Categories: Old Testament Kings
- Saul came from the tribe of Benjamin, the
smallest tribe. This was a strategically important
decision because it didn't threaten either of
the two largest tribes - Judah (South) and Ephraim
(North). A king from Judah would have been challenging
for Ephraim, and vice versa.
- Saul was out looking for his father's missing
donkeys when he came upon Samuel.
- The Lord had prepared Samuel for Saul's arrival,
telling him, "You shall anoint him to be
'captain' over my people Israel." (Note
the absence of the word "king".)
- When Samuel told Saul the donkeys had been
found, Saul spoke humbly. He was "just
a Benjamite" and his family was "the
least of the Benjamites."
- While Saul was out looking for donkeys, others
were looking for him for a much higher purpose.
- Samuel prepared a feast with Saul as the guest
of honour. No one yet knew about Saul's future
- The next day, in private, Samuel anointed
Saul. Israel had its new king, but Samuel was
the only one who knew it yet.
- Saul needed convincing, too, so Samuel told
him to expect three signs, which would verify
- Upon completion of the third sign - meeting
the ecstatic prophets - the Spirit came upon
Saul and he had a "new heart."
- The "heart" was thought to be the
center of all thinking, feeling, and emotion.
Essentially then, Saul became a "new man,"
one empowered to do God's work.
- Then Saul was sent...home, to wait.
- It is not known how much time passed before
Samuel called all the tribes together at Mizpeh.
- After telling them one more time that their
desire for a king was, in essence, a rejection
of the God who had saved them, he proceeded
to cast lots on the basis that God guided the
lots as they fell.
- When the lot fell upon Saul, he was not to
be found because he was hiding among the baggage.
- Maybe it was humility that kept Saul from
stepping up to the plate and acknowledging what
he already knew. Others thought he was cowardly
and not at all sure he wanted to face his newly
appointed task. Perhaps that is why some of
the Israelites said, "How shall this man
save us?" and they despised him.
- After this momentous public sanctioning, Saul,
like all the others, went back home - back to
a normal life.
- Life was normal until the Ammonites threatened
the city of Jabesh-gilead (primarily the tribes
of Reuben and Gad).
- When word reached Saul, he was "filled
with the spirit of Yahweh" and his royal
- He was able to assemble and organize more
than 300,000 men (within days) and they totally
routed the Ammonites.
- After this military victory, the people felt
they really had a king, and celebrated with
another enthronement ceremony.
- The Ammonites, however, were comparable to
the minor leagues; the real adversary was the
Philistines who kept Israel submissive by denying
them the ability to fashion weapons.
- It was Jonathan, Saul's son, who set the events
in motion for a confrontation with the Philistines.
Jonathan smashed a sacred pillar belonging to
the Philistines, located not far from his hometown.
- The Philistines, thinking this was the beginning
of an Israelite revolt, immediately gathered
their army for war.
- Such a buildup terrified Saul's army, and
many of his "volunteer militia" deserted.
- Saul believed the best response would be
to offer a liturgical sacrifice, but apparently
he was not qualified to do this. Samuel sent
word that he'd be there in seven days. When
the seven days were up, Saul offered the sacrifice.
Of course, Samuel showed up immediately afterwards.
- Samuel informed Saul that he had just "blown
it." Had Saul waited, his kingdom would
have lasted; now it wouldn't. (Scholars are
not in accord with these events. Samuel gave
no reason for his delay. It is not clear that
Samuel was the only one qualified to offer sacrifices.
Saul did wait until the seven days were over.
It is possible that this event was created after
the fact to explain why Saul (God's chosen)
lost his kingship.)
- The bottom line is that Saul was already on
his way "out" before he ever really
had a chance to be "in." Yahweh and
Samuel were already looking for "another."
- Even though Saul's relationship with Yahweh
deteriorated, his military successes accumulated.
- Surely it was no accident that Jonathan, Saul's
son, was really the one who got the battle started.
(Some think this was an attempt to focus on
the "heir-elect" since Saul's kingship
was already in trouble.)
- Hoping to get back into Yahweh's good graces,
Saul swore an oath and imposed a fast upon his
warriors. Unfortunately, his son, Jonathan,
unwittingly broke the fast. When Saul found
out, he was prepared to carry out the sentence
of death against him. But because of the great
victory initiated by Jonathan, the people objected,
and Saul backed down.
- If Saul's first sin was presumption, his next
one was disobedience.
- According to Samuel, the king's most important
job was to "listen to Yahweh (as mediated
- The next battle involved the Amalekites, which
led to the final breakdown of Saul's listening
- Yahweh (Samuel) authorized the complete destruction
of the Amalekites.
- Saul and his men destroyed what was worthless,
but saved that which was useful.
- Saul's rebellion led to Yahweh's rejection.
(I Sam 15:17-31) Saul continued as king throughout
I Samuel, but he was no longer Yahweh's king.
- After this, Saul was visited by "an evil
- David was brought in to play the harp and
drive out the evil spirit.
- Saul "loved" David greatly.
- So did everyone else - especially after David's
defeat of Goliath. As David's popularity grew,
Saul's hostility deepened.
- Saul began to perceive David as a threat when
he heard the people singing about "Saul's
thousands" and "David's ten thousands."
- The next day Saul tried to kill David, but
David eluded him twice.
- Saul realized that "the Lord was with
David" and he was afraid of him.
- Saul used his daughter as bait to get the
Philistines to kill David.
- He set the bride-price at 100 Philistines;
David killed 200 and claimed his daughter, Michal,
- Saul was even more afraid of David's popularity.
- Saul plotted to kill David, and spoke with
Jonathan about it. Jonathan helped David escape.
- Saul and his men came under the spirit of
God in their attempt to arrest David. David
was able to escape again.
- Saul's mental state continued to deteriorate.
- Saul's prestige also declined as David's popularity
- Instead of turning to God, Saul tried to solve
his problem on his own.
- When he heard that the priests at Nob had
helped shelter David, he told his men to kill
them. They refused out of respect for the priests,
but Saul found someone else to do the job.
- One priest escaped and told David all that
had occurred. Not only was Saul estranged from
God, but he also lost the support of the priests.
- Saul heard that David was at En-gedi. He set
off in hot pursuit and entered the exact cave
in which David was hiding. David spared his
life - but cut off part of his robe without
Saul knowing it.
- Upon seeing the evidence of his robe and hearing
David's voice, Saul repented and said to David,
"You are more righteous than I." --
But nothing changed between them.
- Then Saul got a tip from the Ziphites as to
- He went there with 3000 men. But during the
night, David snuck into camp and stole his spear
and water jar - again sparing Saul's life.
- The next morning when David showed Saul the
new evidence, Saul admitted he had done a great
wrong. He blessed David. That was their last
- The Philistines continued to be a threat.
- A fresh flurry of fighting put Saul in a dangerous
position. He didn't know what to do. So he went
to the witch of Endor to get advice from Samuel,
who had died. (This is an example of how desperate
Saul really was. He could not call on God, so
he tried to resurrect Samuel.)
- Samuel told Saul that he and his sons would
"join him tomorrow," meaning that
Saul and his sons would be killed.
- Saul was prostrate with fear, but the witch
cared for him by providing a nourishing meal.
- The next day Saul's sons were killed by the
Philistines. Saul was badly wounded, so he asked
his armor-bearer to finish him off. When the
man balked, Saul fell on his own sword and died.
- The Philistines made sport of his body, but
the people of Jabesh-gilead took his body (and
those of his sons) and gave them a proper burial.
These were the people whom Saul delivered from
the Ammonites in the very beginning (ch.11).
They risked their lives out of gratitude to
Saul. Saul's final scene was not shrouded in
humiliation, but in honour and decency.
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Brueggeman, Walter. "1 & 2 Samuel." Interpretation. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1990.
Evans, Mary. "1 and 2 Samuel." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000.
Mills, Watson and Richard Wilson. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1995
Newsom, Carol and Sharon Ringe. The Women's Bible Commentary. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.
Payne, David. "I & II Samuel." The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1982.
Peterson, Eugene. "First and Second Samuel." The Westminster Bible Companion. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999.
Robinson, Gnana. "1 & 2 Samuel, Let Us Be Like the Nations." The International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans, 1993.
Sanford, John. King Saul, The Tragic Hero. New York: Paulist Press. 1985.