SAUL (sôl, Heb. shā’ûl, asked of God, Gr. Saulos)
1. A king of Edom (see Shaul, Shaulites).
2. A son of Simeon (see Shaul, Shaulites).
3. An ancestor of Samuel and descendant of Levi (see Shaul, Shaulites).
4. A prominent apostle (see Paul).
5. The first king of Israel, a son of Kish (
The choice of Saul as king was confirmed by lot at an assembly of Israel convened by Samuel at Mizpah, but the bashful young man was in hiding and had to be brought before the people. In spite of his manly appearance he was ridiculed by some rifraff, “but Saul kept silent” (
After the deliverance of the city, Saul showed his generosity by insisting that his earlier detractors should not be punished. A military crisis with the Philistines revealed flaws in the character of Saul. When Samuel delayed in coming to make offering before battle, Saul presumed to present the offering himself. He found himself in the sort of situation that imposed the severest pressures on a man of his temperament. No leader easily accepts the criticism of inaction nor is any leader always aware when the moment of action has come. Those who, like Saul, are temperamentally hesitant, are often betrayed into hasty responses to crises lest they be thought inadequate. For such, as for Saul, the solution is a resolute determination to obey such commands of God as touch the situation. Saul had a command (cf.
On the human side we are reminded of the pressure of the situation: the great superiority of the Philistines in number (
The eve of what proved to be Saul’s final battle brought the king under desperate pressure. He was so far gone in the disintegration of his personality that he did not know how to get right with God, and in a final and tragic way his temperamental insecurity again triumphed. He yielded to advice that affronted all that his life had held dear and all that his considerably successful period as king had achieved—he turned to the forces of darkness, those same forces he had earlier banished from the land (
Bibliography: H. W. Hertzberg, I and II Samuel, 1964, pp. 75-234.——CEDV and JAM
SAUL sôl (שָׁאוּל; LXX Σαουλ, meaning asked, one who keeps on asking, beggar). In the OT the name belonged to two men.
Saul, a descendant of Esau
; he reigned in Edom (
Saul the first king of Israel
(see below). In the NT the name appears as the Heb. name of the Apostle Paul (see Paul).
The opening of
The general situation.
Saul lived in troubled times. For some time Israel had been simply a loose confederation of twelve tribes with no single leader. Judges had arisen under the call of God to serve in various regions of the land in times of crisis. There had been a common sanctuary at Shiloh, but it was now destroyed (
Initial acts to establish a nation.
Saul’s first major move was against the local Philistine garrison. He formed a small army of 3,000 men, divided between himself and his son Jonathan, who soon destroyed the garrison at Geba. The enemy immediately reacted by bringing in a large force of chariots, cavalry and troops stationing them at Michmash. They were dramatically defeated, almost singlehandedly by Jonathan (
Saul’s relationship with Samuel.
Saul owed everything to Samuel, the prophet, but they soon came into conflict. There was no clear distinction between civil activities and religious activities. In the early part of Saul’s reign, there seemed to be a cooperative attitude, for in calling the people to war against the Ammonites, Saul linked his name with the name of Samuel (
A similar situation took place during the war against the Amalekites (
Saul’s last encounter with Samuel was an unpleasant event (
Saul’s relationship with David.
Samuel’s act of anointing David as a future ruler in Israel was, seemingly, a secret of which Saul knew nothing for many years. David was not known to the king until the encounter with the Philistines in which Goliath challenged an Israelite to a duel (
David’s entrance on the national scene was dramatic and greatly impressed Saul, but won the admiration and affection of Jonathan, Saul’s son.
The next time we see Saul and David together Saul is portrayed as emotionally sick due to “an evil spirit from the Lord,” and in need of help. It was decided that music would meet the need, so a search was made and David brought in to serve as both a harp player and as the personal armor-bearer for Saul. David soon became a skilled soldier. His popularity soared to such heights that Saul was eclipsed. The effects of this turn of events were devastating, resulting in Saul’s effort to kill David (
Saul’s relationship with David became complicated by Jonathan’s refusal to go along with his father’s efforts to destroy David; in fact he actively aided his friend to escape after temporarily persuading Saul to spare David’s life (
The intensity of Saul’s hatred toward David increased to the extent that he soon recklessly slaughtered any group which gave him aid and comfort (
David was an elusive prey. He fled from Saul in the wilderness of Ziph, because the local people were loyal to Saul and betrayed David’s presence there. Saul gave chase and followed David to the wilderness of Maon, but had to cease because word came that the Philistines had invaded Israel (
Spies kept Saul informed and soon he pursued David to the wilderness of Engedi, among the barren hills just W of the Dead Sea. It so happened that Saul made camp in the cave in which David and his men were hiding. While Saul slept, David cut off part of the king’s robe, but refused to harm the king. Later, after all had left the cave, David called to Saul from a safe distance and informed him how near the king had been to death. This act of mercy so shamed Saul that he begged for mercy on his posterity. Saul confessed that he knew that David would be the next king. With this statement completed, Saul called off his chase and returned home (
Saul’s last years.
The threat from the Philistines became more severe, for they seemed determined to take advantage of Saul, whose government had suffered much from his quarrels with David. Saul could scarcely build a strong organization while pursuing David in the desert. Samuel was dead, so the religious life of the people was practically nil. Saul had outlawed Canaanite fetish practices (
Saul’s kingdom seemed ripe for the picking; the Philistines were eager to be the pickers. The center of attack focused on the northern approaches to the highlands from the valley of Jezreel, much like the Israeli-Jordan tactics of 1967.
Saul was not prepared for the battle, neither militarily nor spiritually. His unfortunate encounter with the witch of Endor and with the spirit of Samuel had unnerved him.
The battle was a disaster from the beginning. Saul’s army was quickly routed, then slaughtered by the Philistines as they sought to escape. Among the fallen were three of Saul’s sons: Jonathan, Abinadab and Melchishua. The king himself was wounded by an arrow. In agony, Saul begged his armor-bearer to thrust him through with a sword; he refused. Desperately, Saul fell on his own sword and thus ended his life in ignominy.
When Saul’s body was found by the Philistines, they dishonored it by cutting off the head, stripping off the armor and hanging the naked body on the outside wall of Beth-shan (
The disgrace which had befallen Saul stirred a people whom he had helped early in his reign, the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead. At great risk to themselves, men from this city removed the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth-shan and gave them proper burial.
The spiritual odyssey of Saul.
Saul is one of the most tragic figures of the OT. He entered his life’s work with great promise, but ended it with shame and dishonor.
When one first meets Saul in the Scripture he does not gain the impression that Saul was an unusual person, except that he was much taller than others. The fact that he assumes that a fee would have to be paid Samuel for a prediction of where the donkeys were located, reveals his lack of understanding of how true Heb. prophecy differed from that practiced among his pagan neighbors. His lack of knowledge of who Samuel really was, reveals his ignorance of the name of the great men of his people and his lack of interest in them. Saul’s servant knew, but he did not.
Yet, Saul was a modest fellow, ready to admit his unimportance, because his tribe, Benjamin, was insignificant. He did not protest the favors which Samuel showered on him, but he did not revel in them either.
Saul was attentive to Samuel’s predictions and readily responded to the influence of the Spirit of God on his heart and the workings of the Spirit among the joyful band of prophets. Here is the first instance in Scripture in which the Spirit of God and a heart change are linked together.
Saul’s spiritual experience, with resultant success in aiding the people of Jabesh-gilead against the Ammonites and defending his own people from the Philistines, did not engender pride in his heart. He did not seek the leadership of Israel; he tried to evade it. But both Samuel and the Israelites saw Saul as God’s choice.
The success which God gave Saul in political and military affairs did give him trouble. For a time he shared leadership and decision making with Samuel, but soon chafed under the restraints of sharing power and popularity. And this became the watershed of his life. Tradition and custom in the ancient near E held that kings should be sole rulers, though Israel had never accepted this dictum. Saul was lured by it, and using Samuel’s seemingly unnecessary delay as an excuse, Saul violated an established shared leadership by taking on the functions of a priest as well as a king, on the basis of pious motive. It was a serious mistake, and he suffered the humiliation of a severe rebuke.
Saul possessed a serious personality flaw. He was given to rash decisions while under pressure. In a battle with the Philistines, Saul’s son, Jonathan, ate honey, not knowing that his father had put a curse on anyone eating food during the battle. Saul faced a painful dilemma. If he ignored his son’s act he would be guilty of negating his own command on the basis of favoritism. If he rigidly carried out his curse, he would have to kill his own son. It was a crisis of authority and on the face of it Saul seemed heroic in his willingness to put Jonathan to death. But the army objected and openly forced the king to back down from his position. The crisis of authority became a crisis of confidence and Saul lost.
Saul became less sure of himself and in the victory over Agag, the Amalekite, quickly yielded to the people’s greed for loot. He backed off from his judicial role as executor of the criminal renegade, Agag. He had been willing to kill Jonathan but shrank from killing the bloody Amalekite. Saul’s fumbling excuses before Samuel brought down the clap of doom upon his kingly future. Samuel and God parted company with Saul. The king never recovered from the shock of rejection, though he sought reinstatement carefully with tears.
Instead of the good Spirit of God, an evil spirit took over in Saul’s life. His heart changed for the worse and a fearful depression repeatedly seized him. He fluctuated between positive and negative feelings toward those near him. He both loved and hated David (
In the series of events leading up to this tragic moment, one incident is most revealing. David had been located as under the protection of Samuel’s prophetic band. Saul’s police, repeatedly, were overawed by the presence of God’s Spirit among the prophets and could not arrest David. Saul went personally, but the jealousy, hate, and fear which indwelt his soul reacted negatively in the presence of God’s servants. Saul prophesied, but not as before; he lost his self-control and stripped himself of clothing. He lost self-consciousness, falling helplessly to the ground. For a king, it was a most humiliating experience, and Saul came out of it more venomous than before. Death and terror marked his associations with others from that time on.
David was Saul’s special target and Saul almost trapped him. The king’s dismay was devastating when he discovered that, unwittingly, he had slept in the same cave as David, who daringly had cut off a portion of Saul’s robe. When, from a safe distance, David confronted Saul, the king reacted characteristically. His anger dissolved into groveling confession that David was in the right and ended with an entreaty for mercy.
Saul tried to capture David again but was outsmarted and publicly ridiculed for leaving his person so poorly guarded. Saul confessed he was a sinner and a fool. The chase was over, but Saul’s spirit was broken.
Faced with an impending attack by the Philistines, Saul violated his own prohibitions on witchcraft and sought help from the witch of Endor. Through no skill of the old woman, Saul was met by the spirit of dead Samuel and heard the fatal words of doom.
Saul had no heart for the battle that ensued, nor for the captivity which seemed inevitable. His suicide was an act of utter hopelessness and fear, an act rare in the annals of Israel. The young man of great promise had become an old man of utter disgrace.
R. Kittel, Great Men and Movements in Israel (1929), 86-112; T. H. Robinson, A(1932), 178-196; J. Fleming, Personalities of the (1948), 96-116; A. Whyte, Bible Characters (1954, reprint), 228-234; M. F. Unger, Archaeology and the Old Testament (1954), 197-203; J. Bright, A History of Israel (1959), 163-174; S. T. Frost, Patriarchs and Prophets (1963), 99-108.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(1) The first king of Israel.
I. EARLY HISTORY
1. Name and Meaning
3. Home and Station
4. Sources for Life
5. Election as King
6. Reasons for It
II. REIGN AND FALL
1. His First Action
2. Army Reorganized
3. Battle of Michmash
4. Defeats the Amalekites
5. Deposition Pronounced
6. David Introduced to Saul
7. Two Accounts
8. Saul’s Envy of David
9. Attempts to Get Rid of David
10. David Spares Saul
11. Saul’s Divided Energies
12. Consults a Necromancer
13. Battle of Gilboa
14. Double Accounts
15. Saul’s Posterity
1. Book of Chronicles
2. Saul’s Failings
3. His Virtue
4. David’s Elegy
I. Early History.
1. Name and Meaning:
The name Saul is usually regarded as simply the passive participle of the verb "to ask," and so meaning "asked" (compare
Saul was the son of Kish, a Benjamite. His genealogical tree is given in
The last verse contains a very curious scribal error, a yodh having slipped out of one word in it into another. It states that both Abner and Ner were sons of Abiel. These apparent inconsistencies are to be explained by the fact that in Hebrew, as in Arabic, "son" is often used in the sense of grandson. Also, with the facility of divorce then prevalent, by "brother" and "sister" we must in most cases understand half-brother and half-sister. Moreover, Saul’s mother might have been the wife at different times of Kish and of his brother Ner (compare
3. Home and Station:
Saul’s home was at GIBEAH (which see), which is also called
4. Sources for Life:
The circumstances of Saul’s career are too well known to require recapitulation. It will be sufficient to refer to some of the recognized difficulties of the narrative. These difficulties arise from the fact that we appear to have two distinct biographies of Saul in the present. This may well be the case as it is the practice of the Semitic historian to set down more than one tradition of each event, without attempting to work these up into one consistent account. We shall call the duplicated narratives A and B, without postulating that either is a continuous whole.
See Books of Samuel.
5. Election as King:
According to A, Saul was anointed king of Israel at Ramah by the prophet Samuel acting upon an inspiration from Yahweh, not only without consulting anyone, but in the strictest secrecy (
6. Reasons for It:
There are three distinct reasons given in the text for the abolition of theocracy and institution of an elective or hereditary monarchy: first, the incapacity of Samuel’s sons (
II. Reign and Fall.
1. His First Action:
The election of Saul at Mizpah was conducted in the presence of the chieftains of the clans; it is not to be supposed that the whole nation was present. As soon as it was over, the electors went home, and Saul also returned to his father’s farm and, like Cincinnatus, once more followed the plow. "Within about a month," however (
2. Army Reorganized:
This first success encouraged Saul to enter upon what was to be the mission of his life, namely, the throwing off of the Philistine suzerainty. From the first he had had the boldest spirits upon his side (
3. Battle of Michmash:
The first encounter was the attack upon the Philistine post at Michmash (
4. Defeats the Amalekites:
Saul’s next expedition was against the Amalekites under Agag, who were likewise completely defeated. The fight was carried out with all the remorselessness common to tribal warfare. Warning was sent to the friendly Kenites to withdraw out of danger; then the hostile tribe was slaughtered to a man, their chief alone being spared for the time being. Even the women and children were not taken as slaves, but were all killed (
5. Deposition Pronounced:
It is not clear what was the precise attitude of Samuel toward Saul. As the undoubted head of theocracy he naturally objected to his powers being curtailed by the loss of the civil power (
6. David Introduced to Saul:
He had good reason for not doing so. He had anointed a rival head of the state in opposition to Saul, an act of treason which, if discovered, would have cost him his head (compare
7. Two Accounts:
By a strange coincidence (compare I, 5, above) the minstrel was the very person whom Samuel had secretly anointed to supplant Saul. According to what looks like another account, however, it was his encounter with Goliath which led to the introduction of David to Saul (
8. Saul’s Envy of David:
Whether Saul actually discovered that David had been anointed by Samuel or not, he soon saw in him his rival and inevitable successor, and he would hardly have been human if he had not felt envious of him. His dislike of David had two motives. The first was jealousy, because the women preferred the military genius of David to his own (
See also DAVID; JONATHAN.
9. Attempts to Get Rid of David:
Saul could not believe that David could remain loyal to him (
10. David Spares Saul:
It is generally maintained that here also we have duplicate accounts; for example, that there are two accounts of David taking refuge with Achish, king of Gath, and two of his sparing Saul’s life. The latter are contained in 1 Samuel 24 and 26, but the points of resemblance are slight. Three thousand (24:2; 26:2) was the number of Saul’s picked men (compare 13:2). David uses the simile of "a flea" in 24:14, but in 26:20 for "a flea" Septuagint has "my soul," which is no doubt original. The few other expressions would occur naturally in any narrative with the same contents.
11. Saul’s Divided Energies:
Obviously Saul’s divided energies could not hold out long; he could not put down the imaginary rebellion within, and at the same time keep at bay the foreign foe. No sooner had he got the fugitive within his grasp than he was called away by an inroad of the Philistines (
12. Consults a Necromancer:
Saul himself saw that his case was desperate, and that in fact the game was up. As a forlorn hope he determined to seek occult advice. He could no longer use the official means of divination (
13. Battle of Gilboa:
It says much for Saul that, hopeless as he was, he engaged in one last forlorn struggle with the enemy. The Philistines had gathered in great force at Shunem. Saul drew up his army on the opposing hill of Gilboa. Between the two forces lay a valley (compare
14. Double Accounts:
Once more we have, according to most present-day critics, duplicate accounts of the death of Saul. According to one, which we may name A, he fell, like Ajax whom he much resembles, upon his own sword, after being desperately wounded by the archers (
15. Saul’s Posterity:
III. Character. 1. Book of Chronicles:
Saul’s life and character are disposed of in a somewhat summary fashion by the Chronicler (
2. Saul’s Failings:
3. His Virtues:
On the other hand, Saul possessed many high qualities. His dread of office (
4. David’s Elegy:
There is, however, no question as to the honorable and noble qualities of Saul. The chief were his prowess in war and his generosity in peace. They have been set down by the man who knew him best in what are among the most authentic verses in the Bible (