of Jonathan, from the walls of Bethshan. The men of Jabesh-gilead afterwards removed the bodies from this position; and having burnt the flesh, they buried the bodies under a tree at Jabesh. The remains were, however, afterwards removed to the family sepulchre at Zelah ( 2 Samuel 21:13 2 Samuel 21:14 ). (See DAVID .)
demanded; lent; ditch; death
(desired ), more accurately Shaul.
sol (sha'ul; Saoul):
(1) The first king of Israel.
I. EARLY HISTORY
1. Name and Meaning
3. Home and Station
4. Sources for Life
5. Election as King
6. Reasons for It
II. REIGN AND FALL
1. His First Action
2. Army Reorganized
3. Battle of Michmash
4. Defeats the Amalekites
5. Deposition Pronounced
6. David Introduced to Saul
7. Two Accounts
8. Saul's Envy of David
9. Attempts to Get Rid of David
10. David Spares Saul
11. Saul's Divided Energies
12. Consults a Necromancer
13. Battle of Gilboa
14. Double Accounts
15. Saul's Posterity
1. Book of Chronicles
2. Saul's Failings
3. His Virtue
4. David's Elegy
I. Early History.
1. Name and Meaning:
The name Saul is usually regarded as simply the passive participle of the verb "to ask," and so meaning "asked" (compare 1 Samuel 8:4), but the gentilic adjective sha'uli (Numbers 26:13) would point to its having also an intensive connotation, "the one asked importunately," or perhaps, "the one asking insistently," "the beggar."
Saul was the son of Kish, a Benjamite. His genealogical tree is given in 1 Samuel 9:1 (compare Septuagint 10:21). In 1 Samuel 9:1 his grandfather is Abiel, but in 1 Chronicles 8:33; 9:39, Ner, who appears as his paternal uncle in 1 Samuel 14:50,51.
The last verse contains a very curious scribal error, a yodh having slipped out of one word in it into another. It states that both Abner and Ner were sons of Abiel. These apparent inconsistencies are to be explained by the fact that in Hebrew, as in Arabic, "son" is often used in the sense of grandson. Also, with the facility of divorce then prevalent, by "brother" and "sister" we must in most cases understand half-brother and half-sister. Moreover, Saul's mother might have been the wife at different times of Kish and of his brother Ner (compare 1 Samuel 20:30). This was quite common, and in some cases compulsory (Deuteronomy 25:5-9).
3. Home and Station:
Saul's home was at GIBEAH (which see), which is also called Gibeah of Saul, i.e. Saul's Hill (1 Samuel 11:4; compare also 1 Samuel 10:5, God's Hill, or simply The Hill, 1 Samuel 10:10; Hosea 5:8, etc.), or the Hill of Benjamin or of the Benjamites (1 Samuel 13:15; 2 Samuel 23:29). It is usually identified with Tell el-Ful, but perhaps its site is marked rather by some ruins near but beneath that eminence. The tribe of Benjamin was the fighting tribe of Israel, and Kish seems to have been one of its most important members. Saul's remarks in depreciation (1 Samuel 9:21) are not to be taken literally.
4. Sources for Life:
The circumstances of Saul's career are too well known to require recapitulation. It will be sufficient to refer to some of the recognized difficulties of the narrative. These difficulties arise from the fact that we appear to have two distinct biographies of Saul in the present Books of Samuel. This may well be the case as it is the practice of the Semitic historian to set down more than one tradition of each event, without attempting to work these up into one consistent account. We shall call the duplicated narratives A and B, without postulating that either is a continuous whole.
See SAMUEL, BOOKS OF.
5. Election as King:
According to A, Saul was anointed king of Israel at Ramah by the prophet Samuel acting upon an inspiration from Yahweh, not only without consulting anyone, but in the strictest secrecy (1 Samuel 9:1-10:16). According to B, the sheiks of the tribes demanded a king. Samuel in vain tried to dissuade them. They would not listen, and a king was chosen by lot at Mizpah. The lot fell upon Saul, and Samuel immediately demitted office (10:17-27, omitting the last clause; and chapter 12).
6. Reasons for It:
There are three distinct reasons given in the text for the abolition of theocracy and institution of an elective or hereditary monarchy:
first, the incapacity of Samuel's sons (1 Samuel 8:1); second, an invasion of the Ammonites (1 Samuel 12:12); and third, the Philistines (1 Samuel 9:16). These three motives are not mutually exclusive. The Philistines formed the standing menace to the national existence, which would have necessitated the creation of a monarchy sooner or later. The other two were temporary circumstances, one of which aggravated the situation, while the other showed the hopelessness of expecting any improvement in it in the near future.
II. Reign and Fall.
1. His First Action:
The election of Saul at Mizpah was conducted in the presence of the chieftains of the clans; it is not to be supposed that the whole nation was present. As soon as it was over, the electors went home, and Saul also returned to his father's farm and, like Cincinnatus, once more followed the plow. "Within about a month," however (1 Samuel 10:27 the Septuagint, for Massoretic Text "But he held his peace"), the summons came. A message from the citizens of JABESH-GILEAD (which see) was sent round the tribes appealing for help against the Ammonites under Nahash. They, of course, knew nothing about what had taken place at Mizpah, and it was only by chance that their messengers arrived at Gibeah when they did. Saul rose to the occasion, and immediately after he was acclaimed king by the whole body of the people (1 Samuel 11). This double election, first by the chiefs and then by the people, is quite a regular proceeding.
2. Army Reorganized:
This first success encouraged Saul to enter upon what was to be the mission of his life, namely, the throwing off of the Philistine suzerainty. From the first he had had the boldest spirits upon his side (1 Samuel 10:26, the Septuagint, the Revised Version margin); he was now able to form a standing army of 3,000 men, under the command of himself and his son JONATHAN (which see). The Philistines, the last remnant of the Minoan race, had the advantage of the possession of iron weapons. It was, in fact, they who introduced iron into Palestine from Crete--the Israelites knowing only bronze, and having even been deprived of weapons of the softer metals. They seem to have armed themselves--with the exception of the king and his son--with mattocks and plowshares (1 Samuel 13:19).
3. Battle of Michmash:
The first encounter was the attack upon the Philistine post at Michmash (1 Samuel 13; 14). The text of the narrative is uncertain, but the following outline is clear. On hearing that the Hebrews had revolted (1 Samuel 13:3, the Septuagint), the Philistines gathered in great force, including 3,000 chariots (1 Samuel 13:5, the Septuagint; the Massoretic Text has 30,000) at Michmash. In dismay, Saul's troops deserted (1 Samuel 13:6), until he was left with only 600 (1 Samuel 14:2). In spite of this, Jonathan precipitated hostilities by a reckless attack upon one of the outposts. This was so successful that the whole Philistine army was seized with panic, and the onset of Saul and the desertion of their Hebrew slaves completed their discomfiture. Saul followed up his victory by making predatory excursions on every side (1 Samuel 14:47).
4. Defeats the Amalekites:
Saul's next expedition was against the Amalekites under Agag, who were likewise completely defeated. The fight was carried out with all the remorselessness common to tribal warfare. Warning was sent to the friendly Kenites to withdraw out of danger; then the hostile tribe was slaughtered to a man, their chief alone being spared for the time being. Even the women and children were not taken as slaves, but were all killed (1 Samuel 15).
5. Deposition Pronounced:
It is not clear what was the precise attitude of Samuel toward Saul. As the undoubted head of theocracy he naturally objected to his powers being curtailed by the loss of the civil power (1 Samuel 8:6). Even after the elections of Saul, Samuel claimed to be the ecclesiastical head of the state. He seems to have objected to Saul's offering the sacrifice before battle (1 Samuel 13:10), and to have considered him merely as his lieutenant (1 Samuel 15:3) who could be dismissed for disobedience (1 Samuel 15:14). Here again there seem to be two distinct accounts in the traditional text, which we may again call A and B. In A, Saul is rejected because he does not wait long enough for Samuel at Gilgal (1 Samuel 13:8; compare 1 Samuel 10:8). "Seven days," of course, means eight, or even more, in short, until Samuel should come, whenever that might be. The expression might almost be omitted in translating. In B Saul is rejected because he did not carry out Samuel's orders (1 Samuel 15:3) to the letter. The two narratives are not mutually exclusive. The second offense was an aggravation of the first, and after it Samuel did not see Saul again (1 Samuel 15:35).
6. David Introduced to Saul:
He had good reason for not doing so. He had anointed a rival head of the state in opposition to Saul, an act of treason which, if discovered, would have cost him his head (compare 2 Kings 9:6,10). Saul did not at once accept his deposition, but he lost heart. One cannot but admire him, deserted by Samuel, and convinced that he was playing a losing game, and yet continuing in office. To drive away his melancholy, his servants introduced to him a musician who played until his spirits revived (1 Samuel 16:14; compare 2 Kings 3:15).
7. Two Accounts:
By a strange coincidence (compare I, 5, above) the minstrel was the very person whom Samuel had secretly anointed to supplant Saul. According to what looks like another account, however, it was his encounter with Goliath which led to the introduction of David to Saul (1 Samuel 17:1; see DAVID). In spite of all that has been said to the contrary, the two narratives are not incompatible, since we are not told the order of the events nor over how many years these events were spread. The theory of duplicate narratives rests upon the assumption that all statements made by the dramatis personae in the Bible are to be taken at their face value. If 1 Samuel 16 and 17 had formed part of a play of Shakespeare, they would have been considered a fine example of his genius. Treatises would have been written to explain why Saul did not recognize David, and why Abner denied all knowledge of him. Septuagint, however, omits 1 Samuel 17:12-31,41,50,55-18:5.
8. Saul's Envy of David:
Whether Saul actually discovered that David had been anointed by Samuel or not, he soon saw in him his rival and inevitable successor, and he would hardly have been human if he had not felt envious of him. His dislike of David had two motives. The first was jealousy, because the women preferred the military genius of David to his own (1 Samuel 18:7). His consequent attempt upon the life of David (1 Samuel 18:8-11) is omitted in the Septuagint. Not least was the love of his own daughter for David (1 Samuel 18:20; in 1 Samuel 18:28 read with Septuagint "all Israel"). The second cause was his natural objection to see his son Jonathan supplanted in his rights to the throne, an objection which was aggravated by the devotion of that son to his own rival (1 Samuel 20:30).
See also DAVID; JONATHAN.
9. Attempts to Get Rid of David:
Saul could not believe that David could remain loyal to him (1 Samuel 24:9); at the first favorable opportunity he would turn upon him, hurl him from the throne, and exterminate his whole house. In these circumstances, it was his first interest to get rid of him. His first attempt to do so (omitting with Septuagint 1 Samuel 18:8 b-11) was to encourage him to make raids on the Philistines in the hope that these might kill him (1 Samuel 18:21); his next, assassination by one of his servants (1 Samuel 19:1), and then by his own hand (1 Samuel 19:9). When David was compelled to fly, the quarrel turned to civil war. The superstitious fear of hurting the chosen of Yahweh had given place to blind rage. Those who sheltered the fugitive, even priests, were slaughtered (1 Samuel 22:17). From one spot to another David was hunted, as he says, like a partridge (1 Samuel 26:20).
10. David Spares Saul:
It is generally maintained that here also we have duplicate accounts; for example, that there are two accounts of David taking refuge with Achish, king of Gath, and two of his sparing Saul's life. The latter are contained in 1 Samuel 24 and 26, but the points of resemblance are slight. Three thousand (24:2; 26:2) was the number of Saul's picked men (compare 13:2). David uses the simile of "a flea" in 24:14, but in 26:20 for "a flea" Septuagint has "my soul," which is no doubt original. The few other expressions would occur naturally in any narrative with the same contents.
11. Saul's Divided Energies:
Obviously Saul's divided energies could not hold out long; he could not put down the imaginary rebellion within, and at the same time keep at bay the foreign foe. No sooner had he got the fugitive within his grasp than he was called away by an inroad of the Philistines (1 Samuel 23:27); but after his life had been twice spared, he seemed to realize at last that the latter were the real enemy, and he threw his whole strength into one desperate effort for existence.
12. Consults a Necromancer:
Saul himself saw that his case was desperate, and that in fact the game was up. As a forlorn hope he determined to seek occult advice. He could no longer use the official means of divination (1 Samuel 28:6), and was obliged to have recourse to a necromancer, one of a class whom he himself had taken means to suppress (1 Samuel 28:3). The result of the seance confirmed his worst fears and filled his soul with despair (1 Samuel 28:7).
13. Battle of Gilboa:
It says much for Saul that, hopeless as he was, he engaged in one last forlorn struggle with the enemy. The Philistines had gathered in great force at Shunem. Saul drew up his army on the opposing hill of Gilboa. Between the two forces lay a valley (compare 1 Samuel 14:4). The result was what had been foreseen. The Israelites, no doubt greatly reduced in numbers (contrast 1 Samuel 11:8), were completely defeated, and Saul and his sons slain. Their armor was placed in the temple of Ashtaroth, and their bodies hung on the wall of Bethshan, but Saul's head was set in the temple of Dagon (1 Chronicles 10:10). The citizens of Jabesh-gilead, out of ancient gratitude, rescued the bodies and, in un-Semitic wise, burned them and buried the bones.
14. Double Accounts:
Once more we have, according to most present-day critics, duplicate accounts of the death of Saul. According to one, which we may name A, he fell, like Ajax whom he much resembles, upon his own sword, after being desperately wounded by the archers (1 Samuel 31:4). According to the second (2 Samuel 1:2), an Amalekite, who had been by accident a witness of the battle, dispatched Saul at his own request to save him from the enemy. But B is simply the continuation of A, and tells us how David received the news of the battle. The Amalekite's story is, of course, a fabrication with a view to a reward. Similar claims for the reward of assassination are common (2 Samuel 4:9).
15. Saul's Posterity:
With Saul the first Israelite dynasty began and ended. The names of his sons are given in 1 Samuel 14:49 as Jonathan, Ishvi and Malchishua. Ishvi or Ishyo (Septuagint) is Eshbaal, called in 2 Samuel 2:8 ISH-BOSHETH (which see). 1 Chronicles 8:33 adds Abinadab. Jonathan left a long line of descendants famous, like himself, as archers (1 Chronicles 8:34). The rest of Saul's posterity apparently died out. Malchishua and Abinadab were slain at Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:6; 1 Chronicles 10:2), and Ish-bosheth was assassinated shortly after (2 Samuel 4:2). Saul had also two natural sons by Rizpah who were put to death by David in accordance with a superstitious custom, as also were the five sons of Saul's daughter Merab (2 Samuel 21:8, not Michal; compare 1 Samuel 18:19). Saurs other daughter Michal apparently had no children. Saul had, it seems, other wives, who were taken into the harem of David in accordance with the practice of the times (2 Samuel 12:8), but of them and their descendants we know nothing.
1. Book of Chronicles:
Saul's life and character are disposed of in a somewhat summary fashion by the Chronicler (1 Chronicles 10:13,14). Saul was rejected because he was disloyal to Yahweh, especially in consulting a necromancer. The major premise of this conclusion, however, is the ancient dictum, "Misfortune presupposes sin." From a wider point of view, Saul cannot be dismissed in so cavalier a manner.
2. Saul's Failings:
Like everyone else, Saul had his virtues and his failings. His chief weakness seems to have been want of decision of character. He was easily swayed by events and by people. The praises of David (1 Samuel 18:7) at once set his jealousy on fire. His persecution of David was largely due to the instigation of mischievous courtiers (1 Samuel 24:9). Upon remonstrance his repentance was as deep as it was short-lived (1 Samuel 24:16; 26:21). His impulsiveness was such that he did not know where to stop. His interdict (1 Samuel 14:24) was quite as uncalled for as his religious zeal (1 Samuel 15:9) was out of place. He was always at one extreme. His hatred of David was only equal to his affection for him at first (1 Samuel 18:2). His pusillanimity led him to commit crimes which his own judgment would have forbidden (1 Samuel 22:17). Like most beaten persons, he became suspicious of everyone (1 Samuel 22:7), and, like those who are easily led, he soon found his evil genius (1 Samuel 22:9,18,22). Saul's inability to act alone appears from the fact that he never engaged in single combat, so far as we know. Before he could act at all his fury or his pity had to be roused to boiling-point (1 Samuel 11:6). His mind was peculiarly subject to external influences, so that he was now respectable man of the world, now a prophet (1 Samuel 10:11; 19:24).
3. His Virtues:
On the other hand, Saul possessed many high qualities. His dread of office (1 Samuel 10:22) was only equaled by the coolness with which he accepted it (1 Samuel 11:5). To the first call to action he responded with promptitude (1 Samuel 11:6). His timely aid excited the lasting gratitude of the citizens of Jabesh-gilead (1 Samuel 31:11) If we remember that Saul was openly disowned by Samuel (1 Samuel 15:30), and believed himself cast off by Yahweh, we cannot but admire the way in which he fought on to the last. Moreover, the fact that he retained not only his own sons, but a sufficient body of fighting men to engage a large army of Philistines, shows that there must have been something in him to excite confidence and loyalty.
4. David's Elegy:
There is, however, no question as to the honorable and noble qualities of Saul. The chief were his prowess in war and his generosity in peace. They have been set down by the man who knew him best in what are among the most authentic verses in the Bible (2 Samuel 1:19).
(2) Saul of Tarsus.
Thomas Hunter Weir
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