A. The Philistine threat.
1. (1-2) Saul assembles Israel’s first standing army.
Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel, Saul chose for himself three thousand men of Israel. Two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and in the mountains of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin. The rest of the people he sent away, every man to his tent.
a. Saul chose for himself three thousand men of Israel: This was the first “regular” army for Israel. Previously, Israel only had a militia that assembled in times of national threat. Now, for the first time, Israel has a professional army.
b. A thousand were with Jonathan: This is the first mention of Saul’s son Jonathan. He will be become a prominent, and wonderful, part of this book of 1 Samuel.
i. “This is the first place in which this brave and excellent man appears; a man who bears one of the most amiable characters in the Bible.” (Clarke)
2. (3-4) Jonathan initiates conflict with the Philistines.
And Jonathan attacked the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. Then Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear!” Now all Israel heard it said that Saul had attacked a garrison of the Philistines, and that Israel had also become an abomination to the Philistines. And the people were called together to Saul at Gilgal.
a. Jonathan attacked the garrison of the Philistines: Jonathan was a remarkable military leader. He repeatedly demonstrated the ability to lead a successful attack. Yet this attack merely wakened the Philistines. Israel had enjoyed the “peace” of subjected people: everything will be fine as long as you take your place of subjugation. Through this attack, Jonathan proclaimed, “We won’t take our place any longer.”
i. It clearly says, Israel had become an abomination to the Philistines. As long as the Israelites stayed in their weak, defeated “place,” the Philistines thought they were great guys. But as soon as the Israelites show some boldness in the Lord, and are willing to battle against the Lord’s enemies, the Philistines consider the Israelites an abomination!
ii. The same principle is true spiritually in our lives. We don’t war against armies of Philistines; our enemies are principalities . . . powers . . . the rulers of the darkness of this age . . . spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). But our spiritual enemies have the same attitude as the Philistines. As long as we are weak and subjected to our spiritual enemies, they don’t mind us at all. They may even kind of like us. But as soon as we show some boldness in the Lord, and are willing to battle against the Lord’s enemies, our spiritual foes consider us an abomination! If peace with devil is more important to you than victory in the Lord, you will often be defeated and subjected.
b. In Geba: Archaeologists have found this Philistine fortress at Geba (also known as Gibeah). The archaeological evidence shows that it was destroyed but then later rebuilt by Saul, and then became his palace and fortress.
c. All Israel heard it said that Saul had attacked a garrison of the Philistines: Plainly, Saul is taking the credit for Jonathan’s bold attack on the garrison of the Philistines. This is a bad sign in the heart and character of Saul. His own sense of insecurity will not allow any of his associates (even his own son!) receive credit. He needs to drink in the praise like a thirsty man drinks water.
d. And the people were called together to Saul at Gilgal: King Saul gathers the nation together at Gilgal to prepare for battle against the Philistines.
3. (5-7) The Philistines prepare their army.
Then the Philistines gathered together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the seashore in multitude. And they came up and encamped in Michmash, to the east of Beth Aven. When the men of Israel saw that they were in danger (for the people were distressed), then the people hid in caves, in thickets, in rocks, in holes, and in pits. And some of the Hebrews crossed over the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. As for Saul, he was still in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.
a. Thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the seashore in multitude: The Philistines, angered by the Israelites, gather a huge army to crush their rebellious servants.
i. Thirty thousand chariots is a huge number, and many people have doubted the accuracy of this number. “This number seems incredible to infidels; to whom it may be sufficient to reply, that it is far more rational to acknowledged a mistake in him that copied out the sacred text in such numeral or historical passages, wherein the doctrine of faith and good life in not directly concerned, than upon such a pretense to question the truth and divinity of the Holy Scriptures, which are so fully attested, and evidently demonstrated. And the mistake is not great in the Hebrew, schalosh for shelishim; and so indeed those two ancient translators, the Syriac and Arabic, translate it, and are supposed to have read in their Hebrew copies, three thousand.” (Poole)
b. When the men of Israel saw that they were in danger: Jonathan had been bold enough to launch the initial attack against the Philistines. But the men of Israel are not bold enough to now stand strong against their enemy. In great fear (the people were distressed) they hide anywhere they can (in caves, in thickets, in rocks, in holes, and in pits) or they flee across the Jordan River (to the land of Gad and Gilead). This is a low point for Israel!
i. Probably, many of them had thought “What we really need is a king. A king would solve our problems.” Now they have a king and the problems are still there. We often think things will “fix” problems when they won’t at all. “And hereby God intended to teach them the vanity of all carnal confidence in men; and that they did not one jot less need the help and favour of God now than they did before, when they had no king.” (Poole)
c. As for Saul, he was still in Gilgal: Saul’s position as king had been confirmed at Gilgal (1 Samuel 11:15). He is still there, many months later (1 Samuel 13:1). It may be that Saul wanted to keep living the glorious day when Samuel recognized and confirmed him as king before the entire nation. But now, since he is king, the men of Israel are expecting greater things from him.
d. The people followed him trembling: They still honored Saul as king, but they are really frightened! It must be better to have trembling followers than no followers at all, but how much better if Israel would have really trusted the Lord here!
B. Saul’s unlawful sacrifice.
1. (8-9) Saul offers the burnt offering.
Then he waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. So Saul said, “Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.” And he offered the burnt offering.
a. He waited seven days: Saul had been in Gilgal for many months. In the press of the current crisis, every day now took on much more importance. He knew the Philistines were assembling a huge army against him, and that once they were organized they would be much harder to beat. Saul probably felt that a quick response gave them the best chance to win the battle.
b. According to the time set by Samuel: Samuel had told Saul to wait for him at Gilgal. Then Samuel would preside over sacrifices, and Israel would be spiritually prepared for battle.
c. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him: This added to Saul’s anxiety. First, the waiting for Samuel was stressful, because he felt time was his enemy. Second, the people were scattered from him, feeling that the battle wouldn’t be fought and that the plan wasn’t working out.
i. We might just imagine that in the early part of the week, Saul explained his thinking in a pep talk to the troops: “Men, we’re going into battle against the Philistines. They have more men, more chariots, more horses, and better swords and spears than we have.” So we have to trust God and make a quick attack before they can get organized. Soon Samuel will come and lead us in sacrifice before God. Then we’ll go out and whip the Philistines!” But it didn’t happen like that. The days dragged on, and Samuel hadn’t come yet. The troops were losing confidence in Saul as a leader, and beginning to scatter. Saul felt he was in a lot of trouble!
d. And he offered the burnt offering: This was plainly sinful. First, Saul plainly disobeyed Samuel. Second, Saul was a king, not a priest, and only priests were to offer sacrifices. Saul had no business doing what only a priest should do.
i. History shows how dangerous it is to combine religious and civic authority and God would not allow the kings of Israel to be priests and the priests to be kings. In 2 Chronicles 26, king Uzziah tried to do the work of priest and God struck him with leprosy.
ii. Clearly, out of fear, out of panic, out of not knowing what else to do, Saul does something sinful. “If Saul was among the prophets before, will he now be among the priests? Can there be any devotion in disobedience? O vain man! What can it avail to sacrifice to God, against God?” (Trapp)
2. (10-12) Samuel arrives and Saul tries to explain what he has done.
Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him. And Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.”
a. As soon as he finished offering the burnt offering: Saul decided to perform the sacrifice not more than an hour before Samuel arrived! If he would have trusted God and waited one more hour, how different things could have been! The last moments of waiting are usually the most difficult, and tempt us most to take matters into our own hands.
b. Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him: Saul is really overstepping his bounds now. Literally, the Hebrew says that Saul wanted to bless Samuel - perhaps as a priest blesses someone! Now Saul really sees himself as a priest!
i. In wanting to bless Samuel, Saul may also be trying to show Samuel how spiritual he is. He is like a child who gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and then says to mom, “Let’s pray!”
c. Samuel said, “What have you done?” Samuel knew Saul had done something wrong. He could probably smell the sacrifice in the air! But Samuel was not looking for reasons or excuses. There were no valid reasons or excuses. All Samuel wanted to hear was confession and repentance.
d. And Saul said: Saul’s response is a classic example of excuse making and failure to trust God.
i. I saw that the people were scattered from me: “I had to do something to impress the people, and gain their support back.” But if Saul would have obeyed and trusted God, God would have seen him to victory over the Philistines with or without the people. It is true, that many of the Israelites may have admired Saul for offering the sacrifice. “My, there’s a man of action! He gets things done! I never understood why the priests were so special anyway.” But Saul could have great numbers in all the polling data, and if God were not with him, it would all crumble. He should have been more concerned with pleasing God instead of pleasing the people.
ii. You did not come within the days appointed: “You see Samuel, it was really your fault. If you would have come earlier, I wouldn’t have needed to do this.” But if Saul would have obeyed and trusted God, God would take care of Samuel and the timing. Even if Samuel was totally in the wrong, it didn’t justify Saul’s sin. We often try to blame our sin on someone else.
iii. The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord: “We really needed God’s help against the Philistines, and we needed it now, so I had to do it.” But if Saul would have obeyed and trusted God, the Lord would take care of the Philistines. Saul could have made supplication to the Lord in any number of ways. He could have cried out the Lord for the whole nation with a humble heart, but instead he did the one thing he must not do: offer a sacrifice.
iv. Therefore I felt compelled: “I had to. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I couldn’t wait any longer.” Even though Saul felt compelled, he was not supposed to be ruled by his feelings. He didn’t have to sin, though he felt like it.
d. The whole manner of Saul’s explanation makes it clear that this was no misunderstanding. He didn’t say to Samuel, “Did I do something wrong?” He knew exactly what he was doing, and probably had thought of the excuses ahead of time.
3. (13-14) Samuel proclaims God’s judgment upon Saul’s household.
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 forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
a. You have done foolishly: This is a stronger phrase than we might think. Samuel is not saying that Saul is unintelligent or silly; the Bible speaks of the fool as someone morally and spiritually lacking.
b. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you: Despite all the excuses, all the reasons, all the blaming of someone else, the bottom line is still the bottom line. Samuel puts it plainly: you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God. God commanded you to do something, and you did the opposite.
i. Can not the same be said of all us? You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. Yet there is forgiveness with God, but it is given to the humble heart. It has yet to be seen if Saul will humble himself before God and seek forgiveness and restoration.
c. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever: The whole point in being a king was to establish a dynasty, where one’s sons would sit on the throne afterwards. God tells Saul that his descendants will not reign after him. Though he is a king, he will not establish the monarchy in Israel.
d. But now your kingdom shall not continue: We might have expected that Saul would be “impeached” as king right then and there. After all, Samuel uses the word “now.” But Saul will actually reign another 20 years. He will still be on the throne as a king, but it will never be the same, because the end of his kingdom is certain.
i. Was this an over-reaction to what some might think was a rather small sin? “To disobey God in the smallest matter is sin enough: there can be no sin little, because there is no little God to sin against.” (Trapp)
ii. “Men see nothing but Saul’s outward act, which seems small; but God saw with how wicked a mind and heart he did this; with what rebellion against the light of his own conscience, as his own words imply; with what gross infidelity and distrust of God’s providence; with what contempt of God’s authority, and justice, and many other wicked principles and motions of his heart, unknown to men. Besides, God clearly saw all that wickedness that yet lay hid in his heart, and foresaw al his other crimes; and there had far more grounds for his sentence against him than we can imagine.” (Poole)
iii. Because the actual judgment for this sin was so far off, we should regard Samuel’s pronouncement of judgment as an invitation to repentance. Many times, when God announces judgment, He will relent if His people repent. “Though God threaten Saul with the loss of his kingdom for this sin, yet it is not improbable that there was a tacit condition implied, as is usual in such cases . . . to wit, if he did not heartily repent of this and of all his sins.” (Poole)
e. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people: Though God has rejected Saul, He has not rejected Israel. Because God loves Israel, he will raise up a king, a man after His own heart.
i. Saul was a man after Israel’s heart. He was all about image and prestige and the things men look at. But God will now give Israel a man after His own heart, and raise that man up to be king.
ii. It would be easy to say that the kingdom was taken from Saul because of his sin. And on one level, that was certainly the case. But it was more than that. After all, didn’t David sin also? Yet God never took the kingdom from David and his descendants. Because the issue was bigger than an incident of sin, the issue was being a man after God’s own heart.
iii. “As for David, though he was not without his failings, - and those foul ones too, some of them, - yet for the main, his heart was upright, not rotten, as Saul’s was.” (Trapp)
f. What then does it mean to be a man after His own heart? We can discover this by looking at the man who was not a man after His own heart and comparing him to the man who was a man after His own heart.
i. A man after God’s heart honors the Lord. Saul was more concerned with his will than God’s will. David was a man after God’s heart in the way that he knew God’s will was most important. Even when David didn’t do God’s will, he still knew God’s will was more important than his own was. All sin is a disregard of God, but David sinned more out of weakness and Saul more out of a disregard for God.
ii. A man after God’s heart enthrones God as king. For Saul, Saul was king. For David, the Lord God was king. Both David and Saul would have thought sacrifice important before the battle. But David thought it was important because it pleased and honored God. Saul thought it was important because it might help him win a battle. For Saul, God would help him achieve his goals. For David, God Himself was the goal.
iii. A man after God’s heart has a soft, repentant heart. When Saul was confronted with his sin, he offered excuses. When David was confronted with his sin, he simply said I have sinned against the Lord (2 Samuel 12:13).
iv. A man after God’s heart loves other people. Saul became increasingly bitter against people and lived more and more unto himself. David was a man after God’s own heart in the way that he loved people. When David was down and out, he still loved and served those who were even more down and out than himself (1 Samuel 22:1-2).
g. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart: God was looking for this kind of man, and God found this man in an unlikely place. In fact, at this time, he wasn’t a man at all! God is still looking for men and women after His own heart.
i. When we think of a man after His own heart, many of us think that this is a title reserved for a few “super-spiritual” folks. It isn’t for us. We want these kinds of people around us, but we never think we can be one of them. We aren’t spiritual enough. But look at David: a warrior who killed hundreds of men with his own hands, a fugitive, a traitor, a man who had seasons of backsliding, an adulterer, a murderer. Yet he could be called a man after His own heart. If David can have our sins, then we can have his heart. We can love God and pursue Him with the kind of focus and heart David had.
C. The Philistine threat.
1. (15-18) The Philistines begin their raids.
Then Samuel arose and went up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people present with him, about six hundred men. Saul, Jonathan his son, and the people present with them remained in Gibeah of Benjamin. But the Philistines encamped in Michmash. Then raiders came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies. One company turned to the road to Ophrah, to the land of Shual, another company turned to the road to Beth Horon, and another company turned to the road of the border that overlooks the Valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.
a. Then Samuel arose: Samuel had just announced God’s judgment to Saul, because Saul’s heart was not after God’s heart. Samuel left, probably knowing that the announcement of judgment was an invitation to repentance, and probably knowing that Saul would not repent.
b. About six hundred men: Earlier, Saul had about 3,000 in his regular army (1 Samuel 13:2). Now, he is down to six hundred, because many of the people scattered while Saul waited for Samuel (1 Samuel 13:8). The loss of so many men was probably the reason why Saul offered the sacrifice without Samuel, and it displayed a heart of distrust and disobedience to God.
i. For a commander, it would be terrible to see an already mismatched force (the Philistines had a huge army, according to 1 Samuel 13:5) shrink to one-fifth of its previous size (from 3,000 to 600). Why would God allow this? Simply to test Saul’s faith. Would Saul trust in a God great enough to deliver from so many with so few?
c. Then raiders came out of the camp of the Philistines: With so many troops, the Philistines could raid at will. They were a fearless, and fearsome army set against Saul and Israel.
2. (19-23) The technological superiority of the Philistines.
Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make swords or spears.” But all the Israelites would go down to the Philistines to sharpen each man’s plowshare, his mattock, his ax, and his sickle; and the charge for a sharpening was a pim for the plowshares, the mattocks, the forks, and the axes, and to set the points of the goads. So it came about, on the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people who were with Saul and Jonathan. But they were found with Saul and Jonathan his son. And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash.
a. There was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel: The Philistines had superior military technology, and they wanted to keep it that way. Since they were a seafaring people, the Philistines traded with the technologically sophisticated cultures to the west, especially the Greeks. They imported weapons and know-how from those distant lands.
i. “It is very likely that in the former wars the Philistines carried away all the smiths from Israel, as Porsenna did in the peace which he granted to the Romans, not permitting any iron to be forged except for the purposes of agriculture . . . The Chaldeans did the same to the Jews in the time of Nebuchadnezzar; they carried away all the artificers, 2 Kings 24:14; Jeremiah 24:1, 29:2. And in the same manner did Cyrus treat the Lydians.” (Clarke)
ii. “For decades archaeologists working at many different sites have unearthed iron artifacts in bewildering number and variety dating from the period of greatest Philistine power and leading to the general consensus that the metal was introduced into Canaan - at least for weapons, agricultural tools, and jewelry - by the Philistines.” (Youngblood)
b. Lest the Hebrews make swords or spears: Because the Philistines were the first people in Canaan to process iron, they made the most of it and kept the Israelites from using the technology to make better weapons.
c. All the Israelites would go down to the Philistines to sharpen each man’s plowshare: By carefully guarding their military technology, the Philistines kept the Israelites in a subservient place.
i. We might imagine that the Philistine blacksmiths, even though they charged each Israelite a pim for sharpening, would never put too fine an edge on anything. First, this was because these farm tools were the only weapons the Israelites had, so why make them so sharp? Secondly, if you make it really sharp, it will be longer before they come back with another pim to get their ax sharpened!
d. There was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people . . . they were found with Saul and Jonathan: There were so few iron weapons available that only the royal family could be properly equipped! The rest of Israel fought with whatever they could.
i. “The Hebrews say that the angels brought them these arms; but that is not likely.” (Trapp)
ii. It was bad enough to be outnumbered so badly. Now, we see God allowed the Philistines to have a huge technological advantage over the Israelites. The only way the Israelites could ever win was to trust in God for everything!
© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission