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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 13

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary




With this chapter commences the history of Saul’s reign, and on to the end of the First Book of Samuel we are hurried through a series of events both thrilling and instructive, until the section closes with the tragic fall of Israel’s first monarch. The reader’s mind is saddened as he finds a reign so auspiciously begun, and strengthened by many a noble conquest, deteriorate into a foul persecution of the youthful shepherd of Beth-lehem. As we read on to the end of his life, we are gradually made to feel that the princely appearing, broad-shouldered son of Kish was unequal to the task of successfully transforming the loose confederacy of the Hebrews into a monarchy. But an index to it all is given in the single passage of Hosea: “I gave thee a king in mine anger and took him away in my wrath.”

The first three chapters of this section (13, 14, 15) give a detailed account of the three great errors of Saul’s reign. The first is his disobedience at Gilgal, where it is announced to him that his dynasty shall end with himself. The second is his rash and foolish vow, which he found himself unable to fulfil; a vow which will ever associate him with Jephthah. The third is his most grievous disobedience in failing to execute the divine judgment on the Amalekites. All his subsequent misfortunes, and his insane pursuit of David, were fruits of judicial blindness the penal consequence of his three fatal errors.

Verse 1


1. Saul reigned one year This verse, translated in accordance with its parallels in 2 Samuel 2:10; 2 Samuel 5:4; 1Ki 14:21 ; 1 Kings 22:42, and 2 Kings 8:26, reads thus: Saul was a year old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel. All attempts to make the Hebrew text mean anything else are uncritical and do violence to the language. More literally, the Hebrew is, A son of a year was Saul at his being king; that is, upon his becoming king. So, too, in the passages referred to above, A son of forty years was Ishbosheth; A son of thirty years was David, etc. According to the Chaldee, which many have followed in their interpretation, the meaning is, Saul was an innocent child when he began to reign; that is, like a little child a year old. But this interpretation stands opposed to the usus loquendi of the language, as is seen in the passages above referred to, and others like them. It follows, therefore, that certain numerals have fallen out of the Hebrew text in both sentences, for it is evident both that Saul was more than a year old at the beginning of his reign, and that he reigned over Israel more than two years. This defect can now be supplied only by conjecture. According to Josephus, and Acts 13:21, he reigned forty years; and since he had a son old enough at the beginning of his reign to command a division of his army, it would seem that he must have been at least forty years old when he began to reign. It is difficult to reconcile this with the facts and dates of David’s life, for he began to reign when thirty years old, (2 Samuel 5:4,) and that was after Saul’s death; and yet at the time of his victory over Goliath he must have been at least fifteen years old. Had Saul reigned twenty-five years before that event? That seems hardly possible; but we can fill up the defective text of this verse by no more authoritative numbers than those above given.

Verse 2

2. Saul chose… three thousand… of Israel This was probably the first act of his reign, and done at Gilgal immediately after the renewal of the kingdom there. Then all the fighting men of the nation were assembled, numbering over three hundred thousand, (1 Samuel 11:8,) and there could have been no more opportune occasion on which to select a choice standing army.

Michmash This ancient city lay four miles southeast of Beth-el, and its site is identical with the modern Mukhmas, where the traveller still finds many foundations of large hewn stones, and columns lying among them.

Mount Beth-el Like mount Ephraim (1 Samuel 1:1) not a single mountain, but a range of hills, intermediate between Beth-el and Michmash. On these heights Saul stationed his two thousand warriors, and for the time probably had his headquarters at Michmash.

A thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin This city was called Gibeah of Benjamin, because it belonged to that tribe. Joshua 18:28; Judges 19:14. Its site was at the base of the modern Tuleil-el-Ful, five miles southwest of Michmash. It appears from this passage that Saul had, at the beginning of his reign, a son old enough to take charge of a garrison of a thousand men. He must have been, then, at least forty years of age. Here we first meet with Jonathan, the strategic warrior and fast friend of David.

The rest of the people Who had assembled at Gilgal to witness the inauguration of Saul. Having chosen from among them three thousand valiant men, he dismissed the remainder to their homes.

Verse 3

3. The garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba Geba was situated between Gibeah and Michmash, about three miles from the former place and two from the latter. It was a city of Benjamin (Joshua 18:24) assigned to the priests. Joshua 21:17. The English version confounds it in 1 Samuel 13:16 with Gibeah. Its name still lingers in the modern Jeba, a small, half-ruined village on an eminence which commands an extensive view of the Dead Sea and the mountains beyond. “Across the deep ravine on the north,” says Robinson, “we could see the next village on our route, the ancient Michmash, lying directly over against Jeba in a direction about northeast.” Here, as on the heights of Gibeah, (1 Samuel 10:5,) the Philistines had intrenched themselves; though, this may have been the same garrison that is there mentioned, but which had in the meantime, while Israel was at war for the rescue of Jabesh-gilead, advanced as far as Geba. Jonathan probably took this garrison by surprise, as he and his armourbearer did the one mentioned in the following chapter.

The Philistines heard And regarded it as an indication of hostile action on the part of the Israelites.

Saul blew the trumpet Ordered it to be blown. The sound of the trumpet was the usual accompaniment of important proclamations, designed as a signal to arouse the attention of the people. Compare 2 Samuel 15:10; 2Sa 20:1 ; 1 Kings 1:34; 2 Kings 9:13.

Verse 4

4. Was had in abomination נבאשׁ , was made to stink; that is, had become loathsome and hateful to their enemies. When they heard that this Philistine garrison had been dislodged, the Hebrews understood at once that their old enemy of the seacoast would be provoked to war.

The people… after Saul to Gilgal The same Gilgal where the kingdom was renewed, (1 Samuel 11:14,) and where Samuel judged Israel. 1 Samuel 7:16. It was situated in the east border of Jericho, and was the first camping ground of the Israelites after their entrance into the Land of Promise. Joshua 4:19. It is said (1 Samuel 13:12) to be down from Michmash, and also that Samuel went up from it in order to reach Gibeah. Such statements would be improper if made of the northern Gilgal, ( Jiljilia,) for that was up both from Gibeah and Michmash. Saul, seeing the Philistines attempting a bold and determined invasion, deemed it prudent to withdraw his own forces from the heights of Michmash and Beth-el, and gather the people together in this more retired spot of the Jordan valley.

Verse 5

5. Thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen Here we meet another instance of manifest error of numbers in the text. “Thirty thousand war chariots bear no proportion whatever to six thousand horsemen, not only because the number of war-chariots is invariably smaller than that of the horsemen, (compare 2 Samuel 10:18; 1Ki 10:26 ; 2 Chronicles 12:3,) but also because such a number of war chariots is never met with either in sacred or profane history, not even in the case of nations that were much more powerful than the Philistines. The number is, therefore, certainly corrupt, and we must either read three thousand, according to the Syriac and Arabic, or else simply one thousand. In the latter case the origin of the number thirty must be attributed to the fact that, through the oversight of a copyist, the ל (Hebrew numeral for thirty) of the word ישׂראל , Israel, was written twice, and consequently the second ל was taken for the numeral thirty.” Keil.

Came up… pitched in Michmash Thus occupying the heights from which Saul had fallen back.

Beth-aven This place was on the east of Beth-el, (Joshua 7:2,) and, as we infer from this passage, between it and Michmash; but it has not yet been satisfactorily identified with any modern site.

Verse 6


6. The people were distressed They were vexed, harassed, and alarmed by the bold and sudden advance of the Philistine hosts, and despaired being able to stand before them.

Thickets חוחים , thorns, or thorn bushes.

High places צרחים , strongholds, as pits or cellars, as at Judges 9:46; Judges 9:49.

Verse 7

7. Hebrews went over Jordan Which shows that the Gilgal where Saul tarried all this time was in the plains of Jericho, (see on 1 Samuel 13:4,) whence numbers might easily steal away to the land of Gad and Gilead, which lay across the Jordan immediately opposite Jericho.

Followed him trembling Those that did follow him, over and above the many that deserted to the caves and deserts, trembled through fear of soon falling into the hands of an enraged and cruel enemy.

Verse 8

8. He tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel It is proper to complete this sentence, as our translators have done, by had appointed. The reference is to Samuel’s words, as recorded in chap. 1 Samuel 10:8. That seer’s prophetic eye had fastened on this scene of excitement and trial, and he had given Saul solemn counsel to wait at such time for his coming and additional directions. This season of trial was designed to test severely the youthful monarch’s faith in God.

Samuel came not to Gilgal Came not until the middle or latter part of the seventh day. He seems to have stayed away purposely, in order to furnish occasion for Saul to show his faith by obedience to the commandment of Jehovah.

Verse 9

9. He offered the burnt offering We need not suppose that Saul offered this sacrifice with his own hand. As we have observed on chap. 1 Samuel 7:9, the presence of priests on such occasions is naturally understood, and no specification of that fact was necessary. So Saul’s blowing of the trumpet (1 Samuel 13:3) throughout all the land is not to be understood of his personal act. The command, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, is but a part of the order to offer such sacrifice in his presence.

Verse 10

10. That he might salute him Or, bless him, as the margin has it. Saul held Samuel in the highest esteem, and always showed the greatest reverence for his prophetical office; but his rash and headstrong disposition led him more than once to forget or disregard his counsels.

Verse 11

11. What hast thou done Samuel’s heart sinks within him, and this question is the exclamation of an inward pang. He probably saw remorse and sorrow depicted on the face of the unhappy Saul.

Verse 12

12. I forced myself I did violence to my conscience, and with great reluctance did this act. But all his apology is very feeble in the face of a broken commandment, and of the most plain and solemn counsels of his great spiritual father.

Verse 13

13. Thou hast done foolishly “The prophet knew very well that there are many foolishnesses in the heart of man; but in his view, and in that of all the sacred writers, the lowest depth of human foolishness was in disobedience to the Lord’s commandments. There are two kinds of fools prominently noticed in Scripture the fool who denies that there is any God, and the fool who does not obey God though he does not deny his existence. And yet, after all, these are but one. One may as well believe there is no God as not to obey him.” Kitto.

Verse 14

14. Thy kingdom shall not continue This means, as the context and the sequel show, that his kingdom should not be transmitted to his posterity, but transferred to another person of a truer heart. Neither this passage, nor its parallel in 1 Samuel 15:28, means that Saul was to be personally deposed, and another succeed him during his lifetime. The words of Samuel are simply a prophecy of what was to be.

A man after his own heart David, as we shall find in the subsequent history.

Verse 15

15. About six hundred men Alas! Whither had gone the two thousand select warriors that were with him on the heights of Michmash? Fled to the thickets and the caves. Ammonites they can boldly fight and conquer; but when the Philistines threaten with numbers as the sand of the sea, their memory is filled with past oppressions, and they cower and tremble at the thoughts of battle.

Verse 16


16. Gibeah of Benjamin Rather, Geba, according to the margin, for this also was a city of Benjamin. Joshua 18:24; Joshua 21:17. Many interpreters have, like our translators, confounded this place with Gibeah; but it was some three miles distant. See on 1 Samuel 13:3. It is quite likely that after he had smitten the Philistine garrison Jonathan held this place, and did not withdraw to Gilgal with his father; and after Saul’s unsuccessful attempt to muster the people at Gilgal, that monarch, with the six hundred that did not desert him, went up to reinforce Jonathan at Geba. The Philistine army lay encamped upon the heights of Michmash, in full view of Saul and Jonathan, and separated by a deep valley between.

Verse 17

17. The spoilers Marauding parties, whose object was to spy out the land and condition of the enemy, and do him all the injury possible.

Ophrah Located at the modern Taiyibeh, five or six miles north of Michmash. This also was a city of Benjamin. Joshua 18:23.

The land of Shual This must have been the territory around, and more probably somewhat to the north of, Ophrah, though its exact position is unknown. If, as some suppose, it be the same as the land of Sha-lim, (1 Samuel 9:4,) it confirms our conjecture as to the route of Saul when in search of the asses.

Verse 18

18. Beth-horon This lay westward from Michmash. On Beth-horon nether and upper, see Joshua 10:11; Joshua 16:3; Joshua 16:5.

The way of the border that looketh to the valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness Or, as Keil translates: The way to the territory that rises above the valley, etc. The valley of Zeboim has not been fairly identified with any modern name, though one traveller (Grove, in Smith’s Dict.) gives worthy reasons for identifying it with a wild gorge through which he was conducted in 1858 from Jericho to Michmash. This gorge, lying to the east of Michmash, bears the Arabic name of Shuk ed-Dubba, equivalent to the Hebrews גי הצבעים , valley of hyenas. As the other two parties went one to the north towards Ophrah, and the other west towards Beth-horon, we naturally suppose that the third took their route towards the east over the heights that look towards the southeast, and very likely along this very gorge. According to this view the wilderness would be the wild district between Michmash and Jericho.

Verse 19

19. No smith חרשׁ , a graver, a workman: whether in wood, stone, or metals, is usually determined by the context. The Philistines, like other conquerors, had, during the long period of their dominion over Israel, removed all the artificers. After their deliverance by the hand of Samuel, (1 Samuel 7:13,) the Israelites seem to have taken no measures to supply themselves with workmen and arms, such as they had formerly possessed. For the purpose of sharpening their agricultural implements they were obliged to resort to their enemies; and yet so loth were they to do this that their instruments often became very dull. See on 1 Samuel 13:21. In the war with the Ammonites the Israelites probably found the sling and the bow ( see note on 1 Samuel 11:9) so serviceable that they saw no particular necessity for swords and spears, and took no pains to collect them. Still, we are not to suppose that Saul and his son were the only ones in all Israel that had weapons of this kind. 1 Samuel 13:22 expressly tells us that it was with the people who were with Saul and Jonathan, that is, the six hundred with Saul, (1 Samuel 13:15 and 1 Samuel 14:2,) and perhaps a still smaller number with Jonathan, that neither sword nor spear was found. The writer’s object in introducing the statements of 1 Samuel 13:19-22 seems to have been to show how illy prepared, according to all human appearance, the Israelitish army under Saul and Jonathan was to cope with its thoroughly equipped antagonist.

Verse 20

20. Share… mattock It is hardly possible to determine the real meaning of the Hebrew words thus translated here. Both words are from the same root, ( חרשׁ ,) and may signify the sickle, the coulter, or the hoe, as well as the ploughshare or the mattock. In view of the uncertainty respecting these and other agricultural terms of the Hebrews, the reader may as well abide by the English version as any other.

Verse 21

21. A file Or, as the margin, a file with mouths. So the Rabbins and other interpreters have understood the Hebrew words, הפצירה פים . But the words can hardly mean a sharpening tool. The root, פצר , means to notch, to indent; and פצירה , applied to the edges of instruments for cutting, most naturally means indentation in the sense of dulling. Thus this verse tells us the result of the lack of smiths in Israel: the agricultural instruments became nicked and dull. Keil supposes that the final ה in פצירה should be connected with the next word as the article, and he translates the verse thus: So that bluntness of the edges occurred in the edge tools, and the plough-shares, and the trident, and the axes, and the setting of the goad.

Verse 23

23. The passage of Michmash This was the deep, wild Wady es-Suweinit, which lies between Geba and Michmash, of which Dr. Robinson says, (Bib. Res., vol. i, p. 441:) “It begins in the neighbourhood of Beitin and el-Bireh; and as it breaks through the ridge below these places its sides form precipitous wails. On the right, about a quarter of an hour below where we crossed, it again contracts, and passes off between high perpendicular precipices.”

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 13". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/1-samuel-13.html. 1874-1909.
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