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Biblical People
Saul. [Heb. Shaul, "asked (of God)," or "lent (to God)." The name appears in the cuneiform texts of Ebla in the prepatriarchal period, later on an ancient Hebrew seal, and in Phoenician, Palmyrene, and Aramaic inscriptions with various spellings. In cuneiform texts it appears as Sauµli. Gr. Saoul and Saulos.]

1. For Gen 36:37, 38, KJV, see Shaul.

2. The first Hebrew king. He was the son of the Benjamite Kish, whose home town was Gibeah, now Tell elÐFuÆl, about 4 mi. (c. 6.5 km.) north of Jerusalem. For centuries Israel had been living under a theocratic form of government, being ruled by judges called by God. The last of these, Samuel, had grown old, and his sons did not measure up to the qualities of leadership of their godly father. The people, having become tired of the lack of continuity in strong leadership, thought that a kingship would provide them with a form of government that would cure their political and international ills. Samuel looked upon the popular demand for a king with extreme disfavour, but God directed him to accede to the people's desire, at the same time to make them thoroughly acquainted with the disadvantages and burdens this move would bring upon them (1 Sa 8).

(1) Saul becomes king. Shortly after the people's demand for a king, Saul, a young, handsome man of towering stature, was out with a servant searching for some lost asses belonging to his father. After a fruitless search of 3 days the servant suggested that they should consult "the seer," by which he meant Samuel. Although Saul had probably heard of Samuel, he did not know him personally (1 Sa 9:18), and was afraid to approach him without a gift of money (v 7). Meanwhile Samuel had received instruction from God that a Benjamite would come to him whom he should anoint as king. When Saul arrived, a specific word came to him that Saul was the man who should rule over God's people. Samuel met him in the gate, assured him that the asses had been found, and invited the surprised Saul to stay for a sacrificial meal. Saul spent the night with Samuel as the prophet's guest, and in the morning Samuel secretly anointed him and prophesied certain experiences that Saul would have on his way home, which took place as predicted. He further directed him to go to Gilgal and wait 7 days for him, at the end of which time he would receive additional instructions. Nothing more is recorded of this particular meeting at Gilgal. Saul told no one of his anointing as king (1 Sa 9:1 to 10:16).

As soon as Samuel knew who the new king was to be he summoned the whole nation to Mizpah, probably the modern Tell enÐNas\beh, where lots were cast publicly to confirm Saul as king. When Saul, who had hidden himself but whose place of hiding was discovered, was presented to the people as the Lord's choice, the majority were satisfied. Perhaps the fact that Saul belonged to the smallest tribe facilitated his acceptance. Nevertheless dissenting voices were heard. The young king did not immediately assert his kingship, but went back home (1 Sa 10:17-27), probably to await an opportune occasion when his service and leadership would be needed by the country. He may also have considered it prudent to see whether the opposition against him or against his tribe could peacefully be overcome, and his opponents appeased, before he began his active rule.

The opportunity to show his leadership came soon--according to the LXX (1 Sa 11:1) in about a month. The Israelite town of Jabesh in Gilead was besieged by Nahash, king of the Ammonites, and messengers from Jabesh came to Gibeah telling of the humiliating conditions of surrender demanded by Nahash. Their plea for quick help stirred Saul's soul. He again felt the Spirit coming "mightily" upon him, and driven by compassion for the Gileadites he sent out a nation-wide summons to rally behind "Saul and Samuel" for the liberation of Jabesh. As a result 330,000 armed men followed Saul over the Jordan and routed the Ammonites. Having thus given a clear demonstration of his fitness to the throne, Saul was unanimously acclaimed king and solemnly enthroned at Gilgal (1 Sa 11).

(2) Saul's reign. Paul gives the total length of Saul's reign as 40 years (Acts 13:21), as does Josephus (Ant. vi. 14. 9). However, it is not known how old Saul was when he became king, for the OT verse that originally gave his age when he began to reign (1 Sa 13:1) is now defective. Nor is it known how much time lay between the events connected with Saul's elevation to the throne and his war with the Philistines recorded in 1 Sa 13. If this interval was brief Saul must have been near 35 years of age at his accession to the throne, because at the time of the battle his son Jonathan was already in charge of one Hebrew army and was a formidable warrior. But if it broke out several years after he came to the throne Saul could have been younger. Because this problem remains unresolved we do not know how long Saul reigned under the tutelage of Samuel.

At the time of his first encounter with the Philistines, Saul had a standing army with 2,000 soldiers under his personal command, stationed at Michmash and the hill country of Bethel, and 1,000 men stationed at Gibeah, the capital, under the command of Jonathan, the crown prince. Jonathan had defeated a Philistine garrison at neighbouring Geba, and knowing that the Philistines would retaliate, Saul called the nation to arms, naming Gilgal as the rallying point because Samuel had promised to meet them. They waited for 7 days, but Samuel did not come, having probably delayed his journey in order to test Saul's and the people's obedience to, and trust in, God. When Saul saw that desertions among his people were increasing and that fear possessed those who remained, he took it upon himself to offer sacrifices that were to be offered only by a priest. Samuel arrived almost immediately and rebuked Saul for his rash act, telling him that because of his disobedience and lack of trust in God his descendants would not occupy the throne (1 Sa 13:2-14). The ensuing war against the Philistines ended in victory. Jonathan by a heroic act of valour put a company of Philistines to flight. This spread terror and panic among the main body of Philistines. Saul took advantage of this situation, led his army into battle, and chased the enemy out of Israelite territory. Saul was evidently a stern disciplinarian, for when Jonathan unwittingly disobeyed his command he was ready to take his son's life. Jonathan's life was saved only upon the demand of the army (1 Sa 13:15 to 14:46).

Saul carried out other military campaigns with brilliant results (1 Sa 14:47, 48). During one of these campaigns he committed an act of disobedience that sealed his rejection by God as king. He had been ordered to destroy the Amalekites and their possessions, to fulfil a curse pronounced against them by God for having fought against Israel in the wilderness at Rephidim (Ex 17:8-16). Saul carried out the order, but spared some of the cattle, to sacrifice, as he said, at Gilgal, and their king Agag. For this disobedience to a specific command Samuel declared that God no longer considered him as the legitimate ruler of His people (1 Sa 15). A little later Samuel secretly anointed David the shepherd boy to be the future king of the nation (ch 16:1-13).

(3) Saul's last years. God's Spirit departed from Saul when he was rejected as king, and an evil spirit periodically plagued him. In an effort to lift him from his melancholy moods his servants introduced to him young David, who was chosen to play the lyre before the king (1 Sa 16:14-23). At first Saul liked David, but his affection soon changed to jealousy and fear when David, having killed Goliath, and thus secured a victory for the Israelites over the Philistines, was acclaimed by the maidens of Israel as the greatest hero of the nation (chs 17:1 to 18:9). His jealousy led him to attempts on David's life. He tried first to kill him with his spear, then endeavoured to bring about his death in skirmishes with the Philistines (1 Sa 18:10-29). When it became evident that Saul would stop at nothing in his efforts to destroy him, David fled from Saul, left his wife Michal, and was for years a fugitive in different parts of the country, while Saul wasted his time and energy seeking to hunt him down (chs 19 to 27).

Saul's foolish enmity against David deprived Israel of its best army commander and of many valiant soldiers who followed David into exile, and caused him to neglect the defence of his kingdom. The result was a weakening of the nation's defences and a reinvasion by the Philistines, who this time encamped at Shunem, near the Valley of Jezreel. Saul pitched his camp on the slopes of Mount Gilboa (1 Sa 28:1, 4). The fearful and melancholic king was plagued by forebodings, and went to En-dor to consult a spirit medium. Some time previously he had by divine command expelled all such practitioners from the country, since they were the tools of evil spirits (1 Sa 28:3; cf. Lev 20:27; Deut 18:10-14). Now, however, having been forsaken by God and being possessed by an evil spirit, he felt driven to seek the help of these tools of the devil. He asked that Samuel, who had died some time before, be brought up by the medium, so that the prophet, who during the last years of his life had not communicated with Saul, might advise him. The medium claimed to see and old man coming up, and Saul supposed him to be Samuel. The spirit then predicted that Saul would die the next day (1 Sa 28:5-25). See Death. The battle on the following day went against the Israelites, and 3 sons of Saul were killed and Saul was badly wounded. Seeking to avoid capture by his enemies, Saul asked his armour-bearer to kill him. When the man refused, Saul fell upon his sword and ended his own life. Later the Philistines decapitated him and fastened his body and the bodies of his sons on the wall of the city of Beth-shean. They put his armour in their temple of Ashtaroth. However, the citizens of Jabesh, remembering how Saul had saved them from the Ammonites, rescued the mutilated bodies from Beth-shean's wall and gave them an honourable burial at Jabesh (ch 31:1-13).

When the news of Saul's death reached David, he mourned for him and for his friend Jonathan, composing a beautiful elegy (2 Sa 1:17-27). Kingship in Israel had had a poor beginning. Saul had begun his reign as a magnanimous ruler, but his independent spirit drove him into repeated acts of disobedience, which removed him farther and farther from God, and finally brought him to a sad and shameful end.

3. The name by which the apostle Paul is known in the early part of Acts (Acts 7:58; etc.) -- Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary.

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