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Israel's First Human King
by Wayne Blank
Saul was chosen the first king of Israel after the sons, and potential successors, of the high priest Samuel were rejected by the people as corrupt (1 Samuel 8:1-9). God permitted the establishment of the monarchy, but in speaking to Samuel, The Lord said of it:
"Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. According to all the deeds which they have done to Me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking Me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, hearken to their voice; only, you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them." (1 Samuel 8:7-9 RSV)
After being selected by God (1 Samuel 9:15-17), Saul was secretly anointed by Samuel (1 Samuel 10:1) before being publicly chosen by lot:
"Now Samuel called the people together to The Lord at Mizpah; and he said to the people of Israel, "Thus says The Lord, the God of Israel, 'I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.' But you have this day rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses; and you have said, 'No! but set a king over us.' Now therefore present yourselves before The Lord by your tribes and by your thousands."
Saul's kingship was firmly established upon his victory at Jabesh-Gilead, after which he was proclaimed king at Gilgal (1 Samuel 11:1-15). Following initial successes, Saul soon began making a series of very serious blunders, beginning with the offering of a sacrifice, which was to be performed only by the priests (1 Samuel 13:9-12) (see Levites). It was this foolish and presumptuous disobedience to God that cost him the kingship, which would later be taken over by King David:
"And Samuel said to Saul, "You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of The Lord your God, which He commanded you; for now The Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel for ever. But now your kingdom shall not continue; The Lord has sought out a man after His own heart; and The Lord has appointed him to be prince over His people, because you have not kept what The Lord commanded you." (1 Samuel 13:13-14 RSV)
Saul's behavior then further degenerated from unwise to outright insane, including ordering his military forces to go without food until they had defeated the enemy, and attempting to have his own victorious son Jonathan executed for disregarding the foolish order (1 Samuel 14:24-45). Saul's continued bizarre behavior and disregard of God's instructions resulted in the kingship being taken from him and transferred to David:
"The Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for Myself a king among his sons." (1 Samuel 16:1 RSV)
Saul remained king for the time needed for the youthful David to prepare and mature. It was during this period that the incident between David And Goliath occurred (1 Samuel 17:1-58), after which David served the king in his palace, becoming a very good friend of Saul's son Jonathan. Saul's jealousy at the sight of David's military success and popularity with the people resulted Saul's trying to murder David with a spear while he was playing the harp (1 Samuel 19:9-10) (in illustration), after which David became a fugitive from the king.
In yet another failure in judgment and obedience to God, Saul consulted the witch of Endor (see Witches And Sorcerers) in which his doom was predicted by an apparent appearance by the dead Samuel (1 Samuel 28:4-25). Saul died during a battle with the Philistines the very next day (1 Samuel 31:1-13).
Fact Finder: Did Saul actually die from the battle, or did he commit suicide after being wounded?