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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature
Saul, son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, was the first king of the Israelites. The corrupt administration of justice by Samuel's sons furnished an occasion to the Hebrews for rejecting that theocracy, of which they neither appreciated the value, nor, through their unfaithfulness to it, enjoyed the full advantages (1 Samuel 8). An invasion by the Ammonites seems also to have conspired with the cause just mentioned, and with a love of novelty, in prompting the demand for a king ()—an officer evidently alien to the genius of the theocracy, though contemplated as an historical certainty, and provided for by the Jewish lawgiver (; ). An explanation of the nature of this request, as not only an instance of ingratitude to Samuel, but of rebellion against Jehovah, and the delineation of the manner in which their kings—notwithstanding the restrictions prescribed in the law—might be expected to conduct themselves (; ), having failed to move the people from their resolution, the Lord sent Saul, who had left home in quest of his father's asses, which had strayed, to Samuel, who having informed Saul of the divine purpose regarding him, and having at a feast shown him a preference, which, no doubt the other guests understood, privately anointed him king, and gave him various tokens, by which he might be assured that his designation was from, Jehovah (1 Samuel 9-10). Moved by the authority of Samuel, and by the fulfillment of these signs, Saul's reluctance to assume the office to which he was called was overcome. On his way home, meeting a company of prophets, he was seized with the prophetic afflatus, and so gave occasion to a proverb afterwards in use among the Jews. Immediately after, Saul was elected at Mizpah in a solemn assembly by the determination of the miraculous lot—and both previously to that election (), and subsequently, when insulted by the worthless portion of the Israelites, he showed that modesty, humility, and forbearance which seem to have characterized him till corrupted by the possession of power. The person thus set apart to discharge the royal function, possessed at least those corporeal advantages which most ancient nations desiderated in their sovereigns. His person was tall and commanding, and he soon showed that his courage was not inferior to his strength (; ). His belonging to Benjamin also, the smallest of the tribes, though of distinguished bravery, prevented the mutual jealousy with which either of the two great tribes, Judah and Ephraim, would have regarded a king chosen from the other; so that his election was received with general rejoicing, and a number of men, moved by the authority of Samuel (), even attached themselves to him as a body-guard, or as counselors and assistants. In the mean time the Ammonites, whose invasion had hastened the appointment of a king, having besieged Jabesh in Gilead, and Nahash their king having proposed insulting conditions to them, the elders of that town, apparently not aware of Saul's election (), sent messengers through the land imploring help. Saul acted with wisdom and promptitude; summoning the people, en masse, to meet him at Bezek, at the head of a vast multitude he totally routed the Ammonites. He and the people then betook themselves, under the direction of Samuel, to Gilgal, there with solemn sacrifices to reinstall the victorious leader in his kingdom (1 Samuel 11). At Gilgal Saul was publicly anointed, and solemnly installed in the kingdom by Samuel, who took occasion to vindicate the purity of his own administration—which he virtually transferred to Saul—to censure the people for their ingratitude and impiety, and to warn both them and Saul of the danger of disobedience to the commands of Jehovah (1 Samuel 12) [SAMUEL].
The restrictions on which he held the sovereignty had () been fully explained as well to Saul as to the people, so that he was not ignorant of his true position as merely the lieutenant of Jehovah, king of Israel, who not only gave all the laws, but whose will, in the execution of them, was constantly to be consulted and complied with. The first occasion on which his obedience to this constitution was put to the test brought out those defects in his character which showed his unfitness for his high office, and incurred a threat of that rejection which his subsequent conduct confirmed ().
Having organized a small standing army, part of which, under Jonathan, had taken a fort of the Philistines, Saul summoned the people to withstand the forces which their oppressors, now alarmed for their dominion, would naturally assemble. But so numerous a host came against Saul, that the people, panic-stricken, fled to rocks and caverns for safety—years of servitude having extinguished their courage, which the want of arms, of which the policy of the Philistines had deprived them, still further diminished. Apparently reduced to extremity, and the seventh day being come, but not being ended, the expiration of which Samuel had enjoined him to wait, Saul 'offered a burnt offering,' thus intruding into the priest's office. Samuel having denounced the displeasure of Jehovah and its consequences, left him, and Saul returned to Gibeah. Left to himself, Saul's errors multiplied apace. Jonathan, having assaulted a garrison of the Philistines (apparently at Michmash, , which, therefore, must have been situated near Migron in Gibeah, , and within sight of it, ), Saul, aided by a panic of the enemy, an earthquake, and the co-operation of his fugitive soldiers, effected a great slaughter; but by a rash and foolish denunciation, he (1) impeded his success (), (2) involved the people in a violation of the law (), and (3), unless prevented by the more enlightened conscience of the people, would have ended with putting Jonathan to death for an act which, being done in ignorance, could involve no guilt.
Another trial was afforded Saul before his final rejection, the command to extirpate the Amalekites, whose hostility to the people of God was inveterate (;;;; ), and who had not by repentance averted that doom which had been delayed 550 years (). A second time Saul willfully violated the divine commission with which he had been entrusted. This stubbornness in persisting to rebel against the directions of Jehovah was now visited by that final rejection of his family from succeeding him on the throne, which had before been threatened (; ). After this second and flagrant disobedience, Saul received no more public countenance from the venerable prophet, who now left him to his sins and his punishment; 'nevertheless, he mourned for Saul,' and the Lord repented that he had made Saul king ().
The denunciations of Samuel sunk into the heart of Saul, and produced a deep melancholy, which either really was, or which his physicians (; comp. ) told him, was occasioned by an evil spirit from the Lord. By the advice of his servants, music was employed for the purpose of removing the deep melancholy into which he had fallen, and David was recommended to his notice as one 'cunning in playing.' Some critics have supposed, however, and apparently with good reason, that this event occurred subsequently to the transactions recorded in 1 Samuel 18.
Though not acquainted with the unction of David, yet having received intimation that the kingdom should be given to another, Saul soon suspected from his accomplishments, heroism, wisdom, and popularity, that David was his destined successor; and, instead of concluding that his resistance to the divine purpose would only accelerate his own ruin, Saul, in the spirit of jealousy and rage, commenced a series of murderous attempts on the life of his rival (; ), that must have lost him the respect and sympathy of his people which they secured for the object of his malice and envy, whose noble qualities also they both exercised and rendered more conspicuous. The slaughter of Ahimelech the priest (1 Samuel 22), under pretence of his being a partisan of David, and of eighty-five other priests of the house of Eli, to whom nothing could be imputed, as well as the whole inhabitants of Nob, was an atrocity perhaps never exceeded.
Having compelled David to assume the position of an outlaw, around whom gathered a number of turbulent and desperate characters, Saul might persuade himself that he was justified in bestowing on another the hand of his younger daughter whom he had given David to wife, and in making expeditions to apprehend and destroy him. A portion of the people were base enough to minister to the evil passions of Saul (; ), and others, perhaps, might color their fear by the pretence of conscience (). But his sparing Saul's life twice, when he was completely in his power, must have destroyed all color of right in Saul's conduct in the minds of the people, as it also did in his own conscience (; 1 Samuel 26). Though thus degraded and paralyzed by the indulgence of malevolent passions, Saul still acted with vigor in repelling the enemies of his country, and in other affairs wherein his jealousy of David was not concerned ().
The measure of Saul's iniquity, now almost full, was completed by an act of direct treason against Jehovah the God of Israel (;;; ), in consulting a woman that had a familiar spirit. [The question as to the character of the apparition evoked by the Witch of Endor, falls more properly to be considered under the article WITCHCRAFTS]. Assured by this woman of his own death the next day, and that of his sons; of the ruin of his army, and the triumph of his most formidable enemies, whose invasion had tempted him to try this unhallowed expedient; Saul, in a state of dejection which could not promise success to his followers, met the enemy next day in Gilboa, on the extremity of the great plain of Esdraelon; and having seen the total rout of his army, and the slaughter of his three sons, of whom the magnanimous Jonathan was one; and, having in vain solicited death from the hand of his armor-bearer, Saul perished at last by his own hand (; ).
When the Philistines came on the morrow to plunder the slain, they found Saul's body and the bodies of his sons, which, having beheaded them, they fastened to the wall of Bethshan; but the men of Jabesh-gilead, mindful of their former obligation to Saul (1 Samuel 11), when they heard of the indignity, gratefully and heroically went by night and carried them off, and buried them under a tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days. From Jabesh the bones of Saul and of his sons were removed by David, and buried in Zelah, in the sepulcher of Kish his father.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Saul'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/s/saul.html.