By Josiah Blake Tidwell
The Reign of Saul.
I Sam. 8-31; I Chron. 10
The Demand for a King. The last period saw one tribe after another come to the front and assert itself through some leading man as an emergency arose, but now the tribes are to be united into a monarchy and this, too, at their own request made in the form of a desire for a king. Several things no doubt influenced them to make this request. (1) From the days of Joshua there had been no strong national bond. They were only held together by the law of Moses and the annual assemblages at Shiloh. But the wise reign of Samuel had given an enlarged national consciousness and led to a desire for a stable government with the largest possible national unity. (2) The failure of the sons of Samuel, who had been entrusted with some power and who would naturally succeed him, led them to feel that provision for the welfare of the nation must be made before the death of Samuel or ruin would come. (3) The attitude of the nations around Israel suggested the need of a strong government headed by a leader of authority. The Philistines and Ammonites had already made incursions into their land and threatened at any time to further oppress them. The new organization, therefore, seemed necessary as a national protection. (4) The faith of Jehovah was threatened. The victories of the Philistines would be interpreted to mean that Jehovah was powerless or else did not care for his people. This would lead them to turn to other gods. Then too they were greatly tempted by the religion of the Canaanite to turn from Jehovah. It was, therefore, a religious crisis that made it essential that the Hebrews unite and in the name of Jehovah over throw the Philistines and establish a nation that would rightly represent to all nations Jehovah as the God of their race. (5) The nations around them such as Egypt and Assyria with their seats of royalty had excited their pride and they were moved with a desire to be like their heathen neighbors-a desire which involved disrespect for their divine king and want of faith in him.
The Principle of the Kingdom. The folly of the people did not lie in their asking for a king to rule over them, but in the spirit of forgetfulness of God with which they made the request. Indeed Moses had provided for a kingdom and given the law upon which the king was to rule (Dt 17:14-20). He was to be unlike other kings. He was not to rule according to his own will or that of the people but according to the will of Jehovah. He was to be subject to God as was the humblest Israelite, and, under his immediate direction, was to rule for the good of the people. This was a new principle that showed it self in all the future history of Israel. Saul attempted to be like others-to assert his own will-and disobeyed God and was deposed while David identified himself with God and his purposes and was successful. One represent the ideal of the people, the other that of the Scripture.
Saul the First King. He began his career under the most auspicious circumstances. His tribe and its location as well as his fine physical appearance gave him great advantage. He was enthusiastic and brave, and yet in the early days he charms us with his modesty. After he was anointed by Samuel and had been made to see the great career opening to him he returned to his regular toil until the people were called together at Mizpah and proclaimed him king. Samuel supported him with his influence and the people gave him allegiance. He was for a while subservient to the will of God and greatly prospered. But later he became self-willed and failed to see that the nation was God's and not his. He developed a spirit of disobedience, perverseness and evil conduct that mark him as insane.
Saul's Great Achievements. The oppression of Israel's enemies which in part at least made necessary their king had to be dealt with at once. In his contest with them Saul had a very successful military career. He was successful in the following campaigns: (I) Against the Ammonites (I Sam. 11) in which he delivered from ruin the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead on the east Of Jordan and won the love of all the Hebrew people. (2) Against the Philistines (I Sam. 13-14) in which Jonathan was the hero. Before the battle he disobeyed the will of God by performing the duties of a priest and was told he should lose his kingdom on account of it. At the close of the campaign he lost his temper and proposed to kill Jonathan, his son, the hero of the day because he had unwittingly disobeyed a foolish command. (3) Against Moab, Ammon, Edom and Zobah (I Sam. 14:47) of which there are no particulars given. (4) Against the Amalekites (I Sam. 15) in which, though he defeated Amalek, he disobeyed God in not wholly destroying all Amalek and his possessions and thereby lost for the time being Samuel's help and finally his kingdom. It was after this battle that David was anointed to become king in Saul's stead.
Saul's Decline. From Chapter 16 on the story tells of the rapid decline of Saul and of the rise of David to the kingdom. (1) There is given the story of the madness of Saul and the introduction of David to the court as the king's musician. (2) The campaign against the Philistines in which David kills Goliath, the giant that was defying Israel, and won great honor from the king. (3) His effort to destroy David. During many years he, with bitter jealousy and an insane hatred, tried to destroy David who was as constantly delivered by a divine providence. Whether on account of sickness or other reason, he seems to have had fits of insanity during this period. (4) His last battle and death. The Philistines arrayed themselves against Saul. With a sense of defeat he tried to get in touch with Samuel, but finally met a death in harmony with his life and thus ended one of the most melancholy careers of all history. All because of his disobedience to God (I Chron. 10:1.1-14).
Lessons of the Period. (1) God adapts his methods to the needs and conditions of the people from tribal government to kingdom. (2) A man out of harmony with God will certainly fail-Saul. (3) A man in harmony with God's plan will succeed no matter how much opposed by others-David. (4) God never forgets to punish those who oppress his people-Amalekites. (5) The success of God's work does not depend upon our attitude toward his will, but our condition when it has succeeded does. (6) A righteous man can succeed without doing wrong to do it. (7) God's anointed will suffer if they sin. (8) Kindness to enemies-David to Saul. (9) The strength of true friendship-Jonathan and David.
For Study and Discussion. (1) The condition that led to the establishment of the kingdom. (3) Four statements Samuel made to Saul and four ways by which he tried to impress him with the responsibility to which he was called I Sam. 9:19-10-8. (3) The prophet bands or school of prophets. (4) The story of Jonathan's exploits against Michmash by Saul and his escape, I Sam. 14. (5) The story of David's choice and anointing, I Sam. 16:1-13. (6) The killing of Goliath and defeat of the Philistines. I Sam. Ch. 17. (7) Story of Jonathan and David, I Sam. 18:1-4; 19:1-7; 20:1-4, 12-17, 41-42; 23:16-18. (8) David's wanderings, 21:10-22-5. (9) Compare Saul and David at the time of the anointing of each as to their chances of success. (10) David's sojourn in Philistia with the experience of embarrassment and advantage, I Sam. Chs. 27-28. (11) Saul's last battle and death, (a) the appeal to Samuel through the witch, I Sam. Ch. 28, (b) the battle, his and his son's death, I Sam. Ch.31.