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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 13

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 1


‘Saul reigned.’

1 Samuel 13:1

We know little of Saul except as king. I propose to speak about his history and his character. It seems to me fitting to take for our text these two short words, because, considering the case of Saul, we consider the case of a king, and a king who gave promise of greatness and goodness, but fell, and fell terribly.

I. Saul’s early promise.—First let us notice his early promise, when he lived in his father’s house among the husbandmen of Benjamin.

( a) He was a choice young man and a goodly, and from his shoulders and upwards he was higher than any of the people. He had therefore all those physical qualities which go to make up fitness for command.

( b) To physical strength and beauty he added moral qualities: he was modest. He said to Samuel, when at their first meeting the prophet indicated that a great career was before him, “Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Wherefore then speakest thou so to me?.’ And when the national assembly gathered together at Mizpeh chose him king—for there seems to have been some sort of an election—he could not be found, for he had ‘hid himself amongst the stuff,’ which I take to be the baggage of the camp.

( c) And, further, he was brave. When Nahash the king of the Ammonites would have imposed shameful conditions on the men of Jabesh-Gilead, requiring that they should suffer their right eyes to be torn out before he would spare their lives, we find that the newly-chosen king repudiated such a submission with scorn, while the people around him seem to have been crushed and terrified by this new incursion.

( d) Moreover, Saul was capable. There are brave men who are strangely deficient in capacity, just as sometimes there are capable men who are deficient in bravery. But Saul combined both qualities. He sent his summons round the country, and when it was obeyed by a great host he divided his army into three parts, attacked strongly in the morning watch, and scattered the enemy before they had time to take precautions against his onset.

( e) In addition, Saul was magnanimous. When after this victory the army would have put his enemies to death, he interfered: ‘There shall not a man be put to death this day, for this day the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel.’ This newly-elected king was full of princely qualities.

II. Saul’s declension.—And yet the whole story of Saul’s afterlife, until it comes to the last scenes on Mount Gilboa, is the history of nothing but his gradual decline. The long struggle with the Philistines, with its alternatives of victory and defeat, seemed to have exposed him to trials that he had not the spiritual strength to bear. In the first instance given to us, the sin in the matter of the sacrifice was one of presumption. In the second instance, the sin in the matter of the spoils of the Amalekites was either greed on his own part, or, which seems more probable, connivance at the greed of the people. This deterioration on Saul’s part was progressive. It went on and on till it brought him to his doom.

III. The struggle with good and evil.—Yet even in the fall of Saul we have glimpses of the return, now and again, of his better self. There was a long struggle between good and evil for the possession of his soul. And the man struggled too. That seems to me to be half the tragedy of lost souls. Saul, confounded by David’s loyalty and forbearance, conscience-stricken by his return of good for evil, fought hard against the demon of jealousy which had taken possession of his whole soul.

IV. Saul’s end.—If you want to find in history a scene of darkness and gloom, turn to the chapter in the first Book of Samuel which tells of Saul’s last hours. No longer could the old prophet he reverenced once and flouted afterwards hold communion with him. God was silent, as God will be silent to those who have defied Him and cast off His authority. The Philistines poured their armies over the plain of Esdraelon into the fertile centre of the country. The king, who had lost his religious faith, turned, as many another has done in like straits, to superstition, and at last the spirit of Samuel appeared, or seemed to appear, and rebuked Saul for his apostasy and disobedience, and pronounced God’s wrath against him and foretold his fall. Next day the Philistines carried the heights and overcame the last resistance on the upland plain at the top. Saul met his fate proudly and defiantly. His sons were slain, his army destroyed, and he suffered death by his own sword rather than fall into the hands of his foes. Such was the end of the young man of promise.

Rev. Dr. T. J. Lawrence.


‘Saul’s energies were not sapped by any form of gross sensuality. He fell because of the sins of the spirit, against which those who are exempt from or victorious over the temptations of the flesh find themselves compelled to struggle with all their might. There are some who perish because prosperity turns their heads. In haughty self-confidence they lose the care, the sense of dependence on God, sometimes even the ability which distinguished them in a lower station. There are others who perish because of adversity. Perhaps undeserved obloquy, perhaps some other evil comes upon them, and they harden their hearts and grow rebellious against the Almighty. Saul was one of those who fall because they cannot bear the alternation of prosperity and adversity. Our Litany says, “in all time of our tribulation; in all time of our wealth.… Good Lord, deliver us.” The example of Saul should lead us to pray that prayer with greater devotion than we sometimes show; for pride and jealousy are to be avoided by all, whether their state be high or low.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 13". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/1-samuel-13.html. 1876.
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