After Israel’s demand to have a king as the other nations, God directed Samuel to Saul. At his first meeting with Saul, Samuel showed him privately that he was to be king (1 Sam 9:1-10:1). Later, at a gathering of representative family heads from all Israel, Saul was publicly chosen to be king (1 Sam 10:17-24). An official crowning ceremony followed in due course (1 Sam 11:14-15).

Victories and failures

Of the three signs that Samuel had announced to Saul as confirmation of the promised kingship, the most important was the coming of God’s Spirit upon him (1 Sam 10:1-8). This changed Saul from an ordinary farmer into a national leader (1 Sam 10:9-13). Because certain people doubted Saul’s suitability, he made no immediate change in the country’s administration, but returned to his home in Gibeah (1 Sam 10:25-27). After leading Israel to victory in his first battle, he won the support of the whole nation (1 Sam 11:1-15).

Saul was to be under the spiritual direction of Samuel. But Saul wanted complete power, religious as well as political. Therefore, when a suitable occasion arose he rebelled against the limitation that God had placed on his authority. In punishment God announced that one day he would take the kingdom from Saul and give it to another (1 Sam 13:1-14). God confirmed this judgment on a later occasion when Saul again deliberately disobeyed his instructions through Samuel (1 Sam 15:1-34). After this, Saul never saw Samuel again (1 Sam 15:35). Without Samuel’s guidance, his rule from that time on was disastrous. When, at the end of his reign, he made a desperate attempt to consult the spirit of the dead Samuel, he merely received further confirmation of God’s judgment upon him (1 Sam 28:3-19). (For details of events in this period of Saul’s life see SAMUEL.) Although Saul was at times calm and tolerant (1 Sam 10:27; 11:12-13), at other times he was rash and unpredictable (1 Sam 14:24-30,38-45; 18:10-11). Nevertheless, he brought stability and security to Israel through victories over all those nations that had previously attacked around Israel’s borders (1 Sam 14:47-48; 15:7; 17:52-53).

Saul and David

God chose David as the man who would one day replace Saul as king. As David grew in experience and maturity, the special power of God’s Spirit began to work through him rather than Saul (1 Sam 16:13- 14). After David’s victory over Goliath, Saul, unaware of God’s purposes for David, made him his armour-bearer and full-time court musician (1 Sam 16:21-23; 18:2). Over the next few years Saul became more and more unstable, emotionally and mentally, while David became a popular hero through his military victories. Saul became suspicious that David might be the man to replace him, and in a fit of jealousy tried to kill him (1 Sam 18:5-11).

This began a long conflict between Saul and David. Saul tried by every possible means to get rid of David, but David steadfastly refused to do anything against Saul. Saul sent David on dangerous missions, hoping he might get killed, but his plans repeatedly failed (1 Sam 18:13-17,25). He sent his servants to kill David, and he himself tried to spear him, but all his efforts were without success (1 Sam 19:1,10-11). When David sought safety with Samuel, Saul and his servants pursued him, but the Spirit of God protected David by overpowering Saul and his men (1 Sam 19:18-24). Year after year the chase went on. The mad Saul slaughtered any he thought had helped David (1 Sam 22:18-19), whereas David on two occasions spared Saul’s life when he could easily have killed him (1 Sam 24:1-22; 26:6-25). (For details of events in this period of Saul’s life see DAVID.) Saul’s tragic life came to an end during a battle with the Philistines on Mt Gilboa. When wounded in the fighting, he took his own life rather than allow himself to be captured and shamefully treated by his enemies (1 Sam 31:1-4). Loyal Israelites gave him an honourable burial (1 Sam 31:8-13), and David wrote a song in memory of him. The song also honoured Saul’s son Jonathan, who died in the same battle (2 Sam 1:17-27).

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