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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.