Fausset's Bible Dictionary


Hebrew SHAUL

1. An early king of Edom (Gen 36:37-38).

2. Gen 46:10.

3. 1Ch 6:24.

4. First king of Israel. The names Kish and Ner, Nadab and Abi-nadab, Baal and Mephibosheth, recur in the genealogy in two generations. The family extends to Ezra's time. If the Zimri of 1Ch 9:42 be the Zimri of 1 Kings 16 it is the last stroke of the family of Saul for the kingdom. Saul was son of Kish, son of Ner, son of Abiel or Jehiel. 1Sa 9:1 omits Ner, the intermediate link, and makes Kish son of Abiel; 1Ch 8:33 supplies the link, or Ner in 1 Chronicles is not father but ancestor of Kish (1Ch 9:36-39), and Ner son of Abi-Gibeon (father or founder of Gibeon, 1Ch 8:29) is named only because he was progenitor of Saul's line, the intermediate names mentioned in 1 Samuel 9 being omitted. The proud, fierce, and self willed spirit of his tribe, Benjamin, is conspicuous in Saul (see Judges 19; 20; 21). Strong and swift fooled (2Sa 1:23), and outtopping the people by head and shoulders (1Sa 9:2), he was the "beauty" or "ornament of Israel," "a choice young man," "there was none goodlier than he."

Above all, he was the chosen of the Lord (1Sa 9:17; 1Sa 10:24; 2Sa 21:6). Zelah was Kish's burial place. Gibeah was especially connected with Saul. The family was originally humble (1Sa 11:1-21), though Kish was "a mighty man of substance." Searching for Kish's donkeys three days in vain, at last, by the servant's advice, Saul consulted Samuel, who had already God's intimation that He would send at this very time a man of Benjamin who should be king. God's providence, overruling man's free movements to carry out His purpose, appears throughout the narrative. Samuel gave Saul the chiefest place at the feast on the high place to which he invited him, and the choice portion. Setting his mind at ease about his asses, now found, Samuel raised his thoughts to the throne as one "on whom was all the desire of Israel." "Little then in his own sight" (1Sa 15:17), and calling himself "of the smallest of the tribes, and his family least of all the families of Benjamin" (1Sa 9:21), Saul was very different from what he afterward became in prosperity; elevation tests men (Psa 73:18).

Samuel anointed and kissed Saul as king. On his coming to the oak ("plain") of Tabor, three men going with offerings to God to Bethel gave him two of three loaves, in recognition of his kingship. Next prophets met him, and suddenly the Spirit of God coming upon him he prophesied among them, so that the proverb concerning him then first began, "is Saul also among the prophets?" The public outward call followed at Mizpeh, when God caused the lot to fall on Saul. So modest was he that he hid himself, shunning the elevation, amidst the baggage. A band whose hearts God had touched escorted him to Gibeah, while the worthless despised him, saying "how shall this man save us?" (compare Luk 14:14, the Antitype, meekly "He held His peace"; Psa 38:13). NAHASH'S cruel threat against Jabesh Gilead, which was among the causes that made Israel desire a king (1Sa 8:3; 1Sa 8:19; 1Sa 12:12), gave Saul the opportunity of displaying his patriotic bravery in rescuing the citizens and securing their lasting attachment.

His magnanimity too appears in his not allowing any to be killed of those whom the people desired to slay for saying "shall Saul reign over us?" Pious humility then breathed in his ascription of the deliverance to Jehovah, not himself (1Sa 11:12-13). Samuel then inaugurated the kingdom again at Gilgal. In 1Sa 13:1 read "Saul reigned 40 years"; so Act 13:21, and Josephus "18 years during Samuel's life and 22 after his death" (Ant. 16:14, section 9). Saul was young in beginning his reign (1Sa 9:2), but probably verging toward 40 years old, as his son Jonathan was grown up (1Sa 13:2). Ishbosheth his youngest son (1Ch 8:33) was 40 at his death (2Sa 2:10), and as he is not mentioned among Saul's sons in 1Sa 14:49 he perhaps was born after Saul's accession. In the second year of his reign Saul revolted from the Philistines whose garrison had been advanced as far as Geba (Jehu, N.E. of Rama), (1Sa 10:5; 1Sa 13:3) and gathered to him an army of 3,000.

Jonathan smote the garrison, and so brought on a Philistine invasion in full force, 30,000 chariots. 6,000 horsemen, and a multitude as the sand. The Israelites, as the Romans under the Etruscan Porscna, were deprived by their Philistine oppressors of all smiths, so that no Israelite save Saul and Jonathan had sword or spear (1Sa 13:19-21). Many hid in caves, others fled beyond Jordan, while those (600: 1Sa 13:15) who stayed with Saul followed trembling. Already some time previously Samuel had conferred with Saul as to his foreseen struggle against the Philistines, and his going down to Gilgal (not the first going for his inauguration as king, 1Sa 11:14-15; but second after revolting from the Philistines) which was the most suitable place for gathering an army.

Samuel was not directing Saul to go at once to Gilgal, as seen as he should go from him, and wait there seven days (1Sa 10:8); but that after being chosen king by lot and conquering Ammon and being confirmed as king at Gilgal, he should war with the Philistines (one main end of the Lord's appointing him king, 1Sa 9:16, "that he may save My people out of the hand of the Philistines, for I have looked upon My people, because their cry is come unto Me"), and then go down to Gilgal, and "wait there seven days, until I come, before offering the holocaust." The Gilgal meant is that in the Jordan valley, to which Saul withdrew in order to gather soldiers for battle, and offer sacrifices, and then advance again to Gibeah and Geba, thence to encounter the Philistines encamped at Michmash. Now first Saul betrays his real character. Self will, impatience, and the spirit of disobedience made him offer without, waiting the time appointed by Jehovah's prophet; he obeyed so far and so long only as obedience did not require crossing of his self will.

Had he waited but an hour or two, he would have saved his kingdom, which was now transferred to one after God's own heart; we may forfeit the heavenly kingdom by hasty and impatient unbelief (Isa 28:16). Saul met Samuel's reproof "what hast thou done?" with self justifying excuses, as if his act had been meritorious not culpable: "I saw the people scattered from me, and thou camest not within the days appointed (Samuel had come before their expiration), and the Philistines gathered themselves. ... Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto Jehovah; I forced myself therefore (he ought to have forced himself to obey not disobey; necessity, is often the plea for sacrificing principle to expediency) and offered." Jonathan's exploit in destroying the Philistine garrison (1 Samuel 14) eventuated in driving the Philistines back to their own land.

The same reckless and profane impatience appears in Saul; he consults Jehovah by the priest Ahiah (1Sa 14:18 read with Septuagint, "bring here the ephod, for he took the ephod that day in the presence of Israel"; for the ark was not usually taken out, but only the ephod, for consultation, and the ark was now at Kirjath Jearim, not in Saul's little camp); then at the increasing tumult in the Philistine host, impatient to join battle, interrupted the priest, "withdraw thine hand," i.e. leave off. Contrast David's patient and implicit following of Jehovah's will, inquired through the priest, in attacking in front as well as in taking a circuit behind the Philistines (2Sa 5:19-25). Saul's adjuration that none should eat until evening betrayed his rash temper and marred the victory (1Sa 14:29-30). His scrupulosity because the people flew upon the spoil, eating the animals with the blood (1Sa 14:32-35), contrasts with true conscientiousness which was wanting in him at Gilgal (1 Samuel 13).

Now he built his first altar. Jonathan's unconscious violation of Saul's adjuration, by eating honey which revived him (1Sa 13:27-29, "enlightened his eyes," Psa 13:3), was the occasion of Saul again taking lightly God's name to witness that Jonathan should die (contrast Exo 20:7). But the guilt, which God's silence when consulted whether Saul should follow after the Philistines implied, lay with Saul himself, for God's siding "with Jonathan" against the Philistines ("he hath wrought with God this day") was God's verdict acquitting him. Thus convicted Saul desisted from further pursuit of the Philistines. His warlike prowess appears in his securing his regal authority (1Sa 14:47, "took the kingdom over Israel") by fighting successfully against all his enemies on every side, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Zobah, the Philistines, and Amalek (summarily noticed 1Sa 14:48, in detail in 1 Samuel 15).

Saul's second great disobedience at his second probation by God was (1 Samuel 15) his sparing the Amalekite Agag and the best of the sheep, oxen, etc., and all that was good; again self will set up itself to judge what part of God's command it chose to obey and what to disobey. The same self complacent blindness to his sin appears in his words to Samuel, "I have performed the commandment of Jehovah." "What meaneth then tills bleating of the sheep?" Saul lays on the people the disobedience, and takes to himself with them the merit of the obedience: "they have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep ... to sacrifice ... and the rest we have utterly destroyed." True obedience observes all the law and turns not to the right or left (Jos 1:7; Deu 5:32). The spirit of self will shows its nonsubmission to God's will in small but sure indications. Saul had zeal for Israel against the Gibeonites where zeal was misplaced, because not according to God's will (2 Samuel 21); he lacked zeal here, where God required it.

He shifts the blame on "the people" and makes religion a cloak, saying the object was "to sacrifice unto Jehovah, thy God." We must not do evil that good may come (Rom 3:8). Samuel tears off the pretext: "behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, ... for rebellion is as the silt of witchcraft," the very sin which Saul fell into at last (1 Samuel 28). As Saul rejected Jehovah's word so He rejected Saul "from being king." In 1Ch 10:13 "Saul died for his transgression (Hebrew maal, 'prevarication,' shuffling, not doing yet wishing to appear to do, God's will) against Jehovah, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit." The secret of Saul's disobedience he discloses, "because I feared the people and obeyed their voice," instead of God's voice (Exo 23:2; Pro 29:25). Even in confession, while using the same words as David subsequently, "I have sinned" (2Sa 12:13), he betrays his motive, "turn again with me ... honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people and before Israel" (Joh 5:44; Joh 12:43).

Man's favor he regarded more than God's displeasure. Henceforth Samuel, after tearing himself from the king, to the rending of his garment (the symbol of the transference of the kingdom to a better successor), came to Saul no more though mourning for him. As the Spirit of Jehovah came upon David from the day of his anointing (1Sa 16:13-14), so an evil spirit from (it is never said OF) Jehovah troubled Saul, and the Spirit of Jehovah departed from hint. David then first was called in to soothe away with the harp the evil spirit; but music did not bring the good Spirit: to fill his soul, so the evil spirit returned worse than ever (Mat 12:43-45; 1Sa 28:4-20). No ritualism or sweet melody, though pleasing the senses, will change the heart; the Holy Spirit alone can attune the soul to purity and peace.

Like his tribe, which should "ravin as a wolf, in the morning devouring the prey and at night ... the spoil" (Gen 49:27), Saul was energetic, choleric, and impressible, now prophesying with the prophets whose holy enthusiasm infected him, now jealous to madness of David whom he had loved greatly and brought permanently to court (1Sa 16:21; 1Sa 18:2) and made his armour bearer; and all because of a thoughtless expression of the women in meeting the conquerors after the battle with Goliath, "Saul hath slain his thousands, David his ten thousands" (1 Samuel 17; 1Sa 18:7). A word was enough to awaken suspicion, and suspicion was wrested into proof of treason, "what can he have more but the kingdom?" (see Ecc 4:4; Pro 27:4). But David's wise walk made Saul fear him (1Sa 18:12; 1Sa 18:14-15; 1Sa 18:29; Psa 101:2; Psa 5:8). God raised up to David a friend, Michal, in his enemy's house, which made Saul the more afraid. So, not daring to lay his own hand on him, he exposed him to the Philistines (1Sa 18:17-27); in righteous retribution, it was Saul himself who fell by them (Psa 9:15-16).

For a brief time a better feeling returned to Saul through Jonathan's intercession for David (1Sa 19:4-6); but again the evil spirit returned, and Saul pursued David to Michal's house, and even to Samuel's presence at Naioth in Ramah. But Jehovah, "in whose hand the king's heart is, to turn it wheresoever He will" (Pro 21:1), caused him who came to persecute to prophesy with the prophets. Yet soon after, because Jonathan let David go, Saul cast a javelin at his noble unselfish son, saying, "thou hast chosen the son of Jesse to thine own confusion, for as long as he liveth thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom" (1Sa 20:28-33). Saul's slaughter of the priests at Nob, on Doeg's information, followed (1 Samuel 22), Saul upbraiding his servants as if conspiring with David and feeling no sorrow for the king; "yet can David, as I can (1Sa 8:14, compare 1Sa 22:7), give every one of you fields and vineyards?" etc., thus answering to David's picture of him (Psa 53:7), "this is the man that trusted in the abundance of his riches," etc.

By slaying the priests, so that Abiathar alone escaped to David, Saul's sin recoiled on himself, for Saul thereby supplied him whom he hated with one through whom to consult Jehovah, and deprived himself of the divine oracle, so that at last he had to have recourse to witchcraft, though he had himself tried to extirpate it (1Sa 23:2; 1Sa 23:9; 1Sa 28:3-7, etc.). The Philistines, by whom Saul thought to have slain David, were the unconscious instruments of saving him from Saul at Mann (1Sa 23:26-27). David's magnanimity at the cave of Engedi in sparing his deadly foe and only cutting off his skirt, when in his power, moved Saul to tears, so that his better feelings returned for the moment, and he acknowledged David's superiority in spirit and deed, and obtained David's promise not to destroy his seed (1 Samuel 24). Once again (1 Samuel 26), at Hachilah David spared Saul, though urged by Abishai to destroy him; the Altaschith of Psalm 57; 58; 59; refers to David's words on this occasion, "destroy not."

David would not take vengeance out of God's hands (Psa 35:1-3; Psa 17:4; Psa 94:1-2; Psa 94:23; Rom 12:19). His words were singularly prophetic of Saul's doom, "his day shall come to die, or be shall descend into battle and perish." The "deep sleep from Jehovah" on Saul enabled David unobserved to take spear and cruse from Saul's bolster. From a hill afar off David appealed to Saul, "if thy instigation to (i.e. giving up to the manifestation of thine own) evil be from Jehovah, through His anger against thee for sin, let Him smell sacrifice" (Hebrew), i.e. appease God's wrath by an acceptable sacrifice; "but if thy instigators be men, they drive me out from attaching (Hebrew) myself to the inheritance of Jehovah (the Holy Land); now therefore let not my blood fall to the earth far away from the face of Jehovah," i.e. do not drive me to perish in a heathen land; contrast Psa 16:4-6. Saul acknowledged his sinful "folly" and promised no more to seek his hurt, and blessed him.

The consultation with the witch at Endor preceded the fatal battle of Gilbea. Saul had "put away out of the land wizards," etc. But the law forbad them to live (Lev 19:31; Lev 20:27; Deu 18:10, etc.). He only took half measures, as in sparing the Amalekite king; "rebellion" ended in "witchcraft" (1Sa 15:23). He had driven away the only man, David, who could have saved him from the Philistines (1 Samuel 17; 2Sa 5:17-22). He had killed all by whom he could have consulted Jehovah (1 Samuel 21; 22). How men's own wickedness, by a retributive providence (Jer 2:19), corrects them! She was mistress of a "spirit" (baalath-ob) with which the dead were conjured up to inquire of them the future. Either she merely pretended this, or if there was a demoniacal reality Samuel's apparition differed so essentially from it that she started at seeing him, and then (what shows her art to be something more than jugglery) she recognized Saul; probably she fell into a state of clairvoyance in which she recognized persons, as Saul, unknown to her by face.

Saul did not himself see Samuel with his eyes, but recognized that it was he from her description, and told him his distress; but Samuel told him it was vain to ask of a friend of God since Jehovah was become his enemy. Saul should be in Hades by the morrow for his disobeying as to the Amalekites, while David, Amalek's destroyer (1Sa 30:17), should succeed. On the morrow the Philistines followed hard upon Saul, the archers hit him; then Saul having in vain begged his armour bearer to slay him (1Sa 31:4) fell on his own sword, but even so still lingered until an Amalekite (of the very people whom he ought to have utterly destroyed) stood upon and slew him, and brought his crown and bracelet to David (2Sa 1:8-10).

The Philistines cut off his head and fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan. The armour they put in the temple of Ashtaroth, the head in the temple of Dagon (1Sa 31:9-10; 1Ch 10:10); the tidings of the slaughter of their national enemy they sent far and near to their idols and to the people. The inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead showed their gratitude to their former deliverer by bravely carrying off the bodies of him and his sons, and burning them, and burying the bones under a tree. His life is a sadly vivid picture of declension and deterioration until suicide draws a dark curtain over the scene. In his elegy David brings out all his good qualities, bravery, close union with Jonathan, zeal for Israel whose daughters Saul clothed in rich spoils; David generously overlooks his faults (2 Samuel 1). Years after he had the bones of Saul and Jonathan buried in Zelah in the tomb of Kish (2Sa 21:12-14). 2Sa 21:5. Paul's original name. He was proud of his tribe Benjamin and the name Saul (Act 13:21).


Taken from: Fausset's Bible Dictionary by Andrew Robert Fausset (1821-1910)