Saul, Israel's First King

Last week we talked about how Israel demanded a king. The judge system didn’t seem to be working for them, sons were not being as just as their fathers, and they wanted something different—something that seemed to be working for the other nations around them. If you’ll remember, Samuel who was the judge of Israel at the time was not too keen on the idea.

However, God listened to Israel and decided to give them what they want, for good or for ill. He told Samuel that Israel would have a king, and God would pick them man. Then God revealed to Samuel that the chosen man was Saul, a man of the tribe of Benjamin.

Samuel hadn’t yet told the people of Israel that God had decided they would get a king, but when he identified Saul, he told him and anointed him. Samuel then sent Saul on his way home with a prophecy of different signs he would see on his way home. Lo and behold, Saul encountered every single one of those signs.

When Saul got home though it’s important to note that he did not tell a single soul about his destiny. His servant didn’t know—because Samuel had sent him on ahead—and Saul does not tell any of his relatives. He keeps it a secret. Not because Samuel asked him too--Samuel didn’t really say anything on that matter—but for other reasons. Maybe despite everything he still didn’t really believe it? Or maybe he just didn’t want the job. We don’t know. We just know he didn’t tell anyone.

Israel however had not been told yet that they would have a king or that that king would be Saul. Today we’ll see how Samuel breaks this news, how they accept Saul, and what king of start Saul’s monarchy gets off to.

So please turn your Bibles to 1 Samuel 10:17-19.

17 Samuel summoned the people to the Lord at Mizpah 18 and said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ 19 But today you have 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 clans.”

Samuel basically calls a huge meeting of all the Israelites. Not just the elders, but every single person. That would be like the largest church meeting you could ever imagine. Then the first thing he does is lecture them. He reminds them of everything that God has done for them and that be demanding a king they are rejecting God. Because remember it is God who is supposed to be king over Israel. They have rejected this Godly kingship and are demanding a human king. But Samuel tells them that God is going to give them a human king.

Can someone read 1 Samuel 10:20-22?

20 Then Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. 21 He brought the tribe of Benjamin near by its families, and the family of the Matrites was taken by lot. Finally he brought the family of the Matrites near man by man, and Saul the son of Kish was taken by lot. But when they sought him, he could not be found. 22 So they inquired again of the Lord, “Did the man come here?” and the Lord said, “See, he has hidden himself among the baggage.”

Okay so before we get to deep into this what does taken by lot mean. Well let’s demonstrate.

[Hand out slips of paper to everyone. One slip of paper should say something like “KING.” Don’t let them look at the papers at first and then have them all turn them over. Have whoever’s paper says king come forward.]

There you are now the king of all Israel. You were just chosen by lot. Basically lot means lottery, and sort of like choosing the short stick.

Why do this? Why choose king by lot when God already chose the king? [Ask the class, let the student who was chosen sit down.]

Well Samuel already knew God has chosen Saul but the people didn’t know that. And sure Samuel could have just gotten in front of everyone and said “God decried Saul to be king!” But I think Samuel did this so people would see it was clearly God’s will. Lotteries are generally viewed to be about luck, but they would have viewed it as God’s will. Only the man God could have chosen would be the one who gets the slip of paper, or whatever it was that said King! Otherwise they might think it’s Samuel choosing the king, instead of God.

So first Samuel had each tribe take a lot, and that chose the tribe of Benjamin. Then he had every man in Benjamin take one, and then that chose Saul. But did Saul who had had time to think about being king and what that meant, did he gallantly step forward and assume his position as the first king of Israel?

No. He ran away and hid.

This is directly in line with Saul not telling anyone he got the job, and this makes it clear, Saul doesn’t want the job. Now some of the best leaders in history come from people who didn’t want the job. They didn’t want power or wealth. But they still—when push came to shove—did the job. There’s a famous story about one of the early Roman dictators. He was called into duty to be dictator over Rome while they were at war, and then as soon as the war was over he gave up his absolute power—letting Rome go back to being a democracy and then he went back to work his fields. We laud these sorts of stories. However, the difference here is the Roman realized he did need to do the job first. Saul doesn’t want this job at all and he hides—not just from Israel but tries to hide from God—God who gave him this destiny.

But can we hide from God? No. So his hiding is not successful and he is found among the baggage. Let’s see what Israel thinks of this man who would be king, after he hid from them. Can someone read 1 Samuel 10:23-25?

23 Then they ran and brought him from there. When he took his stand among the people, he was head and shoulders taller than any of them. 24 Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the one whom the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.” And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

25 Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship; and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the Lord. Then Samuel sent all the people back to their homes. 

Saul is brought before the people. Once again it’s pointed out how tall Saul is compared to everyone else. Tall and kingly perhaps. However, my commentary when I was reading this section also mentioned that to this point in the Bible the only people who had been mentioned as being tall were enemies of Israel. So perhaps this is foreshadowing that Saul’s kingship will not be quite in Israel’s best interest.

However, Samuel declares Saul king, declares how there is no one like him, and the people seem to accept Saul.

Samuel then lectures everyone on the duties of a king, because remember to this point, Israel hasn’t had a king, and it’s not like they have a constitution or anything. So how would the average person even know what a king should do? Well turns out the Israelites have these whole books of laws that we’ve talked about before, the law in the first five books of the Bible, mostly found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  And turns out there is a whole section on kings! Can someone flip back to Deuteronomy 17:14-20?

14 When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” 15 you may indeed set over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose. One of your own community you may set as king over you; you are not permitted to put a foreigner over you, who is not of your own community. 16 Even so, he must not acquire many horses for himself, or return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses, since the Lord has said to you, “You must never return that way again.” 17 And he must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself. 18 When he has taken the throne of his kingdom, he shall have a copy of this law written for him in the presence of the levitical priests. 19 It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 20 neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, so that he and his descendants may reign long over his kingdom in Israel.

This section starts with talking about the people arriving in the promised land and then demanding a king like all the other nations. That sure does sound familiar doesn’t it? That’s exactly the situation we’re in now, turns out God knew this would happen. And so he was able to set up some limits to royal authority from the beginning. First, he tells them they must choose a king from among Israel, they can’t choose a foreigner. Makes sense, if the person is to be the king of Israel and since Israel is God’s chosen people.

But the section also goes on to say that the king basically shouldn’t hoard wealth for himself. Horses. Wives. Gold. Having much of these things is against the law. And as king, it says, he should also be very familiar with the law, the scripture of God, and read it all the time and learn from it, and realize that he is second to God.

That is the key part here, that the king realize he is no better than any other citizen of Israel and that is too is answerable to God.

As far as laws that are in place to limit authority this isn’t much. The constitution is actually a lot longer when describing presidential power. Those verses we just read are less than 300 words when translated into English. The section of the Constitution describing Presidential Power—Article II—is around 1,000 words. That’s over three times as much. And our constitution is not super detailed on things. It’s a pretty high level document.

God goes even higher level with the kings. Because ultimately it all boils down to one thing: the King should obey the greatest commandment: Deut 6:5, Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind. If the king does that he won’t acquire wealth for himself. He won’t abuse his people. And he will love God. It’s that simple.

And yet as we’ll see it’s very hard. There are many temptations in being king, and almost every single king of Israel will fall prey to at least one of them. Saul, David, Solomon, and all the kings described later, none of them are perfect because they were only human. Some though certainly do a better job than others.

Moving on can someone read 1 Samuel 10:26-27?

26 Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went warriors whose hearts God had touched. 27 But some worthless fellows said, “How can this man save us?” They despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace.

Now Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had been grievously oppressing the Gadites and the Reubenites. He would gouge out the right eye of each of them and would not grant Israel a deliverer. No one was left of the Israelites across the Jordan whose right eye Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had not gouged out. But there were seven thousand men who had escaped from the Ammonites and had entered Jabesh-gilead.

After being declared king Saul goes home. There really isn’t a royal city or a palace or anything like that at this point. He just has his family home he lives in. Some warriors are called by God to go with him, to protect him, sort of like a secret service I imagine as well as being the base for his army. People immediately begin talking smack about Saul. And to be fair, Saul’s hiding in the baggage didn’t exactly start him out on a great foot with everyone.

The Bible indicates Saul knew people were speaking poorly of him, but that he held his peace, i.e. he didn’t do anything about it. Saul probably knew he needed to prove himself—not just to them but to himself. After all this is the man who hid from being king. Saul might secretly on the inside agree with them. How can he save them?

Meanwhile, the Bible switches to telling us about these people called Ammonites. They were oppressing two of the tribes of Israel, Gad and Reuben and they were making people gouge out their right eye, which is weirdly specific and awful. But some men from the oppressed tribes did escape, and get the message of what was happening to the rest of Israel.

Can someone read 1 Samuel 11:5-8?

5 Now Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen; and Saul said, “What is the matter with the people, that they are weeping?” So they told him the message from the inhabitants of Jabesh. 6 And the spirit of God came upon Saul in power when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. 7 He took a yoke of oxen, and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!” Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one. 8 When he mustered them at Bezek, those from Israel were three hundred thousand, and those from Judah seventy thousand.

So Saul is out working his field when he sees a whole bunch of people crying. When he asks they tell him what’s going on in Gad and Rueben. This makes Saul angry! The spirit of God comes over him, and he kills his own oxen. He then sends bit of the oxen all over the kingdom saying, “If you do not come out to help fight this atrocity, then your oxen too will die!”

Why the threat? That doesn’t seem very nice, “come with me or else we will come kill your very valuable animals that you need to survive.” Well remember that before Saul becomes king, Israel was just a coalition of tribes. And this treat of the Ammonites is only against two specific tribes of Israel. Back then, other tribes didn’t always go to the help of each other. Israelites really only rose up in mass to form a national multi tribe army when it was a threat that affected every single tribe. In cases where it affected one or two tribes, the other tribes would just shrug their shoulders and say “eh, that’s their problem.”

God through Saul is trying to form a cohesive nation here. And in this case only the threat works to bring everyone together to fight against the Ammonites. Also note that Saul says “Saul and Samuel” are calling for an army. That’s because Saul’s kingship is so new he’s not sure people will answer just to him. But Samuel is known throughout the land as the prophet of the Lord, and his name carries more authority than Saul’s at this point.

In the end a large army is pulled together.

Can someone read 1 Samuel 11:11-14?

11 The next day Saul put the people in three companies. At the morning watch they came into the camp and cut down the Ammonites until the heat of the day; and those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

12 The people said to Samuel, “Who is it that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Give them to us so that we may put them to death.” 13 But Saul said, “No one shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has brought deliverance to Israel.”

14 Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the Lord, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.

Saul forms his people into three companies—basically three divisions of the army—and then they attack the Ammonites and they win. Those they don’t kill they scatter so they can’t band together and form an army.

It’s a great victory, and Saul’s first real act as king. Everyone is suitably impressed. And someone is like “Hey remember those dudes who doubted Saul would be an awesome king? Let’s put them to death!”

Seems a little extreme and thankfully Saul is like “No let’s not do that. God has delivered us all this day so let’s show mercy to everyone.” Showing mercy is definitely a quality you want in a king.

Now that everyone is impressed by Saul and thinks he’s going to be an awesome king, Samuel is like “Let’s redo this whole making Saul king thing.” So they go and basically re-king Saul, this time without Saul running away and with all the people of Israel thinking he’s an awesome choice.

Someone please read 1 Samuel 13:2-7.

2 Saul chose three thousand out of Israel; two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin; the rest of the people he sent home to their tents. 3 Jonathan defeated the garrison of the Philistines that was at Geba; and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear!” 4 When all Israel heard that Saul had defeated the garrison of the Philistines, and also that Israel had become odious to the Philistines, the people were called out to join Saul at Gilgal.

5 The Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude; they came up and encamped at Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven. 6 When the Israelites saw that they were in distress (for the troops were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns. 7 Some Hebrews crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

During this time there were Philistines still in Israal. They had a garrison—basically an army camp—at a city called Geba. Saul created an army to fight this threat and split them into two. He took most of the army and then gave the rest to Jonathan. We haven’t been properly introduced to Jonathan in the narrative at this point, but for your knowledge he is Saul’s firstborn son. And we’re going t ohave a whole lesson just to steady him later.

So Jonathan takes his smaller group of men and defeats the Philistine garrison at Geba. And the Israelites are ecstatically happy about this. But when the Philistines here about it they are completely enraged and basically call up their whole army in retaliation. Chariots, horsemen, troops so many that they’re compared to the amount of sand on a beach. The Israelites don’t have the numbers to counter this sort of army, so the Israelite army just like disbands and hides, trying to do their best to stay alive in the face of this massive threat.

What’s a king like Saul to do in the face of this? Well he decides to call Samuel—the prophet of God—so Samuel can make a sacrifice to God on their behalf, give the people some hope, and maybe tell him what God wants him to do. All in all it’s not a bad plan.

Someone please read 1 Samuel 13:8-12.

8 He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people began to slip away from Saul. 9 So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the offerings of well-being.” And he offered the burnt offering. 10 As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel arrived; and Saul went out to meet him and salute him. 11 Samuel said, “What have you done?” Saul replied, “When I saw that the people were slipping away from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines were mustering at Michmash, 12 I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down upon me at Gilgal, and I have not entreated the favor of the Lord’; so I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.”

So Saul is waiting and waiting and waiting for Samuel. Apparently Samuel had said he’d be there in seven days, but the people are scarred so the army is just slipping away in the time passing. Finally Saul gets impatient and is basically like “Why do I need a prophet to do the offering? I’ll just do it myself.”

Which he does.

Is Saul a priest? No. Is Saul even a Levite? No! He’s a Benjaminite. It’s his job to study God’s law, to know what it says, and to lead his people, but he is king not priest. And he doesn’t care and just does it anyway.

And like as soon as he’s done it Samuel arrives. Samuel’s not even really late. He said he would be there on the seventh day and he shows up on the seventh day, just later in the day than Saul would have liked.

Saul goes out to great Samuel and Samuel is just like “What on earth have you done?’ And Saul just makes excuses. People were leaving. Samuel was late. The Philistines are coming. HE didn’t have time. So he was *forced*, he says. FORCED with no choice but to do the offering himself.

No choice but to break God’s law and do it himself instead of waiting for God’s prophet.

Do you think Samuel is going to accept this answer? [Let them answer.] Do you think God is going to accept this answer? [Let them answer.] No. Saul has majorly overstepped his bounds as king, he has overstepped the law, and God is not going to let that stand.

Can someone please read 1 Samuel 13:13-15?

13 Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which he commanded you. The Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever, 14 but now your kingdom will not continue; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart; and the Lord has appointed him to be ruler over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” 15 And Samuel left and went on his way from Gilgal. The rest of the people followed Saul to join the army; they went up from Gilgal toward Gibeah of Benjamin.

Samuel yells at Saul, rightfully so. He tells him he has done wrong—he went against God’s commands. He says God would have made his kingdom last forever—not that Saul would live forever but rather that his son would be king after him and his sons son after him. And so on and so forth, and if Saul hadn’t broken this law Jesus might have been descended from Saul instead of David to be king forever, as a descendent of the house of Saul! But no. Saul broke the law, he broke the commandments, and thus his kingdom will not continue.

Samuel tells him that God just wanted a man who would seek after God to be king, and that Saul was clearly not that.

So Samuel leaves Saul here.

Saul still has an army, Saul is still king in the eyes of the people, but he is no longer king in the eyes of Samuel or more importantly God.

Samuel is about to find a new king, an unexpected boy, one who will seek after God. And we’re about to enter a period of not just war with external nations, but a period of Civil War in Israel’s history.

Because a kingdom cannot have two kings.