Saul, son of Kish

REIGN: 40 years (Acts 13:21)
SCRIPTURE: 1 Samuel chapters 8 - 15
DATES: 1050 - 1010 B.C.

For Israel to have a king was in the plan of God. Jacob's prophecy as recorded in Genesis 49:8-12, and the royal responsibilities of a king as outlined in the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) certainly indicated this. However, Israel demanded a king before it was the proper time and their motivation “that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles” was wrong (1Sam 8:20). By rejecting Samuel, they rejected God Himself and His rule over them. Futhermore, if they had given credence to the words of the prophecy, then the Son of Kish, who was a Benjamite would not have been chosen. Their own patriarch had foretold that right to rule over the other tribes belonged to Judah.

Samuel warned the people that a king would tax them, conscript their sons into his army, take the best of their flocks and fields, put their daughters to work as cooks, and take their servants to be his own. Samuel predicted a time would come when the people would cry out because of this, but that the Lord would not hear them in that day. Despite Samuel's earnest protests, the people demanded a king. The dark impulse of the people's want is revealed in the fixation that the people had with Nahash, the Ammonite king who came against the children of Israel (1Sam 12:12). Faith faltered in God's ability to deliver them, only to be replaced by lust for a worldly king.

In his attaining kingship, Saul received three separate appointments:

As king, Saul underwent three leadership tests which revealed flaws in his character:

At Rama, in a private anointing by Samuel, Saul was set aside for God's service:

“Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him and said: Is it not because the LORD has anointed you commander over His inheritance?” (1Sam 10:1)

He was a man from the smallest of the tribes, a Benjamite, a mighty man of power. The name Saul means “desired” and upon him was the desire of all Israel. Saul was a tall, attractive young man who fit perfectly the preconceived mold of the people's imagination. Therefore, God chose Saul to be captain over His inheritance, the nation of Israel which uniquely belonged to Him (Deu 4:20; 9:26). Samuel told Saul that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon him, that he would prophesy and be turned into another man, and he was given this charge:

“You shall go down before me to Gilgal; and surely I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and make sacrifices of peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, till I come to you and show you what you should do. So it was, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, that God gave him another heart; and all those signs came to pass that day. When they came there to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.” (1Sam 10:8-10)

At Mizpah, Samuel called the people together to remind them how the Lord had delivered them from Egypt and all the other kingdoms that oppessed them, and how they had now rejected Him in saying “No, set a king over us!” Samuel commanded them to present themselves before the Lord by their tribes and clans. By public process, the tribe of Bejamin was chosen, next the family of Matri, and finally Saul the son of Kish.

“And Samuel said to all the people, Do you see him whom the LORD has chosen, that there is no one like him among all the people? So all the people shouted and said, Long live the king!” (1Sam 10:24)

Samuel explained to the people the behavior of royalty, and sent them back home. A band of valiant men whose hearts God had touched returned with Saul back to his home in Gibeah. Although Saul gained popular support, some rebels despised his exaltation and questioned how he could possibly save them.

Then Nahash the Ammonite came up and encamped against Jabesh Gilead. The men of the city pleaded with him to make a covenant, but he agreed only on the condition “that I may put out all your right eyes, and bring reproach on all Israel.” When the news reached Gibeah and Saul heard the people weeping, the Spirit of God came upon him and his anger was greatly aroused. Saul took a yoke of oxen, cut them in pieces and sent them by messenger throughout all Israel saying:

“Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to battle, so it shall be done to his oxen. And the fear of the LORD fell on the people, and they came out with one consent.” (1Sam 11:7b)

This act had a profound effect upon the children of Israel, they rallied to the cause and came out in force to deliver Jabesh Gilead from Nahash's threat. Saul lead the armies of Israel into battle and from early morning until noon day sun the Ammonites were killed and scattered. This victory further unified support for Saul's kingship to the point that the people petitioned Samuel to have those who had earlier rebelled against Saul's authority be put to death. But Saul refused and said “not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the LORD has accomplished salvation in Israel.”

“Then Samuel said to the people, Come, let us go to Gilgal and renew the kingdom there. So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal. There they made sacrifices of peace offerings before the LORD, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.” (1Sam 11:14-15)

At Gilgal, Saul's kingship was solidified by the universal acclaimation of the children of Israel. Despite the nation being unified under the new king, Samuel still wanted to rebuke the people for ignoring and rejected what God had done without a king. Samuel said “I have heeded your voice to make a king over you and here he is walking before you... now I am old and greyheaded and have walked before you from my youth.” He challenged them to testify against him if there was any law that he had violated in all that time, and they could not but rather affirmed his righteousness. Samuel recounted a telescoped history of Israel's varied deliverances at the hand of judges sent by God in the face of their waxing and waning loyalty to Him.

Samuel said “behold the king whom you have chosen, and whom you desired!, and, behold, the Lord has set a king over you.” He charged both the king and the people, reminding them that there would be blessings for obeying and curses for disobeying the commands of the Lord (cf. Deu 10:12; Deu 28; Jos 24:14). Driving home the lesson, Samuel called out to the Lord and told the people “stand and see this great thing which the LORD will do before your eyes.” It was the time of the wheat harvest — months past the end of the rainy season, but in response to Samuel, God demonstrated His displeasure with Israel's wickedness in choosing Saul, by sending a miraculous thunderstorm (1Sam 12:17). This event caused all the people to greatly fear, but Samuel reassured them that God would not forsake them and that he would pray for them and continue to instruct them in the right way. He encouraged them to serve God in truth with all their heart and cautioned them that if they continued to walk in their wicked ways, eventually they would be swept away along with their king.

In chapter 13, Saul's first test of leadership is recorded. His original commission was to save the people from the hand of the Philistines (1Sam 9:16). A rule that began in humility (1Sam 9:21) and with great promise now took an ominous turn. Samuel had commanded Saul to wait in Gilgal for seven days, until he would come to do sacrifice and instruct the king (1Sam 10:8). The Philistines were encamped in Michmash in preparation for battle with Saul's army gathered together at Gilgal. Near the end of the appointed seven days, Saul's men grew fearful of the Philistines and started deserting. When Samuel did not yet appear, Saul grew impatient and offered up the burnt sacrifice himself. This unlawful intrusion into the priest's office cost him a dynasty.

Immediately Samuel appeared, “And Samuel said to Saul, "You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you. For now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” (1Sam 13:13-14)

By forcing himself to make the supplication, Saul had committed the sin of presumption. Furthermore, he had disobeyed Samuel which means he had disobeyed God because the command of a prophet is a direct command of God. At this point, Saul was in effect placed on a divine “probation” and while he himself had not yet lost the right to rule, no son of Saul would ever sit upon the throne of Israel. God had already selected Saul's successor, a man after His own heart and the king of His perfect will.

Saul numbered his men and discovered that only about 600 remained, which meant that some 1,400 had deserted from his original force (cf. 1 Sam 13:2). At this time, the Philistines possessed superior metal-working science, having already advanced into the Iron Age. Israel was stuck in the Bronze Age until later in David's reign (cf. 1Ch 22:3). With a monopoly on iron technology, Israel was forced to pay Philistine blacksmiths an exhorbitant price to sharpen instruments potentially that could be used against them. Consequentially, only a select few including Saul and Jonathan of Israel's forces wielded iron swords or spears. THREE PHILISTINE RAIDING PARTIES?

In chapter 14, Saul experienced a second test of leadership when his son Jonathan decided to tip the scales in Israel's favor by stepping out in faith.

“Now it happened one day that Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who bore his armor, Come, let us go over to the Philistines' garrison that is on the other side. But he did not tell his father.” (1Sam 14:1)

Between the passes by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistines' garrison, there was a sharp rock on one side facing Michmash, and a sharp rock on the other side facing Gibeah. The name of one rock outcropping was Bozez, meaning “slippery” and the name of the other was Seneh, meaning “thorny.”

“Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the LORD will work for us. For nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few.” (1Sam 14:6)

Jonathan's great faith is evident by this statement, a faith that should have been demonstrated by his father. With his armorbearer in full support they showed themselves to the Philistines who challenged them to come up and fight. Jonathan had already determined that if his enemies responded in this manner, it meant that God had delivered them into his hands. Without delay, Jonathan and his trusty armorbearer scrambled hand and knee up the steep precipice into the fray. The twenty uncircumcised man contingent could not withstand their brave attack. They quickly dispatched the Philistines in hand to hand combat while at the same time a supernatural attack was launched:

“And there was trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and the raiders also trembled; and the earth quaked, so that it was a very great trembling. Now the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and there was the multitude, melting away; and they went here and there.” (1Sam 14:16)

The earthquake caused panic among the Philistines and affirms that divine intervention aided Jonathan and his armorbearer in their raid. God would have similarly intervened on Saul's behalf if he would have chosen to be faithfully patient in waiting for Samuel at Gilgal. This amazing turn of events caused Saul to initiate a roll call which revealed that Jonathan and his armorbearer were missing from camp. Ahijah, a great-grandson of the prophet Eli who wore the ephod was summoned by Saul to inquire of the Lord's will. However, Ahijah was stopped short of his task when a great tumult in the Philistine camp drew Saul's attention. All the people who were with him assembled and they went to the battle. On the battlefield they discovered that every man's sword was against his neighbor, and there was very great confusion. Many of the earlier deserters who were holed up in the mountains of Ephraim rejoined Saul's force and the Philistines were routed. So the LORD saved Israel that day, and the battle shifted to Beth Aven.

“And the men of Israel were distressed that day, for Saul had placed the people under oath, saying, Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies. So none of the people tasted food.” (1Sam 14:24)

This was a reckless and foolish vow and a result of Saul's misplaced zeal. It was not a wise decision for a king leading an army into battle to make. It caused his men to have a lack of energy and decreased their fighting ability. It would lead to a greater sin in the violation of the Law of Moses by the people. Furthermore, this rash vow haunted Saul the rest of his life and would in fact be the cause of his death. Jonathan, who had not heard about the oath came across some wild honey while traveling through the forest. Before any of his companions could warn him, he dipped his rod and refreshed himself by eating the honey. Those who witnessed this unknowing violation feared for his life and were faint. After informing him of the oath Jonathan replied:

“...My father has troubled the land. Look now, how my countenance has brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now would there not have been a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?” (1Sam 14:29-30)

Jonathan recognized the foolishness of his father's oath, that it indeed hindered rather than helped Israel's army in their pursuit of the Philistines. Saul's oath lessened the victory instead of increasing the victory. The people who obeyed the oath out of fear of the curse, now disobeyed the Law of Moses because of it. They were so famished at the end of a full day of battle that they slaughtered livestock and ate the meat raw with the blood, a thing not allowed by the Law of Moses (cf. Lev 17:10-14). Saul rebuked the people upon learning of this, had a large stone rolled up to build an altar upon and commanded them to kill and eat properly. Scripture makes note that this was the first altar that he built to the Lord (1Sam 14:35). While there is no other mention of Saul building other altars, the implication is that he did. It was permissible for Saul to build them, as long as only a Levite performed the sacrifices and Ahijah was available in the camp to do so. That evening the people feasted and regained their strength.

With his men well fed and re-energized, Saul desired to go down after the Philistines by night in a surprise attack and plunder them until morning light. Ahijah reminded him to seek God's will regarding this plan, and so Saul asked counsel whether God would deliver the Philistines into this hand that night. Because of the sin that Saul had caused in his army, the urim and thummim on Ahijah's ephod remained quiet and God did not answer. Not recognizing that the divine silence was due to his own lack of good sense in making impudent vows, he sought blame among the people. Compounding his trouble, Saul made another foolish vow and adjured by the Lord that whoever was to blame for sin in the camp would be put to death. The lot was cast as Saul stood with Jonathan apart from the people, but to his surprise it fell upon them. Another lot cast between them determined that Jonathan was the guilty party. Jonathan freely confessed to eating the honey and did not try to justify himself by arguing that he learned of the oath only after the fact. While the original oath did not specify a death penalty, Saul's follow up oath did and his own son was condemned by this hasty second vow. Saul, proud and concerned with his own authority and honor, was intent on fulfilling this vow even if it meant the life of his son.

“Saul answered, God do so and more also; for you shall surely die, Jonathan. But the people said to Saul, Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great deliverance in Israel? Certainly not! As the LORD lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day. So the people rescued Jonathan, and he did not die.” (1Sam 14:44-45)

Saul knowingly disobeyed God, now he is willing to execute his own son who unknowingly disobeyed him. The people who had earlier acquiesced to Saul's unsound decrees were incensed at this stubbornness. They refused their leader on this demand and at last wisdom prevailed. Jonathan, whose faith and bravery brought the victory to Israel was saved. In effect, Saul got a no confidence vote from the people. His oath caused the people to sin, and his oath almost caused the death of his son. Because of all this delay the war effort stalled that night, a military advantage was squandered and a more decisive victory against the Philistines was lost. With no answer from the urim and thummim, Saul remained unsure of his standing before God.

While Israel had regained control over the hill country of Judah, the Philistine army had escaped back to their place in the Philistine plain. Because of the foolish vow the Philistines retained the capacity to return and fight again. Eventually, the Philistine army would kill both Jonathan and Saul (1Sam 31:1-3).

“Now there was fierce war with the Philistines all the days of Saul. And when Saul saw any strong man or any valiant man, he took him for himself.” (1Sam 14:52)

Despite serious lapses in judgment at key times, Saul was in general an accomplished military leader. He established sovereignty over Israel and built a formidable fighting force by conscripting into his standing army every mighty man he could find. Over his career, he was successful against five different enemies: Moab, Ammon, Edom, the kings of Zobah (Syrian), and the Philistines. Against every enemy his war was decisive, but not so with the Philistines — all because of his foolish oath.

In chapter 15, the Amalekites, Israel's long time enemy (Num 14:43-45, 24:20; Deu 25:17-19; Jud 3:13, 6:33, 7:12, 10:12) is specifically dealt with as Saul faces his third and final test of leadership. The Amalekites were nomads of the desert and descendants of Esau (Gen 36:12-16; 1Ch 1:35-36), who became a marked people when they attacked Israel in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. God promised to blot out the rememberance of Amalek and make war with him from generation to generation (Exo 17:14-16).

“Samuel also said to Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts: I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1Sam 15:1-3)

Saul was given an opportunity to redeem himself with obedience. Amalek was under the cherem curse, meaning that he was slated for utter destruction. The judgment was to be a complete and total annihilation of anything that breathed, and no spoil was to be taken. God's judgment was severe on those who would destroy His people, and this pronouncement was an outworking of the cursing aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant. Saul marshaled his forces against a city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley. Moses' father-in-law was a Kenite (cf. Exo 18:1-27; Num 10:29-32; Jud 1:16, 4:11-22), a people friendly to the Israelites and therefore under the blessing aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant. Saul gave the Kenites fair warning to avoid destruction by separating themselves from the Amalekites.

“And Saul attacked the Amalekites, from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is east of Egypt. He also took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.” (1Sam 15:7-9)

Amazingly, in disobedience to the divine directive Saul kept the best of the spoil and failed to execute king Agag. Whereas before Saul lost his right to a dynasty, he would now lose his right to be king over Israel. The Lord told Samuel “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.” Samuel's role as priest over the people gave him great concern over the poor performance of the king. This pronouncement grieved Samuel and he cried unto the Lord all night. Showing a sense of urgency, Samuel rose up early in the morning to seek out Saul. It was told him that Saul had established a monument to himself in Carmel, and then returned to Gilgal. By taking credit for the victory over the Amalekites in erecting the memorial, Saul demonstrated an internal turning away from following God. This act of contemptible pride was an expression of self-worship rather than true worship of God.

“Then Samuel went to Saul, and Saul said to him, Blessed are you of the LORD! I have performed the commandment of the LORD. But Samuel said, What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear? And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.” (1Sam 15:13-14)

Saul's statement that “I have performed the commandment...” was untruthful and the exact opposite of what God had told Samuel. Saul either ignorantly or deceitfully, maintained that he did what was commanded and failed to recognize his own disobedience. Samuel responded “if that is so, what is the bleating of the sheep and lowing of the oxen which I hear?” Literally, the Hebrew says the voice of the sheep and the voice of the oxen. So, the voices of the animals spoke against and falsified Saul's assertion. He shifted blame towards the people by saying it was they who spared the best of the livestock. He thought his actions could be justified by claiming the spoil was for sacrifice, even though this was violation of the cherem curse. Samuel said “be quiet!” and hear what the Lord told me last night:

“So Samuel said, When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the LORD anoint you king over Israel? Now the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, 'Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.' Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the LORD?” (1Sam 15:17-19)

Samuel reminded Saul that his status before he became king was as a humble and lowly Benjamite (cf. 1Sam 9:21). Samuel wondered why now Saul thought it was acceptable to greedily take the spoil like a bird of prey diving on its victim? Sacrifice of the spoil was a violation of the cherem curse. Instead of confessing his sin and repenting, in the next two verses Saul reiterated his erroneous justification. So Samuel said:

“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry (teraphim). Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.” (1Sam 15:22-23)

Samuel reminded Saul of the priority of obedience, that sacrifice without obedience is worthless. The priniciple is that to obey is better than sacrifice. Obedience includes the proper sacrifice at the proper time. According to the Law of Moses, the fat of rams, the best part of the sacrifice belonged to God alone. Samuel points out however, that simply offering the best part without heeding God's will is wrong. The true nature of disobedience is rebellion, which is a denial of God's authority. Witchcraft is divination, which means recognition of supernatural authority outside of God, a thing clearly fobidden by the Law of Moses and punishable by death (Deu 18:10). Stubborness is resistence to God's will and it means arrogance and presumption. Idolatry is iniquity, also punishble by death. The Hebrew word translated as iniquity is teraphim, which refers to small household gods.

Saul rejected the word of the Lord by being disobedient, and since his defense was not acceptable, Samuel says God has also rejected you from being king. Earlier, a dynasty was denied to Saul but God did not remove his kingship. But now, from this point on Saul no longer king from God's perspective. From the human perspective Saul is still king, but now God views him as a usuper. After this event, Saul's mind begins to deteriorate.

“Then Saul said to Samuel, I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD. But Samuel said to Saul, I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel. And as Samuel turned around to go away, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. So Samuel said to him, The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.” (1Sam 15:24-28)

Saul's overdue confession was a statement of fact without any true repentance. His excuse “because I feared the people” shows his weakness as a leader in that he chose to obey men and not God. The people are to led by and to obey their king, not the other way around. Saul was concerned about having Samuel's visible presence as a show of support in front of the people, but Samuel would not return with him. God's judgment was immutable because it was a settled matter on the day of Saul's disobedience with the Amalakites. Saul grabbed Samuel's robe to prevent him from leaving, but it tore accidentially. Providentially, this was a symbolic omen illustrating that kingship over Israel had been rent from Saul. As stated by Samuel, by this time God had revealed to him that He already had chosen a replacement for Saul, but Samuel does not yet know who exactly it will be.

In the concluding verses of chapter 15, Saul again implored Samuel turn back and honor him before the people, that he might worship “the LORD your God.” Saul needed his services as a priest and this time Samuel relented, perhaps seeing this as the best course of action for the nation as a whole at that time. Then Samuel commanded that Agag be brought to him. The Amalekite king came as some translations say “cheerfully” believing that since some time had passed his life was now secure. But, Samuel said:

“As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women. And Samuel hacked Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.” (1Sam 15:33)

Samuel did what Saul should have done by executing him in accordance with the cherem curse. This was an act of divine judgment to show the holy wrath of God against wanton sin. Sadly, the Israelites did not exterminate all of the wicked Amalekites, so they came back later to raid Judah and take captives (1Sam 30). Israel's failure to conclusively finish this holy war had far-reaching implications. Over 5 centuries later an Agagite named Haman attempted to exterminate the Jewish race from his power base in Persia (cf. Esth 3:6, 13).

“Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house at Gibeah of Saul. And Samuel went no more to see Saul until the day of his death. Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul, and the LORD repented that He had made Saul king over Israel.” (1Sam 15:34-35)

Samuel and Saul parted company and went their separate ways. Not only was there a physical separation, but also a relational separation. Samuel did not try to meet Saul again in this life. Saul later sought out Samuel on one occasion (1Sam 19:22-24), but Samuel never again sought out Saul until the day of his death. Finally, there was the divine separation and the LORD repented that He had made Saul king of Israel.” There was no essential change in God's character, but a change in Saul's conduct required a corresponding change in God's plan and purpose towards him. To be unchangable, God must bless obedience but curse disobedience.

In summary, Saul's career went from good to bad. First, his striking appeareance mentioned in 1Sam 9:2, only led to pride in 1Sam 18:8. Secondly, his initiative mentioned in 1Sam 11:7, eventually gave way to rebellion in 1Sam 15:23 and 1Sam 20:32. Thirdly, his bravery marked in 13:3, led to a recklessness in 14:24. And fourthly, he went from being spirit empowered in 1Sam 11:6, to being demonized in 1Sam 16:14.



Saul's jealously drove him to erratic madness and a relentless pursuit of David, in which some twenty-four separate attempts were made on his life. One of the most intriguing incidents recorded in Scripture involves Saul's consultation with the witch at Endor.

Archeological Notes