1 Samuel 13


Rejection of Saul’s Kingship (13:1-16:13)

Saul’s Exploits and Rejection (13:1-15:35)

Saul Fights the Philistines

      • Saul chose 3,000 men from Israel: 2,000 of them were with Saul at Michmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and 1,000 were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin. He sent the rest of the men back to their tents.
        • You may be wondering why I have chosen to leave out verse 1. The reason I have opted not to include it is that most LXX manuscripts don’t contain it, and the Masoretic Text doesn’t have the numbers included in the text so whatever any particular rendering a translation gives is basically a guess. NIV renders it this way, “Saul was 30 years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty two years.” NET Bible’s text critical notes explains the situation:
        • On Saul’s age: “The MT does not have ‘thirty.’ A number appears to have dropped out of the Hebrew text here, since as it stands the MT (literally, ‘a son of a year’) must mean that Saul was only one year old when he began to reign! The KJV, attempting to resolve this, reads ‘Saul reigned one year,’ but that is not the normal meaning of the Hebrew text represented by the MT. Although most LXX mss lack the entire verse, some Greek mss have ‘thirty years’ here (while others have ‘one year’ like the MT). The Syriac Peshitta has Saul’s age as twenty-one. But this seems impossible to harmonize with the implied age of Saul’s son Jonathan in the following verse. Taking into account the fact that in v. 2 Jonathan was old enough to be a military leader, some scholars prefer to supply in v. 1 the number forty (cf. ASV, NASB). The present translation (‘thirty’) is a possible but admittedly uncertain proposal based on a few Greek mss and followed by a number of English versions (e.g., NIV, NCV, NLT). Other English versions simply supply ellipsis marks for the missing number (e.g., NAB, NRSV).”
        • On the length of Saul’s reign: “The MT has ‘two years’ here. If this number is to be accepted as correct, the meaning apparently would be that after a lapse of two years at the beginning of Saul’s reign, he then went about the task of consolidating an army as described in what follows (cf. KJV, ASV, CEV). But if the statement in v. 1 is intended to be a comprehensive report on the length of Saul’s reign, the number is too small. According to Acts 13:21 Saul reigned for forty years. Some English versions (e.g., NIV, NCV, NLT), taking this forty to be a round number, add it to the ‘two years’ of the MT and translate the number here as ‘forty-two years.’ While this is an acceptable option, the present translation instead replaces the MT’s ‘two’ with the figure ‘forty.’ Admittedly the textual evidence for this decision is weak, but the same can be said of any attempt to restore sense to this difficult text (note the ellipsis marks at this point in NAB, NRSV). The Syriac Peshitta lacks this part of v. 1.”
        • Jonathan defeated the Philistine outpost at Geba and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul blew the trumpet all throughout the land saying, “Let the Hebrews hear!” So all of Israel heard the news that Saul had defeated the Philistine outpost and now Israel had become repulsive to the Philistines. So, the people were called out to join Saul at Gilgal.
          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Geba was located between Jonathan’s forces at Gibeah and Saul’s forces at Micmash. A deep gorge separated Geba and Micmash (see 13:23; 14:5). The ram’s horn (Hebrew shofar) was used to raise a signal- e.g., to muster an army (Judg 3:27)…Non-Israelites often used the term Hebrews disdainfully (see 1 Sam 14:11; 29:3; see also Gen 39:14; 43:32). Saul might have used it to strike a nerve a arouse the people’s pride in their identity.”
          • Why does the text say that Saul had destroyed the outpost when earlier the text made clear that Jonathan did it? The same source explains, “The commander-in-chief often got credit for what his soldiers accomplished.”
      • The Philistines gathered to battle with Israel. They went up against Israel with 3,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen, and troops as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went and camped at Michmash east of Beth-aven. When the Israelites saw that they were in trouble and that their army was hard pressed, the people hid in caves, thickets, among rocks, in tombs and in cisterns. Some of the Hebrews even crossed over the Jordan River into the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul stayed at Gilgal and all of the troops with him were terrified. He waited for seven days, the amount of time Samuel had set. But, Samuel didn’t come to Gilgal and the troops began to desert him.
        • Again, we have a numbers issue. This time involving the accurate count of chariots. HCSB notes, “Ancient manuscripts provide different figures as to the number of chariots the Philistines brought to the battlefield. Most translations follow the Hebrew text and the majority of Septuagint (Gk) texts, which give the number as 30,000. The Syriac (Aramaic) version and one Greek tradition read 3,000, a figure accepted by some recent translations because it seems more credible. Elsewhere in Scripture the largest number of chariots used in war was 1,700 (see 2 Sm 8:4), and even Solomon possessed only 1,400 (1 Kg 10:26)…”
        • Pulpit Commentary proposes a couple of other likely theories: “Long before Saul could gather Israel the Philistines had completed their preparations, and invaded the country in overwhelming numbers; but thirty thousand chariots compared with six thousand horsemen is out of all proportion. Possibly the final l in Israel has been taken by some copyists for a numeral, and as it signifies thirty, it his changed 1000 into 30,000. Or, simpler still, shin, the numeral for 300, has been read with two dots, and so changed into 30,000.”
      • Here we have arrived at what many commentators have seen as a significant timing issue which I mentioned back in our notes for 1 Sam 10. There are issues either way. If we infer that years have necessarily passed between Samuel’s initial instruction to Saul (chapter 10) and the current event, then the text is certainly a little difficult. If we opt for the view that very little time has passed it is difficult to reasonably envision so many events occurring in such a short space of time. The following commentaries discuss it:
          • Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers: “When was this ‘set time’ appointed? It seems difficult at first to refer back to the day of Saul’s mysterious prophetic consecration (1Samuel 10:8), which took place at least some three or four years—perhaps much longer—before the event here related, especially as we know that Saul and Samuel had been together on one occasion certainly at Gilgal in the meantime (1Samuel 11:14-15); and yet the extraordinary solemnity of the warning of the seer at the time of the anointing at Ramah evidently pointed to some event which should in the future happen at Gilgal, and which would be a most important epoch in King Saul’s career. All these conditions are satisfied in the meeting between the prophet and the king, here related. It is best, then, to understand this event as the one alluded to on the day of anointing at Ramah, and to conclude that this grave warning and positive direction had been repeated, probably more than once, since then by the seer to the king.”
        • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: “It seems clear that the historian intends to refer to Samuel’s injunction in 1 Samuel 10:8, although in all probability the interview there recorded had taken place many years before. But the command may have been repeated now, and in any case the spirit of it survived. Chosen by Jehovah expressly to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines, Saul was not at liberty to begin the war of independence upon his own authority, but was to wait until duly commissioned to do so by Samuel.”
        • In light of the issues we have now addressed with verse 1 of this chapter, the view of Pulpit Commentary bears repeating: “The lapse of time between Samuel’s appointment of the seven days during which Saul was to wait for him to inaugurate the war of independence, and the present occasion, was probably not so great as many commentators suppose; for 1 Samuel 13:1 is, as we have seen, wrongly translated, and everything else leads to the conclusion that the defeat of the Ammonites, the choice of the 3000, and Jonathan’s attack on the garrison at Geba followed rapidly upon one another. As the Philistines would rightly regard Israel’s choice of a king as an act of rebellion, we cannot suppose them to have been so supine and negligent as not at once to have prepared for war.”
        • Deffinbaugh has this to say in his Bible.org 1 Samuel series, “I must confess that as I have been reading in 1 Samuel, it has been difficult to understand just what is happening. The Philistines are very much present in Israel. We know from 1 Samuel 4:9 that the Israelites are, in some sense, slaves of the Philistines. In chapter 4, the Philistines prevail over the Israelites in war, even though the Israelites bring the ark of God with them into battle. In chapter 10, when Saul is informed by Samuel that he is God’s choice for Israel’s king, he prophesies in an Israelite city — which is also a Philistine outpost (10:5). Yet in chapter 11, we are told of an Ammonite attack and a great Israelite victory. How can they muster for war while occupied by Philistine troops? And how does Saul maintain a standing army of 3,000 men without protest from the Philistines?”
            • He resolves this in the following way:
            • We should first remember that the nation Israel is surrounded on all sides by land, and that this land is divided into a number of kingdoms…(1 Samuel 14:47-48).”
          • The Philistines dwell in Philistia, which is on the Mediterranean coast, to Israel’s south and west. The battle they fight in chapter 4 is on Israel’s western border, as one would expect. The ark is taken into Philistia and then returned to the city of Beth-shemesh, which is again along the Israeli-Philistine border. But the Ammonites are located across the Jordan River to Israel’s east. The attack on the city of Jabesh-gilead is in northeastern Israel, approximately 20 miles from the border of Ammon, and far from Philistia, which is on the opposite side of Israel.”
          • I do not think the Philistines intend or desire to utterly wipe out the Israelites, but only to keep the Jews in subjection to them. After all, the Israelites are a ready market for the Philistines’ technology, especially in those things made of iron (see 13:19-23). Israel can also serve as a buffer between the Philistines and other more aggressive nations. When the Israelites muster to do battle with the Ammonites, it seems to be in the best interests of the Philistines. The Israelites, if weakened by war, will be less of a threat to them. And if the Israelites win their battle against the Ammonites, the Philistines gain even further control because they still hold the Israelites in subjection. The fact that Saul will keep a small force of men as a standing army is no threat to the Philistines either. What can a meager army of 3,000 do to a nation whose forces can be numbered as the sands of the seashore? So it is that Israel can wage war with the Ammonites, while at the same time continuing under subjection to the Philistines.”

Saul’s Unlawful Sacrifice

      • So, Saul said, “Bring me the burnt offerings and peace offerings.” Then he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering Samuel arrived and Saul went out to greet him.
      • Samuel asked, “What have you done?” And Saul replied, “When I saw that the troops were deserting me, and that you didn’t arrive at the appointed time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down on me at Gilgal and I haven’t sought Yahweh’s favor.’ So, I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

        • Deffinbaugh gives his assessment of the situation:
          • Saul manages to make it through six days and most of the seventh. But when that seventh day begins to draw to an end, Saul is at his wit’s end. I can just imagine what is going through his mind. ‘Where in the world is that man, and what is he doing? Does he not know how much danger we are in? Does he not grasp the urgency of the situation and the need to act quickly? I’m going to give him 30 more minutes, and then I’m going to have to go on without him.’”
        • As the people continue to scatter, Saul begins to take matters into his own hands. Every appearance is that Saul offers the burnt offering himself. He issues orders for the burnt offerings and the peace offerings to be brought to him. No mention is made of any priest taking part in the offering. Saul seems to place great importance on this offering, and I think I may know why. In 1 Samuel 7, all Israel gathers at Mizpah to repent and renew their covenant commitment to God. The Philistines misinterpret this gathering, assuming there is some military intent behind it. The Philistines encircle the Israelites at Mizpah and are just about to attack. As the attack is about to commence, Samuel is busy offering the burnt offering… (1 Samuel 7:9-10).”
        • How easy it would be to look at this offering as the means to Israel’s deliverance. Just as the Israelites looked upon the ark of God as a kind of magic secret weapon, now it may be that Saul looks upon the burnt offering as the means of assuring God’s action on Israel’s behalf. If this is so, no wonder Saul is so eager to get that sacrifice offered, with or without Samuel.”
        • At the very moment Saul finishes sacrificing the burnt offering, Samuel arrives. It seems apparent that had Saul waited those few minutes, Samuel would have arrived, still on time, and still in time to offer both the burnt offerings and the peace offerings. Saul goes out to greet Samuel, and his greeting betrays his guilt. It is not Saul who stands there with his hands on his hips, rebuking Samuel for being too late, but Samuel who asks Saul what he has done. Saul’s explanation falls flat. He tells Samuel that the people were deserting him and that the prophet did not come within the appointed time. He points out that the Philistines are assembling for battle at Michmash, making his actions necessary lest he be attacked while at Gilgal. Though he really did not want to do what he did, he simply had to, so he forced himself to offer the burnt offering.”
      • Samuel told Saul, “You have done a foolish thing! You did not obey the command Yahweh your God gave you. If you had, Yahweh would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure. Since you have not obeyed what Yahweh commanded you, Yahweh has sought out a man after His own heart and appointed him to be ruler over His people.”
        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “This prophecy pertains to David (see also Acts 13:22) rather than to Saul’s son Jonathan. The rejection of Saul was also the rejection of his family dynasty.”
        • Guzik has some very valuable comments on Yahweh choosing a man after His own heart:
        • It would be easy to say that the kingdom was taken from Saul because he sinned and on one level, that was true; but it was more than that. David also sinned yet God never took the kingdom from David and his descendants. The issue was bigger than an incident of sin; the issue was being a man after God’s own heart…What does this mean? We can discover this by looking at the man who was not a man after His own heart (Saul) and comparing him to the man who was a man after His own heart (David).”
          • A man after God’s heart honors the LORD. Saul was more concerned with his will than God’s will. David knew God’s will was most important. Even when David didn’t do God’s will, he still knew God’s will was more important. All sin is a disregard of God, but David sinned more out of weakness and Saul more out of a disregard for God.”
          • A man after God’s heart enthrones God as king. For Saul, Saul was king. For David, the LORD God was king. Both David and Saul knew sacrifice before battle was important. But David thought it was important because it pleased and honored God. Saul thought it was important because it might help him win the battle. Saul thought God would help him achieve his goals. David thought that God was the goal.”
          • A man after God’s heart has a soft, repentant heart. When Saul was confronted with his sin he offered excuses. When David was confronted with his sin he confessed his sin and repented (2 Samuel 12:13).”
          • A man after God’s heart loves other people. Saul became increasingly bitter against people and lived more and more unto himself, but David loved people. When David was down and out he still loved and served those who were even more down and out (1 Samuel 22:1-2).”
        • This text also happens to be one of the many “achilles heel” passages for those of the Calvinists or Reformed persuasion. We know that God chose Saul as king initially. The people didn’t choose Saul- God did: 1 Sm 9:15-17; 1 Sm 10:1. Not only that, the Lord gave him a NEW HEART (regeneration anyone??) and the Spirit of the Lord was on him: 1 Sm 10:6-7; 1 Sm 10:9-10.
            • So, if Saul was called of God, chosen by God, then loses the Holy Spirit, is he not an elected regenerate who falls away from the faith? If he isn’t, then what else could he be? Calvin says that Saul was made ‘as if it were a new man,’ that he was given God’s special regenerate grace, but Calvin can’t explain why Saul loses the Holy Spirit except to say that ‘God’s judgment is just.'”
          • Modern day Reformed voices don’t fare any better by way of response. Bible.org’s article on Divine Sovereignty vs Human Responsibility by Kenneth Boa (who I have great respect for) mentions this very scenario (Saul), and the very best he can do is appeal to mystery:
            • “As with other biblical mysteries, three alternatives are possible. One can accept the mystery, reject it as untrue, or rationalize it. To rationalize it, one must overemphasize one truth and minimize the other, and this leads to the two extremes.”
            • He also cites J.I. Packer (again, a man for whom I have great respect) who says: “Man is a responsible moral agent, though he is also divinely controlled; man is divinely controlled, though he is also a responsible moral agent.”
          • I’m sorry. But, that’s not a mystery. Perfect comprehension of the Trinity is a mystery. Rather, this is a logical contradiction. Packer admits as much, but attempts to reconcile it by appeal to something most people have probably never even heard of- antinomy:
            • “The whole point of an antinomy- in theology, at any rate, is that it is not a real contradiction, though it looks like one. It is an apparent incompatibility between two apparent truths. An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable…You see that each must be true on its own, but you do not see how they can be true together.” (J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God)
          • In answer to that I wholly concur with Clay Jones:
            • “The trouble for Packer and Sproul and other determinists is explaining how we can know when a contradiction between two theologies is only an apparent contradiction and not a real one. Obviously, if it were a real contradiction, then one of the views would be necessarily false. What would we say to a cultist who, when we pointed out a contradiction in his or her theology, replied, ‘It is only an apparent contradiction, not a real one'”? (Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil?, Introduction footnote number 24.)
          • As an individual raised in a cult, I cannot “hallelujah” the above more emphatically. That mindset is a malignant cancer. Jones goes on to quote determinist Paul Helms who even admits this:
          • “…appealing to an antinomy could be a license for accepting nonsense.” (cited in Clay Jones Introduction footnote number 24.)
      • Then Samuel left and went on his way, but the rest of the troops followed Saul to meet the army. They went from Gilgal to Gibeah in the land of Benjamin. Saul counted the troops with him and there were about 600 men. Saul, his son Jonathan, and all the troops who remained with him stayed in Gibeah in Benjamin while the Philistines camped in Michmash. Three raiding parties went out from the Philistine camp: one went toward Ophrah in the land of Shual; another went toward Beth-horon; and another toward the borderland that overlooks the valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.


        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Armies would send out raiding parties to plunder and sow panic among the enemy. These raiders embarked north (Ophrah), west (Beth-horon), and east (Zeboim), but not south, where Israelite strength was consolidated and where the terrain did not allow easy movement of forces…”


      • There were no blacksmiths to be found in all of Israel because the Philistines had said, “Otherwise the Hebrews will be able to make swords and spears for themselves.” So all of the Israelites had to go to the Philistines in order to get their plowshares, cutting instruments, axes, and sickles sharpened. They charged 2/3 of a shekel to sharpen plowshares and cutting instruments, and 1/3 of a shekel to sharpen picks and axes, and for putting a point on an oxgoad. So, not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand on the day of battle- only Saul and his son Jonathan had them. A detachment of the Philistines had gone out to the pass of Michmash.
        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “If the average monthly wage was one shekel, then these charges were exorbitant.”


        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “The pass at Micmash was a strategic passage through the canyon that separated Micmash from Geba, Gibeah, and other towns to the south.”