Old Testament Tales: King Saul

1. What tribe is Saul from?
2. What human reasons would make Saul a good choice for king?
3. How did Saul raise an army?
4. What sort of army did Saul and Jonathan control?
5. How did Saul lose God’s favor?
6. How did Jonathan lose Saul’s favor?
7. What is a prophetic frenzy?
8. How many giants are there in the Bible?
9. Did David join Saul’s army?
10. How did Saul die?

Saul was a Benjaminite—a king chosen from the smallest tribe reduced the likelihood of other tribes battling for favor. Also, Benjamin occupied the mountainous land north of Jerusalem, where the Philistines were strong, making Saul highly motivated to fight. And Saul cut an impressive figure. Sent out to search for his father’s missing asses, Saul ends up seeking Samuel’s advice. Meanwhile, God tells Samuel the promised king is approaching. King and prophet eat together; then Samuel anoints Saul, prophesying how he’ll find the asses and who he’ll meet on the way, thus convincing him of God’s favor. When Saul meets a troop of prophets he’s overwhelmed by the Spirit and joins them in prophetic dance and singing (1 Sam 10:11, similar perhaps to modern accounts of people overtaken by the Spirit).

Saul’s first battle is against the Ammonites in the east. At home in Gibeah (north of Jerusalem), Saul carves up a team of oxen (1 Sam 11, rather like the Levite carved up his murdered concubine in Judges 19 and sends pieces throughout the tribes to call up an army. When the battle’s won, Saul retains the first Israelite “standing army” of soldiers bound to the king rather than the tribes. The 3,000 soldiers (1 Sam 13:2) are split between Saul and his son Jonathan.

The Philistines recover from their earlier defeat at the hands of Samuel but are driven out again by Jonathan. Their army regroups at Michmash, firmly in Benjaminite territory and Saul, with his standing army beginning to desert (1 Sam 13, only 600 remain), moves to face them. Meanwhile Jonathan and his shieldbearer pretend to be deserters and sneak round the back of the Philistine army, causing chaos and confusion (1 Sam 14). Fleeing Philistines are mistaken for Israelites, the enemy ends up fighting itself, and the Israelite deserters return to join the fray. But the battle against the Philistines had its down-side too. Saul, frustrated as his army dissipated, and tired of waiting for “his” priest Samuel, started the sacrifice to God more as a call to unity than a call to prayer (1 Sam 13:9). Then in the heat of battle Saul demanded that no-one should eat till the fighting was over (1 Sam 14:24), expecting the people to treat this as God’s command, not man’s. Unfortunately Saul’s son Jonathan hadn’t heard the ruling and did eat some honey. Meanwhile Samuel proclaimed that Saul’s family would no longer inherit the throne.

Soon Saul is fighting the Amalekite nomads (1 Sam 15; Ex 17:8) and spares king Agag, whose descendant Haman attempts to destroy the scattered Israelites in Persia in later years (Esther), contrary to God’s instructions via Samuel. Samuel never sees Saul again after this confrontation. Saul’s battles continue, leading up to the famous confrontation with the Philistines (again) where David (newly anointed by Saul as the future king) fights Goliath, a very large Philistine (1 Sam 17:4) whose relatives, likewise large, appear in later battles (2 Sam 21:16-22). (Giants have been mentioned several times earlier in the Bible—in pre-history (Gen 6:1), in Canaan (Num 13:33), during Joshua’s conquest of Canaan (Josh 12:4), etc.)

In later years, Saul’s madness could only be calmed by David’s music. Saul alternated between exalting and trying to kill David. Battles continued till Saul’s army was driven into the hills by Philistine chariots at Aphek while David fought Amalekites in the South. Fearing the battle, Saul consults a medium (1 Sam 28:7) and Samuel’s ghost says he will lose. At the end of battle, Saul dies by his own sword.


David C Brown said…
Saul is a sad example of how we may start well and fail miserably - especially when we're not obedient. We have the advantage of being in the time when the Holy Spirit can indwell - and will not leave us.

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