|Topical Bible Study||January 1956|
The People of the Bible
Article XII—I Samuel 9-21
Kings Saul and David
KINGS Saul and David are both prominent personalities in the Old Testament. Sufficient is recorded of each to be the basis for a lengthy article, but because many of their experiences were so closely associated, we think it best, to begin with, to consider them together. Saul was the son of Kish. The description of him states that he was “a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.”—I Sam. 9:2
The information we are given concerning David is that he was the youngest son of Jesse, a keeper of his father’s sheep, and that he “was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to.” (I Sam. 16:11,12) Both these men were seemingly well-favored specimens of humanity, but as we trace their activities we can see why the Lord considers it so important to look on the heart of an individual rather than on the outward appearance.—I Sam. 16:7
Saul was the first of Israel’s kings, being anointed to this position by the Prophet Samuel, the last to serve Israel as judge during the period of the judges. The Israelites demanded that they be given a king to rule over them that they might be like the surrounding nations. The Lord yielded to this demand, and Samuel was instructed by the Lord to anoint Saul.
To begin with, Saul seemingly was humble. When he sensed that he had been chosen for some special service he said to Samuel, “Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin?” (I Sam. 9:21) Later Samuel said to Saul, “The Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou … shalt be turned into another man; … for God is with thee.”—ch. 10:6,7
Saul was presented to the people as king at Gilgal. When it was demonstrated that this son of a Benjamite family was the Lord’s choice for king, he was nowhere to be found. “Therefore they inquired of the Lord further, if the man should yet come thither. And the Lord answered, Behold, he bath hid himself among the stuff.” (ch. 10:22) The fact that Saul was keeping out of sight on such an important occasion seems to suggest that he felt insufficient for the task assigned to him. However, since the Spirit of God had come upon him, and he had received various evidences of God’s direction in his choice (see chapters 9 and 10), it may be that his hiding “among the stuff” revealed a lack of faith in God and in the Lord’s ability to help him.
But the people showed no hesitancy. Presenting Saul to them as their king, Samuel said, “See ye him whom the Lord hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people? And “the people shouted, and said, God save the king.” (ch. 10:24) Then “Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house. And Saul also went home to Gibeah; and there went with him a band of men, whose hearts God had touched.”—vss. 25,26
Saul did not at once exercise his authority as king of Israel. But, when Nahash, the Ammonite, “came up, and encamped against Jabesh-gilead” and threatened to “thrust out” the “right eyes” of the Israelites, the “Spirit of God came upon Saul, … and his anger was kindled greatly,” and, taking command of an army which he quickly raised, he defeated the Ammonites.—ch. 11:1,2,6
Perhaps one reason Saul had not asserted himself prior to this is that “the children of Belial said, How shall this man save us? And they despised him, and brought him no presents.” (ch. 10:27) But now that he had delivered the Israelites from the oppressive hands of the Ammonites “the people said unto Samuel, Who is he that said, Shall Saul reign over us? bring the men, that we may put them to death.”—ch. 11:12
But Saul did not agree to this. He said, “There shall not a man be put to death this day: for today the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel.” (vs. 13) “Then said Samuel to the people, Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there. And all the people went to Gilgal; and they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal; and there they sacrificed sacrifices of peace offerings before the Lord; and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.”—vss. 14,15
The rejoicing of the people under the rulership of Saul was not destined to continue long. After he had reigned two years he chose three thousand men, two thousand of which he kept under his own direct command, and one thousand were delegated to the command of Jonathan, his favorite son. Jonathan, young and ambitious, “smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it.”—ch. 13:1-3
Saul realized that this would stir up the animosity of all the Philistines against the Israelites, so he began to muster an army of defense. The men were summoned to Gilgal, and seemingly Saul had arranged with the aged Samuel to meet them there to offer sacrifice on behalf of Israel, thus to assure that the Lord would be with them in the coming battle against the Philistines.
But Samuel did not arrive within the time agreed upon, so Saul offered the sacrifice himself. This was exceeding his jurisdiction, and was contrary to the arrangements of the Lord, and Samuel said to him, “Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee: for now [had you been faithful] would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel forever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee.”—ch. 13:13,14
Samuel here spoke prophetically of David, whom later he anointed to be Saul’s successor as king of Israel. It is noteworthy that from Saul’s first transgression against the commandment of the Lord, he was rejected. In this respect no mercy, no second opportunity, was given to him. Later, when Saul again disobeyed the Lord, his rejection was reaffirmed.
This was when he was commanded to go “and smite Amalek.” He was instructed to “destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” (ch. 15:2,3) The Lord in his wisdom knew that it would be best for the Amalekites if they were all put to sleep in death until the time came for them to be awakened and given an opportunity to be enlightened and to enjoy the blessings of the messianic kingdom.
Saul was victorious in his battle against the Amalekites, and had it within his power fully to carry out the Lord’s instruction. But he did not do so. He spared the king, Agag, and “the best of the sheep and the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but everything that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.”—vss. 8,9
The Lord then made it known to Samuel that Saul had again disobeyed, and he went to the king at Gilgal, where, when Saul met him he said, “Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” (vs. 13) Here he sinned again by attempting to misrepresent the facts to Samuel.
But Samuel said, “What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” (vs. 14) Saul explained that the people had saved the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord, but all the rest had been destroyed. Saul contended that it was the people who had spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, as though he was not personally responsible for this failure to obey the Lord’s instructions.
Then Samuel reminded Saul of the time he was anointed king over Israel—“when thou wast little in thine own sight” (vs. 17) Saul’s exaltation had, as the expression is often used today, “gone to his head.” He now imagined that he was wiser than the aged Prophet Samuel who had given him the instructions of the Lord concerning the Amalekites.
Throughout the ages, many who have started out humbly in the service of the Lord have similarly been affected by a measure of prominence with which they may have been favored by the Lord. Such proudness of heart manifests itself in various ways, and not infrequently by a tendency to be overcritical of others, and the assuming of superior judgment in matters pertaining to the service of the Lord and his people. Saul thought that his way of serving the Lord was superior to Samuel’s. It seemed obvious to him that the Lord would be pleased to have sacrifices offered to him. But he was mistaken. Samuel said to him, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.”—vss. 22,23
No Mercy Shown
Saul acknowledged his sin, and asked for pardon. “Pardon my sin,” he asked of Samuel, “and turn again with me, that I may worship the Lord. And Samuel said unto Saul, I will not return with thee: for thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel.” (vss. 25,26) Samuel had, as we have seen, previously told Saul that the Lord had rejected him, and now Saul himself had sealed this rejection by his further flagrant violation of the Lord’s command. No mercy was shown to him so far as his kingship was concerned, although we are glad that this will not deprive him of an opportunity to gain everlasting life under the laws of Christ’s kingdom, when as one of the “unjust” he will be awakened from the sleep of death.—Acts 24:14,15
Following this final and complete rejection of Saul as the rightful king of Israel, God instructed Samuel to anoint another to take his place. This was David, the son of Jesse, of Bethlehem. He was the one Samuel had prophetically referred to as a man after God’s own heart.—I Sam. 16:1-13; 13:14; Acts 13:22
Although David was now anointed to be king of Israel, he did not assume the rulership of the nation until the death of Saul. Meanwhile, the lives of these two men were frequently and dramatically brought into close contact. Saul’s first acquaintance with the newly anointed king was when he was taken into the royal palace as a harp player, Saul, of course, being unaware of David’s anointing.
The record states that when the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, an “evil spirit from the Lord troubled [margin, ‘terrified] him.” (ch. 16:14) His servants recommended that they find a good harp player who by his sweet and soft music could soothe the king’s nerves. He consented, and David was the one selected. “Wherefore Saul sent messengers unto Jesse, and said, Send me David thy son, which is with the sheep.” (vs 19) In harmony with this request Jesse sent David to Saul, who was greatly pleased with the young man. The account says that Saul “loved him greatly.” (vss. 20,21) In addition to playing the harp for the king during his spells of nervousness, David became his armor-bearer.
But Saul’s love for David was not to continue very long. It was not a time of peace in Israel, for now the Philistines “gathered together their armies to battle,” and it was necessary for the Israelites to do the best they could to defend themselves. To make the situation worse, the Philistines sent out a giant to challenge the Israelites, a man “whose height was six cubits and a span.”—ch. 17:4
This heavily armed giant “stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us. And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.”—vss. 8-10
When the Israelites heard these words, they were greatly dismayed, including Saul. Three of David’s brothers were in Saul’s army, but David had returned home to care for his father’s sheep. For forty days the Philistine giant appeared and hurled his defiance to Israel’s army, and David learned about the situation when, in response to his father’s request, he had taken a supply of cheese to the officers of Israel’s army, and inquired concerning the welfare of his brothers.
David, brave and confident, volunteered to meet the giant in battle, much to the dismay of Saul and others. It was his defeat of the Philistine giant that brought him into prominence before the people and kindled the murderous jealousy of Saul against him. However, it is in David’s encounter with the giant that we begin to see why he was considered a man after God’s own heart.
When David revealed his determination to accept the challenge of the giant, Saul insisted that he wear his armor, but the young shepherd boy declined because he had not proved it. He chose instead “five smooth stones out of the brook,” deciding that he would rely on his slingshot to slay Israel’s enemy. “And the Philistine came on and drew near unto David; … he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance. And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? and the Philistine cursed David by his gods.”—ch. 17:40-43
Then David answered, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee.” (vss. 45,46) Here David’s true character is revealed. He had faith that God would give him victory over the giant, and in advance of that coming victory, he hastened to give the glory to the Lord.
David was victorious. The giant was slain. This destroyed the morale of the Philistine army and they were easily put to rout, and thus was Israel delivered from the oppressive hand of their enemy. But in the minds of the Israelites David was given the credit for this defeat. Soon, and in appreciation, the women were shouting that while Saul had slain his thousands, David had slain his ten thousands. (ch. 18:7) This was more than Saul could bear.
David was brought back into the household of Saul. He was given Saul’s daughter Michal, who loved the young hero. Saul’s son, Jonathan, also greatly loved David. The record is that the “soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”—ch. 18:1
But it was different with Saul. The record is that he was “afraid of David, because the Lord was with him, and was departed from Saul.” (vss. 12,15) So this wicked king determined in his heart that David must die. He attempted to murder him with his javelin, but failed. Then he endeavored to prevail upon both Jonathan and Michal to work with him to bring about David’s death. Instead, they used their knowledge of their father’s intention to save David and enable him to escape.
For a time, seemingly, Jonathan persuaded Saul not to press his anger against David, but to let him live. Saul agreed. But soon “there was war again: and David went out, and fought with the Philistines, and slew them with a great slaughter: and they fled from him. And the evil spirit from the Lord was upon Saul.” (ch. 19:8,9) So again he endeavored to murder the shepherd boy, but failed.
Saul’s heart attitude toward David had not changed. In his jealousy he could not bear to see David praised for his victories over Israel’s enemies. The statement that an “evil spirit from the Lord” came upon Saul should not be understood to mean that God directly filled his heart with evil. Rather, the Lord knew Saul’s heart condition, and he simply permitted circumstances to arise which would cause the wicked and rejected king to manifest his true disposition so the people might know why the Lord had rejected him from being king, and why David had been anointed to succeed him. The people did not immediately know this, but the Lord knew that later they would understand.
Jonathan and David
A very deep friendship developed between Jonathan and David, a friendship which more than once cost Jonathan the ill will of his father, Saul. When, through the advice and assistance of Michal, Saul’s daughter, who had become David’s wife, he escaped from the murderous designs of his father-in-law, he sought out the aged Samuel, and related his trials to him.—ch. 19:11-18
But Samuel made no attempt to enter into the controversy, and realizing that Saul was still plotting against him, David sought out Jonathan at Ramah. Jonathan endeavored to reassure David on the ground that his father would do nothing unless he revealed his plans to him. David was not too sure of this. However, he followed Jonathan’s advice, who aided him in again escaping the wrath of Saul.—ch. 20
Jonathan said to David, as they separated, “Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, The Lord be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed forever.” (ch. 20:42) After this David was for some time hunted by Saul, who did all he could to find and kill him. On two occasions Saul, while sleeping, was at the mercy of David, but his life was spared. David looked upon Saul as the Lord’s anointed, so would not take the responsibility himself of destroying him, even though it would mean safety for himself.
In this as in other matters, David took the Lord into consideration. Saul, to the contrary, even when knowing the will of God, did not hesitate to go contrary thereto. It was for this reason that he kingdom of Israel was wrested from him, and after his death, given to David. But David’s waiting for the Lord’s due time was a severe test upon him, especially since all the while his life was in danger from the angry Saul.
The Witch of Endor
Saul continued his course of disobedience to the Lord right to the end of his career, his last sin being to consult a witch concerning an impending battle with the Philistines. (See I Samuel 28:3-20) The Philistines had again assembled their armies to fight against Israel, and Saul “gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa. And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.”—vss. 4-6
“Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” (vs. 7) As if to emphasize Saul’s willful sin in this matter, the narrative is introduced by the information that “Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land.” (vs. 3) He knew that this ancient form of spiritualism was condemned by the Lord, and in this respect had endeavored to carry out the Lord’s will.
But when Saul realized that the Lord would no longer communicate with him, either directly or indirectly, he turned away from the Lord to seek information through a channel which he knew was under divine condemnation. In doing this, however, it was not with any thought of ascertaining the Lord’s will, but simply of learning, if he could, how he would fare in the impending battle with the Philistines.
Saul, in compliance with his request, was taken to a witch—the witch of Endor. He disguised himself for he knew that the witch would be afraid and would not co-operate if she realized that the king of Israel, who had placed a ban upon her activities, was in her presence.
Then she asked him whom she should “bring up” to him, and he said, “Bring me up Samuel.” (vs. 11) Samuel had died, but for some time before his death he had not communicated with Saul concerning the will of the Lord. He knew that God had withdrawn his favor from the wicked king, so withheld his own services from him.
But Saul, in his fear and wickedness, was easily deceived. The witch discovered that it was Saul who was in her presence, and assumed that she had been tricked. But Saul assured her that she would not be harmed, and then she described an old man whom she said had ascended “out of the earth.” “And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself.”—vs. 14
Then Saul heard a voice speaking to him, which he supposed to be Samuel’s The “voice” reiterated Saul’s rejection by the Lord, and predicted defeat of the Israelites by the Philistines, adding, “Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me.” (vs. 19) Saul understood this to be a prophecy of his death, and he was “sore afraid.”—vs. 20
Those who believe that humans have “immortal souls” which continue to live after the body dies are prone to use this narrative in an attempt to prove their error. They claim it proves that Samuel was not really dead, else he could not have been called up by the witch. But a close examination of the account leaves much to be desired in the way of proof that righteous souls, such as Samuel’s truly must have been, go to heaven when the body dies.
For example, the record states that the supposed Samuel came up out of the earth. So far as we know there is no one who believes that righteous souls go into the earth when the body dies. Again, the “voice” predicted that Saul and his sons would be with Samuel the next day, meaning that they would be killed. This would mean that the righteous and the wicked live together after death, which is also contrary to the popular belief on this subject.
The true explanation of this episode in the life of the wicked King Saul is that evil spirits (“fallen angels”) impersonated the dead Samuel, deceiving both the witch and Saul. Actually, the “voice” which spoke to Saul gave him no information which he did not already possess. He knew that he had been rejected by the Lord, and he realized also that with the mighty armies of the Philistines closing in around him, he was sure to lose his life. That is why he had gone to the witch. He had hoped against hope that he would be told something he could do that would result in a restoration of the Lord’s favor, and with Lord’s help, the Philistines might yet be defeated.
But he was disappointed. Neither the witch, nor the evil spirits with whom she worked, could change matters. All they could do was to reaffirm his fears. But even so, the “voice” was inaccurate in predicting the time of the king’s death. He was not killed the next day, but several days later.*
* See the booklet, “Spiritualism,” for a full explanation of the “fallen angels” part in this experience.
A detailed account of Saul’s death is presented in I Chronicles, chapter 10, verses 1-7. Jonathan and his other sons were slain first. Then Saul was wounded. Fearing what the Philistine soldiers might do to him should they find him in a weakened and helpless condition, he asked his armor bearer to kill him, but he refused. Then Saul fell upon his own sword, killing himself. Thus came to an inglorious end this first king of Israel, who, to begin with, was little in his own eyes, but became proud, disobeyed the Lord, and died an outcast from divine favor.
After Saul’s death, David became one of Israel’s most beloved kings. Next month we will discuss some of the important aspects of his reign, and the manner in which they reflect the character of this man of God—also the typical features of the “throne of David.”