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Bible Dictionaries

Smith's Bible Dictionary


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Saul. (desired). More accurately, Shaul.

1. One of the early kings of Edom, and successor of Samlah. Genesis 36:37-38; 1 Chronicles 1:48. (B.C. after 1450).

2. The first king of Israel, the son of Kish, and of the tribe of Benjamin. (B.C, 1095-1055). His character is, in part, illustrated by the fierce, wayward, fitful nature of the tribe, and, in part, accounted for by the struggle between the old and new systems, in which he found himself involved. To this, we must add a taint of madness, which broke out in violent frenzy, at times, leaving him with long lucid intervals.

He was remarkable for his strength and activity, 2 Samuel 1:25 and, like the Homeric heroes, of gigantic stature, taller by head and shoulders than the rest of the people, and of that kind of beauty denoted by the Hebrew word "good," 1 Samuel 9:2, and which caused him to be compared to the gazelle, "the gazelle of Israel." His birthplace is not expressly mentioned; but, as Zelah in Benjamin was the place of Kish's sepulchre, 2 Samuel 21:14, it was, probably, his native village.

His father, Kish, was a powerful and wealthy chief, though the family to which he belonged was of little importance. 1 Samuel 9:1; 1 Samuel 9:21. A portion of his property consisted of a drove of asses. In search of these asses, gone astray on the mountains, he sent his son, Saul. It was while prosecuting this adventure that Saul met with Samuel, for the first time, at his home in Ramah, five miles north of Jerusalem. A divine intimation had made known to him, the approach of Saul, whom he treated with special favor, and, the next morning, descending with him to the skirts of the town, Samuel poured over Saul's head, the consecrated oil, and with a kiss of salutation announced to him that he was to be the ruler of the nation. 1 Samuel 9:25; 1 Samuel 10:1.

Returning homeward, his call was confirmed by the incidents which, according to Samuel's prediction, awaited him. 1 Samuel 10:9-10. What may be named, the public call, occurred at Mizpeh, when lots were cast to find the tribe and family which was to produce the king, and Saul, by a divine intimation was found hid in the circle of baggage which surrounded the encampment. 1 Samuel 10:17-24. Returning to Gibeah, apparently to private life, he heard the threat issued by Nahash, king of Ammon, against Jabesh-gilead. He speedily collected an army, and Jabesh was rescued. The effect was instantaneous on the people, and the monarchy was inaugurated anew at Gilgal. 1 Samuel 11:1-15. It should be, however, observed that according to 1 Samuel 12:12, the affair of Nahash preceded and occasioned the election of Saul.

Although king of Israel, his rule was, at first, limited; but in the second year of his reign, he began to organize an attempt to shake off the Philistine yoke, and an army was formed. In this crisis, Saul, now on the very confines of his kingdom at Gilgal, impatient at Samuel's delay, whom he had directed to be present, offered sacrifice himself. Samuel, arriving later, pronounced the first curse, on his impetuous zeal. 1 Samuel 13:5-14. After the Philistines were driven back to their own country occurred the first appearance of Saul's madness in the rash vow which all but cost the life of his soil. 1 Samuel 14:24; 1 Samuel 14:44.

The expulsion of the Philistines, although not entirely completed, 1 Samuel 14:52, at once, placed Saul in a position higher than that of any previous ruler of Israel, and he made war upon the neighboring tribes. In the war with Amalek, 1 Samuel 14:48; 1 Samuel 15:1-9, he disobeyed the prophetical command of Samuel, which called down the second curse, and the first distinct intimation of the transference of the kingdom to a rival. The rest of Saul's life is one long tragedy.

The frenzy which had given indications of itself before now, at times, took almost entire possession of him. In this crisis, David was recommended to him. From this time forward, their lives are blended together. See David. In Saul's better moments, he never lost the strong affection which he had contracted for David. Occasionally, too, his prophetical gift returned, blended with his madness. 2 Samuel 19:24. But his acts of fierce, wild zeal increased. At last, the monarchy itself broke down under the weakness of his head. The Philistines re-entered the country, and just before giving them battle Saul's courage failed, and he consulted one of the necromancers, the "Witch of Endor," who had escaped his persecution.

At this distance of time, it is impossible to determine the relative amount of fraud or of reality in the scene which follows, though the obvious meaning of the narrative itself tends to the hypothesis of some kind of apparition. 2 Samuel 19:28. On hearing the denunciation which the apparition conveyed, Saul fell the whole length of his gigantic stature on the ground, and remained motionless till the woman and his servants forced him to eat. The next day, the battle came on. The Israelites were driven up the side of Gilboa. The three sons of Saul were slain. Saul was wounded. According to one account, he fell upon his own sword, 1 Samuel 31:4, and died. The body on being found by the Philistines was stripped slid decapitated, and the headless trunk hung over the city walls, with those of his three sons. 1 Samuel 31:9-10. The head was deposited, (probably at Ashdod), in the temple of Dagon, 1 Chronicles 10:10. The corpse was buried at Jabesh-gilead. 1 Samuel 31:13.

3. The Jewish name of St. Paul.

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Bibliography Information
Smith, William, Dr. Entry for 'Saul'. Smith's Bible Dictionary. 1901.

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