1Saul was [thirty] years old when he began to reign, and he reigned [forty] two years over Israel.
1Saul was [thirty] years old when he began to reign, and he reigned [forty] two years over Israel.
In this chapter Saul is put to the test. Verse 11Saul was [thirty] years old when he began to reign, and he reigned [forty] two years over Israel. gives a translation difficulty. In the first part of the verse the number [thirty] is not in the original, which is indicated by the square brackets, as is also the case with the number [forty]. Both numbers are added by the translators. Literally it says: “Saul was … years old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel.” That he reigned two years over Israel, means that he is in government for two years when what is then described takes place.
It is God’s intention to save His people from the power of the Philistines through Saul. The test is whether Saul wants to do this in dependence on Him. The point is not so much whether he can do it, but whether he will do it the right way. Why is he tested? To show what is in him: faith or self-enforcement.
This is often the reason why we are tested. Why do not all the servants of the Lord fall? Because in those who remain standing the second man, Christ, is seen. Those who fall live after the first man, Adam who felt in sin. Saul falls because he lives after the first man. He falls because he has no real faith in God and therefore comes under the power of circumstances.
2Now Saul chose for himself 3,000 men of Israel, of which 2,000 were with Saul in Michmash and in the hill country of Bethel, while 1,000 were with Jonathan at Gibeah of Benjamin. But he sent away the rest of the people, each to his tent. 3Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of [it]. Then Saul blew the trumpet throughout the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear.” 4All Israel heard the news that Saul had smitten the garrison of the Philistines, and also that Israel had become odious to the Philistines. The people were then summoned to Saul at Gilgal.
Saul has formed an army of 3,000 men he has chosen himself. It is the royal guard, an army of special forces. From this army he forms two sections, one of 2,000 men and one of 1,000 men. He keeps the ward of 2,000 soldiers under his command, while he gives the command of the ward of 1,000 soldiers to his son Jonathan. Saul and his men are in Michmash and Jonathan and his men are in Geba. Both places are strategically important to ward off possible attacks from the Philistines.
Saul had three major confrontations with the Philistines (1 Samuel 13; 17; 31). Saul does not win in any of the three confrontations. The first confrontation was a victory, but Jonathan won it. The second also brings a victory, but that comes on the name of David. The third confrontation leads to defeat and his death.
Jonathan is mentioned here for the first time. He enters without further introduction. It is as if we have known him for a long time. Saul is in this chapter and the following chapters opposite his son Jonathan. Jonathan is a very different person from his father. Saul means ‘coveted’ (by man), Jonathan means ‘the LORD has given’ or ‘given by grace’ (by God). Saul should have been what his son Jonathan is. How he should have been, he could have learned from his son. Due to the failure of Saul, the kingship passes Jonathan by. What we do has a major impact on our children.
In Jonathan we meet one of the most pleasant characters in the Bible. He is a man who has beautiful characteristics, of which we can be jealous and of which we wish we also have them. The first act mentioned of him is that smites the garrison of the Philistines in Geba. He doesn’t wait for the Philistines to open the attack, he takes the initiative himself. In so doing, he takes away the threat from that side.
At the same time his action calls on the Philistines to take revenge. But not only the Philistines are in motion. When Saul hears of his son’s action, he blows the trumpet so that “the Hebrews hear it”. His action does not come from faith, but from fear. He does not turn to God, but places his hope in the “Hebrews”, as he calls God’s people. He mentions God’s people by the name used by the Philistines (1Sam 14:1111When both of them revealed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines, the Philistines said, “Behold, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves.”).
Because Saul announces the news of the defeat of the Philistines, he gets the honor for something his son did. Yet the people are not happy with the victory. They are so in the grip of the Philistines, that the fear is deep in them. They fear retaliation. The people answer Saul’s call and come to him.
What is the people of God, that is now the church of God, deeply sunk when they are afraid to become odious to the nominal Christians – of which the Philistines are a picture.
5Now the Philistines assembled to fight with Israel, 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen, and people like the sand which is on the seashore in abundance; and they came up and camped in Michmash, east of Beth-aven. 6When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait (for the people were hard-pressed), then the people hid themselves in caves, in thickets, in cliffs, in cellars, and in pits. 7Also [some of] the Hebrews crossed the Jordan into the land of Gad and Gilead. But as for Saul, he [was] still in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.
Indeed, the Philistines want revenge for the defeat inflicted upon them. They mobilize a large crowd to fight against Israel. They camp in Michmash, where Saul was with his corps of special forces just before. Saul went to Gilgal to wait for Samuel, as Samuel ordered (verse 1111But Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “Because I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the appointed days, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash,; 1Sam 10:88And you shall go down before me to Gilgal; and behold, I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings. You shall wait seven days until I come to you and show you what you should do.”). Now it comes down to how Saul will react when the trial rises.
When the men of Israel see the superiority of the enemy, there is no courage left. On a previous occasion, they went as one man behind Saul against the enemy (1Sam 11:77He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces, and sent [them] throughout the territory of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen.” Then the dread of the LORD fell on the people, and they came out as one man.). There is nothing left of that courage. When they run into difficulties and are threatened, they do not call to the LORD, but a number hide “in caves, in thickets, in cliffs, in cellars, and in pits”. Wherever they think they are safe from the enemy, there they hide (cf. Jdg 6:22The power of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of Midian the sons of Israel made for themselves the dens which were in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.).
Those who stay with Saul tremble. The confidence in their hero has diminished to such an extent that he can no longer inspire them to fight against the enemy with the assurance of victory. The faith that was still there at Saul’s first action has now disappeared. If there is no faith, previous experiences do not give strength. Everything that happens here is because the hand of God is in it. He puts Saul to the test. That happens at Gilgal.
Here the Israelites are called “Hebrews” because they leave the land of God and give up the ground of faith (1Sam 14:2121Now the Hebrews [who] were with the Philistines previously, who went up with them all around in the camp, even they also [turned] to be with the Israelites who [were] with Saul and Jonathan.). The situation is completely contrary to God’s intention. His people leave the country and the Philistines live there.
8Now he waited seven days, according to the appointed time set by Samuel, but Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattering from him. 9So Saul said, “Bring to me the burnt offering and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. 10As soon as he finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him [and] to greet him. 11But Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “Because I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the appointed days, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, 12therefore I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not asked the favor of the LORD.’ So I forced myself and offered the burnt offering.”
Saul has to wait seven days in Gilgal. That is what Samuel told him. This will be the great test, as the great test of faith is always patience, waiting for God’s time. Much of God’s work does not come about through impatient, that is to say premature action by man. It is about perseverance or patience having “a perfect work” (Jam 1:44And let endurance have [its] perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.). However, the flesh is impatient. Waiting is hard for us. We are often in a hurry. Just look at the highway, where we as believers race over and annoy ourselves when someone doesn’t let us pass by. Saul can’t wait because he has nothing of the LORD in him.
By having to wait for Samuel it is also clear that Samuel is still the real connection between God and His people. Saul, the soldier, who is ready for battle, must wait for the prophet of God who will tell him what to do. Saul is waiting. Until he sees that as time goes by, the people become more and more afraid and start to run away. He sees his army shrinking. As the army shrinks, so does his patience to wait for Samuel.
Patience can be an accomplishment of the flesh. Saul can bring it up to keep the prescribed commandment and waits seven days. To wait longer, faith is needed (Jam 1:33knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.) and that Saul does not have. He orders that the burnt offering and the peace offerings be brought to him so that he can offer.
Although he is not a priest, he offers. He thinks that as king he has the right to do so. It is an act of boldness. Such an act cost the later king Uzzia dearly, for God punishes him with leprosy on his forehead. He keeps this leprosy until the day of his death (2Chr 26:16-2116But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the LORD his God, for he entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.17Then Azariah the priest entered after him and with him eighty priests of the LORD, valiant men.18They opposed Uzziah the king and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful and will have no honor from the LORD God.”19But Uzziah, with a censer in his hand for burning incense, was enraged; and while he was enraged with the priests, the leprosy broke out on his forehead before the priests in the house of the LORD, beside the altar of incense.20Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he [was] leprous on his forehead; and they hurried him out of there, and he himself also hastened to get out because the LORD had smitten him.21King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son [was] over the king’s house judging the people of the land.).
Why does Saul offer and does not go without sacrificing to the enemy? It seems that he wants to keep up a semblance of religion. Thus many believers go to church or to the meeting and do what is appropriate, only to keep up the outward appearance, while within there is nothing directed at the Lord. It is only for others.
When Saul has brought the burnt offering and is about to bring the peace offerings, Samuel appears on stage. Saul leaves the offerings for what they are and goes to Samuel to greet him. He knows how much he needs Samuel and he is also aware that he has done something Samuel said he will do himself.
Before Saul can say anything, Samuel asks Saul the question, “What have you done?” It is the question of the spiritual condition of the person addressed. This question should lead someone to speak honest about his actions. It is a next question God has asked a man. The first question is to Adam: “Where are you?” (Gen 3:99Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”). The question ’what have you done’, God asks Cain, after he has killed Abel (Gen 4:1010He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.).
Saul’s three excuses show that he does not count with God, but only according to his own possibilities. If God does not take a place in a person’s thinking, he will sit down and think himself and then come to intellectual conclusions that lead him to wrong decisions.
1. He sees people leaving him. Because his trust is in men and not in God, he comes to an act of unbelief. By the way, could he win the war with people who have as little faith as he does?
2. His lack of faith becomes public when he sees that Samuel doesn’t come to the right time. Indirectly he accuses Samuel of breaking his word.
3. His eyes are on the power of the enemy, while he should have seen God; his eyes should have been on God’s power.
Man’s thinking always seeks ways out. He presents God as a God Whose favor must first be obtained, as if it were an idol. Saul has the courage of the flesh that lifts itself up to action. He blames the circumstances. Actually he says: ‘I was forced to act like this because of the circumstances. I didn’t want to do it, but I couldn’t do anything else when I saw the Philistines coming towards me.’ We are all inclined to speak in the same way. When we have spoken a hard word or done a stupid action or refused to obey, we also easily blame the circumstances.
Saul wants to cover all his actions with the good deed he believes he has done in offering the burnt offering. Hypocrites place a great emphasis on outward acts of a religious nature and are therefore of the opinion that they should be exonerated from a violation of the law..
13Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, for now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14But now your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” 15Then Samuel arose and went up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people who were present with him, about six hundred men.
Here it says that Saul would always have remained king if he had not sinned. The fact that God had David in mind does not change the failure of Saul. It is his own fault that his kingdom is taken away from him. An act of disobedience can have major consequences, both for the person and for his or her offspring. We also see this with Adam. The kingdom of Saul is not immediately taken away. The rejection of Saul goes in stages. Only in 1 Samuel 15 is the kingdom taken away from him (1Sam 15:2626But Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.”). Here the hereditary kingdom is taken from him by saying to him that he will have no successor.
After Samuel has said to Saul that his kingdom would not endure, he is in fact thereafter speaking talking about the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus is the true Man after God’s heart. Of Him David is a foreshadowing. At second instance Samuel speaks about David, who is also a man after God’s heart, but turns out to be fallible. David is the successor of Saul.
Samuel leaves Saul. It doesn’t seem that Saul is doing his best to keep Samuel with him. Nor does it seem that Saul is touched by Samuel’s words. In any case, we do not notice any conversion or humiliation because of his disobedience. The only thing Saul can think of is how big his army is. That’s why he counts it. His army appears to consist of about six hundred men, still twice as many as Gideon had at the time. It would be more than enough for faith.
16Now Saul and his son Jonathan and the people who were present with them were staying in Geba of Benjamin while the Philistines camped at Michmash. 17And the raiders came from the camp of the Philistines in three companies: one company turned toward Ophrah, to the land of Shual, 18and another company turned toward Beth-horon, and another company turned toward the border which overlooks the valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.
Saul and Jonathan and the men went, just like Samuel in the previous verse, to Geba of Benjamin. The Philistines camp in Michmash. They follow a tactic that wreaks havoc in Israel. From their central camp in Michmash raiders go through Israel in three groups.
The first group takes the northern direction, the second one goes west and the third one goes east. These groups put Israel in fear and impoverish it. The Philistines, on the other hand, are encouraged and enriched. In reality we see the hand of God in the work of the enemy “Who gave Jacob up for spoil, and Israel to plunderers? Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned?” (Isa 42:2424Who gave Jacob up for spoil, and Israel to plunderers?
Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned,
And in whose ways they were not willing to walk,
And whose law they did not obey?
19Now no blacksmith could be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears.” 20So all Israel went down to the Philistines, each to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, and his hoe. 21The charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares, the mattocks, the forks, and the axes, and to fix the hoes. 22So it came about on the day of battle that neither sword nor spear was found in the hands of any of the people who [were] with Saul and Jonathan, but they were found with Saul and his son Jonathan.
The Philistines have declared the blacksmith’s profession a prohibited profession (cf. 2Kgs 24:1414Then he led away into exile all Jerusalem and all the captains and all the mighty men of valor, ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained except the poorest people of the land.; Jer 24:11After Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and the officials of Judah with the craftsmen and smiths from Jerusalem and had brought them to Babylon, the LORD showed me: behold, two baskets of figs set before the temple of the LORD!; 29:22(This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the court officials, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem.)). As a result, the misery and defenselessness of Israel has become great. Israel’s poor army is also without weapons, or at least they can no longer make them or have them repaired.
A blacksmith is someone who can make weapons that others can use. In a spiritual sense, a blacksmith is a brother who can teach us how to use the Word of God as a weapon. A blacksmith is someone who teaches us about God’s thoughts in order to defeat the enemy. If all this is absent, our faith will not be able to increase, but we will become a prey of the enemy.
This was cunningly thought up by the Philistines. Not only do they prevent Israel from manufacturing weapons, but they also make Israel dependent on them even for the agricultural tools. The Israelites must go to the Philistines in order to have their agricultural tools ready for use. For the services rendered, the Philistines charge their price.
For the use of plowshare, mattock, axe and hoe, all means by which the land is worked to obtain food, God’s people depend on the enemy. The spiritual lesson is clear when we consider that the Philistines are a picture of nominal Christians or Christians without Christ. What kind of food does a Christless Christianity give to her members? What a misery when we are at the mercy of name Christians for our spiritual food. What a misery when we are overwhelmed by intellectual reasoning to understand the Bible.
It is tragic when God’s people depend on the Philistines for the proceeds of the fruit of the land God has promised and given His people. Because of the Philistines’ tactics, none of the people has a weapon (cf. Jdg 5:88“New gods were chosen;
Then war [was] in the gates.
Not a shield or a spear was seen
Among forty thousand in Israel.). Without sword, to kill the opponent nearby, and without spear, to kill the enemy on a distance, the people cannot resist. The absence of these weapons makes the people a defenseless prey for the enemy.
23And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash.
The history of the next chapter begins with this verse. The Philistines come in action. That is a challenge for faith. Jonathan takes up this challenge.