1 Samuel 13


‘Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years. Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Mikmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin. The rest of the men he sent back to their homes. Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul had the trumpet blown throughout the land and said, ‘Let the Hebrews hear!’ So all Israel heard the news: ‘Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel has become obnoxious to the Philistines.’ And the people were summoned to join Saul at Gilgal. The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Mikmash, east of Beth Aven. When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear.’ 1 Samuel 13:1-7

Samuel Rebukes Saul

The text tells us that Saul was thirty years old when he became king, Acts 13:21, and he reigned for forty-two years. However, the translation may be misleading.

Barnes offers the following explanation.

‘The text of this verse, omitted by the Septuagint, is held to be corrupt, and the numerals denoting Saul’s age at his accession as well as the duration of his reign, are thought to be omitted or faulty. Saul may have been about 30 at his accession, and have reigned some 32 years, since we know that his grandson Mephibosheth was five years old at Saul’s death 2 Samuel 4:4; and 32 added to the seven and a half years between the death of Saul and that of Ishbosheth, makes up the 40 years assigned to Saul’s dynasty in Acts 13:21. Neither is there any clue to the interval of time between the events recorded in the preceding chapter, and those which follow in this and succeeding chapters. But the appearance of Jonathan as a warrior 1 Samuel 13:2 compared with the mention of Saul as ‘a young man’, 1 Samuel 9:2, implies an interval of not less than ten or fifteen years, perhaps more. The object of the historian is to prepare the way for the history of David’s reign. He therefore passes at once to that incident in Saul’s reign, which led to his rejection by God, as recorded in 1 Samuel 13:13-14.’

Notice that Jonathan defeated the Philistines at Geba, however, according to 1 Samuel 10:2, he also defeated the Philistines at Gibeah, this tells us that the Philistines had strongholds in both these places.

After the trumpet was blown throughout the land, Saul said, ‘let the Hebrews hear!’ Although the Philistines used the name Hebrew as a derogatory term, 1 Samuel 4:6, Saul uses the word to describe God’s people, Genesis 14:13 / Genesis 40:15.

The Israelites were ‘obnoxious’ which is offensive to the Philistines. This is because they were so different from the Philistines, both culturally and religiously.

Saul gathered everyone at Gilgal, this was important strategically because Gilgal was filled with caves, holes, rocks, tombs and cisterns, Judges 6:2 / Judges 6:11 / Jeremiah 40:11-12. It was the perfect place to hide from the enemy.

When Israel saw the Philistine’s army as numerous as the sand of the seashore, it’s not surprising they were afraid and hid in the caves. After all, the Philistines were trained warriors with chariots, whereas the Israelites were basically just farmers who only fought when someone was attacking them.

‘He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, ‘Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.’ And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him. ‘What have you done?’ asked Samuel. Saul replied, ‘When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favour.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.’ ‘You have done a foolish thing,’ Samuel said. ‘You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.’ Then Samuel left Gilgal and went up to Gibeah in Benjamin, and Saul counted the men who were with him. They numbered about six hundred.’ 1 Samuel 13:8-15

Saul waited seven days for Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice to the Lord, but Samuel didn’t come. Saul felt compelled to offer a burnt offering and so, he decided to take matters into his own hands and offered a sacrifice because the people were all over the place.

When Samuel finally arrives, he wasn’t happy and Saul gave some excuses for his actions.

Saul’s Excuses

1. Saul said his army was dwindling because people were leaving him, and he felt he must do something to stop it.

2. Saul said that Samuel didn’t come as soon as he expected him.

3. Saul said the gathering of the Philistines at Michmash was a threat.

4. Saul said he didn’t wish to go into battle without asking the Lord.

5. Saul said he ‘felt compelled to offer the burnt offering’. This basically means that he acted reluctantly.

Saul offered these excuses to Samuel but Samuel told him he had sinned, for it wasn’t his job to offer sacrifices. Saul plainly disobeyed Samuel and he was a king, not a priest, and only priests were to offer sacrifices, 2 Chronicles 26:1-21. He did a foolish thing in breaking the commandment of the Lord, Romans 1:22.

Because of this foolish act, Samuel tells him that there will be no more kings from his lineage, this would include Jonathon never becoming a king and following in his father’s footsteps.

We must remember that although God rejected Saul, He didn’t reject Israel and because God loved Israel, He would raise up a king, a man after His own heart.

Saul was a man after Israel’s heart, he was all about image, prestige, and the things people look at, but God will now give Israel a man after His own heart and raise that man up to be the next king, that is David, 2 Samuel 12:13.

Earlier, Saul had about 3,000 in his regular army but now he is down to 600 because many soldiers scattered while Saul waited for Samuel. The loss of so many men was probably the reason why Saul offered the sacrifice without Samuel, and it displayed a heart of distrust and disobedience to God.

Israel Without Weapons

‘Saul and his son Jonathan and the men with them were staying in Gibeah in Benjamin, while the Philistines camped at Mikmash. Raiding parties went out from the Philistine camp in three detachments. One turned toward Ophrah in the vicinity of Shual, another toward Beth Horon, and the third toward the borderland overlooking the Valley of Zeboyim facing the wilderness.’ 1 Samuel 13:16-18

Whilst Saul, Johnathon and the other men were at Gibeah, the Philistines just went on the rampage. With such a large army they could go wherever they wanted as no one could stop them. They were a fearless and fearsome army against Saul and Israel.

‘Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, ‘Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!’ So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plough points, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened. The price was two-thirds of a shekel for sharpening plough points and mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening forks and axes and for repointing goads.’ 1 Samuel 13:19-21

These verses explain the sad state that Israel was in during the oppression of the Philistines. The Philistines had all the best weapons and they wanted to make sure Israel didn’t any means of obtaining and making their own.

We can imagine the Philistine blacksmiths, even though they charged each Israelite a small amount of money to sharpen the plough points, mattocks, axes, forks and sickles, would never sharpen them too much so they could be used as a weapon.

‘So on the day of the battle not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them. Now a detachment of Philistines had gone out to the pass at Mikmash.’ 1 Samuel 13:22-23

There were so few iron weapons available that only Saul and Jonathon possessed one, the other Israelites would have to use whatever was available to them.

As we shall see in the next chapter, it was because of this oppression from the Philistines that Jonathan initiated a personal attack against the Philistines.

Go To 1 Samuel 14