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Saul

 

Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Saul, meaning "given of God." In the O.T., the first king of Israel, requested by the people and chosen and anoinnted by Samuel, probably about1020 B.C. He was mainly a military leader, fighting against Philistine invasions. His headquarters was at Gibeah. 1 Sam., chs, 9-31; 2 Sam., chs. 1-4; 1 Chron., ch. 10; Isa. 10:29; Acts 13:21.


Harperís Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Saul, a Benjaminite from the mountain village of Gibeah who became Israelís first king. According to biblical tradition Saul was divinely appointed in response to a popular demand for a king, but he was not long in favor with God, who rejected him for disobedience. He spent much of his reign in conflict with David, whom God had chosen as his successor.

The chief reason that Saul became king was probably his prowess as a military leader (cf. 1 Sam. 14:47-48). He seems first to have achieved regional prominence by leading a successful march against Nahash, an Ammonite king who had laid siege to the fortress of Jabesh-gilead (1 Sam. 11). This victory won Saul a base of power extending beyond Benjamin and across the Jordan into Gilead. The summary of his wars in 1 Sam. 14:47-48 also mentions campaigns against Moab, Edom, the Aramean state of Zobah, and Amalek (cf. 1 Sam. 15). Israelís primary enemy at this time, however, was Philistia. Although Saul never achieved any permanent advantage over the Philistines (cf. 1 Sam. 14:52), he did enjoy some success against them, and his kingdom offered the Israelites an alternative to Philistine sovereignty. His son Jonathan attacked the Philistine garrison in Gibeah, provoking an open revolt (1 Sam. 13:3-4). The result was a decisive Israelite victory at Michmash (1 Sam. 14), and the Philistines were temporarily excluded from the central hill country. It is difficult to determine how much territory Saul actually controlled, but it is unlikely that his kingdom extended beyond the central hills and parts of Gilead. The incorporation of Judah and the outlying territories into Israel was probably the achievement of David.

The designation of Israelís first king is the subject of an old folktale underlying 1 Samuel 9-10, where Saul is introduced as the handsome and unusually tall son of a prominent Benjaminite named Kish. One day, while searching for some asses that belonged to his father, he entered a village in the Ephraimite hills to seek the assistance of the local seer. The man turned out to be the prophet Samuel, who anointed his surprised guest as prince, or king-designate, over Israel (1 Sam. 10:1). After this private ceremony Saul was selected in a public lottery and acclaimed king by the people (1 Sam. 10:17-27). His kingship was renewed or confirmed after his victory over the Ammonites (1 Sam. 11:14-15).

The biblical account of the origin of monarchy in Israel reflects a point of view that is suspicious of kingship. The office of king is shown to be subordinate to the divine will as mediated through the office of prophet. Thus we are told that Samuel supervised all the events that brought Saul to the throne. Moreover, when Saul failed to carry out instructions given him by Samuel, he was rejected by God (1 Sam. 13:7-14; 15:10-29), who sent Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint a new king (1 Sam. 16:1-13).

The biblical account of the latter years of Saulís reign (1 Sam. 16:14-31:13) derives for the most part from an old story of Davidís rise to power. Saul serves as a foil, the divinely rejected king in contrast to whom the chosen successor is eulogized. Thus we are told that when David came to the court in Gibeah, he soon surpassed the king in military prowess (cf. 1 Sam. 18:6-7) and won the loyalty of all Israel, including Saulís eldest son, Jonathan (1 Sam. 18:1-4), and his daughter Michal, who became Davidís wife (1 Sam. 18:20-27). Saul, now tormented by Ďan evil spirit from the Lordí (1 Sam. 16:14), became increasingly obsessed with jealousy and suspicion. He persecuted David relentlessly, drove him into hiding in the desert, and even pursued him there. The conflict was not resolved until Saul, defeated in a battle with the Philistines on Mount Gilboa, killed himself by falling on his own sword (1 Sam. 31:4), thus leaving the way open for David to come to the throne.

 

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