SynopsisI won’t be covering this chapter in the order presented in the text, but that shouldn’t matter, because anyone who comes here should be reading the passage first, before reading this blog, right? Right???
After Saul’s victory in 11:1–11, he sends all of the troops home, except for three thousand. He keeps two thousand of them with himself, at Micmash, and the other thousand he sends with a man named Jonathan, at Gibeah.
With his thousand troops, Jonathan attacks a Philistine outpost. Saul then sends word throughout Israel, telling them that the Israelites have now become “a stench to the Philistines” (verse 4), and summoning them to join him at Gilgal, to fight them. Saul also makes arrangements with Samuel to join him there, in seven days, so that Samuel can offer a burnt offering to the LORD.
However, the Israelites aren’t the only ones gathering together for war. The Philistines gather together three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and “soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (verse 5). (Actually, the footnote for verse five says that some manuscripts say “thirty thousand” chariots, instead of “three thousand,” but I’m guessing that three thousand is probably correct; it wouldn’t make sense to have thirty thousand chariots and only six thousand charioteers…)
Faced with this massive Philistine army, the Israelites start to get scared. Did I say scared?
When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. (verse 6)
Some even cross the border into another country to hide, and the rest who remain with Saul are “quaking with fear” (verse 7). This worries Saul; he’s losing his troops, and although the seven alloted days have passed, Samuel hasn’t yet arrived to sacrifice the burnt offering, meaning that Saul hasn’t yet sought the LORD’s favour.
So Saul takes matters into his own hands, and sacrifices the burnt offering and fellowship offerings. Just as he finishes, however, Samuel arrives, so Saul goes out to greet him.
“What have you done?” asked Samuel.
Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”
Samuel tells Saul that he has acted “foolishly” (verse 13), and that by offering the sacrifices himself, instead of waiting for Samuel so that a priest could do it, he has not kept the LORD’s command. And the consequences are severe: If Saul had kept the LORD’s command, He would have made Saul’s kingship permanent, for all time, but because he hasn’t, God has sought out another man to replace Saul—someone who is after God’s own heart. Samuel then leaves Saul and goes back to his home, and Saul counts the number of men he has left, to fight the Philistines: six hundred.
But, even with Saul’s failure, and Samuel’s prophecy that the LORD has chosen another man—closer to His heart—to be Israel’s king, verse 1 tells us that Saul still ends up reigning over Israel for forty-two years. Or… maybe not. See the Thoughts section below, as there seems to be some confusion.
ThoughtsThis is finally the chapter I’ve been waiting for; all along, while reading I Samuel, I’ve been waiting for the chapter in which Saul messes up, and loses the LORD’s favour. It will probably be easier to read the rest of the book, since I won’t have it lingering in the back of my mind anymore.
This chapter also introduces a man named Jonathan. We’ll read a lot more about Jonathan in upcoming chapters. In fact, he and David will become good friends, if I remember correctly.
Note that God tells Saul (through Samuel), that He has already chosen a new king for Israel. He is, of course, an all-knowing God, so it’s not like He was surprised by Saul’s sin. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that His choosing of Saul in the first place was to be a lesson to Israel; they wanted a king for the wrong reasons—to be like the other nations—and He gave them a king that met their qualifications, rather than His. But the next king that He gives Israel will be a man after His own heart, and it will make all the difference.
As mentioned above, the NIV text says that Saul reigned for forty-two years, however, the footnote indicates that this isn’t quite clear. From what I can gather, the text of verse 1 in the Hebrew manuscripts is something like the ESV translation:
Saul was … years old when he began to reign, and he reigned … and two years over Israel. (verse 1, ESV)
That is, the numbers are missing. In the NIV and the NASB, this is translated that Saul was thirty years old when he began to reign, and that he reigned for forty-two years. In the KJV and the NKJV it’s translated completely differently:
As shown, the ESV simply skips the issue altogether, and leaves in the blanks, with footnotes indicating that Saul’s age is “lacking” in the manuscripts, and that for his reign, “Two may not be the entire number; something may have dropped out.”
So it’s not really quite clear, from verse 1, how long Saul actually reigned. And, to add to this confusion, we have Acts 13:21, which—in all five of the translations mentioned above—says that Saul reigned for forty years. So I don’t know how long Saul reigned. But it was for a long time—I think the KJV and NKJV gave up a little too easily on the missing numbers—because he continued to reign for a long time, even after God appointed David to be king.