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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 (Acts.13.21), of the tribe of Benjamin, a handsome man a head taller than his fellow Israelites. He is introduced in 1Sam.9.1-1Sam.9.27, after the people had asked Samuel for a king (1Sam.8.1-1Sam.8.22). Saul and Samuel met for the first time when Saul was searching for some lost donkeys of his father. Greeted by Samuel with compliments, Saul replied with becoming humility (1Sam.9.21; cf. Judg.6.15), but, sadly, before the record of Saul’s life is concluded we are to find that he suffered, to a chronic degree, the disability that matches his virtue: he was diffident and personally insecure more than most, making him both attractively unassuming and also (in later days) pathologically defensive and highly overreactive. Before Saul left, Samuel secretly anointed him as king of Israel, as the Lord had directed. God gave Saul a changed heart (1Sam.10.9), and Saul prophesied among a group of prophets who met him on his way home. We must not diminish the significance of Saul’s new heart. It corresponds to the blessing of regeneration—Saul became a child of God. In the light of this the remainder of his life is deeply sad and pointedly relevant.

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” (1Sam.10.27). His forbearance was supplemented by compassion and decision in his rescue of Jabesh Gilead from the threat of the Ammonites (1Sam.11.1-1Sam.11.15). The lowly nature of the young kingdom is demonstrated by the fact that the king earned his livelihood as a farmer. When the message arrived from the besieged city, Saul was returning from the field behind his oxen (1Sam.11.5). The king’s summons to the people, in the form of pieces of a dismembered yoke of oxen, galvanized Israel into a unified response (1Sam.11.7; cf. Judg.19.29).

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. 1Sam.10.8), and his sin was that he listened to the voice of his own insecurity rather than to the plain word of God. For this the privilege of founding a dynasty was withdrawn from him (1Sam.13.13-1Sam.13.14).

On the human side we are reminded of the pressure of the situation: the great superiority of the Philistines in number (1Sam.13.5), attitude (1Sam.13.6-1Sam.13.7), and equipment (1Sam.13.19-1Sam.13.23). The Philistines had a monopoly on the metal industry; they limited smiths to the Philistine territory and charged the Israelites high rates for the sharpening of tools. At the time of battle only Saul and Jonathan among the Israelites had sword or spear. The Philistines were routed in spite of Saul’s bad judgment in denying food to the Israelites at a time when they most needed strength. Saul fought valiantly and successfully against all the enemies of Israel (1Sam.14.47-1Sam.14.48); though he was a brave leader he was not a good soldier, for he was not aware of the necessity of absolute obedience. The affair of the Amalekites, though a military success, was a spiritual failure. We have no ground for accepting the excuse Saul made for his incomplete obedience (1Sam.15.21). It is consistent with Saul’s deep-seated inner insecurity that popular pressure, coupled with his genuine religious feeling, made him a compromiser in such a situation: the people were bent on a religious festival that would have been as much a party for them as a thanksgiving to the Lord. We can share Saul’s tossings and turnings until he gives way. Once more obedience has been sacrificed on the altar of temperament, and this time (1Sam.15.27-1Sam.15.28) the continuance of his own period of reign and indeed the validity of his kingship itself comes under judgment.

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 (1Sam.28.3). The heartrending tragedy of his life reached its climax in the darkened room of a spiritist medium. Samuel could give him no earthly comfort, but we may wonder if Saul was too far gone in mental disintegration to notice the word of compassionate divine grace that the message included: “Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me” (1Sam.28.19). The Lord never gives up on his own. The next day Saul and his sons died in the battle on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines decapitated Saul and took his remains to Beth Shan, where they placed his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths (1Sam.31.10), his head in the temple of Dagon (1Chr.10.10), and his body on the city wall. The men of Jabesh Gilead remembered Saul’s concern for them; in gratitude they recovered his body and the bodies of his sons from the walls of Beth Shan, gave them honorable burial at Jabesh, and fasted in mourning. David also, when he heard the report, went into mourning and expressed his grief in the elegy of 2Sam.1.19-2Sam.1.27.

Bibliography: H. W. Hertzberg, I and II Samuel, 1964, pp. 75-234.——CEDV and JAM

SAUL (sôl).

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 (Gen 36:37, 38; 1 Chron 1:48, 49 SHAUL [RSV]).

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 1 Samuel 9 gives the limited data available about young Saul. He came from a family of influence and some wealth and he himself was handsome and tall. His father had donkeys and servants. Seeking some lost donkeys, a servant suggested to Saul that they obtain information from Samuel who was at Ramah. Samuel recognized him as the man God had revealed would be the king of Israel, so after a festive meal and a night’s rest, the prophet called Saul aside and anointed him. A series of predictions followed, all of which came true as Saul returned home. The most important was an encounter with a band of prophets and an outpouring of the Spirit on Saul.

Proclaimed king.

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 (4:12-22; Jer 7:14; 26:6, 9). New invaders from the islands of the sea, the Philistines, had settled along the Mediterranean coast and had pushed up into the highlands. Israel had no military organization which was capable of stopping the invaders. Nor did they have weapons, for the Philistines had established a monopoly in the making and the maintenance of iron tools (1 Sam 13:19-22). The Philistines had made Saul’s home town, Gibeah, into an outpost (10:5; 13:3). For some time Samuel, the prophet, had been the figure around whom the Israelites could center their hopes. Israel had no governing institutions, no economic institutions, no effective religious institutions.

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 (14:1-15), though the rest of Israel’s force soon joined the fray and routed the enemy. From this victory Saul moved effectively against Israel’s enemies to the E and to the S. Seemingly, Saul’s army had a simple organization. There was a core group made up of three units which could operate separately (13:2) and a militia called “the people” (13:6, 7). Saul set up his headquarters at his family home at Gibeah (14:2; 15:34). At Gibeah a small but strong walled fortress has been found, which some have assumed to belong to Saul.

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 (11:7). The incident in 13:8-15 implies that the two men had agreed on the necessity of resisting the Philistines. Samuel was to be in charge of the religious ceremonies of the called meeting and Saul in charge of the military aspects. On the pretext that Samuel’s delay in coming to do his duty was unbearable, Saul performed the religious ceremony and brought upon himself a sharp rebuke from Samuel. On the surface Saul’s excuses seem valid enough, but he had overstepped the bounds of his authority and thus revealed that he lacked the wisdom of a good leader. The possibility of an enduring dynasty was removed by his rash act (13:8-14).

A similar situation took place during the war against the Amalekites (15:6-33). At the beginning Samuel and Saul were united in their understanding of the reasons for and the goals of the war, as well as the procedures in dealing with an implacable foe after the victory had been won. However, at the moment when orders must be given to carry out the objectives, he yielded to other pressures and reneged on the agreement. He did his best to rationalize his actions to Samuel, but to no avail. The judgment was that a man who could not carry through on agreed objectives was not worthy and therefore rejected of God. In order not to humiliate Saul too drastically before the people, Samuel did agree to worship with him publicly. But Samuel refused to have anything to do with Saul throughout the remainder of the prophet’s life.

Saul’s last encounter with Samuel was an unpleasant event (28:7-20). Saul had gone to the witch of Endor to gain occult information from Samuel who long had been dead. To the amazement of all, Samuel appeared without occult incitement and severely condemned the king. A relationship which had originally been so fruitful was totally shattered beyond repair.

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 (17:20-58).

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 (18:5-11). Then thwarted hate became fear as the new rival became more famous and acclaimed as a hero. Fear begat cunning and so, under the disguise of flattery, Saul sent David against the Philistines, with the lure of his daughter Merab as a prize (wife) but also the hope that the enemy would kill the young man. When David returned successful, Saul partially reneged on his promise by substituting his second daughter, Michal, for Merab. To Saul’s dismay the union blossomed into mutual love.

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 (19:1-7; 20:1-42). Even Michal took a stand against her father by aiding David (19:11-17).

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 (21:1-9; 22:9-19), and wasted time and strength chasing David through the wilderness of Judah (23:24-26).

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 (23:19-29).

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 (24:1-22).

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 (28:3), but he had never provided positive religious values or practices in their stead. Commercial activity had never been encouraged, so the economic condition of the tribes was at a low ebb. Effective social, cultural and educational institutions had never been built in order to bind the tribes together as a unit. There was a small core army but, evidently, the training of the popular militia had been neglected.

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 (31:1-10; 1 Chron 10:1-10). The armor was put on public display in a temple.

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 (1 Sam 16:21; 18:8, 11). Saul could brook no rival. The inner circle of government became charged with suspicion, fear, jealousy, and hate. Not only was David in danger of his life, but the king’s children, Jonathan and Michal became involved. In the holocaust of terror, kindly priests, who had helped David grudgingly with food, were slaughtered at Saul’s orders by the evil informer, Doeg (21:7; 22:9, 18, 22).

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 History of Israel (1932), 178-196; J. Fleming, Personalities of the Old Testament (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)

(sha’ul; Saoul):

(1) The first king of Israel.


1. Name and Meaning

2. Genealogy

3. Home and Station

4. Sources for Life

5. Election as King

6. Reasons for It


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 1Sa 8:4 ff), but the gentilic adjective sha’uli (Nu 26:13) would point to its having also an intensive connotation, "the one asked importunately," or perhaps, "the one asking insistently," "the beggar."

2. Genealogy:

Saul was the son of Kish, a Benjamite. His genealogical tree is given in 1Sa 9:1 (compare Septuagint 10:21). In 1Sa 9:1 his grandfather is Abiel, but in 1Ch 8:33; 9:39, Ner, who appears as his paternal uncle in 1Sa 14:50,51.

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 1Sa 20:30). This was quite common, and in some cases compulsory (De 25:5-9).

3. Home and Station:

Saul’s home was at GIBEAH (which see), which is also called Gibeah of Saul, i.e. Saul’s Hill (1Sa 11:4; compare also 1Sa 10:5, God’s Hill, or simply The Hill, 1Sa 10:10; Ho 5:8, etc.), or the Hill of Benjamin or of the Benjamites (1Sa 13:15; 2Sa 23:29). It is usually identified with Tell el-Ful, but perhaps its site is marked rather by some ruins near but beneath that eminence. The tribe of Benjamin was the fighting tribe of Israel, and Kish seems to have been one of its most important members. Saul’s remarks in depreciation (1Sa 9:21) are not to be taken literally.

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 Books of Samuel. 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 (1Sa 9:1-10:16). According to B, the sheiks of the tribes demanded a king. Samuel in vain tried to dissuade them. They would not listen, and a king was chosen by lot at Mizpah. The lot fell upon Saul, and Samuel immediately demitted office (1Sa 8; 10:17-27, omitting the last clause; and chapter 12).

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 (1Sa 8:1 ); second, an invasion of the Ammonites (1Sa 12:12); and third, the Philistines (1Sa 9:16). These three motives are not mutually exclusive. The Philistines formed the standing menace to the national existence, which would have necessitated the creation of a monarchy sooner or later. The other two were temporary circumstances, one of which aggravated the situation, while the other showed the hopelessness of expecting any improvement in it in the near future.

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 (1Sa 10:27 the Septuagint, for Massoretic Text "But he held his peace"), the summons came. A message from the citizens of JABESH-GILEAD (which see) was sent round the tribes appealing for help against the Ammonites under Nahash. They, of course, knew nothing about what had taken place at Mizpah, and it was only by chance that their messengers arrived at Gibeah when they did. Saul rose to the occasion, and immediately after he was acclaimed king by the whole body of the people (1Sa 11). This double election, first by the chiefs and then by the people, is quite a regular proceeding.

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 (1Sa 10:26, the Septuagint, the Revised Version margin); he was now able to form a standing army of 3,000 men, under the command of himself and his son JONATHAN (which see). The Philistines, the last remnant of the Minoan race, had the advantage of the possession of iron weapons. It was, in fact, they who introduced iron into Palestine from Crete--the Israelites knowing only bronze, and having even been deprived of weapons of the softer metals. They seem to have armed themselves--with the exception of the king and his son--with mattocks and plowshares (1Sa 13:19 ).

3. Battle of Michmash:

The first encounter was the attack upon the Philistine post at Michmash (1Sa 13; 14). The text of the narrative is uncertain, but the following outline is clear. On hearing that the Hebrews had revolted (1Sa 13:3, the Septuagint), the Philistines gathered in great force, including 3,000 chariots (1Sa 13:5, the Septuagint; the Massoretic Text has 30,000) at Michmash. In dismay, Saul’s troops deserted (1Sa 13:6 f), until he was left with only 600 (1Sa 14:2). In spite of this, Jonathan precipitated hostilities by a reckless attack upon one of the outposts. This was so successful that the whole Philistine army was seized with panic, and the onset of Saul and the desertion of their Hebrew slaves completed their discomfiture. Saul followed up his victory by making predatory excursions on every side (1Sa 14:47).

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 (1Sa 15).

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 (1Sa 8:6). Even after the elections of Saul, Samuel claimed to be the ecclesiastical head of the state. He seems to have objected to Saul’s offering the sacrifice before battle (1Sa 13:10 ), and to have considered him merely as his lieutenant (1Sa 15:3) who could be dismissed for disobedience (1Sa 15:14 ). Here again there seem to be two distinct accounts in the traditional text, which we may again call A and B. In A, Saul is rejected because he does not wait long enough for Samuel at Gilgal (1Sa 13:8; compare 1Sa 10:8). "Seven days," of course, means eight, or even more, in short, until Samuel should come, whenever that might be. The expression might almost be omitted in translating. In B Saul is rejected because he did not carry out Samuel’s orders (1Sa 15:3) to the letter. The two narratives are not mutually exclusive. The second offense was an aggravation of the first, and after it Samuel did not see Saul again (1Sa 15:35).

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 2Ki 9:6,10). Saul did not at once accept his deposition, but he lost heart. One cannot but admire him, deserted by Samuel, and convinced that he was playing a losing game, and yet continuing in office. To drive away his melancholy, his servants introduced to him a musician who played until his spirits revived (1Sa 16:14 ; compare 2Ki 3:15).

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 (1Sa 17:1 ; see David). In spite of all that has been said to the contrary, the two narratives are not incompatible, since we are not told the order of the events nor over how many years these events were spread. The theory of duplicate narratives rests upon the assumption that all statements made by the dramatis personae in the Bible are to be taken at their face value. If 1 Samuel 16 and 17 had formed part of a play of Shakespeare, they would have been considered a fine example of his genius. Treatises would have been written to explain why Saul did not recognize David, and why Abner denied all knowledge of him. Septuagint, however, omits 1Sa 17:12-31,41,50,55-18:5.

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 (1Sa 18:7 f). His consequent attempt upon the life of David (1Sa 18:8-11) is omitted in the Septuagint. Not least was the love of his own daughter for David (1Sa 18:20; in 1Sa 18:28 read with Septuagint "all Israel"). The second cause was his natural objection to see his son Jonathan supplanted in his rights to the throne, an objection which was aggravated by the devotion of that son to his own rival (1Sa 20:30).


9. Attempts to Get Rid of David:

Saul could not believe that David could remain loyal to him (1Sa 24:9); at the first favorable opportunity he would turn upon him, hurl him from the throne, and exterminate his whole house. In these circumstances, it was his first interest to get rid of him. His first attempt to do so (omitting with Septuagint 1Sa 18:8 b-11) was to encourage him to make raids on the Philistines in the hope that these might kill him (1Sa 18:21 ); his next, assassination by one of his servants (1Sa 19:1), and then by his own hand (1Sa 19:9 f). When David was compelled to fly, the quarrel turned to civil war. The superstitious fear of hurting the chosen of Yahweh had given place to blind rage. Those who sheltered the fugitive, even priests, were slaughtered (1Sa 22:17 ). From one spot to another David was hunted, as he says, like a partridge (1Sa 26:20).

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 (1Sa 23:27 f); but after his life had been twice spared, he seemed to realize at last that the latter were the real enemy, and he threw his whole strength into one desperate effort for existence.

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 (1Sa 28:6), and was obliged to have recourse to a necromancer, one of a class whom he himself had taken means to suppress (1Sa 28:3). The result of the seance confirmed his worst fears and filled his soul with despair (1Sa 28:7 ).

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 1Sa 14:4). The result was what had been foreseen. The Israelites, no doubt greatly reduced in numbers (contrast 1Sa 11:8), were completely defeated, and Saul and his sons slain. Their armor was placed in the temple of Ashtaroth, and their bodies hung on the wall of Bethshan, but Saul’s head was set in the temple of Dagon (1Ch 10:10). The citizens of Jabesh-gilead, out of ancient gratitude, rescued the bodies and, in un-Semitic wise, burned them and buried the bones.

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 (1Sa 31:4). According to the second (2Sa 1:2 ), an Amalekite, who had been by accident a witness of the battle, dispatched Saul at his own request to save him from the enemy. But B is simply the continuation of A, and tells us how David received the news of the battle. The Amalekite’s story is, of course, a fabrication with a view to a reward. Similar claims for the reward of assassination are common (2Sa 4:9 ).

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 (1Ch 10, especially 1Ch 10:13,14). Saul was rejected because he was disloyal to Yahweh, especially in consulting a necromancer. The major premise of this conclusion, however, is the ancient dictum, "Misfortune presupposes sin." From a wider point of view, Saul cannot be dismissed in so cavalier a manner.

2. Saul’s Failings:

3. His Virtues:

On the other hand, Saul possessed many high qualities. His dread of office (1Sa 10:22) was only equaled by the coolness with which he accepted it (1Sa 11:5). To the first call to action he responded with promptitude (1Sa 11:6 ). His timely aid excited the lasting gratitude of the citizens of Jabesh-gilead (1Sa 31:11 ) If we remember that Saul was openly disowned by Samuel (1Sa 15:30), and believed himself cast off by Yahweh, we cannot but admire the way in which he fought on to the last. Moreover, the fact that he retained not only his own sons, but a sufficient body of fighting men to engage a large army of Philistines, shows that there must have been something in him to excite confidence and loyalty.

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 (2Sa 1:19 ).

(2) Saul of Tarsus.

See Paul.