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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

1 Samuel 13

Verse 1

Saul Reigns

In this chapter Saul is put to the test. 1 Samuel 13:1 gives a translation difficulty. In the first part of the verse the number [thirty] is not in the original, which is indicated by the square brackets, as is also the case with the number [forty]. Both numbers are added by the translators. Literally it says: ”Saul was … years old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel.” That he reigned two years over Israel, means that he is in government for two years when what is then described takes place.

It is God’s intention to save His people from the power of the Philistines through Saul. The test is whether Saul wants to do this in dependence on Him. The point is not so much whether he can do it, but whether he will do it the right way. Why is he tested? To show what is in him: faith or self-enforcement.

This is often the reason why we are tested. Why do not all the servants of the Lord fall? Because in those who remain standing the second man, Christ, is seen. Those who fall live after the first man, Adam who felt in sin. Saul falls because he lives after the first man. He falls because he has no real faith in God and therefore comes under the power of circumstances.

Verses 2-4

Jonathan Smites the Philistines

Saul has formed an army of 3,000 men he has chosen himself. It is the royal guard, an army of special forces. From this army he forms two sections, one of 2,000 men and one of 1,000 men. He keeps the ward of 2,000 soldiers under his command, while he gives the command of the ward of 1,000 soldiers to his son Jonathan. Saul and his men are in Michmash and Jonathan and his men are in Geba. Both places are strategically important to ward off possible attacks from the Philistines.

Saul had three major confrontations with the Philistines (1 Samuel 13; 17; 31). Saul does not win in any of the three confrontations. The first confrontation was a victory, but Jonathan won it. The second also brings a victory, but that comes on the name of David. The third confrontation leads to defeat and his death.

Jonathan is mentioned here for the first time. He enters without further introduction. It is as if we have known him for a long time. Saul is in this chapter and the following chapters opposite his son Jonathan. Jonathan is a very different person from his father. Saul means ‘coveted’ (by man), Jonathan means ‘the LORD has given’ or ‘given by grace’ (by God). Saul should have been what his son Jonathan is. How he should have been, he could have learned from his son. Due to the failure of Saul, the kingship passes Jonathan by. What we do has a major impact on our children.

In Jonathan we meet one of the most pleasant characters in the Bible. He is a man who has beautiful characteristics, of which we can be jealous and of which we wish we also have them. The first act mentioned of him is that smites the garrison of the Philistines in Geba. He does not wait for the Philistines to open the attack; he takes the initiative himself. In so doing, he takes away the threat from that side.

At the same time his action calls on the Philistines to take revenge. But not only the Philistines are in motion. When Saul hears of his son’s action, he blows the trumpet so that “the Hebrews hear it”. His action does not come from faith, but from fear. He does not turn to God, but places his hope in the “Hebrews”, as he calls God’s people. He mentions God’s people by the name used by the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:11).

Because Saul announces the news of the defeat of the Philistines, he gets the honor for something his son did. Yet the people are not happy with the victory. They are so in the grip of the Philistines, that the fear is deep in them. They fear retaliation. The people answer Saul’s call and come to him.

What is the people of God, that is now the church of God, deeply sunk when they are afraid to become odious to the nominal Christians – of which the Philistines are a picture.

Verses 5-7

Fear of the Philistines

Indeed, the Philistines want revenge for the defeat inflicted upon them. They mobilize a large crowd to fight against Israel. They camp in Michmash, where Saul was with his corps of special forces just before. Saul went to Gilgal to wait for Samuel, as Samuel ordered (1 Samuel 13:11; 1 Samuel 10:8). Now it comes down to how Saul will react when the trial rises.

When the men of Israel see the superiority of the enemy, there is no courage left. On a previous occasion, they went as one man behind Saul against the enemy (1 Samuel 11:7). There is nothing left of that courage. When they run into difficulties and are threatened, they do not call to the LORD, but a number hide “in caves, in thickets, in cliffs, in cellars, and in pits”. Wherever they think they are safe from the enemy, there they hide (cf. Judges 6:2).

Those who stay with Saul tremble. The confidence in their hero has diminished to such an extent that he can no longer inspire them to fight against the enemy with the assurance of victory. The faith that was still there at Saul’s first action has now disappeared. If there is no faith, previous experiences do not give strength. Everything that happens here is because the hand of God is in it. He puts Saul to the test. That happens at Gilgal.

Here the Israelites are called “Hebrews” because they leave the land of God and give up the ground of faith (1 Samuel 14:21). The situation is completely contrary to God’s intention. His people leave the country and the Philistines live there.

Verses 8-12

Saul Is Impatient and Offers

Saul must wait seven days in Gilgal. That is what Samuel told him. This will be the great test, as the great test of faith is always patience, waiting for God’s time. Much of God’s work does not come about through impatient, premature action by man. It is about perseverance or patience having “a perfect work” (James 1:4). However, the flesh is impatient. Waiting is hard for us. We are often in a hurry. Just look at the highway, where we as believers race over and annoy ourselves when someone does not let us pass by. Saul cannot wait because he has nothing of the LORD in him.

By having to wait for Samuel it is also clear that Samuel is still the real connection between God and His people. Saul, the soldier, who is ready for battle, must wait for the prophet of God who will tell him what to do. Saul is waiting. Until he sees that as time goes by, the people become more and more afraid and start to run away. He sees his army shrinking. As the army shrinks, so does his patience to wait for Samuel.

Patience can be an accomplishment of the flesh. Saul can bring it up to keep the prescribed commandment and waits seven days. To wait longer, faith is needed (James 1:3) and that Saul does not have. He orders that the burnt offering and the peace offerings be brought to him so that he can offer.

Although he is not a priest, he offers. He thinks that as king he has the right to do so. It is an act of boldness. Such an act cost the later king Uzzia dearly, for God punishes him with leprosy on his forehead. He keeps this leprosy until the day of his death (2 Chronicles 26:16-Ecclesiastes :).

Why does Saul offer and does not go without sacrificing to the enemy? It seems that he wants to keep up a semblance of religion. Thus many believers go to church or to the meeting and do what is appropriate, only to keep up the outward appearance, while within there is nothing directed at the Lord. It is only for others.

When Saul has brought the burnt offering and is about to bring the peace offerings, Samuel appears on stage. Saul leaves the offerings for what they are and goes to Samuel to greet him. He knows how much he needs Samuel and he is also aware that he has done something Samuel said he will do himself.

Before Saul can say anything, Samuel asks Saul the question, “What have you done?” It is the question of the spiritual condition of the person addressed. This question should lead someone to speak honest about his actions. It is a next question God has asked a man. The first question is to Adam: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). The question ’what have you done’, God asks Cain, after he has killed Abel (Genesis 4:10).

Saul’s three excuses show that he does not count with God, but only according to his own possibilities. If God does not take a place in a person’s thinking, he will sit down and think himself and then come to intellectual conclusions that lead him to wrong decisions.

1. He sees people leaving him. Because his trust is in men and not in God, he comes to an act of unbelief. By the way, could he win the war with people who have as little faith as he does?
2. His lack of faith becomes public when he sees that Samuel does not come to the right time. Indirectly he accuses Samuel of breaking his word.
3. His eyes are on the power of the enemy, while he should have seen God; his eyes should have been on God’s power.

Man’s thinking always seeks ways out. He presents God as a God Whose favor must first be obtained, as if it were an idol. Saul has the courage of the flesh that lifts itself up to action. He blames the circumstances. Actually, he says: ‘I was forced to act like this because of the circumstances. I didn’t want to do it, but I couldn’t do anything else when I saw the Philistines coming towards me.’ We are all inclined to speak in the same way. When we have spoken a hard word or done a stupid action or refused to obey, we also easily blame the circumstances.

Saul wants to cover all his actions with the good deed he believes he has done in offering the burnt offering. Hypocrites place a great emphasis on outward acts of a religious nature and are therefore of the opinion that they should be exonerated from a violation of the law.

Verses 13-15

Samuel Reproaches Saul

Here it says that Saul would always have remained king if he had not sinned. The fact that God had David in mind does not change the failure of Saul. It is his own fault that his kingdom is taken away from him. An act of disobedience can have major consequences, both for the person and for his or her offspring. We also see this with Adam. The kingdom of Saul is not immediately taken away. The rejection of Saul goes in stages. Only in 1 Samuel 15 is the kingdom taken away from him (1 Samuel 15:26). Here the hereditary kingdom is taken from him by saying to him that he will have no successor.

After Samuel has said to Saul that his kingdom would not endure, he is in fact thereafter speaking talking about the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus is the true Man after God’s heart. Of Him David is a foreshadowing. At second instance Samuel speaks about David, who is also a man after God’s heart, but turns out to be fallible. David is the successor of Saul.

Samuel leaves Saul. It does not seem that Saul is doing his best to keep Samuel with him. Nor does it seem that Saul is touched by Samuel’s words. In any case, we do not notice any conversion or humiliation because of his disobedience. The only thing Saul can think of is how big his army is. That is why he counts it. His army appears to consist of about six hundred men, still twice as many as Gideon had at the time. It would be more than enough for faith.

Verses 16-18

Philistine Raiders

Saul and Jonathan and the men went, just like Samuel in the previous verse, to Geba of Benjamin. The Philistines camp in Michmash. They follow a tactic that wreaks havoc in Israel. From their central camp in Michmash raiders go through Israel in three groups.

The first group takes the northern direction, the second one goes west and the third one goes east. These groups put Israel in fear and impoverish it. The Philistines, on the other hand, are encouraged and enriched. We see the hand of God in the work of the enemy, as Isaiah questioned: “Who gave Jacob up for spoil, and Israel to plunderers? Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned?” (Isaiah 42:24).

Verses 19-22

No Blacksmith in Israel

The Philistines have declared the blacksmith’s profession a prohibited profession (cf. 2 Kings 24:14; Jeremiah 24:1; Jeremiah 29:2). As a result, the misery and defenselessness of Israel has become great. Israel’s poor army is also without weapons, or at least they can no longer make them or have them repaired.

A blacksmith is someone who can make weapons that others can use. In a spiritual sense, a blacksmith is a brother who can teach us how to use the Word of God as a weapon. A blacksmith is someone who teaches us about God’s thoughts to defeat the enemy. If all this is absent, our faith will not be able to increase, but we will become a prey of the enemy.

This was cunningly thought up by the Philistines. Not only do they prevent Israel from manufacturing weapons, but they also make Israel dependent on them even for the agricultural tools. The Israelites must go to the Philistines to have their agricultural tools ready for use. For the services rendered, the Philistines charge their price.

For the use of plowshare, mattock, axe, and hoe, all means by which the land is worked to obtain food, God’s people depend on the enemy. The spiritual lesson is clear when we consider that the Philistines are a picture of nominal Christians or Christians without Christ. What kind of food does a Christless Christianity give to her members? What a misery when we are at the mercy of name Christians for our spiritual food. What a misery when we are overwhelmed by intellectual reasoning to understand the Bible.

It is tragic when God’s people depend on the Philistines for the proceeds of the fruit of the land God has promised and given His people. Because of the Philistines’ tactics, none of the people has a weapon (cf. Judges 5:8). Without sword, to kill the opponent nearby, and without spear, to kill the enemy on a distance, the people cannot resist. The absence of these weapons makes the people a defenseless prey for the enemy.

Verse 23

The Philistines Come in Action

The history of the next chapter begins with this verse. The Philistines come in action. That is a challenge for faith. Jonathan takes up this challenge.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 Samuel 13". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-samuel-13.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.