1. Now there was a man from Binyamin whose name was Qish [a bent lure], the son of Avi’el [El is my father], the son of Tz’ror [a packed bag], the son of B’khorath [birthright], the son of Afiyakh [I will make breathe], the son of the Man of the Right Hand—one strong in wealth.
Strong in wealth: or, a capable hero, an efficient champion, powerful [in the] army. The Man of the Right Hand: Binyamin. But this juxtaposition of names tells the story of “Jesus”, whose sonship is misconstrued as his being the One who made us breathe, and who is a counterfeit of Y’shua, a “strong delusion” that “lures” many to believe they have the birthright and that their “bag is packed” with heavenly wealth while they are not willing to obey YHWH’s actual commands. This is the heritage of the one Israel was looking for:
2. And he had a son whose name was Sha’ul—a choice, pleasant young man, and there was no man among the sons of Israel better than he, being taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward.
Sha’ul means “requested”. In this case, it turned out to connote “You asked for it.” He was a head taller than anyone else in Israel. He therefore stood out, and this was the type of person YHWH knew the people wanted. Sha’ul was a natural warrior, coming from a long line of crack warriors. (Judges 20:16) His kind of kingdom is the type the people want—one that rarely intrudes on their own priorities—and it comes at the wrong time, before the true Kingdom is fully ready.
3. Now the female donkeys [belonging to] Qish, Sha’ul’s father, strayed away, so Qish told Sha’ul, “Please take one of the young lads with you and get up! Go look for the female donkeys!”
Again he is a picture of the church, which is looking for lost donkeys (any that might be redeemable, as per Ex. 13:13) rather than the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Mat. 10:6; 15:24).
4. But as he traversed the mountainous [region] of Efrayim and crossed the land of Shalishah, but did not find them. So they passed through the land of Sha’alim [foxes], but they weren’t [there]. So he crossed [back] into the land of the Yaminites, but did not find them.
Shalishah: or, the third land—i.e., he started in Binyamin’s territory, went all the way across Efrayim, and entered another tribe’s territory. This could either be Menashe’s or Dan’s. Since he ends up back in Binyamin’s territory (the land of the Yaminites), which also borders on Dan’s, it was most likely the latter. There may also be a veiled allusion to the trinity in connection with this counterfeit king. The singular form of “fox” (or jackal) in Hebrew is shu’al, which is very similar to Sha’ul’s name. He is thus on the verge of being one who steals and eats the sheep rather than feeding them—not intentionally, but doing the best he can without knowing the Torah again makes him a picture of the “man of lawlessness”. Like that one, he would bring about some of the conditions necessary for the true anointed one (messiah) to arrive on the scene, but he is out of season to be the true anointed one.
5. When they arrived at the land of Tzuf, Sha’ul said to his young [servant] who was with him, “Come on, let’s go back, so my father won’t give up on the donkeys and become concerned about us!”
Tzuf was the great-great-great grandfather of Shmu’el. In 1 Chron. 6:26, he is actually traced to the Q’hathites line of Levites. Shmu’el’s hometown could thus be read as “Ramathayim of the Tzufites” (1:1)
6. But he said to him, “[Sir], please wait! There is a man of Elohim in this city, and the man is held in [high] honor; everything that he says really comes [true]. Let’s go there now! Maybe he will let us know which way we should go!”
Sha’ul’s father probably knew Sha’ul was likely to give up unless he had someone else along to encourage him. This need for a “coach” continued all throughout his career as king. Any time Shmu’el was not around, he usually made the wrong decisions. Held in honor: or, considered important, taken as an authority.
7. So Sha’ul told his young [servant], “We should indeed go, but what can we bring to the man? Because the bread in our containers is used up, and there’s no arrival-gift to present to him. What [do we have] with us?”
Sha’ul, though not the brightest man (his servant has more knowledge than he), was clearly well-schooled in manners and knew how to approach a great man. Though all he is asking for is information about where his lost donkeys might be, and though he is not coming up to the Temple, he does not dare to come empty-handed. Today it would be more common to argue that the information s provided by YHWH, so why should a man be paid? But he was the one through whom YHWH chose to speak. It appears that otherwise he would have offered him bread, a picture of the united community of Israel. But Sha’ul has none, and indeed it appears he never would reign over the southern Kingdom of Yehudah, but only the northern Kingdom. The unifying would be left to his successor.
8. And the young man gave Sha’ul an additional reply, saying, “What do you know? There is found in my hand a quarter of a sheqel of silver! I’ll give it to the man of Elohim so he can tell us our way.”
He may have brought this along in case he should have to redeem his donkeys in the process of retrieving them.
9. (It used to be that in Israel when a man was going to inquire of Elohim, he would speak this way: “Come, let’s go to the seer!” because the prophet of today used to be called “the seer”.)
This shows us that this account was not written down until there had been enough time for the language to change somewhat, or this verse was a later addition. We know from our own experience, though, that all it takes for a word preference to shift is one generation.
10. So Sha’ul said to his young [servant], “What you said is appropriate; come, let’s go.” So they went into the city where the man of Elohim was.
11. As they were going up the ascent-ramp [to] the city, they met some young women who were going out to draw water. So they said to them, “Is there a seer in this [city]?”
Ascent-ramp: Cities were usually built on a hilltop for defensive purposes, with a steep incline at the final approach to the city to slow down any enemy that might be rushing the city—or, for that matter, to give the watchmen of the city time to warn them that a royal entourage was coming so they could make the necessary preparations. Going out: A water-source or well was often located just outside the city gate to save space within the often-cramped enclosure within the walls. It would also give much more room to water the flocks and herds (as seen in Gen. 29) of the citizens and anyone else who received the city’s hospitality. Shmu’el is not referred to by name—possibly an example of a prophet being without honor in his own country. (Mat. 13:57) Some of the people in this city might remember “changing his diapers” and wonder who we was to tell them what YHWH said. But he was now “retired”, and may have been much more low-key than when he was actively Israel’s main leader. Yet the fact that he did not act like royalty was part of the reason Israel wanted him replaced. Likewise, it is difficult for people in our democratic age to accept the fact that Y’shua is one of us, yet chosen by YHWH for a higher position. They therefore feel they have to make him more than a man in order to honor him as highly as he deserves.
12. And they answered them and said, “There is; in fact, he has preceded you. Hurry, now, because today he has come to the city because there is a slaughtering for the people today at the platform!
Platform: a site dedicated to ritual slaughterings. After the Temple was built, all of these were considered pagan cultic sites, but at this point they were permitted at various locations for the worship of YHWH, especially for city-wide gatherings like this one. Today: It appears he was only visiting, yet he has a place there (vv. 18, 25); it could be that this is a new moon when he is visiting his relatives here, for we see that David went back to a “family reunion picnic” once a year on a new moon. (20:6, 24-29)
13. “As you go into the city, you should find him just like that—[but do it] before he goes up to the platform to eat, because the people will not eat until he has arrived, because he will bless the slaughtering. Afterward, those who are invited will eat. So now, go up, because you can find him today.”
It seems Shmu’el did not make this place his home, but he frequented it enough that his name was associated with this place. It was probably therefore either Beyth-El, Gilgal, or Mitzpah/the observation point (possibly belonging to Kiryath-Y’arim, per 7:16; see also notes on v. 6 and v. 25). The travelers must have looked hungry, because the women seem to be telling them that they might be invited to eat. Eating of such a public slaughtering may have been a hospitality extended to visitors to the city. But since the animal to be slaughtered was now the prophet’s property, only those whom he invited could eat of it. (v. 22) This was most likely a thanks offering, since numerous people other than the priests would partake of this kind of slaughtering. (Lev. 7:15) Or this may simply be a “barbecue” of the type of meat that is worthy of the altar, which may not be partaken of unless it is first brought before YHWH. (Deut. 12:13-18) Since Israel’s worship was not yet centralized in one place (the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle were even at two different locations now), it did not necessarily have to be brought to the Tabernacle. The presence of hostile peoples still in the Land sometimes made it unsafe to travel; it was not until David was given rest from his enemies on every side that he was able to identify the Place YHWH had chosen to set His name. (2 Shmu’el 7) At this time, Shmu’el’s presence was enough to represent YHWH’s presence, and such localized slaughterings to YHWH were common. (10:8; 16:2; 20:6; 1 Kings 3:4).
14. So they went up to the city. As they were coming inside the city, lo and behold, there was Shmu’el coming out to meet them, to go up to the platform.
It seems he was inviting them up as the women had spoken about in v. 13.
15. Now YHWH had uncovered the ear of Shmu’el one day before the arrival of Sha’ul, saying,
16. “Tomorrow at the same time I will send you a man from the land of Binyamin, and you must anoint him as ruler over My people Israel so that he may deliver My people from the hand of the Filistines, because I have taken notice of My people, because its outcry has reached Me.”
Outcry: from oppression. While the people wanted the king as a figurehead, YHWH say Sha’ul as another judge to deliver His people from their enemies, as most of the other judges had done. The people had asked Shmu’el (7:8) not to stop asking YHWH to deliver them from the Filistines.
17. When Shmu’el saw Sha’ul, YHWH responded to him, “Here is the man about whom I told you. This [one] will exercise restraint over My people.”
Responded: He must have been scanning the crowds, asking YHWH, “Where is that man You wanted me to anoint as king?” He had apparently walked toward the city gate to see if he was coming. “Might that be him?”
18. As Sha’ul approached Shmu’el inside the gate, he said, “Please inform me where the seer’s house is.”
Since YHWH knew that Shmu’el knew that Sha’ul was not His ideal, He did not require him to go out of his way to anoint Sha’ul; for the next king, he would have to go further, but it would be worth the trip.
19. And Shmu’el answered Sha’ul to say, “I myself am the seer. Ascend the platform ahead of me, and you will eat with me today. Then I will send you away in the morning—but let me report to you everything that is on your heart:
Shmu’el delayed to reveal his purpose for inviting him, possibly to have time to observe his ways first.
20. “As for your lost donkeys, three days [ago] today; don’t put your mind on them; they have been found. And for whom is all the desiring of Israel? Isn’t it for you and for the whole household of your father?”
21. But Sha’ul responded by saying, “Am I not a Binyamite, from the smallest of the tribes of Israel? And my family is the least significant of all the clans of the branches of Binyamin, so why have you spoken to me with such a word as this?”
Such denial is known to have been a polite formula for accepting an offer. But he was not exaggerating about his tribe being the smallest. Only a generation or two beforehand, the tribe of Binyamin was decimated to a mere 600 men. (Judges 19-21) Sha’ul’s father was probably one of the warriors who took refuge in a cave until the rest of Israel declared a “cease-fire” and spared them. His tribe was therefore pitied, but not necessarily respected. We learn later that there was genuine humility in this. (15:17)
22. But Shmu’el took Sha’ul and his young [servant] and brought them to the [banqueting] hall, and gave them a place at the head of those who were invited, they being about thirty men.
The one who humbled himself (v. 21) was given a higher position. (Compare Y’shua’s parable in Luqa 14:10.)
23. And Shmu’el said to the butcher, “Give [him] the portion about which I told you, ‘Set it [aside] near you.’”
Butcher: He served as the cook as well.
24. So the butcher took up the hind thigh and [the meat] that was on it, and set it in front of Sha’ul and said, “Here is what remains. Help yourself to it! Eat, because toward the appointed time I have kept it for you, saying, ‘[For] the people I have invited.’” So Sha’ul ate with Shmu’el on that day.
The thigh normally belongs to the priest. (Ex. 29:22ff; Lev. 7:32-33) By giving it to Sha’ul, he may be cueing him in on the fact that he is about to take his position as ruler. The priesthood was the position that was to be held in highest honor in Israel, but the people had asked Shmu’el to give away the portion appointed to him by YHWH, and since YHWH gave him the go-ahead, he does so, but this is part of YHWH’s discipline for their asking amiss.
25. Then they came down from the platform to the city, and he spoke with Sha’ul on the roof.
Thus this banqueting chamber was in the “acropolis”, right at the cultic site itself.
26. And they rose early, and what took place around the [time the] dawn was rising was that Shmu’el summoned Sha’ul [on] the roof, saying, “Get up, so I can send you off!” So Sha’ul got up and both of them—he and Shmu’el—went outside.
Rose early: He must have pretended to be in a hurry because of another appointment later. Apparently he slept on the roof as well. Send you off: Typical hospitality included accompanying guests to the edge of one’s city or property.
27. As they were going down to where the city ended, Shmu’el said to Sha’ul, “Tell the young man that he can go on ahead of us and pass through [the gates], but you stay [where you are] right now, so I can let you hear the word of Elohim.”
1. Then Shmu’el took a flask of oil and let it flow on his head. Then he kissed him and said, “Hasn’t YHWH anointed you as a ruler over His inherited possession?
Later kings would be anointed with a horn of oil rather than a flask. A horn is symbolic of power, and Sha’ul was not to be as fully endowed as the next kings, because he would not be king over the tribe of Yehudah, but only the rest of Israel. Yehudah had not been among those asking for a king, which may be one reason the next king, who would come from Yehudah, would be rewarded by being given the whole nation of Israel to rule. He also did not anoint him publicly yet, because, as we will see, at this point he was only empowered to be a prophet. This is part of what was in his heart (9:19), which he did not yet know about. The potential was there for him to not just hear a particular message from Elohim (9:27), but to hear from Elohim himself. But he had not yet tapped this latent gift.
2. “As you go from me today you will find two men with the tomb of Rakhel within the border of Binyamin at Tzeltzakh, and they will tell you, “The female donkeys that you went to look for have been found, and your father has in fact abandoned the matter of the donkeys and has become concerned about you, saying, ‘What can I do about my son?’
This seems out of place, since Rakhel’s tomb is in Beyth-Lekhem, in Yehudah’s territory, though it is not far from the border of Binyamin. Tzeltzakh means “shadow”, so it may mean it was not quite within the border of Binyamin, unless that tribe had disobeyed the Torah and moved the border.
3. “Then as you go on further from there, you will come to the Terebinth [Tree] of Thavor, and there you will find three men going up to the Elohim of Beyth-El, one carrying three [goat] kids, one carrying three round loaves of bread, and one carrying a skin-bottle of wine.
Thavor: not related to Mount Thavor in this case. Beyth-El: This may mean the Tabernacle had been moved to the town with this name, or it may simply be referring to Shiloh, where the “House of El” had been prior to this and may still have been.
4. “And they will ask you how you are faring, and will give you two [loaves of] bread, which you are to take from their hand.
5. “Afterward you will come to the Hill of Elohim where the Filistines’ station is, and what will take place as you come to the city there is [that] you will encounter a band of prophets coming down from the [cultic] platform with a harp, a drum, a flute, and a lyre ahead of them, and they will be prophesying.
Station: fort, garrison, post.
6. “Then the spirit of YHWH will rush over you [to make you effective], and you will be transformed into a different man.
Effective: or, successful. The spirit would come over David immediately after he was anointed, but Sha’ul has to follow some instructions first, since as we will see, following instructions imprecisely was Sha’ul’s weakness. He would be a different man, but would he necessarily be better? Sha’ul has been humble, but soon we will see him turning arrogant, diminishing the role of Shmu’el, for, after all, if Sha’ul is a prophet, what does Shmu’el have now that he does not? One of the easiest ways to push one’s agenda is to “prophesy”, adding an air of authority, but if he did not know the Torah well enough (unlike David), he may think he is speaking YHWH’s words, but have no way to test them. Giving the words of YHWH to Sha’ul is, we must remember, still part of the nation’s punishment. This would make them think they had made the right decision, when in fact YHWH was just giving them over fully to their own wishes so that when their cup of transgression was full, it would be very clear that He was just in judging them, for rulings were to come from priests, not a king. (Deut. 17:8-9) People seem to have a need for a leader they can control, and YHWH was not that. The reason there is a pope today is because, just like back then, people could not wait for the right king to come to the throne, but wanted a figurehead “now”!
7. “Then what will take place when these distinguishing signs come to you, [is that] you must do for yourself whatever your hand can attain, because Elohim is with you.
Distinguishing signs: Shmu’el gave him this prophecy as proof that YHWH was indeed in this. Do…whatever your hand can attain: Aramaic, prepare for yourself the instruments of kingship.
8. “Then you will go down ahead of me to Gilgal, and I will certainly come down to you to offer up ascendings, to slaughter peace offerings. You must wait seven days until I come to you and make known to you what to do.”
You must wait: This was part of his test. But there is another reason: Since we have apparently just passed the new moon (9:12), and Sha’ul would be given two loaves of bread, it appears that this slaughter was for Shavuoth, which usually falls within seven days of a new moon. Every household is to bring two loaves of bread for that festival (Lev. 23:17) Sha’ul, who had not yet reached home ,had run out of bread (9:7), but now he had been provided with some (v. 4), which he was given the privilege of conveying to the feast as representative of the whole nation. The feasts were still celebrated at different locations, as the worship was not yet centralized at Yerushalayim.
9. And it did turn out that as he turned his back to walk away from Shmu’el, Elohim changed him to a different heart, and all of the signs came [to him] on that day.
YHWH was opening up for him some understandings that he did not have before, but on nothing like the scale for which He would do so for David, who was looking not for donkeys but for intimacy with YHWH. (Psalm 119) He was already a prophet when he became king, and did not need a change of heart. Sha’ul was learning to focus more on the character he would need in order to be king, but this was still a “setup”.
10. When they arrived there at Giv’ah, a band of prophets [was] indeed [there] to meet him, and the spirit of Elohim rushed on him [to advance him], and he prophesied [right] among them.
Giv’ah: 3 miles (5 km.) north of Yerushalayim, not to confused with Geva’, which despite a similar name, was 3 miles to the northeast of Giv’ah, which simply means “hill”. It had been destroyed due to a terrible event in the days of the judges, but already rebuilt. (Judges 19-21) It had apparently not been inhabited long before that, since it is not beside a natural; source of water, but depended on rainwater cisterns, which were not common until the 12th century B.C.E. It has been identified with Tel el-Ful and excavated by W.F. Albright (1922-1933) and P.W. Lapp (1964).
11. In fact, all who knew him from yesterday and the day before then looked and saw him while he prophesied with the prophets, and each of the people said to his fellow, “What’s going on with the son of Qish? Is Sha’ul also among the prophets?”
All who knew him: Giv’ah is his hometown (v. 26). People in Y’shua’s hometown reacted in the same way to him. (Mat. 13:54-56)
12. And a man from there answered and said, “And who is their father?” Therefore, “Is Sha’ul also among the prophets?” came to be proverbial.
I.e., all prophets have to start out as ordinary people, so why would it be so unusual that Sha’ul did? But on another level, YHWH was their father, and this was a prologue to the kings of Israel bearing the special title, “Son of Elohim” (Psalm 2:7; 2 Shmu’el 7:14)
13. And when he had finished prophesying, he came to the cultic platform.
He stopped prophesying the same day he had begun. Thus the spirit had been given to him to a limited degree like the elders in Numbers 11:25. His bouts with the spirit of Elohim were short-lived and not constant; David asked YHWH not to take the spirit of holiness away from him. (Psalm 51:11)
14. Then Sha’ul’s uncle said to him and to his young [servant], “Where did you go?” And he said, “To look for the donkeys. And when we saw that they weren’t there, we went to Shmu’el.”
15. And Sha’ul’s uncle said, “Tell me what Shmu’el said to you!”
16. So Sha’ul told his uncle, “He informed us clearly that the donkeys had been found.” But as to the matter of the kingship, he did not tell him what Sha’ul had said.
Yaaqov had told his uncle too much; Sha’ul told his uncle too little. Josephus says it was because he did not wish to make him envious, knowing that even those closest to us can become unreasoning in such cases, and he thought his life might even be endangered.
17. Then Shmu’el called the people together at Mitzpah,
This would have been after Shavuot, for this coronation was not worthy of that, not being one prophetic of the Messianic Kingdom, as the next kings’ coronations would be.
18. and he told the descendants of Israel, “This is what YHWH, Elohim of Israel, says: ‘I Myself brought Israel up from Egypt and rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the dominators that oppressed you.
19. “‘But today you have rejected your Elohim—the very one who delivered you from all your griefs and your tight spots—and told him, “Because [we want] a king to be appointed over us!” So now present yourselves before YHWH by your tribes and by your [groups of] thousands!’”
20. And Shmu’el brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Binyamin was taken [by lot].
21. So he brought the tribe of Binyamin near by its clans, and the family of Matri was taken [by lot]. Then Sha’ul the son of Qish was taken [by lot], and they looked for him but could not find him.
22. So they inquired of YHWH again, “Has the man arrived here yet?” And YHWH said, “There he is! He has withdrawn himself [back] toward the equipment.”
If he had not already had cold feet (suggested in verse 16), when he heard what Shmu’el had to say, he realizes that he is the one the people have chosen in opposition to YHWH. The word for equipment is often translated “vessels”, and he already had begun to realize that he was a vessel fit for destruction. It is hard to blame Sha’ul , since he had never even asked for fame or power. He was just minding his own business, and now he was “front and center”—a scary position indeed. It would take a very brave man to accept this position with that knowledge—yet he would be a very honorable man, knowing that it is important to surrender to YHWH’s will, no matter how He wants to use us.
23. So they ran and conducted him from there. When he presented himself in the midst of the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward.
24. And Shmu’el said to all the people, “Do you see who YHWH has chosen? Because there isn’t [any] like him among all the people.” And all the people cheered [loudly] and said, “[Long] live the king!”
Shmu’el may have been emphasizing that YHWH’s choice was better than any of theirs would have been. But it is still somewhat tongue-in-cheek because it was not YHWH’s intention for them to have a king yet. But after all he has just said about their having rejected YHWH by this choice, they are still excited about having a king! One would think they would have thought twice if they knew the prophecy that the scepter belonged to Yehudah, (Gen. 49:10) But they ignored everything he said, and did not take the final open door for repentance that he was offering them.
25. Then Shmu’el told the people the rightful privileges of royalty, and recorded them in the book and deposited it before YHWH [to remain there]. Then Shmu’el sent all the people away, each to his own house.
Deposited it before YHWH: Josephus clarifies that he put it in the tabernacle as a witness to later generations that he had been right in his warnings. This document may have included the instructions from the Torah about how a king should behave (Deut. 17:16) and also what he had a right to demand from the people. (1 Shmu’el 8:11) It seems that Shmu’el was permitted to define the latter since he had been faithful to YHWH yet rejected by the people.
26. And even Sha’ul went to his home in Giv’ah, and the capable men whose hearts Elohim had touched went with him.
Touched: or reached.
27. But sons of worthlessness said, “How can this one deliver us?” And they held him in contempt and did not bring him a tribute. But he became like one who is deaf.
We therefore can surmise that Shmu’el had told them all to bring a tribute to the king. He was not a wealthy man, or his family would not have missed a few donkeys. But a king had to represent the nation, and therefore must appear wealthy, so the people in general were willing to build up the figurehead’s image in this way. Psalm 2 demonstrates that the king chosen by YHWH has not only the right but the responsibility to enforce obedience to his rule. Instead Sha’ul ignored these haranguers, possibly since he too had the same question as to how he could save the people, or possibly assuming that if YHWH had chosen him, their words could not have much effect; it was not until YHWH let him know that He would turn the kingdom over to someone else that he began to feel insecure. He may still have been hoping that all of this would blow over, since he did not want to be this vessel of judgment. He may not have wanted the first act of his kingdom to be an act of punishment, so that he would remain popular with his subjects. But he would nonetheless have a crisis immediately after his accession to the throne…
1. Then Nakhash the Ammonite went up and encamped above Yaveysh-Gil’ad, and all the men of Yaveysh-Gil’ad said to Nakhash, “Cut a covenant for us, and we will serve you.”
Yaveysh-Gil’ad: meaning “the dry part of Gil’ad, which is otherwise quite fertile, this city lay three miles east of the Yarden in the tribal land of Gad, in modern-day Jordan south of the Yarmuq River canyon, and just three miles (5 km.) south of the Roman-era city of Pella. Nakhash means “hissing serpent” or “whisperer”—the same word used for the tempter in the Garden of Eden. 12:12 tells us more clearly that he was the king of Ammon. Since all the men of this city had been killed a generation or two prior to this (Judges 21), its population was not large enough to fight such an army, and the city may not have been strong enough to withstand a siege. Like the Amaleqites, they picked on the weakest. YHWH forbade any such covenant with the nations in the Land. (Ex. 23:32; Deut. 7:2) The Ammonites were technically not from the Land, but serving them would undoubtedly include serving their elohim. But under duress they were trying to bargain so at least their lives could be preserved.
2. And Nakhash the Ammonite said to them, “With this I will cut [it] for you: when I have brought scorn on all of Israel by gouging out every right eye!”
This would make it difficult for any archer to aim his arrows, having no depth perception, but if many of the men of war were left-handed slingers as their Binyamite ancestors had been (Judges 20:16), they would have an especially hard time aiming. Even if they were right-handed, their shields would then be held over their left side, giving them very little peripheral vision. Thus he would take away any military threat from this city that lay as the only defense between him and the main part of Israel. (The Ammonite territory was directly east of Gad’s, and just across the Yarden was the wide Yezre’el Valley which would provide easy access for him to much of the rest of Israel.) He undoubtedly wished to continue his campaign across the Yarden once Yaveysh-Gil’ad was crippled, or at least control all the territory up to the river, which would provide him with a much greater resource. Unless otherwise stated, the job of most Israelites was also shepherds, whose main task is to watch out for dangers to the sheep. With half of their range of vision gone, they would not be able to be circumspect. Interestingly, prophecy tells us that YHWH will set over the earth a worthless shepherd who will not care for the flock, and his end will be to lose the use of his arm and all vision in his right eye. (Z’kharyah 11:17) Usually if the right arm is meant, it is specified as such, but that is not the case here, suggesting that the left arm is what will be dried up (for which the Hebrew word is yaveysh!) The right eye is a Hebraic idiom for generosity, whereas the left eye is a picture of looking out for self, which would certainly make them miss the target (which is what the Hebrew word for sin literally means). The right eye needs to be stronger to be able to overcome the left, and this would make them a disgrace in that they would be a picture of people completely out of balance. Adam looked at his wife with the left eye, and she in turn looked at the serpent in the same way, so the one whose name is “serpent” now wants revenge on the people whose left eye YHWH means to use to identify sin so Adam and Chawwah’s error can be corrected for.
3. So the elders of Yaveysh told him, “Drop back from us for seven days so we can send messengers throughout the whole territory of Israel, and if there is no one who delivers us, then we will come out to you.”
Drop back: slack off, let rest, refrain. Of course it would be absurd to accept this proposition, so they try to buy time. They did not agree to the humiliating terms of his covenant, but rather agreed to meet them in battle, weaker though they were, because this would at least be an honorable way to die. Apparently Nakhash was decent enough (being, after all, a descendant of Avraham’s nephew Lot) to allow them this respite, or he was just humoring them, assuming that no one would come to help the town that had made itself odious to the rest of Israel not very long before.
4. When the messengers arrived at Giv’ah of Sha’ul, they spoke the words in the hearing of the people, all the people lifted up their voice and wailed.
They went directly to Sha’ul, not only because he was the king and there was now a central authority from which an army could be commanded. All the virgins of Yaveysh-Gil’ad had been married to the tribe of Binyamin in order to preserve that tribe (Judges 21), so either Sha’ul’s mother or grandmother had come from that city, and he would feel a special obligation to come to their rescue. Many of those Binyamites may have taken their wives back to resettle the city. It could be that the reason Sha’ul was chosen as king was for such a time as this.
5. Then there came Sha’ul from the field behind the oxen, and Sha’ul said, “What’s with the people that they’re weeping?” So they recounted to him the words of the men of Yaveysh.
Just because Sha’ul was now royalty, he did not see himself as above common labor, and he continued to support his clan by doing his part in the work when there were no national matters pressing upon him. In this respect he was not acting like a Gentile king. Was he distracted from defeating the Filistines, or in denial of who he had been made, still hoping it would all “blow over”? Did he just go back to what was most natural to him, as Keyfa would do while waiting for further instruction? (Yochanan 21:3)
6. And the spirit of Elohim rushed upon Sha’ul [to make him effective] when he heard these words, and he became very angry.
This is why they needed a leader, for weeping alone would do nothing about the cause of the problem. We seldom think of the “fruit of the spirit” as including anger, but it was very appropriate at this time, it being a “time for war” (Qoheleth/Eccles. 3:8) since his brothers were in danger. Elsewhere it usually says the spirit of YHWH came upon the judges and upon Sha’ul (10:6), but here it is the spirit of Elohim, which emphasizes the judging side of YHWH—the side that makes His enemies pay. Vengeance was the job that needed to get done at this time, sop we should not expect the other spirit to be in play. It was less compassion on Yaveysh than hatred for the Ammonites that motivated him, though the latter accomplished the former as well. We separate justice and mercy more often than we should, for judgment on evil is mercy on the righteous. When YHWH does not let us get away with being undisciplined, He makes us better people. But we should aim to be so balanced that we need very little of either.
7. And he took a yoked team of oxen and started dividing them into pieces. Then he sent them into the whole territory of Israel by the hand of the messengers, saying, “If there is anyone who does not come out [to battle] following Sha’ul and following Shmu’el, the same thing will be done to his oxen!” And the dread of YHWH fell on the people, and they came out as one man.
The people are more afraid of Sha’ul than of the Ammonites.
8. So he passed them in review at Bezeq, and the sons of Israel were 300,000 and the men of Yehudah 30,000.
Bezeq is about twelve miles from Yaveysh, nearly directly across the Yarden from it, in the land of Menashe, at the western edge of the Great Rift Valley near its widest point. It is where the wide Yezre’el Valley joins the Yarden Valley, giving all of Israel easy access to it, but there is also a side valley that joins the two of them there so that the army could be concealed from enemy reconnaissance behind a foothill of Mt. Gilboa. It is where Y’hoshua had cut off the thumbs and big toes of the king who had done the same to 70 other kings. (Judges 1:4-7) Notice that Yehudah is listed separately from Israel, since generally they were considered almost a separate nation already. We are not told that they had submitted to Sha’ul’s jurisdiction, but for an occasion as urgent as this, they remembered that they were still brothers and did not fail their kinsmen in their time of need. They, too, would become a target for the Ammonites if Yaveysh fell, since they, too, were accessible via the Yarden Valley.
9. And they told the messengers who had come, “This is what you must tell the men of Yaveysh-Gil’ad: Tomorrow when the sun is hot there will be deliverance for you.” When the messengers arrived and related [this] to the men of Yaveysh, they rejoiced.
Until mid-day the sun would be in Israel’s eyes, though if they started early the morning sun would cast a long shadow from the high eastern edge of the Rift Valley which would have allowed them to move into position to attack.
10. So the men of Yaveysh said, “Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you can do to us anything that seems right in your eyes.”
This appears to have been said to the Ammonites. If so, it reflects a very strong faith in their Israelite brothers keeping their word. But if this was the sixth day, they could have appeared to have been resigned to the original agreement, if the Ammonites were not aware of the arrival of reinforcements that now probably outnumbered them.
11. And so it was that when the next day [came], Sha’ul put the people in three companies, and they came into the midst of the camp during the morning watch and struck down Ammon until the heat of the day. And there were [some who] survived, but they were scattered so that no two among them were left together.
Companies: literally, heads. Morning: or, daybreak. No two: Qoheleth (Eccles.) 4:9-11 tells us that there is little strength when there are not at least two operating in unity.
12. Then the people said to Shmu’el, “Who is the one who says, ‘Can Sha’ul reign over us?’ Surrender the men so we can kill them!”
Can Sha’ul rule: Aramaic, Sha’ul is not fit to rule.
13. But Sha’ul said, “No man will be put to death today, because today YHWH has accomplished a deliverance in Israel!”
He did not want to spoil the completeness of the joy in which the whole nation was participating in unity. The spirit of judgment had already departed from Sha’ul. He probably thought people would not understand if he killed some from within Israel too, though they did deserve it.
14. Then Shmu’el said to the people, “Come, let’s go to Gilgal and renew the kingship there.”
Gilgal is in Binyamin’s tribal territory, very close to the western bank of the Yarden River some 37 miles south of Yaveysh-Gil’ad. It was the camp from which Y’hoshua had commanded his campaign of conquest, so again a military victory is celebrated there and Israel is united in support of the leader YHWH has chosen. Sha’ul’s popularity had skyrocketed that day, so Shmu’el capitalized on this to seal the matter while the entire nation was together. But by choosing Gilgal, he would also be giving the people one final opening to repent, since it would remind Israel of the crossing-over which took place here and Y’hoshua’s injunction to fear YHWH forever since He is the one who is mighty on our behalf. (Y’hoshua 4:24) They had not been brought into the Land by this kind of king—one like the nations had. Y’hoshua had been the unofficial king then, and this should have shown the people that Shmu’el, not Sha’ul, should really be their leader until the right one for the throne came along, since Sha’ul was not a true shepherd. It appears that Yehudah did not participate in this ceremony, since they had not come out as part of Israel, but as a separate army, even this long ago.
15. So all the people went to Gilgal and made Sha’ul king there in the presence of YHWH at Gilgal, and they slaughtered peace offerings there before YHWH, and Sha’ul and all the men of Israel rejoiced [with increasing degree] as far as excessiveness.
Made Sha’ul king: but there is no mention of his having been publicly anointed; that was done privately in chapter 10. Shmu’el did not want to allow them to think the people’s choice could be anointed; he had been chosen by YHWH beforehand. The presence of YHWH: This was one of the three places Shmu’el had sat to make rulings for Israel while he was official leader, and this shows that his prominence was still recognized by the whole nation despite his lack of a title like Sha’ul now had. The inhabitants of Yaveysh-Gil’ad would remain grateful to Sha’ul until his death (31:11), earning them special praise from his successor. (2 Shmu’el 2:4-5)
1. Then Shmu’el said to all of Israel, “Look, I have listened to your voice in all that you have said to me, and I have made a king reign over you.
2. “So now, here is the king, walking around in front of you, and I have grown old and grayheaded, but my sons—here they are with you. Now I have walked before you from my childhood until this day.
My sons…with you: They were his seed, who would remind the people of him, even if they did not represent him perfectly. But more importantly, these sons should still be in a position to judge Israel, but the people had demoted them to laymen, not respecting the authority that they clearly still recognized in Shmu’el. He was offering them one last opening to give them the prominence his memory deserved. From my childhood: The people latched onto one single fault exhibited by Shmu’el’s sons, and that was only after they were put in positions of power; how much more would they be aware of any shortcomings of someone who had been in the public eye since he was weaned?
3. “Here I am! Testify against me before YHWH and before His anointed: whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken, and from whom have I been guilty of extortion? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I received a bribe, by which I might have my eyes blinded? Then I will restore [it] to you!”
He echoes Moshe’s plea of innocence of any charge of corruption in Numbers 16:15.
4. But they said, “You have not defrauded us, nor have you oppressed us, nor have you taken anything from any man’s hand.”
Moshe did not receive such an affirmation. Yet we can still almost hear Shmu’el saying, “Soon you’ll be looking back on that time with nostalgia, but those days are over now. I hope you enjoyed them!”
5. So he told them, “YHWH is witness against you, and His anointed is witness this day that you have not found anything in my hand.” And they said, “Witness [he is].”
His anointed: This is said tongue-in-cheek. Witness: or even, evidence. Compare Numbers 16:15.
6. Then Shmu’el told the people, “YHWH [is the One] who appointed Moshe and Aharon and who brought your ancestors up from the land of Egypt.
7. “So now take your stand, so that I might be vindicated in the presence of YHWH [for] all the righteous acts of YHWH that He did for you and your ancestors:
He is speaking in the language of a courtroom controversy. He wants to clear his name. He is making sure they recognize that when they start feeling the inevitable pinch because of their choice, they have no excuse to say they had chosen a king because Shmu’el was crooked. The guilt is all theirs; there is no blood on his hands.
8. “When Yaaqov had entered Egypt, and your ancestors cried out to YHWH [for help], then YHWH sent Moshe and Aharon, and they brought your ancestors out from Egypt and made [it possible for] them to inhabit this place.
9. “When they forgot YHWH their Elohim, He sold them into the hand of Sisera, captain of the army of Hatzor or into the hand of Filistines or into the hand of the king of Moav, and they waged war against them.
The Hebrew word for “forgot” is from a root meaning “to cripple or make lame”. In their minds they had “crippled” YHWH—made Him something less important than a king. Over and over in his final address to Israel, Moshe warned us not to forget YHWH. (Deut. 6:2; 8:11, 14, 19)
10. “Then they cried out to YHWH [for help] and said, ‘We have sinned, because we abandoned YHWH and served the Ba’alim and the Ashtaroth, but now let us be snatched from our enemies’ hand and we will serve You!’
11. “So YHWH sent Yerubba’al and B’Dan and Yifthakh—and Shmu’el—and snatched you out of the hand of your enemies from all around, and you dwelt in security.
Yerubba’al is another name for Gid’on. B’Dan (“the one within Dan”) is a nickname for Shimshon. Shmu’el: He is speaking frankly yet somewhat scathingly when he includes his own name among the deliverers of Israel, for by not accepting his sons, they have diminished his authority which history plainly shows was up with the rest of them. Christianity also chose a “king” over a “judge”, not liking anyone who will make us feel bad about what we have done wrong. Yet without judgment there can be no mercy.
12. “When you saw that Nakhash the king of the sons of Ammon coming upon you, you told me, ‘No, because a king should reign over us!’—when YHWH your Elohim was your King.
Unlike all the precedents he cites, this time when they are in trouble, they do not follow the former pattern, but have a more “modern” solution—a king! They wanted to trust someone they could see—someone they had empowered. They thought the world had advanced, when in fact such an idea was great regression for Israel. Likewise, today, when problems arise, instead of praying, people fall back on fundraising. This also tells us that Nakhash was threatening Israel long before he attacked Yaveysh-Gil’ad.
13. “So now here is your king, whom you chose, whom you asked for, as YHWH indeed has appointed a king over you.
14. “If you will fear YHWH and serve Him and obey His voice, and not rebel against the mouth of YHWH, then both you as well as the king that has begun to reign over you will be following after YHWH your Elohim.
YHWH grew so tired of hearing their whining that he let them have their way, but after several openings to repent, He now makes it clear that they can no longer undo that decision when their children start being drafted into the king’s service. All they can do is repent in a general sense and make the most of their new situation. He makes it clear that they had better not diminish the tithes when the tax bills come. Though it will be immensely more inconvenient, if they continue to fulfill all their obligations to Him, He will still keep His promises as well. Following after: going behind, in the sense of moving in the same direction as He and receiving the benefits that result from being on His side, as contrasted with the alternative:
15. “But if you will not listen to YHWH’s voice and you disobey the mouth of YHWH, then YHWH’s hand will be against you and against your ancestors!
Can we even turn His hand against those it supported in the past by our actions today? It sounds that way!
16. “Even now, present yourselves and see this great thing that YHWH is doing before your [very] eyes!
17. “Isn’t today [the day for] harvesting the wheat stalks? I will call out to YHWH and He will provide thunderings and rain so that you may recognize and face [the fact] that your offense that you have perpetrated by requesting a king for yourselves is severe in YHWH’s eyes.”
Many must have balked even at the idea of joining this gathering since they had crops to harvest before the time passed, but now YHWH will add to their chagrin by sending rain that can make the wheat, which is dry for harvest, mildew before they could bind it into sheaves. (It has to be thoroughly dry before it can be stored.) Provide: as He “provided” a king though they did not need one, just as they did not need rain at harvest-time. In Deut. 11:17, YHWH threatened to withhold rain if Israel stirred up His wrath, but rain at the wrong time is just as much of a punishment. The wheat harvest begins at Shavuoth, and the thunderings would have reminded them of the giving of the covenant at Sinai on that same day centuries before. Were the people in tune with Torah enough to even remember that this was a festival day?
18. Then Shmu’el called out to YHWH, and YHWH brought thunderings and [soaking] rain that day, and all of the people became very afraid of YHWH and Shmu’el.
This was Shmu’el’s idea, yet, as with Y’hoshua’s calling the sun to stand still, YHWH obliged. Shmu’el was YHWH’s deputy; as with Y’shua, to fear him was to fear YHWH, for YHWH can only be seen by His actions through His servants. Were they afraid because they recognized that Shmu’el still had the kind of authority with YHWH that Sha’ul did not, or because if this rain continued, the crop would certainly be lost? He sent rain out of season to remind them that their desire for a king was out of season as well.
19. Then all the people said to Shmu’el, “Pray to YHWH your Elohim for your servants, so that we might not die, because we have added this offense of requesting a king for ourselves to all of our [other] sins!’
Your Elohim: As in Moshe’s day, the thunderings and this evidence that He controlled even the crops on which they depended made them take a step back from YHWH and wonder whether they could really tolerate His presence. They ask Shmu’el to intercede, because he obviously still has favor with YHWH.
20. So Shmu’el said to the people, “Don’t be afraid. You have done all of this evil. Just don’t turn aside from following after YHWH, but serve YHWH with your whole heart.
Seeing their repentance, he brings them a message of mercy but also reminds them that the warning still stands if they change their attitude again.
21. “And do not turn away in order to follow after wasteful things which cannot make you ascend and which cannot bring about recovery, because they are empty.
Wasteful, empty: the same word used of the chaotic condition of the world before YHWH brought about order. (Gen. 1:2) He had already brought the best form of order for Israel through the Torah, and now we were rejecting it, desiring to go back instead into what YHWH knew was worthless.
22. “Because YHWH will not be slack about His people for the sake of His distinguished reputation, because YHWH [was so “foolish” as to] take it upon Himself to make you a people for Himself.
Be slack: abandon, allow to drop or hang loose, let go of, cast away. Take it upon Himself: or, willingly undertake. He knew what He was getting into, so He will keep His promises, but He wants us to see how far we fall short of what He would prefer His people to be like.
23. “Myself as well! It would be a violation of honor for me if I sinned against YHWH by failing to intercede for you; rather, I will instruct you in the right and proper way.
Failing: leaving a task undone, stopping, forgoing what one has begun to do. I.e., he owes it to Israel to intervene both through prayer and teaching. Proper: literally, level or straight. They are still stuck with the king, even if they repent; they will reap what they have sown, since they did not uproot it when they could, but if they get the point and go back to listening to YHWH’s messengers, it will not be as bad as it would be otherwise.
24. “Just fear YHWH and serve Him genuinely, with your whole heart, because look at what great things He has [done] with you!
Genuinely: with stability, faithfully, reliably, in truth.
25. “But if you keep doing evil, both you and your king, too, will be swept away!”
Doing evil: literally, shattering (His commandments and His covenant). And your king: They have made things much harder on themselves, because even if the whole nation kept Torah but the king did not, he is the representative of the nation and the whole nation would have to suffer for his errors, and this would indeed turn out to be the case for both Yehudah (at times) and Israel. They have put themselves in a very bad place, because they are now responsible to make sure the king keeps the Torah, but they really have no control over his decisions.
1. [This was] a year into Sha’ul’s reign. When he had reigned over Israel two years,
This: i.e., the events of the foregoing chapter. Literally, Sha’ul was a year old when he [began to] reign, if any sense can be made of that. In any case, at least one year of his reign has passed, for Hebraically, any part of the next year would count as a second year.
2. Sha’ul chose for himself 3,000 men of Israel. Now there were 2,000 with Sha’ul in Mikhmash and on the mountain of Beyth-El, while a thousand were with Yonathan in Giv’ah of Binyamin, and he sent the rest of the people away, each to his own tents.
For himself: Shmu’el’s predictions were beginning to prove true. Mikhmash means “from what is stored up”. Now called Mukhmas, it is on the north ridge of Wadi Suweinit, some 12 km. north of Yerushalayim. It would be resettled after the Babylonian captivity (Ezra 2:27; Nekhemyah 7:31; 11:31) and later become the home of Yonathan the Maccabee around 130 B.C.E. Yonathan: First introduced as a mighty warrior. He is not identified as Sha’ul’s son until verse 16. This was his identity only secondarily, for he would not lose the respect of both the people and YHWH like his father would. His name means “YHWH has provided”. His own tents: The rest were not as directly under Sha’ul’s command, but were still arranged by their tribal armies. These 3,000 select troops were drafted as a professional army of special forces because of their skill. They would no longer tend their own flocks or farms, but were now full-time warriors. For the first time in Israel, some people are “government property. This was the “reserve army”, and though they were not actively involved yet, they did not go home, but waited in the wings, since it appeared they would be needed at some point in this war.
3. Now Yonathan attacked the Filistine garrison that was at Geva’, and the Filistines heard about it. So Sha’ul blew the shofar throughout the whole Land, saying, “Let the Hebrews listen!”
Geva’: only three miles from Giv’ah, but directly between it and Mikhmash, where Sha’ul was. Yonathan probably wanted to clear the way for messengers to safely travel between the two companies—and to obtain weapons (v. 22). Blew: Clearly Sha’ul himself did not go all across the country, but had many representatives sound the ram’s horn in different locations. Hebrews: He probably knew that he would need Yehudah as well in order to defeat such a large army, so he did the politically wise thing to do in not summoning “Israel” (which had already come to mean all but Yehudah), but used a term that would include the whole nation.
4. So all Israel heard it said that Sha’ul had attacked the Filistine garrison, and that Israel had been made odious among the Filistines, so all the people were summoned to Gilgal [to follow] after Sha’ul.
Sha’ul had attacked: Yonathan was part of the household of Sha’ul, and therefore his noteworthy acts would be credited to the head of his household. Made odious: Prior to this, the Israelites had been docile for a long time, admitting their military inferiority to the Filistines due to less-advanced weaponry. Now, they were suddenly rebellious upstarts, and an irritation from right within the territory the Filistines occupied, just as they had become to Pharaoh before the Exodus (Ex. 5:21) and would during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
5. Then the Filistines assembled to do battle with Israel—30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen, and people like the sand that is on the shore of the sea for sheer numbers, and they came up and camped at Mikhmash, east of Beyth-Aven.
Like the sand on the seashore: the position Avraham’s descendants were supposed to be in (Gen. 22:17), and were only so described when Yehudah and Israel operated together in unity. (1 Kings 4:20) Now, someone else in the Land is given this description—a shame upon Israel, who had left some foreign nations in the Land which now became a thorn in their sides and were on the way to displacing them altogether.
6. And the men of Israel saw that it was dire straits for them, because the people were hard pressed, and the people went into hiding in caves, crevices, on cliffs, in underground chambers, and in pits.
Crevices: or possibly, thickets of briers. Cliffs: Hard-to-access places like Matzada. Underground chambers: One of the ways Israelite houses are identified archaeologically is by small underground food-storage “cellars” which were so effective that, when opened up after several thousand years, still had edible food in them.
7. And the Hebrews crossed the Yarden [to the] territory of Gad and Gil’ad, but Sha’ul stayed in Gilgal, and all the people followed behind him, trembling.
Hebrews: There is a pun here, because Hebrew means one who crosses over. In this case, they were going backwards, crossing to the side that was less holy—the part of the Land that had not been in the original promise. But if the army itself was terrified, should we be surprised if the rest of the people fled?
8. And he waited seven days to the time Shmu’el had appointed, but Shmu’el had not arrived at Gilgal, so the people started dispersing from him.
The time: Sha’ul only had it half-right, for he was not only to wait at least seven days; he was not to offer this offering himself, but was to wait for Shmu’el himself to come do it. Notice that although the people have a king, they still put their confidence in Shmu’el, who had put the king in office. Sha’ul was not able to inspire enough confidence to keep the nation together as Y’hoshua had.
9. So Sha’ul said, “Bring me the ascending [offering] and the peace [offering], and he let the ascending [offering] be carried upward.”
Sha’ul processed the command through his own filters, and had not heard what Shmu’el was actually saying. That he took it his own way would cost him and Israel everything. He did what made sense to him rather than paying attention to the subtleties of what Shmu’el had actually said.
10. And it turned out that as he was finishing with [sending] up the ascending [offering], there came Shmu’el! So Sha’ul went out to meet him so he could bless him.
That is, so Shmu’el, the battle priest (as per Deut. 20:2) could bless Sha’ul and his army.
11. And Shmu’el said, “What have you done?” And Sha’ul said, “Because I saw that the people were scattering from me, and you hadn’t arrived within the appointed [number of] days. Plus the Filistines were assembling at Mikhmash!
Like Adam with Chawwah, he blames those under his authority for his sin. And it turns out that he would not learn his lesson, for he would repeat the same error. (15:15-24)
12. “So I said [to myself], ‘The Filistines are about to descend on me at Gilgal, and I haven’t begged YHWH’s presence!’ So I forced myself, and offered up the ascending [offering].”
Begged YHWH’s presence: to appease or placate, but the term used literally means “to wear down or weaken”. This is the way to prepare for battle—by lowering oneself to recognize he was not going in his own power. He decided to lead where he should have followed.
13. But Shmu’el said to Sha’ul, “You have acted foolishly in not keeping the command of YHWH your Elohim about which He gave you orders, because by now YHWH could have established your throne over Israel unto perpetuity!
Could have: Yaaqov had already foretold that the scepter would belong to Yehudah. (Gen. 49:10) YHWH knew Sha’ul’s heart, and so chose a king whom He knew He could not give a dynasty to, since it was almost the tenth generation since Yehudah’s illegitimate son, so the scepter could come to light at last. In the best case scenario, Sha’ul would have had to subservient to the king from Yehudah. YHWH, knowing Sha’ul’s heart, had had Shmu’el choose him to be the one the people asked for, then “set him up” to fail so that even this would not be an issue. The command of YHWH: Shmu’el himself had given this command. (10:8) But YHWH saw it as His own command since it came through the mouth of the one He had recognized as His messenger.
14. “But now your kingdom will not be confirmed. YHWH has been looking for a man whose heart is like His, and YHWH has put him in charge of being a ruler over His people, because you have not guarded what YHWH ordered you.”
He was trying to do the right thing (v. 8-9), but this carried no weight. Has put: Though the next king did not yet know he was chosen, and though YHWH had not told Shmu’el who he was, YHWH had already chosen him. That king would begin a tradition of attaching a priest directly to the throne so he would be always nearby to advise the king against foolish decisions like this. When confronted on his sin by a prophet, he would immediately own up to it rather than making excuses. It was not unlawful for the king to offer such a sacrifice yet, because the central place of worship had not been finalized yet. The point was that he did not respect Shmu’el’s authority. YHWH had spoken directly to him since his youth, and he was obedient, so his authority increased. That is the only way to be given greater responsibility by YHWH. Eli could not hear YHWH once life “got to him”, and Shmu’el proved the more faithful servant than both him and the king, so he continued to carry more weight with YHWH. Even if he had said, “Get me a toothpick!”, this would have been YHWH’s will because the one in authority over him had said it. Sha’ul had never asked to be in this position, and even tried to avoid it, but he had to be a vessel for destruction because the people as a whole had jilted YHWH, and He is an angry Lover who could have destroyed them all, but only chose to let the wrath fall on one man—the tallest and mightiest, since that is what they trusted in instead of Himself. He even chose to treat Y’shua in the same way because of what we need to learn from it. (Yeshayahu 53:10)
15. And Shmu’el got up and went upward from Gilgal to Giv’ah of Binyamin, and Sha’ul mustered the people who were found with him—about 600 men.
This is all that were left of the original 3,000.
16. Now Sha’ul, Yonathan his son, and the people who were found with him, were staying in Geva’ of Binyamin, while the Filistines encamped at Mikhmash.
Mikhmash is about two miles from Geva’.
17. Then the destroyers came out from the camp of the Filistines [in] three companies. The one company turned to face toward the ‘Afrah road [which leads] to Sha’ul’s land.
Destroyers: from a word meaning to ruin, spoil, or corrupt. Companies: literally, heads. ‘Afrah means “a doe”. This road would run through the mountain pass mentioned in verse 23.
18. One company turned to face the road to Beyth-Horon, and one company turned to face the boundary road that overlooks the Valley of Tzvo’im in the wilderness.
Beyth-Horon is to the west of the mountains in the foothills (Sh’felah). Both Y’hoshua and the Maccabees won major victories along this strategic road, which is the easiest route through the mountains to Yerushalayim from the seacoast. Tzvo’im means “speckled”. Valley of Tzvo’im: the Great Rift Valley near where S’dom and ‘Amorah had been (Gen. 10:19) So this road went toward Y’rikho. So essentially the Filistines were cutting off all the best escape routes.
19. Now not a blacksmith was found in any of the land of Israel, because the Filistines had said, “Lest the Hebrews make swords or spears.”
No wonder the Israelites were so fearful.
20. So all of Israel [had to] go down to the Filistines, each one to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, or his sickle.
Weapons were not issued by the government until the days of the Roman Empire. Normally there would only be one sword per household; others who joined him in war would have used such farm implements, as they were used to wielding them. They might have beaten them into swords (Yo’el 3:10) if the blacksmiths had been available.
21. And there was a charge of a pim for the plowshares, the mattocks, the three-pronged pitchfork, or the axes, or to fix the goads [so they are stationary].
Pim: a weight equal to one third of a sheqel used to pay the Filistines for this service. (Prager) Thus we see that what they would have used as weapons were not sharp, and probably due to the famine that resulted when their crops were lost (12:17-18), they could not afford even this amount. So the Filistines “got them coming and going.” They may have gone to the Filistines for grain, and the Filistines sold it on the condition that they surrender all blacksmiths, just as in Yoseyf’s day all the Egyptians had to eventually sell themselves to Pharaoh when they were starving. Undoubtedly the Filistines also confiscated the swords which had been brought to them for sharpening, and which no one could come back to pay for once they were sharpened. Like the Romans who held the high priest’s garments “hostage” until they were actually needed so that the people would remain compliant, the Filistines may have held even the farm implements until the harvest time, and since the harvest had never come this year, they never received them back. The Filistines thus effectively kept the Israelites from being able to attack them on any grand scale. On of the first laws the Nazis passed when they came to power was to regulate who could have guns, for if they held control of who had guns, no one else could rise up against them once their motives became clear.
22. So it turned out that on the day of battle, not a sword or spear was found in the hand of any of the people who were with Sha’ul and Yonathan, except that Sha’ul and Yonathan were able to acquire [some].
23. So the Filistine garrison came out toward the Mikhmash pass.
Between Mikhmash and Giv’ah runs this mountain pass which, aside from the summit ridge line itself, is the only easily-traversed north-south route through the mountains, because of the many side canyons which make travel difficult anywhere else.
1. When the day came, Yonathan the son of Sha’ul said to the young [servant] carrying his armor, “Come, let’s cross over to the outpost of the Filistines that is over there!” But he didn’t inform his father.
This somewhat independent spirit, which shows up in several ways throughout this chapter, would later enable Yonathan to recognize YHWH’s next choice of a king, though it would not be himself, when his father did not. He seems to disagree with his father often, because in some ways he seems both more intelligent and more in tune with YHWH than Sha’ul. As David will, he sees that something needs to be done to protect the nation, and if his father knew of his plans, he might hold him back from going just because of emotional ties.
2. Now Sha’ul was sitting on the outskirts of Giv’ah under the pomegranate [tree] that is on the precipice. And the people who were with him [numbered] about 600 men.
He was retracing the footsteps of his ancestors, who had to be among the 600 Binyamites who took refuge in a cliff called Rimmon (which means pomegranate), per Judges 20:47. Was he trying to connect with them? As with Yaaqov in Gen. 34, Sha’ul was passive while his sons took action.
3. Now Akhiyah (the son of Akhituv, the brother of Ikhavod the son of Pin’khas the son of Eli the priest of YHWH at Shiloh) was wearing an efod. But the people did not know that Yonathan had gone.
Had Shmu’el reinstated the priestly dynasty of Eli since Israel had rejected his sons? Probably not; they were probably just acting in the role anyway. It does not say this efod was the official high priestly one in particular.
4. And between the passes [by] which Yonathan was seeking to cross over onto the Filistine garrison, there was a steep cliff on this side and a steep cliff on the side across from it. The name of the one was Botzetz [glistening beyond whiteness] and the [other] one, Seneh [thorny bush].
5. The one sharp [crag] was a column on the north facing Mikhmash, and the [other] one on the south facing Geva’.
Sharp crag: the Hebrew word is the same as for that of a tooth. Going between them would be symbolic of walking into a lion’s mouth, yet still Yonathan bravely takes the initiative. It is reminiscent of when Y’hoshua brought the people between Mt. Eval and Mt. Grizim, the mountains of cursing and blessing. This was Yonathan’s own “entrance into the Land”, and he hopes to be favored with YHWH’s blessing:
6. And Y’honathan said to the young man carrying his equipment, “Come, let’s go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised [people]; maybe YHWH will act on our behalf, because there is nothing preventing YHWH from bringing deliverance [whether] by many or by few!”
If YHWH is on our side, natural disadvantages do not matter. Recall that when “garrison” is mentioned in this chapter, it refers to the people who have begun marching toward Israel from the outpost (13:23), not the fortress itself. Deliverance: of his father and all Israel from the impending attack.
7. So his armor-bearer told him, “Do all that is in your heart. Extend yourself! I’m here for you whatever you determine!”
Though young, this armor-bearer would be a very large, strong man to be able to carry the heavy armor. All that is in your heart: We may follow our hearts if they are well-trained and disciplined, as his was. Though his idea here appeared rather dangerous, it was not in violation of the Torah in any way, and is for the sake of the whole of YHWH’s people, so though the armor-bearer might not do it the same way, he leaves the decision to Yonathan, assuring him that he will be loyal to his master and guard his back all the way, even if he would not want to be held responsible himself for what appeared a suicidal choice. Extend: stretch, turn, incline, or bend. He trusted Yonathan’s inclinations.
8. So Y’honathan said, “Here’s [what we’ll do]: We’ll cross over to the men and disclose ourselves to them.
Disclose ourselves: in a tantalizing, provocative manner. Note that his name in this verse and v. 6 has the more complete spelling by which YHWH’s name is more readily discerned therein. It makes no difference to the meaning, but may indicate the scribe’s intention to signify that his heart toward YHWH was complete here and that it was faith in YHWH that had motivated this seemingly-insane move. He also seems to be speaking in a prophetic role here, as he lays out a test by which to determine YHWH’s will:
9. “If they say this to us: ‘Stand still until we can reach you”, then we will stay where we are and not go up to them.
10. “But if this is how they speak: ‘Come up above us!’, then we will go up, because YHWH has put them into our hand; this will be our sign.”
Above us: i.e., come so close as to be “right on top of us”. Though the garrison would change the phraseology slightly (v. 12), Yonathan would take such an answer as an actual invitation, not a taunt; if they would speak such a curse on themselves, he would gladly take them up on it.
11. So both of them showed themselves to the Filistine garrison, and the Filistines said, “Well, what do you know? Hebrews are coming out from the caves where they were hiding themselves!”
Apparently they had been able to hide behind the two cliffs until they got to a certain vantage point, possibly even within bowshot of the soldiers.
12. So the men of the garrison responded to Yonathan and his armor-bearer by saying, “Come up to us, so we can let you know something!” So Yonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, because YHWH has given [them] into Israel’s hand!”
Let you know something: i.e., “We’ll teach you a lesson or two!” Note that Yonathan did not say “into my hand”, though he did this almost single-handedly; he thought of it as a victory for the entire nation.
13. And Yonathan climbed up on his hands and feet with his armor-bearer behind him, and they fell before Yonathan, and his armor-bearer was bringing death after him.
Bringing death after him: Since they would have only had one sword with them, Yonathan must have been using his staff (v. 27) to strike them down, then the armor-bearer “finished them off” with his sword after they had fallen.
14. So this was the first blow, when Yonathan and the one who carried his armor defeated about twenty men in about half the area a team of oxen could plow [in a day].
15. Then there was an anxious trembling in the camp in the field and among all the people of the garrison, and even the destroyers themselves were shaking. The earth quaked too, and it served as a trembling of Elohim.
Trembling of Elohim: Yonathan’s faithfulness and bravery “lit YHWH’s fire”, and created such a commotion among Israel’s enemies that YHWH essentially said, “I want to get in on this too!”
16. And those who were spies for Sha’ul in Giv’ah of Binyamin looked, and the horde had dissipated, and they knocked [each other] down as they went.
17. Then Sha’ul said to the people who were with him, “Muster [the troops] and see who is gone from us.” So they passed in review, and, sure enough, Yonathan and his armor-bearer were missing.
He wanted to know whether someone from Israel or an outsider had inflicted such a condition on the Filistines, though in the back of his mind he probably suspected it was his own son who was the hero.
18. So Sha’ul told Akhiyah, “Bring the ark of Elohim [here].” (Because on that day the Ark of Elohim was with the sons of Israel.)
They probably assumed that since the Ark had caused so much trouble for the Filistines the last time it came near them, it might terrorize the Filistines if they saw it again.
19. And while Sha’ul was talking to the priest, the confusion that was in the camp of the Filistines went on and on and increased, so Sha’ul said to the priest, “Retract your hand!”
Sha’ul seems to be acting haphazardly—trying to do things by the book that Shmu’el had written about how a king should act, so he called in the priest to determine whether they should go into battle. Yet he is confused because he is really built to be a warrior, not a king. He is trying to act from his head rather than trusting what YHWH had taught in the Torah; his faith is not as simple and childlike as Yonathan’s. Apparently he asked the war priest to inquire of YHWH using the urim and thummim (Ex. 28:30), but then because he heard the noise of the battle getting louder, his taste for battle prevailed and he simply stopped the process and decided on his own to go ahead, since this was his element and it had brought his confidence back to life:
20. So Sha’ul and all the people who were with him assembled themselves and came to the battle, but, lo and behold, each one’s sword was on his fellow—a very great panic!
It seems they approached the battle but did not need to join it, because the Filistines were already killing one another in their confusion.
21. Then even the Hebrews who were for the Filistines the day before yesterday, who had come up with them in the camp, came to be with Israel that was with Sha’ul and Yonathan.
Hebrews: These must have traitors who were loyal to the Filistines since they followed whomever had the upper hand. (If they were prisoners of war, the Hebrew text would have called them captives.) Now they switched sides again. And Yonathan: He was almost seen as co-regent now.
22. When all of the men of Israel who had been hiding themselves in the mountains of Efrayim heard that the Filistines had fled, they too followed hard behind them in the battle.
23. So YHWH delivered Israel that day, and the battle spilled over into Beyth-Aven.
Beyth-Aven is east of Beyth-El.
24. But the men of Israel were hard pressed that day when Sha’ul had put the people under oath, saying, “Cursed is the man who eats [any] food until the evening when I have been avenged from my enemies!” So none of the people tasted [any] food.
Hard pressed: the term can mean to be driven like animals. When I have avenged: Contrast Yonathan, who gave YHWH and Israel the credit.
25. And all of the land came into the forest, and there was honey on the surface of the field.
26. When the people came into the forest, indeed, there was honey dripping, yet there was no one who let his hand reach his mouth, because the people were afraid of the oath.
This is an example of the land “flowing with milk and honey”. (Ex. 3:8) The earthquake probably knocked the hives from the trees and frightened away the bees.
27. But Yonathan did not hear when his father made the people swear [the oath], so he put out the tip of the rod that was in his hand, dipped it into a honeycomb, returned his hand to his mouth—and his eyes brightened up!
Rod: or, branch. His eyes brightened up: or, lit up. He not only was pleased by its taste; he was given new energy by the rush of sweetness.
28. But a man from among the people responded by saying, “Your father put the people under strict oath, saying, ‘Cursed is the man who eats [any] food today!’ So the people’s hearts sank.
Hearts sank: literally, they became weary with gloom.
29. And Yonathan said, “My father has brought about calamity on the land. Just look how my eyes brightened up because I tasted this little bit of honey;
On the land: in Israel, the Land is inseparable from its people. Calamity: i.e., that was a foolish move!
30. “how much more could the people have [done] if only they could have eaten freely today of the plunder that they had acquired from their enemies? Because [as it is] now, there hasn’t been much of a defeat of the Filistines!”
YHWH had provided food right on the way that would hardly break their pace and would not distract them from the task on which Sha’ul wanted them to focus, yet he had assumed that stopping would slow them down, when in fact it could have speeded them up.
31. (Now they had struck down [some] among the Filistines from Mikhmash to Ayalon, but the people were very exhausted.)
Ayalon: the river valley that ran westward from the part of the mountains in which they were fighting down toward the coast at Yafo (Joppa). This is where Y’hoshua had had such a mighty defeat of the five kings that had attacked Giv’on. (Y’hoshua 10) Here YHWH had helped them with the earthquake as He had helped Y’hoshua by having the sun “stand still”. The scribe thus suggests along with Yonathan that they could have had a similar victory if only they had been strengthened by food to be able to keep pressing the battle.
32. When the people attended to the spoils, they took sheep, cattle, and sons of the herd, and slaughtered them on the earth, and the people ate [it] over the blood.
I.e., upholding the oath, they had not eaten the honey, so their appetite got the best of them. They pounced so hungrily on it that they just left the carcass lying in the blood on the surface of the ground rather than digging a hole into which they should pour the blood and cover it (Lev. 17:13) so it would not be mixed in with the food. They were eating it randomly, wherever they found the spoils, without giving to YHWH the parts that belonged to Him or to the priests (who were right there with them) the cuts that were rightfully theirs.
33. And they told Sha’ul, saying, “Look! The people are sinning against YHWH by eating the food on the blood.” And he said, “You have dealt treacherously! Roll a big stone toward me today!”
34. And Sha’ul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people and tell them, ‘Let each man bring near his own ox or his own lamb, and you [can] slaughter in this [place] and eat [it], so that you won’t sin against YHWH by eating with the blood.’” So every man of the people brought his own ox with his hand that night and slaughtered [them] there.
Though he would not always remember it, Sha’ul has already learned the hard way that it is very important to follow directions exactly as they are given by someone in authority, and has become sensitive to this. Since YHWH had given him this battle, he wanted to do things right so He would give him the next as well.
35. And Sha’ul started building an altar to YHWH; it was the beginning of his altar-building for YHWH.
The stone he had brought to him (v. 33) was undoubtedly the cornerstone of this altar. Beginning: i.e., it was the first of many altars he would build. Though he had slaughtered to YHWH before, it was at Gilgal, where there was already an existing altar. (13:9) YHWH had not yet “caused His name to rest” at one particular site, so since the ark and priesthood were right at hand, this was still a valid place to slaughter to YHWH until the place where His name is written right into the terrain was in Israel’s hands. Also, the wrong priesthood was in place, so there was no clarity about where and how one could offer slaughterings to YHWH.
36. Then Sha’ul said, “Let’s go down after the Filistines at night and plunder them until the light of morning, so that they won’t have a man left!” So they said, “Do whatever seems best in your eyes.” But the priest said, “Let’s approach Elohim right here.”
I.e., “Not so fast! Shouldn’t we ask Elohim for a ruling first?” But also, the word for “approach” is from the same root as the word commonly translated “sacrifice” or “offering”, so he probably was hinting at the fact that a sin offering should be made because of the people’s having eaten blood, so that they would not go out into battle still guilty before YHWH. But since Sha’ul is too proud to confess his own guilt in making the people take such a foolish vow, he is hesitant to draw near to YHWH, but instead wants to rush right into seeing what the urim and thummim tell him about the battle he is chafing to get back to, especially since he has probably heard what Yonathan had said about the defeat being so indecisive. Now that everyone has full bellies, he is eager to get back and finish the job.
37. So Sha’ul inquired of Elohim, “Should I go down after the Filistines? Will you deliver them into Israel’s hand?” But He did not answer that day.
38. So Sha’ul said, “Come near, all you corners of the people, and recognize and consider what kind of sin this is that has taken place today!
Corners: i.e., those on which the nation is built. Josephus explains that Sha’ul assumed that since YHWH had answered readily before but on this occasion He did not, there must be some sin hidden from them that prevented Him from answering. (Antiquities 6:6:5)
39. “Because [as surely as] YHWH, who delivers Israel, is alive, even if it [proves to be] Yonathan my son, [the person who is responsible] will certainly die!” But there was no one from the whole people who responded to him.
Josephus says he resolved to do justice, whether the offender was his own son or someone who was a complete stranger to him. He may have already gotten wind of what Yonathan had done, but he may also simply have been trying to scapegoat Yonathan so he would look innocent himself, since Yonathan was beginning to get credit for the types of exploits Sha’ul was best at.
40. So he said to all of Israel, “You will [all] be on one side, and I and my son Yonathan will be on the opposite one.” So the people said to Sha’ul, “Do what is best in your eyes.”
I.e., “Do as you wish.” The people already knew who had disobeyed his command, though no one wanted to break the news to him.
41. So Sha’ul said to YHWH, “Elohim of Israel, provide a completely unimpaired [judgment].” And Yonathan and Sha’ul were captured [by the lot], while the people came out [cleared].
He wanted the white stone of the lots to fall to him, so that he would appear innocent, though he knew that it was really his own foolish command that had gotten his son in trouble.
42. So Sha’ul said, “Let [the lot] fall between myself and my son Yonathan!” And Yonathan was caught.
43. So Sha’ul said to Yonathan, “Tell me, what have you done?” So Yonathan confessed to him, saying, “I did indeed taste a little honey with the tip of the branch that was in my hand. Here I am; I must be put to death!”
He must have been disgusted with the whole matter, considering his words in verse 29, thinking, “What a waste of life!” So he was undoubtedly somewhat cynical about his being condemned to death for “such a major violation of Torah”! But if his father thought it was so important…
44. So Sha’ul said, “May Elohim do thus and add more of the same, because you must surely die, Yonathan!”
He wanted to seem strongly resolved to do the right thing no matter what, putting his vow before even his family ties, yet would not admit that he had made a foolish vow like Yifthakh did (Judges 11).
45. But the people said to Sha’ul, “Must Yonathan, the one who brought about this great deliverance in Israel, die? Perish the thought! [By the] life of YHWH, if [even] one hair of his head falls to the earth…! Because he worked with YHWH this day!” Thus the people rescued Yonathan, and he did not die.
Rescued: or ransomed, redeemed. Did one of them volunteer to die in his place? They probably simply justified this based on the fact that Yonathan himself had never taken the oath that Sha’ul had made the others swear, so how could he be held responsible for it? Which carried more weight, eating a little honey or his heroic triumph? They did well in restraining the king from putting one who was truly innocent to death. We see jealousy growing in Sha’ul later in his life, and this already may have been one reason he was willing even to have his own son put to death. The rabbinic writings say it is the duty of the people to correct their king if he is acting wrongly. The people also probably did not trust the judgment of priests who had already proven not to be completely above board. It may be, however, that Yonathan’s condemnation was only deferred until later, since he would not outlive his father either.
46. But Sha’ul went up from following after the Filistines, and the Filistines went to their own place.
Yet “their own place” was still part of Israel’s inheritance. Today the “Filistines” (the name the Palestinians call themselves) have again been given place in Israel’s land, and they remain a thorn in Israel’s side as YHWH had said. (Num. 33:55)
47. When Sha’ul had taken the office of king over Israel, he made war on his enemies on every side—with Moav, with the sons of Ammon, with Edom, with the kings of Tzovah, and with the Filistines, and wherever he turned, he caused trouble [for them].
Taken the office: It seems that until the people thus rebuked him, he had not really committed mentally to enforcing his reign, but now that they had told him, “You can’t do this!”, he was taking a tighter grip on his power. The first three are Israel’s cousins. Kings of Tzovah: part of Syria northeast of Damascus. Caused trouble: or, did damage.
48. And he acted efficiently and had Amaleq attacked, and snatched Israel from the hands of their plunderers.
49. Now Sha’ul’s sons were Yonathan [YHWH has provided], Yishwi [he resembles me], and Malkhishua [my king delivers], and the names of his two daughters: the name of the firstborn was Merav [increase], and the name of the smaller was Mikhal.
Mikhal seems to mean, “Who is able to endure [her]?” She would end up being bothersome to both her father and her husband, and this characteristic may have already been observable when she was named.
50. And Sha’ul’s wife’s name was Akhinoam [my brother is pleasant], the daughter of Akhimaatz [my brother is angry], and the commander of his army was Avner, the son of Sha’ul’s uncle Ner [candle].
51. Now Qish was Sha’ul’s father, and Avner’s father Ner was the son of Avi’el [Elohim is my father].
52. And the war held a firm grip over the Filistines all the days of Sha’ul. Whenever Sha’ul saw any heroic man or any capable son, he added them to himself.
Capable son: or, son of wealth, soldier (son of the army), son of valor or effectiveness. Again he was fulfilling Shmu’el’s warning that the king would take sons from their natural context to serve his own purposes. (8:11) Shmu’el had probably also told him that this was the way he had to act as king, so that Israel would feel her punishment more keenly.
1. Then Shmu’el said to Sha’ul, “YHWH sent me to anoint you as king over His people—over Israel. So now, listen to the voice of YHWH’s words!
He may simply be saying, “Remember who put you in your position; you don’t have a choice but to listen to me.” Or he may actually be offering Sha’ul an occasion to repent of his errors that led to the rescinding of his kingdom (13:13-14). He had failed at being a king, so YHWH gives him a task that is hard to go wrong in, since he is at home on the battlefield—if he will listen carefully to every word and keep his own reasoning out of it.
2. “This is what YHWH [Master] of Armies says: ‘I will visit Amaleq [to punish it] with what it did to Israel, when it lay [in wait] for it on the way up from Egypt.
What it did: This army is not rattling their sabers on Israel’s border; they are only a latent threat, but centuries earlier YHWH had already declared them vessels for destruction because they provoked Israel then. (Ex. 17:14-16)
3. “‘Now go attack Amaleq and dedicate everything it has to destruction, and have no pity on it, but put [them] to death, from man to woman to child to nursing infant, ox as well as lamb, camel as well as donkey.’”
Dedicate to destruction: based on the same word from which “harem” is derived—i.e., everything is off limits to you. It belongs to YHWH alone; don’t even think about taking it for yourself. In fact, see it as deserving of destruction so your own natural sympathy will not stand in the way of carrying out His simple orders. Have no pity: just as Amaleq preyed on the weakest element of Israel with no scruples about it. The same is now turning back on their own heads. (v. 2) Why the animals as well? It could be that some of them even held the seed of Amaleq (a practice YHWH forbade for Israel in Ex. 22:19, implying that others were indeed doing this).
4. But Sha’ul listened to the people and mustered them in Tela’im—200,000 foot soldiers as well as 10,000 men of Yehudah.
Already we see Israel and Yehudah listed separately. The site of Tela’im is unknown, but since Amaleq and the Qeynites dwelt within Yehudah (Judges 1:16), it was probably in Yehudah’s territory, which may be why Yehudah sent a force to assist in the effort.
5. Then Sha’ul came to an Amaleqite city, and set an ambush in the dry river bed.
6. But Sha’ul told the Qeynites, “Go, leave! Get down from among the Amaleqites, so I won’t lump you in with them, since you did kindness with all the descendants of Israel when they were coming up from Egypt. So the Qeynites departed from [being] among Amaleq.
Sha’ul knew not to destroy the righteous with the wicked (Gen. 18:25), and the Qeynites are shown to have been righteous in Judges 4:11,21; 1 Chron. 2:55.
7. And Sha’ul struck down Amaleq from Khawilah toward Shur, which is on the face of Egypt.
8. And he seized Agag, the king of the Amaleqites, alive, while he dedicated all the people to destruction with the mouth of the sword.
9. Yet Sha’ul and the people spared Agag and the best from the flock and the herd and the seconds and the rams and anything that was useful they were not willing to dedicate to destruction, whereas any contemptible [piece of] workmanship or anything worthless, that they did dedicate to destruction.
Sha’ul had his marching orders. Yet he thinks he needs a consensus. The people had just spared his son, but that was from his own foolish decision, not a command from YHWH. Here, the people may not even be aware that YHWH told Sha’ul to exterminate these people, and he may not have passed on the command to them. But Sha’ul knew he was not to have mercy on any of them. Yet he felt some common ground with this king. Here was someone who could understand him, and he may even think he can teach him something about all the quandaries that come with being a king. And he was impressive! What a prize to display! He was of the same quality as the fine animals they thought it would be a shame to waste. But Sha’ul failed the test.
10. Then the word of YHWH came to Shmu’el, saying,
11. “I regret that I have let Sha’ul be king, because he has turned back from following Me and not risen up to carry out My words.” And Shmu’el was bothered [to the point of anger], and he cried out to YHWH the whole night.
I regret: The same term He used of the whole of mankind when He decided to send the deluge in the days of Noakh. (Gen. 6:6) It literally means to sigh or deeply exhale—i.e., he is exasperated with this king who never seems to learn. Not risen: He stayed on the same level as when he began to be king—or even regressed. (v. 17) Shmu’el may have been feeling like he had lost his job all to no avail. But anything negative that befell Israel would be painful to him, since he truly loved YHWH’s people.
12. Then Shmu’el got up early to meet Sha’ul in the morning, and it was reported to Shmu’el, “Sha’ul has come to Karmel, and indeed he is erecting a monument for himself and has gone around and crossed over, and headed down to Gilgal.”
Erecting a monument: literally, firmly establishing a hand. (We see the word for “hand” used in the same way even today in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Yerushalayim.) Exodus 17:16 had said a “hand” would be on YHWH’s throne forever because of His eternal enmity against Amaleq, and the king of Israel sat on YHWH’s throne (1 Chron. 28:5), so he should have been reminded of this. But instead he put his own hand into and thought he had a right to some say in the matter. Raising a hand means “Look at me!” and since Sha’ul had drawn such attention to himself, he was now held to a higher standard of accountability. Karmel is one of the highest mountains in the Land, so anything on top of it could be seen from a long stretch of the coastal plain as well as from the Yizre’el Valley and the Galil. Did the monument say, “Sha’ul, conqueror of Amaleq” before the job was actually done?
13. So Shmu’el came to Sha’ul, and Sha’ul told him, “You are blessed by YHWH! I have fulfilled the word of YHWH.”
14. But Shmu’el said, “Then what is this sound of the flock in my ears, and the sound of the herd that I am hearing?”
15. And Sha’ul said, “They have brought from Amaleq what the people spared—the best of the flock and the herd for the sake of a slaughter to YHWH your Elohim, and the rest we have dedicated to destruction.”
Oh, that! Like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, was he saying, “Oh, these are for you, not for me!”? Yet like Aharon who dedicated the golden calf to YHWH, even the best intentions would not negate the fact that he had disobeyed. People are quick to make allowances for themselves, but if there is no accountability, there is no relationship, as he would soon find out.
16. So Shmu’el said, “Drop it, and let me make known to you what YHWH has told me in the night.” And Sha’ul told him, “Do speak!”
Sha’ul had been busy and, riding the crest of his popularity, very excited, and Shmu’el tells him to stop talking, step back, take a deep breath, and just listen for a change.
17. So Shmu’el said, “Didn’t you [become] head of the tribes of Israel when you were small in your own eyes? And YHWH anointed you to reign over Israel.
At that time he did not trust his own judgment, and quickly acknowledged that he needed an advisor, but now the position had gone to his head, and he thought these commands were only suggestions.
18. “Then YHWH sent you in a [particular] direction and said, “Go, dedicate to destruction the sinners—[that is], Amaleq—and fight against it until they finish them off.”
19. “So why have you not obeyed YHWH’s voice? That is, you have been pouncing on the plunder, and have done evil in the sight of YHWH.”
20. “But Sha’ul said to Shmu’el, “I did so obey the voice of YHWH, and have been going in the way that YHWH sent me, and I’ve brought Agag the king of Amaleq, and dedicated Amaleq to destruction!
Somehow Sha’ul did not consider the king of Amaleq to be part of Amaleq. He was “cut from a different cloth”. Undoubtedly it was because he now saw himself as in a separate category from the rest of the people of Israel. People at this time also typically saw their kings as sons or incarnations of their nation’s elohim. Like David, he may have had a sense (though misplaced) that he should not lay ahand on one anointed as king.
21. “But the people selected from the spoils the first of the flock and herd [that were] devoted to destruction, to slaughter to YHWH your Elohim in Gilgal!”
But just in case this excuse was not enough, he puts the blame on someone else as well, like both Aharon (Ex. 32:22) and Adam and Hawwah (Gen. 3). But it was still in reality his responsibility. Making excuses did not change that. Your Elohim: He thinks this will incline Shmu'el to change his opinion.
22. And Shmu’el said, “Does YHWH have [as much] pleasure in ascending offerings and slaughterings as in obeying the voice of YHWH? Look here! To obey is better than slaughtering, and to pay attention [is better] than the choicest of rams!
Did He ever ask for any animals to be slaughtered to Him? If they wanted to bring a thanksgiving offering, they had to bring it from their own wealth; using the plunder of war would cost them nothing, and therefore be meaningless. (2 Shmu’el 24:24)
23. “For rebellion is the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is [both] wickedness and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of YHWH, He has rejected you from [being] king.”
Rebellion: Even if his intentions were genuinely to honor YHWH, he transgressed his actual command, and YHWH was not impressed. Disobedience to YHWH is trying to influence outcomes to our liking, which is exactly the point of witchcraft. That is why we need to allow His actual instructions to change our natural perception of what He truly prefers. Idolatry: specifically, t’rafim—a human-like figure associated with healing. It is “worshipping” our own intellect, assuming we know better than YHWH or His true spokesman.
24. So Sha’ul said, “I have sinned, because I have crossed the mouth of YHWH and your word, because I was afraid of the people and listened to their voice.
Now that the consequences are revealed, he finally confesses that he was wrong. Yet in the midst of his “confession”, he still blames others.
25. “So now please forgive my sin and return with me so that I may worship YHWH!”
He should have killed all those he was told to kill before ever asking for forgiveness. Otherwise Shmu’el is not the one who has power to pardon him.
26. But Shmu’el said to Sha’ul, “No, I will not return with you, because you have rejected the word of YHWH, so YHWH has rejected you from [being] king over Israel.”
Sha’ul didn’t seem to have heard it well the first time. He thought of his sin as a very light one. Like those who listened to the ten spies who gave the evil report about the Land, after hearing his sentence, he tries to reverse the ruling, but it is too late. He missed the open door, and now it is shut. “Depart from me; I never knew you!”
27. As Shmu’el turned around to go, he caught hold of the extremity of his garment, and it was torn.
28. So Shmu’el said to him, “YHWH has torn the kingdom away from [being] upon you today, and has given it to [one of] your peers who is better than you.
Peers: literally, those of the same flock. Interestingly, the person he was talking about was a shepherd (not a donkey-keeper).
29. “And moreover, the Enduring-strength of Israel does not deal falsely [so that he would need to] repent, because He is not a man, to [have to] repent.
If YHWH were to change His mind, it would indicate that He was either a liar, indecisive, confused, or capricious, and He is none of these. He had not made a mistake, so why should He retract what He said? Not a man: This should have refuted many of Christianity’s claims before they ever got off the ground.
30. And he said, “I have sinned; [yet] show me honor before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, so I can worship YHWH your Elohim!”
He still just does not get it! He had probably told the people, “This time we will wait for Shmu’el before offering our slaughter, so if Shmu’el did not come back with him, the people would know something was wrong. Yet he is asking Shmu’el to attend the slaughter of contraband animals, and this would be tantamount to approving of it.
31. So Shmu’el went back after Sha’ul, and Sha’ul bowed down to YHWH.
Sha’ul may have bowed down because he was so thankful that Shmu’el had apparently given in to his pleading, thinking he was “off the hook”. But Shmu’el has a different idea about what will be slaughtered.
32. Then Shmu’el said, “Bring Agag, the king of Amaleq, near to me!” And Agag came to him readily, as Agag said [to himself], “The bitterness of death is surely past.”
33. But Shmu’el said, “Just as your sword has bereaved women, so will your mother be childless more than [other] women!” And Shmu’el cut Agag in pieces in the presence of YHWH at Gilgal.
He did it “right in front of YHWH”, and YHWH had no problem with this. It seems he did not even kill him before he started hacking away. Now that Shmu’el had done the job Sha’ul was supposed to do, there was no way Sha’ul could repent. We have no idea how long YHWH will wait before He decides that our “cup is full”, so do not test His limits. The loss of the kingship (v. 28) was the immediate cost to Sha’ul, but though Shmu’el’s actions here seemed to rectify everything Sha’ul had left undone, a problem that could have been preventedby simple, complete obedience was actually left unresolved, because in the book of Esther we see an Agagite named Haman appear. Apparently Sha’ul had allowed Agag to continue to enjoy some of the privileges of a king, and some woman found him appealing enough to want to carry a royal child. Some 500 years later, all the Jews living in the Persian Empire nearly lost their lives because of Sha’ul’s “partial obedience”, just as Aharon lost 3,000 relatives in one day because he made allowances in regard to the golden calf. YHWH resolved the situation yet again, but how much harder was it to kill 75,000 people who are trying to kill you (Esther 9:16) than to kill one man who was in custody? And Haman must have had other Agagite cousins, and the seed of Amaleq continued still. Was Hitler one of them?
34. Then Shmu’el went to Ramah, but Sha’ul went up to his own house [at] Giv’ah of Sha’ul.
35. And Shmu’el never again saw Sha’ul until the day of his death, because Shmu’el lamented Sha’ul when YHWH was sorry that He had made Sha’ul king over Israel.
The day of his death: an ambiguous phrase that works both ways. Shmu’el did not see Sha’ul before he himself died, but saw Shmu’el the evening before Sha’ul died (which, Hebraically, is the same day), as seen in chapter 28.
1. But YHWH said to Shmu’el, “How long will you mourn for Sha’ul, when I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your oil horn and go; I will send you to Yishai the Beyth-Lekhemite, because I have discerned a king for Myself from among his sons.”
YHWH had grieved for Sha’ul too (15:35), but for a reasonable time, and did not prolong His mourning. Shmu’el had invested much in him, and found it difficult to just let the dead bury their dead (for Sha’ul was already dead in YHWH’s eyes) and get on with the new season YHWH was bringing. He was a student given to him by YHWH, and he was disappointed, and probably felt it reflected his own failures. But if Sha’ul had heeded his teacher, he could have avoided much trouble. Oil horn: possibly a cow’s horn rather than a ram’s. Sha’ul was anointed with only a flask. It can hold a large quantity of oil, so this was no mere drop or two. Oil is meant to make one’s face shine (Psalm 104:15), and such an amount would remind the viewers of Moshe, the leader whose face shone. (Ex. 34:29-35) It was not the oil of anointing the priests, which could not be used for any other purpose, but was probably scented olive oil of a different type, to enrich the king in the people’s estimation.
2. But Shmu’el said, “How can I go? When Sha’ul hears [about it], he will kill me.” So YHWH said, “Take in your hand a heifer of the herd, and say, ‘I have come to slaughter to YHWH.’
This may have seemed realistic, but if YHWH had given him a command, it only stood to reason that He would protect him. YHWH provided him with an excuse by reminding him that he was in the position of priest and could make an offering in any city. (9:12, etc.) Beyth-Lekhem was a Levitical city, though Yehudites like Yishai could live in its environs, and would already have an altar. And why would Shmu’el not just be anointing a king for Yehudah alone? Yehudah helped fight some of Sha’ul’s battles, but was not necessarily responsible to him. So a kin anointed there would not actually be assumed to be Sha’ul’s rival unless he specified that the king was to rule over all Israel.
3. “And you can invite Yishai to the slaughter, and I Myself will let you know what to do; then you must anoint for Me whomever I tell you.”
He did not give Shmu’el any more details than he needed to know in order to begin to obey. He knows that if He tells an Israelite too much, we are likely to run ahead of Him and miss what He has for us in the meantime.
4. So Shmu’el did what YHWH said and came to Beyth Lekhem, and the elders of the city came trembling to meet him and said, “Do you come in peace?”
They were afraid he came to bring a message of judgment from YHWH. A heifer was a huge offering, and if it represented sin, it would be a major sin on their part. Seeing a priest coming with a heifer, they might wonder if a dead body had been found near their city and he was checking to see whether they were responsible. (Deut. 21:3-6) He was also now in Yehudah’s territory, and they would think it especially serious if a prophet with jurisdiction usually only over Israel visited then. Heifers were also offered to purify the priesthood (Numbers 19) and would remind the people of the covenant of Avraham. (Gen. 15:9) A peace offering can be either male or female (Lev. 3:1), and this is what it turned out to be.
5. And he said, “[In] peace. I have come to make a slaughter to YHWH; consecrate yourselves and come with me to the slaughter.” And he set apart Yishai and his sons and invited them to the slaughter.
Set apart: i.e., specified that they in particular (and probably they alone) were to eat of it.
6. So when they entered, he saw Eliav, and said, “Surely YHWH’s anointed is in front of Him.”
Eliav means “my Elohim is a father”. He must have had the qualities that Sha’ul had, though we know no one else at that time could top Sha’ul (9:2).
7. But YHWH said to Shmu’el, “Do not pay attention to his appearance or his height, because I have disqualified him, because it is not how he looks, for man looks on the outward appearance, but YHWH looks on the heart.”
On the outward appearance: literally, to the eyes (possibly as idiomatic of one’s degree of generosity), and etymologically, what flows forth from one. The heart: what motivates him and what he desires most.
8. So Yishai called for Avinadav. As he passed before Shmu’el, he said, “YHWH has not chosen this one either.”
Here was one whose “eye” did appear sound, for this is an idiom for generosity. Avinadav’s name means “my Elohim is generous”!
9. And Yishai caused Shammah to pass before Shmu’el, but he said, “YHWH has not chosen this one either.”
Shammah means “astonishing”. He may have been very impressive as well.
10. And Yishai had seven of his sons pass before Shmu’el, but Shmu’el said to Yishai, “YHWH has not chosen any of these.”
His other sons do not appear again in this narrative, but their names are given in 1 Chron. 2:15.
11. So Shmu’el said to Yishai, “Is this the last of the lads?” And he said, “There is still the youngest, but look, he is tending the sheep.” But Shmu’el said to Yishai, “Send and fetch him, because we will not turn back until he comes here.”
He may have considered him insignificant, or may have been hesitant to part with his youngest, either because of his skills or his affection for him.
12. So he sent and had him brought, and he was ruddy, with handsome eyes, and a fine appearance. And YHWH said, “Get up and anoint him, because he is the one.”
Ruddy: possibly sunburned from being out with the sheep every day. Like Esau, he was a man of the field (which Y’shua says symbolizes the world), and indeed he was a man of blood, but it was for the purpose of caring for the flocks, not stalking them; his “left hand” was subjected to the service of his right. A fine appearance: YHWH included this token capitulation to Shmu’el’s expectations, though He did not have to.
13. So Shmu’el took the horn of oil and anointed him amidst his brothers, and the Spirit of YHWH rushed upon David [to cause him to prosper] from that day onwards. Then Shmu’el got up and went to Ramah.
Amidst his brothers: Since they were NOT chosen, their actions in the next chapter are explainable as jealousy. David was thus apparently the eighth son, symbolizing a new beginning for Israel like the eighth day. However, in the 1 Chronicles version, the scribe counts David as the seventh, symbolizing completion. (He also would marry a woman whose name means “the seventh daughter”!) Either is full of imagery, and the discrepancy might be resolved by the fact that Shammah’s name is slightly different there, possibly indicating that this was another son, and that Shammah did not survive the battles we see him about to fight, leaving Yishai with only seven sons in the final analysis.
14. But the Spirit of YHWH turned aside from Sha’ul, and an unpleasant disposition was terrifying him.
Turned aside: as it did from Shimshon at times. An unpleasant disposition: an evil spirit (as in a demon) or simply a bad mood. When YHWH left him, a vacuum was definitely created. (Compare Mat. 12:45.) This may have been merely the court’s superstition, but it may be that witchcraft and idolatry (15:22) were spirits that especially oppressed him.
15. And Sha’ul’s servants said to him, “Please look here! A spirit of an evil elohim is terrifying you.
Spirit of an evil elohim: or, an evil spirit from Elohim. As we see in the opening chapters of Iyov, even haSatan can do nothing without YHWH’s permission.
16. “Please let our master tell your servants in front of you [that] they may seek out a man who knows how to play a harp well, then whenever the spirit of an evil elohim comes over you, his hand can play, and it will be better for you.”
It is idiomatic that “music calms even the savage beast”.
17. So Sha’ul said to his servants, “Please look on my behalf for a man who does well at playing, and bring him to me.”
18. And one of the young men answered and said, “Hey, I’ve seen a son of Yishai the Beyth-Lekhemite who knows how to play—and [he is] a brave and able man of war, one who understands words, a man of form, and YHWH is with him.”
David would have had plenty of time to practice undisturbed while pasturing his father’s flocks. If Yishai indeed considered this son too insignificant for consideration to be king, then this is a case of a prophet not being without honor except in his hometown.
19. So Sha’ul sent messengers to Yishai and said, “Send your son David, who is among the flock, to me.”
Yishai may have thought Sha’ul had gotten wind of the anointing, and was intent on killing David.
20. So Yishai selected a donkey, bread, and a skin-bottle of wine, as well as one of the goats’ kids, and sent [them] to Sha’ul by the hand of his son David.
He knew Sha’ul liked donkeys! Compare this to 10:3.
21. When David came to Sha’ul, he would stand before him, and he liked him very much, and he became his armor-bearer.
Unlike the stereotypes, David could not have still been a child at this time, To be an armor-bearer in particular required one to be strong and robust. YHWH had a roundabout way of training him for the palace that would not raise Sha’ul’s suspicions yet.
22. So Sha’ul sent to Yishai to say, “Please let David stay in my presence, because he has found favor in my eyes.”
While anyone might be summoned (v. 19), Sha’ul had less direct jurisdiction over Yehudah than over the rest of Israel. He belonged to another household, so Sha’ul could not just conscript him.
23. So whenever the spirit of an elohim would come to Sha’ul, David would take the harp and play [it] with his hand and relieve Sha’ul and it was better for him, and the evil spirit would turn away from [being] upon him.