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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Saul

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SAUL . 1 . Son of Kish, a Benjamite, the first king of Israel. We first meet him about to abandon the search for his father’s asses, when his servant suggested consulting Samuel . As it was customary to bring a present to a seer, and the wallet was empty, Saul hesitated till the servant produced the fourth part of a shekel of silver to give to the man of God. The seer, Divinely prepared for their arrival, met them as he was on his way to the high place to sacrifice. A banquet was made ready, and special honour paid to Saul by Samuel. The seer told the seekers that the asses had been found, and broached the matter of the kingdom to Saul, and anointed him as he was leaving. Saul was given certain signs in attestation of Samuel’s message, and after leaving the seer’s house, where he and his servant spent the night, he met a band of prophets, and soon was prophesying among them, to the marvel of his acquaintances ( 1 Samuel 10:10 ). This narrative gives no hint that the people asked for a king, or that his selection would be displeasing to either Samuel or Jehovah.

The account is interrupted at 1 Samuel 10:17 by one of a different temper. The people demand a king, which Samuel interprets to be a rejection of Jehovah, their true king, and Saul, after protest, is elected by lot at Mizpah. He remained quietly at home till Nahash’s cruel demand that the men of Jabesh-gilead should surrender to him, and each one lose the right eye, roused him. He was ploughing in the field when the news reached him, and immediately sacrificed the oxen, sending out parts of the sacrifice to his brethren with the command that they should follow him. When the army was mustered he marched to Jabesh-gilead and administered a crushing defeat to Nahash, after which his grateful countrymen made him king at Gilgal (ch. 11). A still greater necessity for a king appears in the encroachments of the Philistines. Saul and Jonathan , his son, were encamped in Michmash and Gibeah (Geba), when Jonathan smote the ‘garrison’ (?) of the Philistines in Geba, thus precipitating the struggle. The plan of the Philistines was to send out plundering parties, and Jonathan threw the whole camp into confusion by surprising one of its guerilla headquarters ( 1 Samuel 13:1-3 , 1 Samuel 14:1 f.). When Saul heard of the flight of the enemy he inquired of the oracle what to do, but the rout was so apparent that he joined pursuit without the answer. The destruction of the enemy would have been greater had not Saul put a taboo on food. In the evening the famished warriors fell upon the cattle, and ate without sacrificing till the reported impiety reached the ears of Saul, who legitimated the meal by sacrificing at a great stone. As he failed to receive an answer from the oracle, when he Inquired whether he should pursue the Philistines farther, Saul concluded that some one had sinned. An inquiry was taken to the oracle, and the fault was found to lie with Jonathan, who confessed to having tasted honey. He was, however, delivered by the people from the penalty, for Saul had sworn that he should die ( 1 Samuel 14:17-45 ).

This narrative (chs. 13, 14) is interrupted at 1 Samuel 13:8 to 1 Samuel 15:35 by an account which represents Samuel as taking issue with Saul for sacrificing at the end of an appointed period of seven days, and announcing his rejection (See art. Samuel, p. 823 n ). We have from another source (ch. 15) a story of the encounter with Amalek , against whom Samuel sent Saul with instructions to destroy men, women, children, and spoil. Saul, however, spares Agag, and part of the booty. This is now assigned as the reason for his rejection. Saul acknowledged his fault, but begged Samuel to honour him before the people by sacrificing with him. In his importunity he lays hold of Samuel’s garment, which is rent, and becomes the symbol of the kingdom wrested from Saul. Samuel relents and worships with him.

The second stage of Saul’s life concerns his relations with David . Saul is advised to employ music as a relief from a deep-seated mental trouble, called ‘an evil spirit from the Lord.’ David, a skilled harper and celebrated soldier, is engaged. Saul loves him, and makes him his armour-bearer ( 1 Samuel 16:14-23 ). The Philistines again assemble, this time at Socoh; Goliath issues his challenge, but no one responds. The lad David, who had come to the camp to visit his brethren, learns of the proffered reward, meets the boaster in single combat, and kills him. In this story Saul seems weak, irresolute, and unacquainted with David (ch. 17). David’s growing popularity and prowess lead Saul to attempt his life. Michal, Saul’s daughter, is offered to him in marriage in return for one hundred Philistines. The hazard involved failed to accomplish his death. Then David’s house is surrounded, but Michal manages David’s escape through a window ( 1 Samuel 18:6-9 , 1 Samuel 20:29 , 1 Samuel 19:11-17 ). Merab, Saul’s elder daughter, was also offered to David, but withdrawn when he should have had her. This seems to be an effort to explain why David did not receive Saul’s daughter after he had slain the giant. David flees to Ramah, and Saul, seeking him there, is seized with the prophetic frenzy and rendered powerless ( 1 Samuel 19:18-24 ). David again flees, and receives help from the priests at Nob. So enraged was Saul that he ordered the slaughter of the entire priesthood there (chs. 20 21). Saul had David all but captured in the hills of Ziph, when a raid of the Philistines called him away ( 1 Samuel 23:14-29 ). Twice Saul was in the power of David, who refused to harm the Lord’s anointed (chs. 24, 26).

The circumstances connected with Saul’s death are told in a dramatic way. The Philistines had gathered together at Aphek, while Saul held the fateful plains of Megiddo at Jezreel. Answer came from neither prophet nor priest. Then in despair he applied to the necromancer at Endor, but received only a hopeless message. The battle joins; Saul’s sons are slain; sore pressed, he calls on his armour bearer to slay him, but being refused he falls upon his sword and dies. The following day the Philistines severed the heads of Saul and his sons, and exposed the bodies on the walls of Beth-shan, whence the grateful Jabesh-gileadites brought them away by night (chs. 28, 31). An Amalekite, who brought the story of Saul’s death to David, claimed that he himself slew him, and was promptly executed by David (2 Samuel 1:1-16 ).

2 . Saul of Tarsus. See Paul.

J. H. Stevenson.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Saul'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/s/saul.html. 1909.

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