I Samuel 13








1 “Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel,”

Saul’s age and length of reign. Saul reigned one year. This verse literally

translated is, “Saul was one year old when he began to reign, and he reigned

two years over Israel.” In its form it exactly follows the usual statement

prefixed to each king’s reign, of his age at his accession, and the years of

his kingdom (II Samuel 2:10; 5:4; I Kings 14:21; 22:42, etc.). The rendering

of the Authorized Version is too forced and untenable to be worth discussing.

As we have seen before, the numerals in the Books of Samuel are not trustworthy;

but the difficulty here is an old one. The Vulgate translates the Hebrew literally,

as we have given it; the Septuagint omits the verse, and the Syriac paraphrases

as boldly as the Authorized Version: “When Saul had reigned one or two years.”

The Chaldee renders, “Saul was as innocent as a one-year-old child when he

began to reign.” In the Hexaplar version some anonymous writer has inserted

the word thirty, rashly enough; for as Jonathan was old enough to have an

important command (v. 2), and was capable of the acts of a strong man (ch.14:14),

his father’s age must have been at least thirty-five, and perhaps was even

more. As regards the length of Saul’s reign, Paul makes it forty years

(Acts 13:21), exactly the same as that of David (I Kings 2:11) and

of Solomon (ibid. ch. 11:42); and Josephus testifies that such was the

traditional belief of the Jews (‘Antiq.,’ 6:14, 9). On the other hand, it is

remarkable that the word here for years is that used where the whole

number is less than ten. The events, however, recorded in the rest of the

book seem to require a longer period than ten years for the duration of

Saul’s reign; thirty-two would be a more probable number, and, added to

the seven and a half years’ reign of Ishbosheth (see II Samuel 5:5), they

would make up the whole sum of forty years ascribed by Paul to Saul’s

dynasty. It is quite possible, however, that these forty years may even

include the fifteen or sixteen years of Samuel’s judgeship. But the two

facts, that all the three sons of Saul mentioned in ch. 14:49 were

old enough to go with him to the battle of Mount Gilboa, where they were

slain; and that Ishbosheth, his successor, was forty years of age when his

father died, effectually dispose of the idea that Saul’s was a very short reign.




     (vs. 2-7).


2 “Saul chose him three thousand men of Israel; whereof two thousand were

with Saul in Michmash and in mount Bethel, and a thousand were with

Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin: and the rest of the people he sent every

man to his tent.” Saul chose him. Literally, “And Saul chose him,” the usual way

of commencing the narrative of a king’s reign. He probably selected these

3000 men at the end of the war with the Ammonites, to strengthen the

small bodyguard which he had gathered round him at Gibeah (ch. 10:26).

As being always in arms, they would become highly disciplined,

and form the nucleus and center of all future military operations (see on

ch. 14:52). He stationed these on either side of the defile in the

mountain range of Bethel, so exactly described in Isaiah 10:28-29,

where Sennacherib, as we read, leaves his carriage, i.e. his baggage, at

Michmash, and after defiling through the pass, arrives at Geba. Gibeah,

where Jonathan was posted with 1000 of these picked warriors, was Saul’s

home, and his son would have the benefit there of the aid of Kish and

Abner, while Michmash was the more exposed place, situate about seven

miles northeast of Jerusalem. Conder (‘Tent Work,’ 2:110) describes this

defile as “a narrow gorge with vertical precipices some 800 feet high — a

great crack or fissure in the country, which is peculiar in this respect, that

you only become aware of its existence when close to the brink; for on the

north the narrow spur of hills hides it, and on the south a flat plateau

extends to the top of the crags. On the south side of this great chasm

stands Geba of Benjamin, on a rocky knoll, with caverns beneath the

houses, and arable land to the east; and on the opposite side, considerably

lower than Geba, is the little village of Michmash, on a sort of saddle,

backed by an open and fertile corn valley. This valley was famous for

producing excellent barley. Every man to his tent. This with us would be

a warlike phrase; but as the mass of the Israelites then dwelt in tents, it

means simply their dispersion homewards; and so the Syriac translates, “He

dismissed them each to his house” (see Psalm 69:25).


3 “And Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in

Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet

throughout all the land, saying, Let the Hebrews hear.”

In Geba. By this garrison the Philistines commanded the further

end of the defile, and they had also another outpost beyond it near Gibeah

itself (ch.10:5). Probably neither of these garrisons was very

strong, and Saul may have intended that Jonathan should attack them while

he held the northern end of the pass, which would be the first place assailed

by the Philistines in force. As regards the word translated garrison,

attempts have been made to render it pillar, and to represent it as a token

of Philistine supremacy which Jonathan threw down, while others, with the

Septuagint, take it as a proper name; but the word smote is strongly in favor of

the rendering of the Authorized Version. Let the Hebrews hear. Saul must

have intended war when he thus posted himself and Jonathan in such

commanding spots, and probably all this had been sketched out by Samuel

(see on ch.10:8). He now summons all Israel to the war. It is

strange that he should call the people “Hebrews,” the Philistine title of

contempt; but it is used again in v. 7, and of course in v. 19. The

Septuagint reads, “Let the slaves revolt,” but though followed by Josephus,

the change of text is not probable.


4 “And all Israel heard say that Saul had smitten a garrison of the

Philistines, and that Israel also was had in abomination with the

Philistines. And the people were called together after Saul to

Gilgal.”  That Saul had smitten. Though the achievement was actually

Jonathan’s, yet it belonged to Saul as the commander-in-chief, and

probably had been done under his instructions. Israel was had in

abomination with the Philistines. They must have viewed with grave

displeasure Israel’s gathering together to choose a king, and Saul’s

subsequent defeat of the Ammonites, and retention with him of a large

body of men, and so probably they had been for some time making

preparations for war. Saul, therefore, knowing that they were collecting

their forces, does the same, and the people were called together after

Saul. Literally, “were cried after him,” i.e. were summoned by

proclamation (compare Judges 7:23-24; 10:17, where see margin). For

Gilgal see ch. 7:16; 11:14. This place had been selected because, as the

valley opens there into the plain of Jordan it was a fit spot for the assembling

of a large host.


5 “And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with

Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and

people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they

came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Bethaven.”

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. They came up, and

pitched in Michmash. Saul had withdrawn eastward to Gilgal, and the

Philistines had thus placed themselves between him and Jonathan. There is

a difficulty, however, in the words eastward from Beth-aven; for as this,

again, was east of Bethel, it puts the Philistines’ camp too much to the

east. As it is not, however, the regular phrase for eastward, some

commentators render, “in front of Beth-avon.” “It means ‘the house of

naught,’ and was the name originally given to the desert east of Bethel,

because of its barren character” (Conder, ‘Tent Work,’ 2:108). The

Philistines, however, had come in such numbers that their camp must have

occupied a large extent of ground.


6 “When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, (for the

people were distressed,) then the people did hide themselves in

caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits.”

The people were distressed. Literally, were squeezed, pressed

together, were in difficulties. The Philistines had so promptly answered

Saul’s challenge, that the Israelites, forgetting their victory over Nahash,

whose men, however, had probably very inferior arms to those worn by the

Philistines, lost courage; and even the picked band of 2000 men dwindled

to 600. As for the mass of the people, they acted with the most abject

cowardice, hiding themselves in caves, of which there are very many in the

limestone ranges of Palestine. David subsequently found safety in them

when hunted by Saul. Also in thickets. The word as spelt here occurs

nowhere else, nor do the versions agree as to its meaning. Most probably it

signifies clefts, rifts or fissures in the rocks. The next word, rocks,

certainly means precipitous cliffs; and thickets or thorn bushes would

scarcely be placed between caverns and cliffs, both of which belong to

mountains. In high places. This word occurs elsewhere only in Judges

9:46, 49, where it is rendered hold. But this meaning is not supported by

the ancient versions, and it more probably signifies a vault or crypt, which

better suits the hiding place next mentioned, pits, i.e. tanks, artificial

reservoirs for water, with which most districts were well supplied in

Palestine, even before its conquest by Israel. They were absolutely

necessary, as the rains fall only at stated periods, and the chalky soil will

not hold water; when dry they would form fit places for concealment.


7 “And some of the Hebrews went over Jordan to the land of Gad and

Gilead. As for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him

trembling.”  Some of the Hebrews. A contemptuous name for Israel (see v. 3).

If the reading is correct, it must be used here of a cowardly portion of the people

(as in ch. 14:21), for the insertion of some of in the Authorized Version is

unjustifiable. But by a very slight change, simply lengthening the

stalk of one letter, we get a very good sense: “And they went over the

fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead,” i.e. to the

mountainous district in which the Jordan rises.



The Great Antagonism (vs. 1-7)


The facts are:


1. Saul, entering on the military organization of his kingdom, forms a select

force under the command of himself and Jonathan.

2. The defeat of the Philistine garrison by Jonathan is announced to all Israel.

3. This first success arouses the hostility of the Philistines, who threaten

Israel with overwhelming numbers.

4. The effect of this display of force is to dishearten the followers of Saul

who waited at Gilgah


The presence of the Philistines within the borders of Israel was inconsistent with

the privileges originally granted, and was a perpetual source of danger and

annoyance. One of the ends contemplated in seeking a king was to clear the

promised land of foes. The normal state of the people of God was only realized

when the land was the exclusive home of the descendants of Abraham. The

reformation, in slow yet steady progress, created the ambition and effort to cast

out the enemy. Saul’s movements, therefore, were a correct expression of

national feeling, and in harmony with the high purpose of Israel’s existence.

In this attempt to subdue the great enemy of the kingdom we have an historic

representation of the great conflict which is ever being waged between the

spiritual kingdom and the evils which largely hold possession of the world;

and in the varying experience of Israel we see shadows of truths that find

expression in Christian times.




POSSESSION OF THE EARTH. The separate existence of Israel,

combined with the promise made to Abraham (Genesis 15:7), and the

spiritual purpose to be wrought out for the glory of God, rendered war

with the Philistines at this time inevitable. The existence of Christ’s

kingdom in the actual separation to Himself of those who form His Church,

combined with His right to be King of every land and heart, and the

prediction that He shall have the uttermost parts of the earth for His

possession, involves ceaseless strife with men, spirits, customs, laws,

principles, purposes, and all else, visible and invisible, that is incompatible

with His full and blessed sway. Light is not more opposed to darkness, life

to death, purity to corruption, than Christ and His holy rule are opposed to

much that now governs human society.





efforts of Saul and his followers were characterized by faith in their mission

as people of God, loyalty to the Divine cause they represented, courage

and self-denial for the good of the land, unity of aim and concentration of

strength. They had a right to believe in success, because the promised land

was for Israel, and not for the idolatrous Philistine. The victory at Geba

was a pledge of coming events. The war against sin has been carried on

ever since the first promise cheered the heart of our fallen ancestor. But we

may regard the exertions of the early Christian Church as the first

organized effort, under the laws of the kingdom of Christ, for the

extirpation of all sin and evil. The early Christians were fine examples of

clear and deep conviction that they were the servants of Christ, and had a

Divine mission to work out in an antagonistic world. And the splendid

triumphs won, though, compared with the area of sin, as small as was the

capture of Geba relatively to the whole possessions of the Philistines, are

an indication of what awaits the Church if only, laying aside internal strifes,

worldly policies, self-indulgence, she will but brace her energies to the

perfecting of the conquests already made. Novelties we need not; the old

weapons, the old spirit, the old consecration, the old singleness of aim, will

pull down strongholds still.



CONSEQUENCE OF SUCCESS. Up to a given point success in war

arouses more thoroughly the energies of the defeated. The acquisition of

Geba made Israel more than ever detestable to the Philistines, and

developed their resources. The same effect was produced by the triumphs

of Pentecost (Acts 4.). Subsequently rulers took counsel, being afraid

whereunto this would grow” (ibid. ch. 5:24), unless more severe

measures were taken to suppress it. It was the necessarily aggressive spirit

of Christianity, combined with its growing influence, that aroused the

fierce, persecuting spirit of ancient Rome. The more a pure Christianity is

urged on men, the more do evil passions arise in resistance. It is probable

that there are seasons when the “principalities and powers” of the unseen

world combine in all fierceness to arouse human antagonism to the gospel.

The bitter hostility and outspoken defiance of the present day are in

instructive coexistence with Christian efforts and triumphs surpassing in

range any recorded in history.




Saul became disheartened when they heard of the tremendous efforts of the

Philistines. As Peter on the sea looked away from Christ at the waves, and

began to sink, so these men lost hope when, forgetting the “mighty God of

Jacob,” they fixed attention on the forces of the enemy. It was not a

question of few or many Philistines, but of faith in their God. The

faintheartedness of Israel finds its counterpart in modern times. The vast

area over which evil reigns, the desperate vices that enchain thousands, the

extent to which society is impregnated with principles alien to the gospel,

the utter absorption of millions in matters purely material, the fierce

assaults made on the supernatural character of Christianity, and the

growing positiveness and intellectual license of many who fight under the

stolen banner of “science” — these signs of power are brooded over, and

the heart sinks for fear. This faintheartedness is as irrational as it is sinful.

Is Christ a living Saviour? Is He the Lord of all? It is a simple question of

fact. If not, then our Christianity is a delusion; we are without hope in the

world, and life is an insoluble, awful, heart piercing enigma. But if He is,

then who are men, or what are their resources? They are but creatures of a

day, and their strength perishes. HE MUST REIGN!   (I Corinthians 15:28)

On His own head His crown shall flourish.


The severest holiness of life, blended with the tenderest love, has ever accomplished

the most enduring spiritual work.



The Trumpet Sounded (vs. 1-7)


“And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, Let the Hebrews



1. The great conflict between good and evil which has been waged from

the first (Genesis 3:15) has been concentrated in every age on some

particular issue. At this time it was whether Israel and the worship of the

true God or the Philistines and the worship of idols should prevail. It was

thus of the highest importance in relation to the kingdom of God upon earth.


2. The Philistines were old enemies and powerful oppressors (ch. 7:2; Judges

3:3; 10:7; 13:1). During the administration of Samuel they were held in check

(ch. 7:13), although they appear to have had military posts or garrisons in the land

(v. 3 here, ch. 10:5), and the overthrow of one of these by Jonathan (at Geba, four

miles north of Gibeah, and opposite Michmash) gave the signal for renewed conflict.

Having evacuated Michmash, where he had stationed himself with an army

of 2000, Saul summoned all the men of Israel to gather to him at Gilgal;

but the advancing hosts of the enemy filled the country with terror, so that

he was left with only 600 followers, and found it necessary, after his

interview with Samuel, to join his son Jonathan at Gibeah (Geba) (vs. 2, 16;

ch. 14:2). Meanwhile the enemy occupied Michmash, whence three

companies of spoilers issued, plundering the plains and valleys. A second

and greater exploit of Jonathan, however, drove them out of Michmash,

and it was followed by a general engagement, in which large numbers of

them were slain, and the rest “went to their own place” (ch. 14:23, 31, 46).


3. The conflict to which Israel was summoned represents that to which

Christians are called. It is a conflict with physical and moral evil, with the

world, the flesh, and the devil (John 15:19; II Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:12;

I Peter 2:11; II Peter 5:8; I John 2:16), and with men only in so far as they are

ruled by sin, and in order to their salvation; a conflict which is good (“the good

fight of faith” (I Timothy 6:12) and necessary, and affords full scope for whatever

warlike instincts and energies are possessed. What does the sound of the trumpet

signify? (I Corinthians 14:8).



blow that was ever inflicted upon the “power of darkness” was struck by

the Captain of our salvation” in His life and death and glorious

resurrection (John 12:31; 16:33; I John 3:8); and in the spirit and

power of His victory His followers carry on the conflict (Matthew 10:34).

At times there seems to be something like a truce, but it never lasts

long; and when a fresh blow is struck by “a good soldier of Jesus Christ” it:


Ø      Reveals the essential difference between the spirit that is in “the Israel of

God” and “the spirit that is in the world.”

Ø      Intensifies their antagonism (v. 4).

Ø      Commits them to more definite and decisive action. And to this end the

fact should be proclaimed. “When Saul the king of the Hebrews was

informed of this (v. 3), he went down to the city of Gilgal, and made

proclamation of it over all the country, summoning them to freedom”



  • THE ENEMY IS MUSTERING HIS FORCES (v. 5), which are:


Ø      Exceedingly numerous, “as the sand which is on the sea shore.”

Ø      Skilful, crafty, and deceitful (II Corinthians 11:14).

Ø      Very powerful. There is at the present day an extraordinary combination

of anti-christian agencies (II Timothy 3:1-9; Revelation 13:11-18),

threatening Christian faith and practice, which might well fill us with fear,

did we not believe that “they that be with us are more than they that be

with them” (II Kings 6:16). “The spirits of the unseen world seem to be

approaching us. Times of trouble there have been before; but such a time,

in which everything, everywhere, tends in one direction to one mighty

struggle of one sort — of faith with infidelity, lawlessness with rule, Christ

with antichrist — there seems never to have been till now” (Pusey).



gathering forces of the enemy should constrain us to closer union, and the

proper center of union is He of whom the greatest kings and heroes were

feeble types and shadows.


Ø      He has been Divinely appointed, and claims our obedience and cooperation.

Ø      He is fully qualified as “a Leader and Commander of the people.”

Ø      He is the only hope of safety and success. “God is with him” (ch. 10:7)



“With force of arms we nothing can,

Full soon were we down ridden,

But for us fights the proper man,

Whom God Himself hath bidden.

    Ask ye, Who is this same?

   Christ Jesus is His name;

The Lord Sabaoth’s Son;

He, and no other one,

   Shall conquer in the battle”




VICTORY (v. 3; ch.11:11).


Ø      What triumphs has He gained in former days!

Ø      They are an earnest of “still greater things than these.”

Ø      And they should inspire us with the confidence and courage which are

needful to participation in His victory and glory (Revelation 17:14;

19:11). “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”





8 “And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel

had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were

scattered from him.”  Seven days, according, to the set time. See on ch.10:8.

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 ch. 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. Had appointed. The Hebrew word for this has been omitted by

some accident. It is given in the Septuagint and Chaldee and some manuscripts.

The whole importance of the occurence arose out of its having been

appointed by Samuel on his selection of Saul as king.


9 “And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace

offerings. And he offered the burnt offering.”

A burnt offering, etc. The Hebrew has the definite article, the

burnt offering and the peace offerings, which were there ready for Samuel

to offer. He offered. Not with his own hand, but by the hand of the

attendant priest, Ahiah, who was, we know, with him. Possibly,

nevertheless, the Levitical law was not at this period strictly observed.


10 “And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering

the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to

meet him, that he might salute him.”  That he might salute him. Literally,

bless him,” but the word is often used of a solemn salutation (II Kings 4:29).

It is evident that Samuel came on the seventh day, and that Saul in his

impetuosity could not stay the whole day out.


11 “And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I

saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest

not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered

themselves together at Michmash;”  What hast thou done? The question

implies rebuke, which Saul answers by pleading his danger. Each day’s delay

made his small force dwindle rapidly away, and the Philistines might at any hour

move down from Michmash upon him at Gilgal and destroy him. But it was the

reality of the danger which put his faith and obedience to the trial.


12 “Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to

Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced

myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.”

I have not made supplication unto Jehovah. Literally, “I have not stroked the

face of Jehovah,” but used of making Him propitious by prayer (Exodus 32:11;

Jeremiah 26:19). I forced myself. Saul pleads in his justification the imminence

of the danger, and perhaps there are few who have faith enough to “stand still and

see the salvation of Jehovah” (Exodus 14:13).


13 “And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not

kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which He commanded

thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon

Israel for ever.”  Thou hast done foolishly. Saul had not only received an

express command to wait seven days, but it had been given him under

special circumstances, and confirmed by the fulfillment of the appointed

signs. He knew, moreover, how much depended upon his waiting, and that

obedience to the prophet’s command was an essential condition of his

appointment. Nevertheless, in his impatience and distrust of Jehovah, he

cannot bide the set time; not really because of any wish to propitiate God,

but because of the effect to be produced upon the mind of the people. It

was tedious to remain inactive; his position in the plains was untenable; at

any moment his retreat to the mountains might be cut off; and so he prefers

the part of a prudent general to that of an obedient and trustful servant of

God. And we may notice that there is no confession of wrong on his part.

His mind rather seems entirely occupied with his duty as a king, without

having regard to the higher King, whom it ought to have been his first duty

to obey.



Tried and Found Wanting (v. 13)


  • THE STORY. Saul’s bright morning was a very short one, and his sky

soon gathered blackness. Beginning with popular acclamation, succeeded

after the exploit in Gilead by popular enthusiasm, he lost in a very short

time the respect of his subjects. Beginning with a Divine sanction signified

through the prophet Samuel, and with appearances of religious fervor, he

quickly forfeited the favor of the Lord and the good opinion of the

prophet. The ship of his fortunes had hardly left the harbor, with sails set

and flags flying, before it ran aground on a rock of willfulness, and though

it kept afloat for years, it ever afterwards labored uneasily in a troubled

sea. The critical question for Saul was whether or not he would be content

to act simply as executant of the Divine will. Samuel had pressed this upon

him again and again. Would he wait on God, and act for Him; or would he

act for and from himself? Would he lead the people still to look up to

Jehovah as their real King and Lawgiver; or would he imitate the heathen

kings, who themselves took the initiative, and then called on their gods to

be propitious to them, giving them success in their expeditions and victory

in their combats? Would Saul do his own will, expecting the Lord to follow

and favor him; or would he set the Lord always before him, follow and

obey His voice? It is a great mistake to think that Saul was hardly dealt with

on a point of small importance. The principle at stake was great, was

fundamental. The test was definite, and was applied in the most public

manner before all the army of Israel. The courage which had been roused

against the Ammonite invaders of Gilead was now turned against the still

more formidable Philistines. The gallant Jonathan struck the first blow, and

then his royal father, knowing that the Philistine army could and would be

very soon mobilized (as the modem phrase is) and hurled against Israel,

summoned his people to arms. But, alas, the greater part of them were

afraid to come, and in the threatened districts hid themselves. So the king

found himself at Gilgal in a terrible plight, at the head of a small and

dispirited force. He must have known that, unless Jehovah came to their

help, all was lost. Let it not be said that it was unreasonable to judge and

punish a man for anything done by him in such an emergency. Saul had

received long notice of this week of patience. On the morning when

Samuel anointed him three signs were given him, all of which had been

exactly fulfilled. Then he had been told that he would have to tarry seven

days at Gilgal for the coming of Samuel to offer sacrifice. But he had

forgotten this. The word of the prophet had made no lasting impression on

his mind. There was nothing profound about the man. He had no

controling reverence for God, no abiding faith. So he acted from himself,

only calling on God to help him in what he was going to do, instead of

waiting to know what the Lord would have him to do, and acting as his

servant. He bore the strain of anxiety for days, but not till the end of the

time appointed. The troops (if one may give such a designation to hastily

collected and ill-armed levies) were faint hearted, and but loosely attached

to the standard of their king. They wondered why the sacrifice was

delayed. They feared that God would be displeased, and not fight for them.

Then Saul, impulsive and unwise, ordered that the sacrifice should

proceed. Rather than wait a few hours more, he violated the direction he

had received from the prophet of the Lord, and betrayed once for all an

unreliable character and presumptuous heart.




Ø      God rules men on large principles, but proves them by specific tests. His

law is great and equitable; the trial of obedience to it is sometimes quite



o        In the garden within the land of Eden man and woman were put

under a rule of universal obedience to the voice of the Lord, and

they were tested by this specific requirement, to abstain from the

fruit of one of the trees in the garden.


o        Lot, his wife, and daughters were rescued by angels from a doomed

city, and enjoined to flee to the mountains; “but his wife

looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.”

(Genesis 19:26)


o        Hezekiah, devoutly referring everything to God, had great

deliverances, and a prosperous reign; but failing to consult the Lord

when a flattering embassy came to him from Babylon, he revealed

vain glory lurking in his heart, and broke down the wall of defense

which his previous piety had reared round his throne.


Saul was tested more than once, but this one trial at Gilgal was

enough to prove his unfitness to rule over God’s heritage. The fact is,

that one act may show character as clearly and decisively as a score or a

hundred could do; not, indeed, an incidental act of inadvertence or error,

but a thing done after explicit instruction and warning, he who breaks

through the line of obedience at one point, out of self-will, is not to be

depended on at any point. He disentitles himself to confidence by one

instance of misconduct, not because of its intrinsic importance, but on

account of the key which it gives to his inward tone of character.


Ø      One action, hastily performed, may carry irremediable consequences.


o        Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, and he could never reverse that

fatal act.

o        Cain struck down his brother, and was from that day a wanderer

and an outlaw on the earth.

o        Esau sold his birthright, and never could recover it.

o        Moses erred once at the rock in Kadesh, and forfeited his entrance

into the promised land.


The sins of those who are penitent are forgiven; but there are consequences

of sinful habits, nay, even of one sinful act, which have no cure or corrective.

It is well that this should be kept sternly before the eyes of men; for the moral

nature of many is slippery and self-excusing, and they are too ready to count

on impunity, or on finding some easy corrective for what they do amiss. The

truth is, that one action may spoil a whole life, and, indeed, may hurt not

oneself only, but many others also; just as Saul’s impatience at Gilgal

injured not himself alone, but the nation of Israel during all his unhappy reign.


Ø      He whom God will exalt must first learn patience. For want of this was

Saul rejected from being king. By means of this was David educated for

the throne. The son of Jesse was privately anointed by Samuel, as the son

of Kish had been. Thereafter he came into public notice by his promptitude

and bravery against Goliath, just as Saul had come into public favor by

similar qualities against Nahash. So far their paths may be said to have

corresponded; but then they quite diverged. Saul, impatient, behaved

foolishly, and fell. David, when tried, “behaved himself wisely and the

Lord was with him” (ch. 18:14), made no haste to grasp the scepter,

waited patiently till God should lift him up.  So when the time at last came

for his elevation, he knew how to reign as God’s king on the hill of Zion.

How beautiful is this in the Son of David, the meek and lowly One, who,

because He patiently observed the will of God, has now a name above

every name! Jesus pleased not Himself. He always spoke and acted as

in behalf and by direction of His Father in heaven. Therefore

has God highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is

above every name” (Philippians 2:9)


Ø      It is a dangerous thing to ask for, or accept, a vicegerent of God on

earth. It betrays unbelief rather than faith, and it entails tyranny and

confusion. What a calamity it has been to the Latin Church to have an

alleged vicar of Christ on earth! The arrangement quite falls in with the

craving for a spiritual ruler who may be seen, and the uneasiness of really

unspiritual men under the control of One who is invisible. So there is a

Popedom, which began indeed with good intentions and impulses, as did

the monarchy of Saul, but has long ago fallen under God’s displeasure

through arrogance, and brought nothing but confusion and oppression on

Christendom. We are a hundred times better without any such vicegerent.

Enough in the spiritual sphere THAT THE LORD IS KING!   Our

Divine Saviour, now unseen, but in due time to appear in His glory,



(I Timothy 6:15)


14 “But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought

Him a man after His own heart, and the LORD hath commanded

him to be captain over His people, because thou hast not kept that

which the LORD commanded thee.”  Jehovah hath sought Him a man after

His own heart. The language of prophecy constantly describes that as already done

which is but just determined upon. As David was but twenty-three years of age at

Saul’s death, he must now have been a mere child, even if he was born,

(see v. 1). But the Divine choice of Saul, which upon his obedience

would that day have been confirmed, was now annulled, and the succession

transferred elsewhere. Years might elapse before the first earthly step was

taken to appoint his successor (ch. 16:13); nay, had Saul repented, we gather from

ch.15:26 that he might have been forgiven: for God’s threatening, like His promises,

are conditional. There is no fatalism in the Bible, but a loving discipline for man’s

recovery. But behind it stands the Divine foreknowledge and omnipotence; and so

to the prophetic view Saul’s refusal to repent, his repeated disobedience, and the

succession of David were all revealed as accomplished facts.



A Man after God’s Own Heart (v. 14)


This expression occurs only here and in the quotation (Acts 13:22), “I have found

David the son of Jesse (Psalm 89:20), a man after mine own heart, which shall

 fulfill all my will.”


1. It was uttered by Samuel on the occasion of his reproving Saul for not

obeying the commandment of the Lord (v. 13).

2. It formed a part of the announcement of the purpose of God to appoint

another man to be “captain over His people” in consequence thereof. The

time of its fulfillment was not defined, nor was it known to the prophet who

he should be; it is uncertain even whether David was yet born.

3. It was descriptive of his character in contrast to that of Saul, and it had

respect to him in his public official capacity as theocratic sovereign rather

than in his private moral life, although it is impossible wholly to separate

the one from the other. He would obey the commandment of the Lord,

and, as it was predicted of “a faithful priest” (ch. 2:35; 3:10), “do according

to that which was in His heart and in His mind;” he would “serve

the will of God in his lifetime” (Acts 13:36), and second and carry out

His purposes concerning His people (Isaiah 44:28); he would be truly

“His servant,” and therefore his throne would continue and (in the full

realization of the theocratic idea it represented) be established forever

(Psalm 89:19-37). In “a man after God’s own heart” (such as David

was) there is:



is above that of king and people; declared in manifold ways, it is the rule of

human life; and he who perceives it most clearly and observes it most

humbly and constantly approaches nearest to perfection. Saul paid but little

regard to it, and, when it was opposed to his own inclination or judgment,

set it aside and went his own way. With David it was otherwise. In his

royal office especially he embodied the spirit of loyalty to the invisible King

of Israel, and of zeal for His law and ordinances. “The vain cavils of infidels

appear to have arisen from not considering that the phrase to which they

object may be interpreted with equal propriety as referring to the Divine

purpose, design, or intention as to designate peculiar favor and affection.

The latter undoubtedly was true, yet the former is most clearly the meaning

intended here” (Poole).



Saul, he felt deeply and constantly that he was individually an object of

Divine regard, and appointed to do a certain work from which he neither

desired nor dared to shrink. And a similar feeling exists in every true

servant of God. “The life of David is the life neither of a mere official

fulfilling a purpose in which he has no interest, nor of a hero without fear

and without reproach; but of a man inspired by a Divine purpose under the

guidance of a Divine teacher” (Maurice).



Although Saul possessed many admirable qualities, he sought to honor God

by outward sacrifices rather than real obedience, his noblest deeds were the

offspring of sudden and transient impulses, and his predominant motive

was his own honor and glory. “He had none of the work of Divine grace

upon the heart, turning impulses into principles, ruling all actions by the

law of an unseen Judge. He never experienced what the apostle calls the

powers of the world to come, that is to say, the sense of God, of another

world, smiting upon his soul through the veil of visible things, and making

him feel the presence and the real, awful personality of his Maker. His soul

was not like David’s, a harp touched by the hand of the Almighty, and

attuned to celestial melodies. It was only an instrument over which the

wind swept wildly, waking a fitful and irregular music which soon died

away into the confused murmurs of a harsh and tuneless discord” (A.




proud of his own strength, and both in ruling the people and contending

against their enemies he relied on his own skill and prudence, and “an arm

of flesh.” David trusted in God for everything. “He never represents himself

as a compound of strength and weakness. He represents himself as

weakness itself — as incapacity utter and complete. The Lord is his

strength. He has faith in God as his physical Inspirer or Protector. He has a

deeper, a far deeper instinct than even that — the instinct of a communion,

personal, practical, loving, between God, the Fount of light and goodness,

and his own soul, with its capacity of darkness as well as light, of evil as

well as good. In one word, David is a man of faith and a man of prayer”

(Kingsley, ‘Four Sermons’).



The heart of Saul trembled not at the word of the Lord. When the prophet said,

“What hast thou done?” he offered excuses for his conduct, and when on a

subsequent occasion he was constrained to say, “I have sinned,” his

confession was insincere and hypocritical. How different was it with David

when Nathan said to him, “Thou art the man.”   (II Samuel 12:7)  “Never

was repentance more severe, or sorrow more sincere; so that he may justly

be said (his repentance included, though not his fall) to be a man after God’s

own heart” (Yonge).



He identified himself with them, made their varied joys and sorrows his own,

and thereby (as well as by other means) promoted their highest good. His

character “gathered into itself — so far as might be — all the various

workings of the heart of man. This is the special attribute of the life and

character of the son of Jesse. There is a hard, narrow separateness of soul

marked in every line of the character of Saul. He is a wayward, wilful, self-

determined man, well nigh incapable of any real sympathy with others.

Such an one could learn little of the workings of the human heart, which is

so immeasurable in the multitude and compassion of its tones. Deep as

were his sorrows, he never knew the grace of contrition. Thus his dark

heart is full of sullenness and suspicion, inviting the entrance of the evil

one, who came at his bidding, and closed with yet sterner bars all the

avenues of his soul. In every one of these particulars David is the most

complete contrast to Saul” (Wilberforce, ‘Heroes of Hebrew History).



COURSE OF HIS LIFE.   “What are faults — what are the outward details of

life, if the inner spirit of it, the remorse, temptations, true, often baffled,

never ended struggle of it be forgotten?… David’s life and history, as

written for us in those Psalms of his, I consider to be the truest emblem

ever given of a man’s moral progress and warfare here below. All earnest

souls will ever discern in it the faithful struggle of an earnest human soul

towards what is good and best; struggle often baffled, down as into entire

wreck, yet a struggle never ended; ever with tears, repentance, true,

unconquerable purpose begun anew” (Carlyle, ‘Heroes’).





15 “And Samuel arose, and gat him up from Gilgal unto Gibeah of

Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people that were present with

him, about six hundred men.”  Samuel… gat him up from Gilgal to Gibeah

of Benjamin.  Samuel would pass by Gibeah on his way to his own home at

Ramah; but he seems to have tarried there to encourage the people; and probably

he carried instructions from Saul to Jonathan to unite his forces with him, as

we next find the father and son there in company. Even if this be not so,

yet friendly relations must have continued between Saul and Samuel, as the

latter would otherwise certainly not have chosen Saul’s home for his

halting place; nor would he go thither without seeing Jonathan, and giving

him aid and counsel. Saul numbered. See on ch. 11:8. After summoning the

whole nation there did not remain with him even as many as a third of his

selected band.



The First Wrong Step (vs. 8-15)


All men are subjected in life to various tests which prove “what spirit they

are of.” These tests may appear insignificant in themselves (like that which

was applied to Adam and Eve — Genesis 2:17), but they involve

important principles, and the manner in which they are endured is followed

by serious consequences. The position of Saul necessitated a trial of his

fidelity to the fundamental principle of the theocratic kingdom, viz.,

unconditional obedience on the part of the king to the will of God as

declared by his prophets. He was directed:


(1) to wait for Samuel seven days, and

(2) to attempt nothing till he came (ch.10:8).


He omitted the former and did the latter, and thus took his first wrong step

a step never retraced, and leading to a course which ended on the fatal field of

Gilboa (ch. 31).  Observe:


  • ITS APPARENT EXPEDIENCY. His conscience told him that it was

not right, as he virtually acknowledged in the defense he offered for his

conduct (vs. 11-12). Yet he persuaded himself (as others are accustomed

to do) that it was venial, expedient, and even necessary, because of:


Ø      The pressure of worldly circumstances. “Because I saw that the people

were scattered from me,” etc. Resources diminish, and danger is imminent.

When they are considered in themselves alone, anxiety and fear increase,

and temptation becomes strong to make use of any means of relief that may

be presented. How often are men tempted by the plea of necessity to

disobey the voice of conscience! The tempter says, “It is better to steal

than starve, better to sin than perish.”


Ø      The disappointment of religious expectations. “And that thou camest

not at the appointed time.” “Help has been long waited for, but it comes

not; nor is it likely, now that the seventh day is drawing to a close, that it

will come at all. The promise has not been fulfilled. The time for action has

arrived, and the long delay indicates that the most expedient course must

be taken. Nothing else remains. If there be any blame, it cannot be

attributed to one who has waited so long, has been left in such extremity,

and acts for the best.”


Ø      The efficacy of ceremonial observances. “And I forced myself, and

offered a burnt offering.” Inasmuch as such an offering was required on

entering upon his enterprise against the Philistines, he could not hope to

succeed without it, and he had at all times great regard for the external

ceremonies enjoined by the law (ch. 14:33, 35). A doubtful or

wrong act is often supposed to be blameless when performed in connection

with sacred rites, or with a righteous end in view (John 16:2); and

disobedience is sometimes clothed in a religious guise, its real nature being

thereby obscured to the view of conscience, and its commission rendered



Ø      The prospect of immediate advantages. Apparent and immediate good is

the first and last and most powerful incentive to departure from the path of

duty. “The tree was good for food, and pleasant to the eyes,” etc.

(Genesis 3:6). “And the history of Adam is as ancient as the world, but

is fresh in practice, and is still revived in the sons of Adam.”


  • ITS REAL CULPABILITY. “What hast thou done?” said Samuel,

speaking’ as with the voice of God, and seeking to arouse his conscience

and lead him to repentance. He had been guilty of:


Ø      Disobedience to a plain commandment. “Thou hast not kept the

commandment of the Lord thy God” (v. 13). The fact could not be

denied. He had not waited all the appointed time, and he had acted without

Divine direction. He had rejected the supreme authority of the Divine King,

and no excuse that might be made could do away with his guilt. “Sin is not

estimated by God according to its outward form, but according to the

amount and extent of the principle of evil embodied in that form.”


Ø      Distrust of promised help. Men sometimes wait long for the fulfillment

of Divine promises, but not long enough; and their lack of perseverance

shows weakness or absence of faith. The force of adverse circumstances is

exaggerated by being exclusively dwelt upon; doubt of the power of God

prevails through disregard of preservation from harm hitherto afforded; and

as faith unites the soul to God, so unbelief severs it from Him, leaves it a

prey to disquiet and impatience, and leads it to adopt worldly and godless

expedients. Unbelief was the root of the transgression of Saul, as it is of

the transgression of men generally.


Ø      Formality in religious service. A burnt offering was a symbol and

expression of consecration, and when offered aright, in a spirit of

obedience, it honored God and obtained His blessing; but when wrongly

offered it was worthless, dishonored him, and was abomination in His

sight (ch. 15:22; Proverbs 21:27; Isaiah 1:13). It is the same with other

outward forms of service. “Saul is a specimen of that class of persons who

show a certain reverence and zeal for the outward forms of religion, and

even a superstitious reliance on them, but are not careful to cherish the

inner spirit of vital religion” (Wordsworth’s ‘Commentary).


Ø      Self-will, pride, and presumption. In disobeying the will of God he set

up his own will as supreme, and was guilty of pride, “by which sin fell the

angels.” It is not said that he offered sacrifice with his own hand, and he

may have simply directed it to be done by the priest who was with him

(ch. 14:18); nor is it certain that if he had done so he would have

gone beyond the privilege and prerogative possessed by other kings. His

sin did not consist of intrusion into the priestly office. It was nevertheless

very great. “He had cast away his obedience to God. The crown he thought

was his own. From that moment he fell; for all our good qualities retain

their ascendancy over our evil passions by the presence and power of God

claiming them as His.” “Samuel, according to modern expositors of the

story, was angry because he felt that he was losing his own influence over

the mind of the king. No; he was angry because the king was so much the

slave of his influence, or of any influence that was exerted over him for a

moment; because he was losing the sense of responsibility to One higher

than a prophet, to One who had appointed him to rule not in his own name,

but as the minister and executor of the Divine righteousness” (Maurice).


  • ITS EXCEEDING FOLLY. “Thou hast done foolishly” (v. 13). The

folly of the sinner appears in his:


Ø      Being deceived by the appearances of things — the magnitude of

danger, the false promises of advantage, the specious arguments of

expediency. He is like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand,

instead of “digging deep and laying the foundation on a rock” (Luke

6:48). He is infatuated, fascinated, and under a glamor cast over his mind

by his own evil desires and the spell of the tempter.


Ø      Making light of the enormous evil of sin. It is the only real evil. But he

is thoughtless, ignorant, and foolish enough to account it a trivial thing,

which may be easily excused and passed by. As he who says in his heart

“No God” is called a “fool,” so he who deems it a little matter to offend

Him is appropriately designated by the same name. “Fools make a mock at

sin (Proverbs 14:9); and he who makes light of sin makes light of God.


Ø      Leaving the only path of safety and honor. “For now” (if thou hadst

obeyed His commandment) “the Lord would have established thy

sovereignty over Israel forever.”


Ø      Entering on a course of certain loss and misery.


o        Inward weakened moral power, increased tendency to sin,

unsteadiness, rashness, etc. What a man does once he is almost

certain under similar circumstances to do again. Saul’s subsequent

course was a continuation and complete development of the same

kind of transgression as he now committed. He was already so

blinded by sin as not to repent.


o        Outward. “But now thy sovereignty shall not continue,” etc. (v. 14).

The sentence “embodied the principle that no monarchy could be

enduring in Israel which did not own the supreme authority of God,”

and it declared that Saul’s crown would not be transmitted to his

descendants; but not until afterwards was he personally rejected

from being king (ch. 15:23). Having failed to endure the trial to which

he was subjected, he was left by Samuel (v. 15), and nothing is further

recorded of his converse with the prophet for some years. “He had not

even accomplished the object of his unseasonable sacrifice, viz., to

prevent the dispersion of the people” (Keil). O that he had waited

a little longer! “Saul lost his kingdom for want of two or three hours’



§         Beware of the first wrong step. “It is always marked

by a peculiarity of evil which does not attach to any

subsequent offences”. (Miller). Principiis obsta (Resist

the beginnings; nip it in the bud).


§         If you have taken such a step, instantly repent of it.

“It is not sinning, that ruins men, but sinning and not

repenting, falling and not getting up again.”


16 “And Saul, and Jonathan his son, and the people that were present

with them, abode in Gibeah of Benjamin: but the Philistines

encamped in Michmash.”  In Gibeah of Benjamin. This is an arbitrary change

of the Authorized Version (in company with the Septuagint and Vulgate) for Geba,

which is the word in the Hebrew text. Our translators no doubt considered that as

Gibeah of Benjamin occurs in the previous verse, this must be the same

place. But our greater knowledge of the geography of the Holy Land

enables us to say that Geba is right; for, as we have seen, it was at one end

of the defile, at the other end of which was Michmash; and here alone

could the small army of Saul have any chance of defending itself against the

vast host of the Philistines. However much we may blame Saul’s

disobedience, he was a skilful soldier and a brave man, and his going with

his little band to the end of the pass to make a last desperate stand was an

act worthy of a king.



Representative Temptations (vs. 8-16)


The facts are:


1. Saul, waiting at Gilgal for Samuel, gives orders for the observance of

sacrificial worship.

2. Towards the close of the ceremony, and before the full time was

expired, Samuel makes his appearance.

3. In reply to Samuel’s remonstrance, Saul assigns the reasons for his


a.      the discouragement of the people,

b.      the non-arrival of Samuel, and

c.       the threatening attitude of the foe.

4. Samuel charges Saul with having failed to keep the commandment of

God, and declares that his family shall not succeed to the throne.

5. Samuel retires to Gibeah, whither Saul and his son also go with their



Whether the appointment to meet at Gilgal was that mentioned ch. 10:8, or a

subsequent arrangement, does not affect the fact that, in view of measures to

be taken conjointly, Saul had been distinctly commanded by God, through the

prophet, to wait seven days till Samuel came. Evidently it was a distinct

understanding that in the coming effort to rid the land of the Philistines the

spiritual power, represented by the, prophet of God, was to be prominent. Thus

would the “manner of the kingdom” (ch. 10:25) be recognized, and Israel’s ruler,

though a king, would still be the agent for working out a spiritual destiny. It was

of immense importance that, having a king like unto other nations, Israel and

the monarch should still be made to feel that, not the form of government,

but the blessing of God granted in answer to prayer, and on due              

recognition of the spiritual institutions, was the most important thing. And

the command to wait for the spiritual guide and ruler was eminently fitted

to impress Saul and the people with the undiminished authority and value

of the spiritual head. There is no evidence that the end of the seven days

had come, only that it was nigh. Even had it come, the Author of the

command was responsible for consequences, not Saul. The first duty of a

subject is TO OBEY LAW!   Saul had no right to break the commandment of his

King. The assumption of the control of spiritual functions violated a great

principle in the eyes of the people. It would mean, the prophet of God can

be dispensed with; the king can invent ways other than God’s of meeting

pressing dangers; rigid obedience to God’s command is not expedient at all

times; the religious arrangements in the recent settlement of the kingdom,

impeding as they do the military movements, are defective; all must, by

pressure of events, come into the monarch’s hands. Thus the very essence

of the constitution, as approved by God and explained in act and word by

Samuel (ch. 9:26-27; 10:1, 8, 25; 12:13-14), was set aside.




difficulties surrounding Saul seemed to rise from the natural course of

events. The defection of many of his followers was as readily accounted

for, by the overwhelming force of the enemy and the inactivity enforced by

the absence of Samuel, as it was, from a heathen point of view, pregnant

with disaster. The military power of the nation, in being thus subject to

spiritual arrangements, was less an arm of strength than a monarch might

desire. The first operation of the subordination of man’s skill and force to

the religious element of the national life was by no means promising. Was it

not expedient to act without the spiritual authority as at present constituted?

Now this temptation was no “strange thing.” (I Peter 4:12)  It was just an

early and sharply defined form of what Saul would be liable to all his days;

for events and his own imperfect nature would constantly conspire to raise

the question as to whether he would not better hold his own in war if he

were not troubled by non-military considerations. The spiritual character of

the kingdom would continually test his loyalty to God. His case was not



Ø      Moral life on earth involves trial. Created moral existence is not

possible apart from liability to the rival claims of duty to God and regard

for self, in some form supposed to be more or less expedient. Temptation

grows out of the conditions under which we live.


Ø      Every special course of life is attended with temptations peculiar to its

nature. Saul as king would feel the pressure of what, as a man living in

obscurity, he would not have known. Israel chosen of God to traverse the

desert and attain to freedom and rest in Canaan were open to trials of faith

which, as bondmen in Egypt, would not have come to them. Our Saviour

Himself endured temptations in virtue of His unique position as Founder

 of a spiritual kingdom.





circumstances of a temptation tell wonderfully in the act of resisting.

Should it find the mind predisposed by dallying with evil, or should it come

in the absence of clear and recent indications of duty, with a sudden

impulse, or insinuating itself into intricate considerations and engagements,

the chances of its success would be increased as compared with opposite

conditions. This temptation to sin came on Saul when he was free from the

entanglements of a court and domestic politics; it was in sharp contrast

with a most explicit command; it was counter to the recent instance of

God’s help in presence of a great danger (ch. 11:4-14); and it

came when his moral sense was at its best. Inasmuch as during coming

years Saul would inevitably feel the force of temptations to assert his own

methods and will as being apparently better than those indicated by the

spiritual requirements of the kingdom, it was really a mercy that this

representative temptation came when it did, and in a form most easy to

resist. If resisted, a principle would assume an incipient form of habit. The

moral strength of the man would be developed by exercise. Success over

the foe, consequent on the first triumph of faith in God and submission to

His spiritual order, would be a memorial for future inspiration. We have

here a clue to the solution of other trials. It is too often imagined that the

trial of Adam, of the Israelites at the Red Sea, of Christ in the desert, and

of the apostles during the dark days of the crucifixion and death, were

arbitrary, severe, and, at least, without a clear trace of kindness. But



Ø      Life in each case was liable to many temptations. It was inseparable

from Adam’s existence as a man on earth, from Israel’s march to and

occupation of Canaan, from our Saviour’s position among men and the evil

spirits who would act upon His soul, and from the apostolic career in face

of Jewish and Gentile antagonism, that temptation again and again, in

forms peculiar to each, would arise. So, also, with every man’s life

(mine and yours, also – CY – 2016).


Ø      In each case the conditions for resisting representative temptation of

what was coming were most favorable at the entrance on the career. Man

in Eden was pure, free from bad impulse, independent of entanglements

and want, familiar with the emphatic and recent command. Israel at the

Red Sea had just seen marvelous and repeated tokens of the sufficiency of

God to shelter them and ward off danger, and the command to go forward

to the sea was explicit. Our Saviour when tempted of the devil was fresh

from the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as yet not worn down by ingratitude

and scorn, filled With the call to enter on His work in founding a spiritual

kingdom. So, likewise, when a monarch, or pastor, or Church, or any

individual first enters on an office or work, there is a freedom from the

entanglements which spring from mixed relationships, an eclat which

inspires hope, a sense of responsibility which makes the spirit sober and

watchful, and a fame to win which appeals to the noblest sentiments of

duty and honor.


Ø      Resistance in each case would impart a moral force which would be of

great advantage in all subsequent conflicts. Had Adam said a final “nay”

to the tempter, his moral conquest over all other temptations would have

been comparatively insured. Imperfect as Israel were in the desert, their

moral power was greatly strengthened both by the act of faith at the Red

Sea and the consequent victory over Pharaoh. As One who had conquered

in the desert, our Lord would doubtless confront the later temptations to

exchange poverty and want and spiritual rulership for the pomp and

outward splendor of an earthly kingdom with a more equable spirit. And

the endurance of the apostles during those dark and harrowing hours prior

to the resurrection would only render their faith a mightier power

wherewith to face the persecution of men and the seeming tardiness of the

world’s subjugation to Christ. So, likewise, those who are brought by

Providence to bear temptation under favorable conditions when entering

on a career actually receive a great mercy. They are enabled thereby, if they

will, to gain power for life and to qualify for higher service. This will find

illustration also with the young. Their early trials, under good conditions,

make them more competent to cope with all that is sure to follow.




AGGRAVATED IN CHARACTER.  Saul’s sin was great. It was marked

by deliberation and yet by extreme folly. He “forced himself.” The

command was so clear, the risks of disobedience so palpable, that only a

perverse ingenuity could persuade him to disobey. The effort to silence the

conscience always aggravates a crime. Prompt, unquestioning obedience is

due to clear commands. Man is not responsible for anything but DUTY!  The

folly was conspicuous. To break a clear command in order to offer an act

of worship is the perfection of foolishness. Only a “lying spirit” could

induce a man to honor God by dishonoring Him. The blind reasoning of

the heart when once clear duty is trifled with is extraordinary. It would be a

wonderful revelation of perverted intellect if we could read the processes

of thought by which men are led to force themselves to deliberate acts of





consequences ensued on Samuel’s exposure of Saul’s sin:


Ø      the forfeiture of his family’s permanent possession of the throne of

Israel, and

Ø      the withholding of immediate interposition on behalf of the nation.


Now it is obvious that Saul had yielded to the temptation in hope thereby of

inspiring his followers to action, and of insuring the stability of his throne for

himself and family in the subjugation of his foes. There was an eminent

propriety in Saul’s sin being visited by a loss of the kingdom to his family.

He was the people’s king — chosen because they desired a monarch.

Therefore it was in harmony with the usual course of Providence that,

though he sinned, he should be allowed to rule, and thus by his infirmities

be the rod for their chastisement. Although representing in his virtues and

failings the people who demanded a king, he was afforded by the recent trial

a good opportunity of conforming to the higher spiritual order, and of thus

becoming by degrees educated into the loftier spiritual aims of the national

life. Therefore, failing to rise to the level essential to the Messianic

conception of the kingdom, he proved the moral unfitness of his principles

and methods for transmittal to successors. Have we not here a truth of

constant recurrence? Sin is committed to realize a purpose, and the

purpose is not realized, but is missed by the very act of sin. Our first

parents sought the rest of satisfaction in taking the forbidden fruit; but

whatever rest they had before was lost in the act of disobedience, as also

the kind of rest sought by the deed. The unhappy man who, under pressure

of circumstances as trying to him as the hosts of Philistia were to Saul,

forces himself to commit a fraud in order to insure relief and final success

in his enterprise, learns to his cost, when once the act is committed, that

mental relief is further off than ever, and a remorseless course of events

ultimately brings on ruin to the enterprise. “He that seeketh his life shall

lose it.”  (Luke 17:33)


17 “And the spoilers came out of the camp of the Philistines in three

companies: one company turned unto the way that leadeth to

Ophrah, unto the land of Shual:  18 And another company turned the

way to Bethhoron: and another company turned to the way of the border

that looketh to the valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.”

The spoilers. The conduct of the Philistines is that of men

over confident in their strength. They ought to have pounced at once upon

Saul in the plain of Jordan, where their cavalry would have secured for

them the victory, and then, following Samuel’s and Saul’s route, have

seized the other end of the defile, and overpowered Jonathan. But they

despised them both, and regarding the country as conquered, proceed to

punish it, as probably they had cone on previous occasions, when no one

had dared to make resistance. Leaving then the main army to guard the

camp at Michmash, they sent out light armed troops to plunder the whole

land. One company turned unto the way… to Ophrah, unto the land

of Shual. This company went northward, towards Ophrah, a place five

miles east of Bethel. The land of Shual, i.e. fox land, was probably the

same as the land of Shalim in ch. 9:4. Another company, etc.

This went eastward, towards Beth-heron, for which see Joshua 10:11.

The third went to the south east, towards the wilderness of Judaea.

Zeboim, and all the places mentioned, are in the tribe of Benjamin, which

had committed the offence of making for itself a king. To the south Saul

held the mountain fastnesses towards Jerusalem.




                                                 (vs. 19-23)


19 “Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for

the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears:”

There was no smith. This accounts for the contemptuous

disregard of Saul by the Philistines. The people were disarmed, and

resistance impossible. Apparently this policy had been long followed; but

we need fuller information of what had happened between Samuel’s victory

at Mizpah and Saul’s appointment as king, to enable us to understand the

evident weakness of Israel at this time. But probably this description

applies fully only to the districts of Benjamin, near the Philistines, The

people further away had arms with which they defeated the Ammonites,

and Saul and his men would have secured all the weapons which the enemy

then threw away. But evidently no manufacture of weapons was allowed,

and no one as far as possible permitted either to wear or possess arms.


20 “But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every

man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock.”

The Israelites went down to the Philistines. I.e. to their

land. This could only have applied to the districts near the Philistines,

unless we suppose that they set up forges also at their garrisons. To

sharpen. The verb chiefly refers to such work as required an anvil and

hammer. As regards the implements, not only do the versions disagree in

their renderings, but the Septuagint has a very curious different reading, to

the effect that at harvest time the Israelites had to pay the Philistines three

shekels for repairing and whetting their tools. The share is more probably

a sickle. The coulter is certainly a ploughshare, as rendered in Isaiah 2:4;

Joel 3:10. Of the ax there is no doubt; and the mattock is a heavy

hoe for turning up the ground, as spades for that purpose are scarcely

anywhere used, except in our own country.


21 “Yet they had a file for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for

the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads.”

A file. Margin, a file with mouths. The word only occurs here,

and is translated a file on the authority of Rashi. Almost all modern

commentators agree that it means bluntness, and that this verse should be

joined on to the preceding, and the two be translated, “But all the Israelites

went down to the Philistines to sharpen his sickle, and his ploughshare, and

his axe, and his mattock, whenever the edges of the mattocks, and the

ploughshares, and the forks, and the axes were blunt, and also to set (so

the margin rightly) the goads.” The Israelites were thus in a state of

complete dependence upon the Philistines, even for carrying on their

agriculture, and probably retained only the hill country, while their enemies

were masters of the plains.


22 “So it came to pass in the day of battle, that there was neither sword

nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with

Saul and Jonathan: but with Saul and with Jonathan his son was

there found.”  There was neither sword, etc. Armed only with clubs and

their farming implements, it is no wonder that the people were afraid of

fighting the Philistines, who, as we gather from the description of Goliath’s

armor, were clad in mail; nor is it surprising that they despised and

neglected Saul and his few men, whom probably they regarded as an

unarmed mob of rustics. The Ammonites probably were far less efficiently

armed than the Philistines, who, as commanding the sea coast, could

import weapons from Greece.


23 “And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the passage of

Michmash.”  And the garrison, etc. When the Philistines heard that Saul

with his six hundred men had joined the small force already at Geba with

Jonathan, they sent a body of men to occupy an eminence higher up in the

defile which lay between Geba and Michmash (see on v. 2).

The purpose of this was to keep the route open, that so, when they

pleased, they might send a larger body of troops up the defile in order to

attack Saul. It would also keep a watch upon his movements, though they

could have had no expectation that he would venture to attack them. It

was this garrison which Jonathan so bravely attacked, and by his success

prepared the way for the utter defeat of the enemy.



Under the Heel of the Oppressor (vs. 16-23)


“Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel (v. 19).

The invasion of the Philistines produced great fear and distress among the

people. Many hid themselves in caves, and thickets, and cliffs, and vaults,

and pits; others fled across the Jordan; those who followed Saul did so

with trembling (vs. 6-7); his army melted away — some deserted to the

enemy, or were pressed into their service (ch.  14:21); their homes and fields

were plundered by marauding bands (v. 17; ch. 14:22), which went forth from

Michmash without fear of resistance, for the people had been disarmed and

deprived of the means of making weapons of war, and even of sharpening their

implements of husbandry (II Kings 24:14) when they became blunt (literally,

there was bluntness of edges;” Authorized Version, “they had a file”), except

at the pleasure of their oppressors (v. 21). The result of the burdensome necessity

of going to the Philistines was, that many tools became useless by dullness, so

that even this poorer sort of arms did the Israelites not much service at the

breaking out of the war” (Bunsen). How long this state of things continued

is not recorded; but it was sufficiently long for those who remained with

Saul and Jonathan (v. 22) to be left without “sword or spear,” or any

regular armament. Their condition was thus one of helplessness,

dependence, and wretchedness, and affords a picture of that to which men

are reduced by error and sin. In it we see:



will have a king over us” (ch. 8:19). They have a king self-willed like

themselves; but their way fails, as the way of those who prefer their own

plans to the guidance of God must ever fail.


Ø      In delivering them from the evils of which they complain (ch. 8:5), or

which they fear (ch. 9:16).


Ø      In preserving to them the advantages which they possess. “Ye dwelled

safe(ch. 12:11). Where is their safety now?  (This is where the USA

is heading now! – CY – 2016)


Ø      In procuring for them the good which they desire — liberty, power,

victory, prosperity, honor, and glory (John 11:47-48; Romans 10:2-3).

How completely do the prospects that lure men onward in their

self-chosen way vanish before them as they advance!



 “They have rejected me” (ch. 8:7). With what result? They are

delivered unto the will of them that hate them” (Ezekiel 16:27;

Deuteronomy 28:48), and endure:


Ø      Oppression that cannot be effectually resisted. “Of whom a man is

overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage” (II Peter 2:19), and

without the means of freeing himself.


Ø      Increased difficulty, toil, and trouble in the necessary pursuits of life.

Life itself without the friendship of God is a burden too heavy to be borne.


Ø      Shame and contempt continually (v. 4). “Is this the grandeur and

power which they fondly expected under their king? Was it for this they

rejected the Shield of their help and the Sword of their excellency?”



 “The Lord will not forsake his people” (ch. 12:22). Their distress has some

alleviation, and it is designed (in His abounding goodness) —


Ø      To convince them of the evil of their way.

Ø      To teach them to put their trust in God, and serve Him in truth (ch. 14:6).

Ø      To prepare them for help and Salvation.




Ø      The highest wisdom of man is to submit to the wisdom of God.

Ø      The service of God is the only true freedom; the way of honor and

happiness. “To serve God is to reign.”

Ø      They who refuse the free service of God fall into the forced service of

their enemies.

Ø      In the greatest of earthly calamities there is no room for despair. “If

from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find Him”

(Deuteronomy 4:29).



The Ramifications of Evil (vs. 17-23)


The facts are:


1. In the absence of Divine interposition, and consequent on Saul’s inability

to resist advance, the Philistines develop their forces and plunder certain

districts of country.

2. As a matter of policy on their part, and as one result of Saul’s

transgression, the Philistines deprive the people of the ordinary means of

conducting warfare.

3. This state of things necessitates Saul’s protracted inactivity, and inflicts

considerable inconvenience on the people with respect to their daily

pursuits in agriculture.


Although we cannot say precisely what course events would have taken had Saul,

in loyalty to God, awaited the arrival of Samuel (vs. 8-10), yet the whole history

of Israel and the recent promises made through Samuel (ch.12:20-25) lead to the

belief that, as when Jabesh-Gilead was in danger help came from God (ch. 11:6),

so now the Philistines would have been scattered by A POWER MORE THAN

HUMAN!  The facts given in this paragraph appear to be designed to prepare the

way for the narrative of Jonathan’s heroism in the following chapter; at the same

time they illustrate, in themselves, some truths of wider range than Israel’s political

and social condition. We have here an instance of:



CONDUCT OF AFFAIRS. The military inactivity and general helplessness

of Saul after Samuel’s interview with him (vs. 11-14) are in striking

contrast with his energy at other times, and are not altogether to be

ascribed to the absence of special Divine interposition. The explanation is

to be sought in his personal conviction of sin. There was no joy, no hope,

no spring in his soul, no eagerness for a close conflict with the foe; and

that, too, because a sense of sin brought moral paralysis upon his entire

nature. The sense of guilt is not always present in men, but when it is

brought home to a man it exercises A DEPRESSING INFLUENCE ON

HIS ENTIRE LIFE and seriously affects the transaction of affairs.

Conscience, when guilty, not only “makes cowards of us all,” but it:


Ø      robs life of brightness,

Ø      drains the springs of hope,

Ø      fetters the operation of the faculties, and

Ø      impairs the sum total of energy.


No man’s life is made the most of as long as some unrepented and unforgiven

sin haunts his spirit. This is the reverse side of another fact, namely, that the

soul possessed of the peace and joy of the reconciled is in a condition to render

its best service to the world, and to attain to the most perfect development of

its powers. The wisdom of every one oppressed with a sense of guilt is to humble

himself before God, and seek in Christ forgiveness and power for a truer life in




not begin and end with himself. His failure in duty affected the general

interests of his kingdom. Even the brief narrative before us enables us to

see how directly and indirectly the following circumstances were connected

with his disobedience, namely:


Ø      the inability of Israel to assail the threatening host;

Ø      the depredations of the three divisions of the Philistine army;

Ø      the private and social misery over a considerable area inseparable

from the raids of the invader;

Ø       the cutting off of the ordinary means for waging successful war;

Ø      the impediments to the pursuits of trade and agriculture;

Ø      the general humiliation and dread brought on the noncombatants

of the land; and

Ø      the withdrawal for a while of the counsels and encouragements

of the prophet of God.


The truth thus exemplified in the instance of a monarch’s sin finds expression

also in every sin, and especially in sins of persons in responsible positions.

No sin can end in the act or in the person of the sinner. It impairs the tone and

force of the entire man; it adds another item to the germs of future sorrow and

shame; it further disqualifies for conferring on the world spiritual good; it gives

a stronger taint of evil to the current of thought and feeling which flows out

from the inner man to the world. SIN IN US is as a wave of influence that

spreads out, by laws of association and impulse, over the whole area of the

spirit, and modifies all conduct for the worse. Especially is this true of

persons in office and of parents. A monarch’s official acts reach all classes.

A parent’s sin ramifies through the home — inducing, it may be, loss of

peace, certainly loss of hallowed influence over children, and possibly ruin

to health in offspring.





and weapons of war is evidently associated by the historian with the

disobedience of Saul. It is possible for Christian men engaged in the

endeavor to maintain and extend the kingdom of Christ to be brought into

an analogous condition as a consequence of their manifest unfaithfulness.

In our conflict with the world it is of supreme importance that we make use

of the ever available and potent instrument — influence of character. With

this as a weapon we can accomplish much, by the blessing of God. If this

be lost, if by our manifest inconsistencies before the world we virtually

place this instrument of war at the feet of the men whom we seek to bring

to Christ, then we shall be as powerless with them as was Saul and his

people when the Philistines had control of their smiths and weapons of



  • General lessons:


1. The general spiritual power of our life will be in proportion as we keep

pure, or, in case of falling into sin, at once humble ourselves before God

and seek for pardon and a right spirit (Psalm 51:6-13).


2. It is an encouragement to holiness and obedience to know that the

ramifications of righteousness may become as wide as are those of sin.


3. It is a mercy to know that, though the enemy may sometimes triumph

over the servants of Christ because of their weakness of character, yet the

eternal Source of strength is in reserve, and will manifest Himself.




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