Scriptures

King Saul

Introduction

The son of Kish, and a child of prayer, “asked for”, of the tribe of Benjamin, Genesis 49:27, the first king of the Jewish nation. The singular providential circumstances connected with his election as king are recorded in 1 Samuel 8 ff. His father’s she-asses had strayed, and Saul was sent with a servant to seek for them.

Leaving his home at Gibeah, 1 Samuel 9:1-5 “the hill of God, ” “Gibeah of God”, Saul and his servant went toward the north-west over Mount Ephraim, and then turning north-east they came to “the land of Shalisha,” and thence eastward to the land of Shalim, and at length came to the district of Zuph, near Samuel’s home at Ramah. 1 Samuel 9:5-10.

At this point, Saul proposed to return from the three days’ fruitless search, but his servant suggested that they should first consult the “seer.” Hearing that he was about to offer sacrifice, the two hastened into Ramah, and “behold, Samuel came out against them,” on his way to the “bamah”, the “height”, where sacrifice was to be offered; and in answer to Saul’s question, “Tell me, where the seer’s house is,” Samuel made himself known to him. Samuel had been divinely prepared for his coming, 1 Samuel 9:15-17 and received Saul as his guest. He took him with him to the sacrifice, and then after the feast “communed with Saul upon the top of the house” of all that was in his heart.

A Prophet (Seer)

The word prophet means, “to bubble forth, as from a fountain,” “to utter”, Psalm 45:1. This Hebrew word is the first and the most generally used for a prophet. In the time of Samuel another word, “seer”, began to be used, 1 Samuel 9:9. It occurs seven times in reference to Samuel.

Afterwards another word, “seer” 2 Samuel 24:11 was employed. In 1 Chronicles 29:29 all these three words are used: “Samuel the seer, Nathan the prophet, Gad the seer”. In Joshua 13:22 Balaam is called a “diviner,” a word used only of a false prophet.

The “prophet” proclaimed the message given to him, as the “seer” beheld the vision of God. Numbers 12:6+8 and so a prophet was a spokesman for God; he spoke in God’s name and by his authority, Exodus 7:1.

He is the mouth by which God speaks to men, Jeremiah 1:9 / Isaiah 51:16 and so what the prophet says is not of man but of God, 2 Peter 1:20-21 / Hebrews 3:7 / Acts 4:25 / Acts 28:25.

Prophets were the immediate organs of God for the communication of his mind and will to men, Deuteronomy 18:18+19. The whole Word of God may in this general sense be spoken of as prophetic, in as much as it was written by men who received the revelation they communicated from God, no matter what its nature might be. The foretelling of future events was not a necessary but only an incidental part of the prophetic office.

The great task assigned to the prophets whom God raised up among the people was “to correct moral and religious abuses, to proclaim the great moral and religious truths which are connected with the character of God, and which lie at the foundation of his government.”

Any one being a spokesman for God to man might then be called a prophet.

Enoch, Abraham, and the patriarchs, as bearers of God’s message, Genesis 20:7 / Exodus 7:1 / Psalm 105:15 as also Moses, Deuteronomy 18:15 / Deuteronomy 34:10 / Hosea 12:13 are ranked among the prophets.

The seventy elders of Israel, Numbers 11:16-29, “when the spirit rested upon them, prophesied;” Asaph and Jeduthun “prophesied with a harp”, 1 Chronicles 25:3

Miriam and Deborah were prophetesses, Exodus 15:20 / Judges 4:4. The title thus has a general application to all who have messages from God to men. But while the prophetic gift was exercised from the beginning, the prophetical order as such began with Samuel. Colleges, “schools of the prophets”, were instituted for the training of prophets, who were constituted, a distinct order, 1 Samuel 19:18-24 / 2 Kings 2:3+15 / 1 Kings 4:38 which continued to the close of the Old Testament.

Such “schools” were established at Ramah, Bethel, Gilgal, Gibeah, and Jericho. The “sons” or “disciples” of the prophets were young men, 2 Kings 5:22 / 2 Kings 9:1 / 2 Kings 9:4 who lived together at these different “schools” 2 Kings 4:38-41.

These young men were taught not only the rudiments of secular knowledge, but they were brought up to exercise the office of prophet, “to preach pure morality and the heart-felt worship of Jehovah, and to act along and co-ordinately with the priesthood and monarchy in guiding the state right and checking all attempts at illegality and tyranny.”

In New Testament times the prophetical office was continued. Our Lord is frequently spoken of as a prophet, Luke 13:33 / Luke 24:19. He was and is the great Prophet of the Church. There was also in the Church a distinct order of prophets, 1 Corinthians 12:28 / Ephesians 2:20 / Ephesians 3:5 who made new revelations from God.

They differed from the “teacher,” whose office it was to impart truths already revealed. Of the Old Testament prophets, there are sixteen, whose prophecies form part of the inspired canon.

These are divided into four groups

1. The prophets of the northern kingdom (Israel), Hosea, Amos, Joel, Jonah.

2. The prophets of Judah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah.

3. The prophets of Captivity, Ezekiel and Daniel.

4. The prophets of the Restoration, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

The next day Samuel “took a vial of oil and poured it on his head,” and anointed Saul as king over Israel, 1 Samuel 9:25-10:8 giving him three signs in confirmation of his call to be king. When Saul reached his home in Gibeah the last of these signs was fulfilled, and the Spirit of God came upon him, and “he was turned into another man.”

The simple countryman was transformed into the king of Israel, a remarkable change suddenly took place in his whole demeanour, and the people said in their astonishment, as they looked on the stalwart son of Kish, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” a saying which passed into a “proverb.” 1 Samuel 19:24.

Anointing

The practice of anointing with perfumed oil was common among the Hebrews.

1. The act of anointing was significant of consecration to a holy or sacred use; hence the anointing of the high priest, Exodus 29:29 / Leviticus 4:3 and of the sacred vessels, Exodus 30:26. Anointing a king was equivalent to crowning him, 1 Samuel 16:13 / 2 Samuel 2:4. Prophets were also anointed, 1 Kings 19:16 / 1 Chronicles 16:22 / Psalm 105:15).

2. Anointing was also an act of hospitality, Luke 7:38+46.

It was the custom of the Jews in like manner to anoint themselves with oil, as a means of refreshing or invigorating their bodies, Deuteronomy 28:40 / Ruth 3:3 / 2 Samuel 14:2 / Psalm 104:15. This custom is continued among the Arabians to the present day.

What had happened 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, 1 Samuel 10:17-27 and it fell upon Saul, and when he was presented before them, the stateliest man in all Israel, the air was thick 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 an army out of all the tribes of Israel rallied at his summons to the place at Bezek, and he led them forth a great army to battle, gaining a complete victory over the Ammonite invaders at Jabesh, 1 Samuel 11:1-11.

Amid the universal joy occasioned by this victory he was now fully recognised 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, 1 Samuel 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 13:1-2.

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. This 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, 1 Samuel 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 13:13-14.

Offerings and Sacrifices

The offering up of sacrifices is to be regarded as a divine institution. God himself appointed it as the mode in which acceptable worship was to be offered to him by guilty man. In the Mosaic period of Old Testament history definite laws were prescribed by God regarding the different kinds of sacrifices that were to be offered and the manner in which the offering was to be made.

The offering of stated sacrifices became indeed a prominent and distinctive feature of the whole period, Exodus 12:3-27 / Leviticus 23:5-8 / Numbers 9:2-14.

There were of two kinds sacrifices

1. Un-bloody, such as:

a. First-fruits and tithes;

b. Meat and drink-offerings; and

c. Incense.

2. Bloody, such as

a. Burnt-offerings;

b. Peace-offerings; and

c. Sin and trespass offerings.

When Saul, after Samuel’s departure, went out from Gilgal with his 600 men, his followers having decreased to that number, 1 Samuel 13:15 against the Philistines at Michmash, he had his headquarters under a pomegranate tree at Migron, over against Michmash. 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, 1 Samuel 14:1-15. Jonathan and his armour-bearer went down into the waters, 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 eats any food until evening.” But though faint and weary, the Israelites “killed 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, 1 Samuel 14:27. This was afterwards discovered by Saul, 1 Samuel 14:42 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 so the campaign against the Philistines came to an end. This was Saul’s second great military success.

Saul made an oath without thinking through the implications. The results his men were too tired to fight, they were so hungry they ate meat that still contained blood, which was against Gods law. He almost killed his own son. Saul’s impulsive oath sounded heroic but it had disastrous side effects.

Saul’s reign, however, continued to be one of almost constant war against his enemies’ roundabout, 1 Samuel 14:47-48 in all of which he proved victorious. The war against the Amalekites is the only one, which is recorded at length, 1 Samuel 15:1 ff. 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 killed “from Havilah until you come to Shur,” utterly destroying “all the people with the edge of the sword”, 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 to him, “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he also has rejected you from being king” 1 Samuel 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. 1 Samuel 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 player of the harp, 1 Samuel 16:16+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 job 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 killed Goliath of Gath, the champion of the Philistines, 1 Samuel 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, 1 Samuel 18:2 but he became jealous of him, 1 Samuel 18:9 and on many occasions showed his enmity toward him, 1 Samuel 18:10-11 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.

Saul’s life character

His Strengths and accomplishments

He was the first God appointed king of Israel. He was known for his personal courage and generosity. He stood tall, with a striking appearance.

His weaknesses and mistakes

His leadership abilities did not match the expectations created by his appearance. He was impulsive by nature, he tended to over step his bounds. He was jealous of David and tried to kill him. He specifically disobeyed God on several occasions.

Being unable to discover the mind of the Lord, Saul, accompanied by two of his retinue, he took 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, 1 Samuel 28:16-19 who appeared to him.

“He fell straightway all along on the earth, and was so afraid, because of the words of Samuel” 1 Samuel 28:20

The Philistine host “fought against Israel: and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and fell down killed in Mount Gilboa” 1 Samuel 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 next day “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 21:13-14.

King Saul’s decline and fall

First impressions can be deceiving, especially when the image created by a person’s appearance is contradicted by his or her qualities. Saul presented the ideal visual image of a king, but the tendencies of his character often went contrary to God’s commands for a king.

Saul was God’s chosen leader, but this did not mean he was capable of being king on his own. During his reign, Saul had his greatest successes when he obeyed God. His greatest failures resulted from acting on his own. Saul had the raw materials to be a good leader: appearance, courage and actions.

Even his weaknesses could have been used by God if Saul had recognised them and left them in God’s hands. his own choices cut him off from God and eventually alienated him from his own people.

 

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