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Deeper Commentary


1Sa 13:1  Saul reigned a year, and when he had reigned two years over Israel-
This may be some idiom now hard to understand, perhaps meaning 'when his reign was established'; some versions of LXX omit the verse. Or remembering that the chapter breaks are artificial and not inspired, it could be that the events of chapter 12 are within the first year of his reign and what we now read is in the second year. If Saul reigned forty years (Acts 13:21) but was rejected in the second year of his reign, then his reign would have been miserable indeed, the majority of it spent knowing he had been rejected. However the 40 year reigning period may need to be interpreted some other way, for his son Jonathan appears to already be an adult at this time (:2). I suggest that this is an idiom or metaphor here, which we may not currently be able to decode. Paul speaks of Saul reigning 40 years having just spoken of the 40 years wandering, which is also not an exact figure as they wandered 38 years. Saul, David and Solomon are all recorded as reigning 40 years, and we wonder whether this isn't a literary device rather than a literal figure.

1Sa 13:2 Saul chose three thousand men of Israel, of which two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and in the Mount of Bethel, and one thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin, and the rest of the people he sent back to their tents-
This continues Saul's imitation of Gideon, sending potential soldiers back home because he believed God could save by many or by few. Saul was trying to imitate Gideon (see too 1 Sam. 13:2), and likewise when he prohibited the men to eat anything while they were pursuing the Philistines (1 Sam. 11:11 = Jud. 7:16; 1 Sam. 13:5 = Jud. 7:12; 1 Sam. 14:24,28,31 = Jud. 8:4,5). And yet it was Gideon who refused the request of Israel to make him king; Saul's modelling upon Gideon was only superficial. As in 1 Sam. 11:11, he seems to have split the troops into three groups of 1000 each, again imitating Gideon. His aim was to use them to attack the Philistine garrisons in Gibeah, Michmash and Bethel. 

It seems the 2000 and 1000 were some kind of permanent force under the command of Saul and Jonathan. Jonathan must have been very young at this time, if indeed Saul reigned 40 years (Acts 13:21); although I suspect the reference to 40 years is symbolic. Paul says it to make a similarity with the 40 years in the wilderness he has just spoken about. The reigns of Saul, David and Jonathan were all 40 years, so this may be an example of where Semitic languages use numbers and periods in a non literal sense.

1Sa 13:3 Jonathan attacked the garrison of the Philistines in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, Let the Hebrews hear!-
"Hebrew" is literally 'one who has passed over'; he may have in view the Israelites who were on the other side of the Jordan river. Having attempted to follow Gideon's example of not needing many men (see on :2), he now is desperate for every Israelite he can get; his faith didn't hold up. Despite Jonathan's victory it seems Saul himself didn't bring deliverance from the Philistines, for by the time of the conflict with Goliath the Hebrews were under severe threat from them. So Saul's early promise of being a military deliverer just didn't come true.

1Sa 13:4 All Israel heard that Saul had attacked the garrison of the Philistines, and that Israel had become odious to the Philistines. The people were gathered together to Saul in Gilgal-
As noted on :2,3, Saul's imitation of Gideon by sending soldiers home was merely surface level spirituality. Now he wanted every soldier he could get. We note that Saul was given credit in the publicity material [as it were] for the attack, when it was Jonathan who did it. We therefore see pride creeping in to Saul. See on :17. Saul was potentially enabled to free Israel from the Philistines, but he failed to have the personal faith required. The main victories against them were by Jonathan and David. And this explains his great jealousy against them both, even planning to slay Jonathan at least twice (1 Sam. 14:39; 20:33). 

1Sa 13:5 The Philistines assembled themselves to fight with Israel: thirty thousand chariots, six thousand horsemen and people as numerous as the sand which is on the seashore, and they came up and encamped in Michmash, east of Beth Aven-
See on 1 Sam. 14:28,31. As often noted, "thousand" doesn't mean necessarily a literal 1000, but can refer to families or military regiments. Otherwise in this case the proportion of horsemen and chariots is wrong. It was Israel who were to be as the sand on the seashore, but the Philistines were a quasi Israel.

1Sa 13:6 When the men of Israel saw that they were in great peril and the people were distressed, they hid themselves in caves, thickets, rocks, coverts and in pits-
This is alluded to in Heb. 11:38, implying amongst these people who hid were those with faith. And the context of Heb. 11 is faith in the things of the Kingdom and  Messiah Jesus. They believed that although they were now in free fall before their enemies, the day of Israel's Kingdom and true saviour Messiah would one day come. To flee is not necessarily a lack of faith (Mt. 10:23).

1Sa 13:7 Now some of the Hebrews had gone over the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead, but Saul was still in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling-
Israelites persecuted for their faithlessness crossed the Jordan into the territory of Gad (1 Sam. 13:7). This is fair commentary upon the situation in Josh. 22:19,25, where the Israelites accused Gad of falling away from Yahweh worship, and the people of Gad explained that they feared that the other Israelites would make the Jordan a boundary which they would use to exclude them from Yahweh worship. All these fears and speculations about the future are here shown to be inappropriate. Actually the very opposite worked out. And this is the problem with so many divisions between brethren; they are based upon fears of possible futures, and the passage of time often shows the opposite working out. See on 1 Sam. 14:16.

1Sa 13:8 He waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel, but Samuel didn’t come to Gilgal-
In his opening training when first called to the kingship, Saul had been trained to wait until Samuel came and made the offerings (1 Sam. 10:8). And he obeyed. Now the lesson learned is repeated- and he fails. We have similar things in our lives. There are similarities of circumstance not only within our lives, but between our lives and those of others. Thus as Samuel tarried longer than Saul expected, so Amasa "tarried longer than the set time which [David] had appointed him" (2 Sam. 20:5). Circumstances repeat within our lives and between our lives and those of others in Biblical history; that we might learn the lessons and take comfort from the scriptures, that man is not alone.

"The time set" can refer to a feast, but also simply to a festival arranged by Samuel for the making of peace offerings. Samuel was not a Levite, and the gatherings for the peace offerings were therefore not necessarily to keep Mosaic legislation.

And the people were scattered from him-
They were no longer following him trembling (:7), but were scattered from him.

1Sa 13:9 Saul said, Bring here the burnt offering to me, and the peace offerings. He offered the burnt offering-
Saul was not wrong to offer the offerings because he wasn't a Levite. For neither was Samuel, and David wasn't either and yet made such offerings (2 Sam. 24:25). The point is that he wasn't obedient to Samuel's inspired words, and was likely not qualified to make the offerings as he was not at peace with God.

 Are we going to be like those Israelites who offered a peace offering, when actually they were not at peace with God at all (1 Sam. 13:9; 2 Kings 16:13; Prov. 7:14; Am. 5:22)? Are we going to be like Israel, who offered peace offerings, and then rose up from their tables to worship idols and indulge their flesh (Ex. 32:5,6)? These are challenges especially appropriate to the breaking of bread meeting, which is a kind of new covenant equivalent for the peace offering.

1Sa 13:10 As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering Samuel came, and Saul went out to meet him, to greet him-
The idea seems to have been that the war of independence against the Philistines was to be begun by sacrifice and establishing peace with God first. But Saul didn't see the importance of this and impatiently wanted to get on with the campaign, without waiting for Samuel to pronounce God's blessing upon it. Saul wanted to push through the sacrifices as mere ritual, trusting in his own strength for the looming war. This was what was so displeasing to God; the issue was not that Saul wasn't a Levite. For neither was Samuel. He was judged for these things apparently harshly, losing the kingship because of it. But his actions which are condemned reflected deeper bad attitudes. We too have surely been guilty of over hasty prayer, dashing into enterprises in our own strength and with prayer and spiritual devotion effectively relegated to a mere formalism, assuming that time is of the essence rather than spiritual devotion. Circumstances repeated to give him another chance to learn the same lesson (1 Sam. 14:10), but he failed again.   

It seems that Saul was about to offer the peace offering after having offered the burnt offering, but then Samuel arrived. And he never got to offer the peace offering. The burnt offering represented dedication to God, and always preceded the peace offering in the Mosaic legislation. Peace with God could only be celebrated after offering total devotion to Him. And Saul it seems was stopped from making the peace offering, because he was not at peace with God.

1Sa 13:11 Samuel said, What have you done?-
Surely said to recall the situation in Eden when God questioned Adam and Eve, who had been established by Him as the rulers of His Kingdom as it then was (s.w. Gen. 3:13; 4:10). And there is a similar initial attempt to deny any wrongdoing. See on :43.  

Saul said, When I saw that the people were scattered from me and that you didn’t come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines assembled at Michmash-
Saul says the truth, to an extent. His trembling followers were deserting by the hour (:7,8) and the Philistines were only ten miles away. He needed to go ahead as quickly as possible instead of waiting for Samuel's religiosity. He gave in to the common human feeling, that religion is fine but we have to get on and live our secular lives as secular people. And he was severely judged for this attitude, as a warning to us all. And as noted on :16, his fears and perceived need to act quickly were in fact misplaced.

1Sa 13:12 I thought ‘Now the Philistines will come down on me to Gilgal, and I haven’t entreated the favour of Yahweh’. I forced myself therefore, and offered the burnt offering-
Saul passes off his inattention to spiritual things and treating the offerings as mere rituals by saying that in fact he wanted to ask Yahweh's favour. Saul had been commanded to wait for Samuel. That was the commandment he disobeyed (:13). "Forced myself" is always elsewhere translated "restrained myself". But the opposite was the case. He had no restrained himself and waited for Samuel. Yet Saul implies he had been tempted to dash into battle without seeking Yahweh's favour, but he restrained himself. We have a chilling insight here into mentality and self justification which we have surely all had at times. And it cost Saul the Kingdom.

1Sa 13:13 Samuel said to Saul, You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of Yahweh your God which He commanded you-
Saul had been commanded to wait for Samuel. That was the commandment he disobeyed. David felt preserved by God from Saul and his other enemies (1 Sam. 30:23; 2 Sam. 22:44), because he had preserved or obeyed [s.w.] God's ways (2 Sam. 22:22,24; Ps. 18:21,23); whereas Saul didn't obey / preserve them and was destroyed (1 Sam. 13:13,14; 1 Chron. 10:13). Hence Ps. 145:20: "Yahweh preserves all those who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy".

For now Yahweh would have established your kingdom in Israel forever-
God had set up Saul with the chance of success, and even of becoming the Messianic king with an eternal kingdom. See on 1 Sam. 11:1. We see here the various possible futures which God is aware of and has set up. This makes us appreciate more the huge significance of human freewill decisions. They open up various pathways and destinies which God has enabled. Saul chose not to go this pathway towards the eternal Kingdom, and so there kicked into operation the pathway to destruction which Israel had been warned of when he first became king. But God's foreknowledge in no way made it inevitable that Saul go down that path.

1Sa 13:14 But now your kingdom shall not continue-
Perhaps it was God's plan to immediately remove the kingship from Saul, but in practice He yet further delayed it in the hope of Saul's more meaningful repentance.

Yahweh has sought for Himself-
God was and is in search of man, looking at human hearts. God’s search for man is a repeated theme of the prophets. “Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree, I saw your fathers” (Hos. 9:10). “He found him in a desert land… He encircled him, He cared for him, He kept him as the apple of his eye” (Dt. 32:10). “I have found David my servant” (Ps. 89:20). “I said, Here am I, here am I… I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people… I called, no one answered” (Is. 50:2; 65:1,2; 66:4). Jeremiah speaks of running to and fro in the streets of Jerusalem, searching her squares on God’s behalf, to see if he could find a single man who did justice and wasn’t greedy (Jer. 5:1,5; 6:6,13; 8:10). God looked, and was deeply shocked that He found no man: “He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore His own arm brought salvation” (Is. 59:16). It’s not simply so that men search for God and then find Him in Truth. He is in search for man. So it’s not us as it were reaching out to God; He is fervently reaching out to us, and we have to come to realize that. We don’t so much as find God, as realize that He already is earnestly with us. This explains how wonderful is the moment when both sides meet; all heaven rejoices when the woman finds her lost coin, or the shepherd His sheep. As the Yiddish proverb says, “And going out to find Him, I met Him coming towards me”.

A man after His own heart-
David had been chosen to replace Saul because David was a man after God's own heart. But this didn't lift David up with pride. He realizes that the kingship would be nothing but grace (Ps. 119:76,77) and tender mercy toward him. We can also reflect that being after God's own heart didn't mean he was perfect; for Ps. 119 contains many verses where David at this time of scrutiny by God admits to sin and longs to be more spiritually minded. But we too can be after God's heart without being perfect; He looks at the overall desires of a person rather than actual achievement.

On the other hand, this high estimation led to David subsequently being over confident as to the state of his heart (e.g. Ps. 26:2). David was confident not only of legalistic obedience but also of a heart in which God would find nothing wrong. Indeed David had been considered a man after God's own heart, but it seems this led David to assume that from then on, his heart would be always found perfect before God. He didn't remain the idealistic, spiritually minded shepherd boy. And this assumption that how he was at one point in his life was how he would always be... led him into his sin with Bathsheba.

Spiritual mindedness is the seal of the Spirit, the guarantee that we will eternally be there with Christ in His Kingdom; for having “Christ in you” is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). To bring every thought into captivity to Christ; to be able to say with Paul “but we have the mind of Christ”. But I think that Paul got there (in the end), and like me you’ve probably met even a few in your ecclesial experience who apparently ‘got there’ by the end of their days – who had “the mind of Christ”, and whom we laid to rest in sleep knowing that truly, “I knew a [wo]man in Christ”. For all his failure and dysfunction, David is given the amazing accolade – ‘a man after God’s own heart’ (Acts 13:22). And remember, this was God’s very own estimation of David. We really can be ‘after God’s own heart / mind’. We must not think that human nature of itself precludes this; for it didn't stop David coming to this point. May we find true fellowship with each other as we walk towards that same goal, knowing that “we all, with unveiled face, reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord (Jesus), are (being, slowly) transformed into the same image, from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).

It's worth remembering that at the point he was told that another person was to replace him, Saul didn't know David. He may well have assumed that the person in view as a replacement was in fact his son Jonathan. This would explain the tensions between Saul and Jonathan.

And Yahweh has appointed him to be prince over His people, because you have not kept what Yahweh commanded you-
The fact God allowed Saul to continue ruling may mean that even this change of purpose with Saul was open ended, and could still be changed if he repented. For David had not yet been anointed.

1Sa 13:15 Samuel arose and went from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. Saul numbered the people who were present with him, about six hundred men-
Decreased from the 1000 in each brigade of :2. Some would have deserted or fled over the Jordan (:7), others were slain. We note Samuel's continued involvement in things. For indeed Saul had been raised up by God with the potential ability to free Israel from the Philistines. 

1Sa 13:16 Saul and Jonathan his son and the people who were with them stayed in Geba of Benjamin, but the Philistines encamped in Michmash-
Saul had justified his offering because he considered that time was of the essence in attacking the Philistines. But in fact it seems he didn't do so. And it was to be Jonathan acting alone who gained the victory and not himself. Saul was therefore dominated by thoughts of how the situation required him to act, and quickly; rather than waiting in faith, and then he would have realized that neither his action nor immediacy of action were actually required.

1Sa 13:17 Raiders came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies: one company turned towards Ophrah in the land of Shual-
This left the camp depleted, opening up the camp to Jonathan's attack. This raises the question as to whether acts of faith require us to all the same act wisely. Ophrah was the home of Gideon (Jud. 8:27), whom Saul was imitating at least on a surface level (see on :2-4). Perhaps the Philistines were aware of this and sought to reverse his "three companies" strategy in imitation of Gideon by sending out their marauders in three companies.

1Sa 13:18 another company turned towards Beth Horon, and another company turned towards the border land overlooking the valley of Zeboim facing the wilderness-
There seemed a particular emphasis upon the territory of Benjamin, as if the Philistines were punishing them for having a member of their tribe become king. This would have taught the people the folly of what they had done. And it thereby created pressure upon Saul to defeat the Philistines. The fact he personally didn't win the dramatic victories against them [Jonathan and David did] all contributed towards his failure and depression.

1Sa 13:19 Now there was no smith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears-
The Babylonians did the same to the Jews in the time of Nebuchadnezzar; they took captive all the metalworkers so they couldn't make weapons (2 Kings 24:14; Jer. 24:1; 29:2). Again, we see evidence that the choice of events to record is in order to help the exiles see that their situation was not unique and was not without historical precedent. 

1Sa 13:20 All the Israelites went down to the Philistines to have their ploughshares, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened-
"Went down" suggests a reversal of the situation at the conquest of the land, where the local inhabitants remained in the mountains and Israel in the lowlands.

1Sa 13:21 The price was two thirds of a shekel to sharpen a mattock and a ploughshare, and one third for the forks and axes, and to set the goads-
We may well ask why such detail is given. The amount of detail given in the Biblical record varies enormously. It can be likened to a cameraman zooming in and out; and here the zoom is very much on the fine details, the goads being "set", and coins being handed over. The prices were high, that may be the idea- with the implication that the Israelites were impoverished and unable to afford much agricultural technology, and therefore enduring a hard life under Saul's reign. This all sets up David for mass popularity after he led Israel to victory against the Philistines.

1Sa 13:22 So on the day of battle no soldier had either sword or spear among the people who were with Saul and Jonathan; only Saul and Jonathan his son had swords and spears-
The result of this was that the Israelites became skilled in the use of slings and bows. It was this which resulted in David being an expert slinger and able to slay Goliath. If they had had access to swords, then the logical thing would have been to try to fight Goliath with sword and spear. But there was no expertise in the use of these weapons. And so we see how providence works out. Because of their oppressed situation, David became a skilled slinger- and slew Goliath.

1Sa 13:23 The garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash
"When the Philistines heard that Saul with his six hundred men had joined the small force already at Geba with Jonathan, they sent a body of men to occupy an eminence higher up in the defile which lay between Geba and Michmash. The purpose of this was to keep the route open, that so, when they pleased, they might send a larger body of troops up the defile in order to attack Saul. It would also keep a watch upon his movements, though they could have had no expectation that he would venture to attack them. It was this garrison which Jonathan so bravely attacked, and by his success prepared the way for the utter defeat of the enemy".