By Mary Jane Chaignot

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 as king.
  • 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 Saul's appointment.
  • 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 personality emerged.
  • 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 through Samuel)."
  • The next battle involved the Amalekites, which led to the final breakdown of Saul's listening abilities.
  • 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 spirit."
  • 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, in marriage.
  • 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 increased.
  • 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 David's whereabouts.
  • 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 meeting.
  • 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.


Alter, Robert and Frank Kermode. The Literary Guide to the Bible. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. 1987.

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.

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