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Saul the King

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Saul the King

This article is about King Saul, the Biblical figure. For other uses, see Saul (disambiguation).
King of Israel
Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1658.
Reign c. 1050 — 1010 BC coronation = at Gilgal
Born 1079 BC
Birthplace possibly Gibeah
Died c.1010 BC (age 72)
Place of death Battle of Mount Gilboa
Successor David (Judah), Ish-bosheth (Israel)
Consort Ahinoam, daughter of Ahimaaz
Father Kish according to the Tanakh of the family of the Matrites, and a member of the tribe of Benjamin, one of the tribes of Israel.

According to the Hebrew Bible, Saul (Template:Hebrew Name 1; Arabic: طالوت‎, Ṭālūt; Greek: Σαούλ Saoul; Latin: Saul) (circa 1079 BC – 1007 BC) was the first king of a united Kingdom of Israel. He was anointed by the prophet Samuel and reigned from Gibeah. He fell on his sword to avoid capture in the battle against the Philistines at Mount Gilboa, during which three of his sons were also killed. The succession to his throne was contested by Ish-bosheth, his only surviving son, and his son-in-law David, who eventually prevailed.

The main account of Saul's life and reign is found in the biblical Books of Samuel; the historicity of his kingdom has been called into question by historians.[1]

Biblical account

House of King Saul

According to the Gibeah.

Saul married Ahinoam, daughter of Ahimaaz. They had four sons and two daughters. The sons were Jonathan, Abinadab, Malchishua and Ish-bosheth. Their daughters were named Merab and Michal.[2]

Saul also had a 2 Samuel 21:8)

Saul offered Merab to 1 Samuel 25:44)

Saul died at the Battle of Mount Gilboa (2 Samuel 21:14) When Saul first became king, he followed Samuel's bidding. Eventually, as Saul disobeyed God, God told Samuel to anoint a new king. Saul was so caught in sin that he could not obey God.


Three of Saul's sons – Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchishua – died with him at Mount Gilboa (2 Samuel 2:10) Michal was returned as a wife to David, but wasn't granted any children as she disgraced David later on.

Ish-bosheth reigned for two years and was killed by two of his own captains. (2 Samuel 9:12) of whom nothing more is heard.

Armoni and Mephibosheth (Saul's sons with his concubine, Rizpah) were given by David along with the five sons of Merab (Saul's daughter)2 Samuel 6:23)

Anointed as king

Samuel, the Prophet, had sons who were dishonest and not trustworthy of the faith. The leaders of the Israelites feared that it would be disastrous if his sons were to be judge over them and requested that Samuel give them a king. God warned that if he appointed a king over them, they would suffer from the dealings of the king. Saul, a young Israelite, was commanded by his father, Kish, to go and locate their lost donkeys. Saul obeyed and Samuel saw him walking toward him. God revealed to Samuel that Saul would be the one anointed as the "first" King of Israel. Peter J. Leithart observes:

Saul, the first king, begins as an ideal choice to lead and judge Israel ..... Saul cares for his father's animals (as did

In the 1 Samuel 13:14).

The Israelite people generally used the term “king,” because they wanted to be like the other nations (1 Samuel 11:14-12:2)

The Books of Samuel give three events in Saul's rise to the throne:

  • (anointed him in private.
  • (
  • (Gilgal, and acclaimed Saul as king.


According to 1 Samuel 13:14). After the battle with the Philistines was over, the text describes Samuel as having instructed Saul to kill all the Amalekites, which was in accordance with the mitzvah to do so. Having forewarned the Kenites who were living among the Amalekites to leave, Saul went to war and defeated the Amalekites. Saul killed all the babies, women, children, poor quality livestock and men, and left alive the king and best livestock.

When Samuel found out that Saul had not killed them all, he became angry and launched into a long and bitter diatribe about how God regretted making Saul king, because Saul was disobedient. When Samuel turned away, Saul grabbed Samuel by his clothes and tore a small piece off them, which Samuel states is a prophecy about what will happen to Saul's kingdom. Samuel then commands that the Amalekite king (who, like all other Amalekite kings in the Hebrew Bible, is named Agag) should be brought forth. Samuel proceeds to kill the Amalekite himself and makes a final departure.

Saul and David

It is at this point that David, a son of Jesse, from the tribe of Judah, enters the story:

  • (1 Samuel 16:1-13) Samuel is surreptitiously sent by God to Jesse. While offering a sacrifice in the vicinity, Samuel includes Jesse among the invited guests. Dining together, Jesse's sons are brought one by one to Samuel, each time being rejected by him, speaking for God; running out of sons, Jesse sends for David, the youngest, who was tending sheep. When brought to Samuel, David is anointed by him in front of his other brothers.
  • (1 Samuel 16:14-23) Saul is troubled by an evil spirit sent by God (some translations euphemistically just describe God not preventing an evil spirit from troubling Saul). Saul requests soothing music, and a servant recommends David the son of Jesse, who is renowned as a skillful harpist and soldier. When word of Saul's needs reach Jesse, he sends David, who had been looking after a flock, and David is appointed as Saul's armor bearer. David remains at court playing the harp as needed by Saul to calm his moods.
  • (sling, which hits him in between the eyes. Goliath falls forward and David decapitates him with his own sword.

Saul's love of glory

In the text, Saul's son Jonathan becomes David's dearest friend. Eventually, David becomes Jonathan's brother-in-law by Michal. Jonathan recognises David as the rightful king, and 1 Samuel 18 states "Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul."[7] Jonathan even gives David his military clothes, symbolizing David's position as successor to Saul.

God makes David successful wherever Saul sends him. Therefore Saul sets David in charge of the army. After David returns from battle, the women heap praise upon him and refer to him as a greater military hero than Saul by singing "Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands" which makes him very angry and jealous, fearing David as a rival to the throne.

Another day, while David is playing the harp, Saul - possessed by an evil spirit - throws a spear at him but misses on two occasions. Saul removes David from the court and appoints him an officer, but David becomes increasingly successful, making Saul even more resentful of him. In return for being his champion, Saul offers his daughter Merob to David as a wife. But David is too humble to accept, so Merob is married to a different man. When Saul's other daughter Michal falls in love with David, Saul repeats the offer. Again David turns it down, claiming he lacks the wealth of a suitable husband. Saul persuades David that the bride price would only be 100 foreskins from the Philistines; he secretly hopes that David will be slain trying to achieve this. Instead, David obtains 200 foreskins and is consequently married to Michal.

The narrative continues as Saul plots against David, but Jonathan dissuades Saul from this course of action; he also tells David of it. Saul tries to have David killed during the night, but Michal helps him escape and tricks his pursuers by using a household idol to make it seem that David is still in bed. David flees to Jonathan, who wasn't living near Saul. Jonathan returns to Saul, hoping to discover his father's ultimate intent. While dining with Saul, Jonathan pretends that David has been called away to his brothers. But Saul sees through the ruse and castigates Jonathan for being David's protector; clearly, Saul wants David slain. The next day, Jonathan meets with David and tells him Saul's intent. The two friends say their goodbyes, and David flees into the countryside. Saul later marries Michal to another man.

Saul is later informed by his head shepherd, an Edomite named Doeg, that Ahimelech assisted David. A henchman is sought to kill Ahimelech and the other priests of Nob. None of Saul's henchmen are willing to do this, so Doeg offers to do it instead...killing 85 priests. Saul also kills every man, woman and child living in Nob.

David had already left Nob by this point and had amassed about 400 disaffected men including a group of outlaws. With these men David launches an attack on the Philistines at Keilah. Saul realises he could trap David and his men by laying the city to siege. Yet David hears about this and, having received divine counsel (via the Ephod), finds that the citizens of Keilah would betray him to Saul. He flees to Ziph. Saul discovers this and pursues David on two occasions:

  • Some of the inhabitants of Ziph betray David's location to Saul, but David hears about it and flees with his men to Maon. Saul follows David, but while Saul travels along one side of the gorge, David travels along the other, and Saul is forced to break off pursuit when the Philistines invade. This is supposedly how the place became known as the gorge of divisions. David hides in the caves at Engedi and after fighting the Philistines, Saul returns to Engedi to attack him. Saul eventually enters the cave in which David had been hiding, but as David is in the darkest recesses Saul doesn't spot him. David cuts off a piece of Saul's robe; yet David restrains himself and his associates from going further, due to a taboo against killing an anointed king...and also due to the risk of rationalizing Saul's jealousy and paranoia. David then leaves the cave, revealing himself to Saul, and gives a speech that persuades Saul to reconcile.
  • On the second occasion, Saul returns to Ziph with his men. When David hears of this he sneaks into Saul's camp by night, and thrusts his spear into the ground near where Saul is sleeping. David prevents his associates from killing Saul, because doing so would prove the former no more worthy than the latter; Instead, David merely steals Saul's spear and water jug. The next day, David stands atop a slope opposite Saul's camp; he shows the jug and spear as proof that he could have slain Saul but did not. David then persuades Saul to reconcile with him; the two swear never to harm one another. After this they never see each other again.

Saul is among the prophets

The phrase Saul is among the prophets, is mentioned by the text in a way that suggests it was a proverb in later Israelite culture. Two accounts of its origin are given:

  • (1 Samuel 10:11 etc.) Having been anointed by Samuel, Saul is told of signs he will receive to know that he has been divinely appointed. The last of these signs is that Saul will be met by an ecstatic group of prophets leaving a high place and playing music on lyre, tambourine, and flutes. The signs come true (though the text skips the first two, suggesting that a portion of the text has been lost, or edited out for some reason), and Saul joins the ecstatic prophets, hence the phrase.
  • (1 Samuel 19:24 etc.) Saul sends men to pursue David, but when they meet a group of ecstatic prophets playing music on lyre, tambourine, and flute, they become possessed by a prophetic state and join in. Saul sends more men, but they too join the prophets. Eventually Saul himself goes, and also joins the prophets, hence the phrase.

Battle of Gilboa and the death of King Saul

Despite the oath(s) of reconciliation, David felt insecure, and so made an alliance with the Philistines, becoming their vassal. Emboldened by this, the Philistines prepared to attack Israel, and Saul led out his army to face them at Mount Gilboa, but before the battle decided to consult the witch of Endor for advice. The witch, unaware of who he was, reminded Saul that the king (i.e. Saul himself) had made witchery a capital offence, but after being assured that Saul wouldn't harm her, the witch conjures up a spirit that was possibly impersonating Samuel, who had previously died (1 Samuel 25:1; 28:3).[8] Upon seeing "Samuel," Saul fell with his face to the ground and "Samuel" asked Saul, "Why have you disquieted me, to bring me up?" Saul told "Samuel" of the forthcoming battle with the Philistines and that God will not answer him anymore when he prays, and asks for understanding. "Samuel" then told Saul that he will lose the battle and his life.

1 Samuel and 2 Samuel give conflicting[9] accounts of Saul's death. In the former, Saul returned to face his enemies, and the Israelites were duly defeated. To escape certain torture,[9] Saul then asked his armour bearer to kill him, but was forced to commit suicide by falling on his sword when the armour bearer refused.

In 2 Samuel, Saul asks not his armour bearer but an Amalekite to deliver the coup de grace, or so the Amalekite boasts to David, hoping to gain a reward.[9] Infuriated, David orders the Amalekite to be put to death as punishment for killing "God's anointed," despite Saul's earlier assassination attempt upon David. The body of Saul, with those of his sons, was fastened to the wall of Beth-shan, and his armor was hung up in the house of Ashtaroth (an Ascalonian temple of the Canaanites). The inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead (the scene of Saul's first victory, now identified as Tell Abu al-Kharaz, Jordan) rescued the bodies and took them to Jabesh-gilead, where they burned their flesh and buried the bones.

Various authors have attempted to harmonize the two narratives regarding Saul's death. Josephus writes that Saul's attempted suicide stalls because he is not able to run the sword through himself, and asks the Amalekite to finish it.[9] Later biblical criticism has posited that the story of Saul's death was redacted from various sources, although this view in turn has been criticized because it does not explain why the contradiction was left in by the redactor(s).[9]

Classical rabbinical views

Two opposing views of Saul are found in classical rabbinical literature. One is based on the reverse logic that punishment is a proof of guilt, and therefore seeks to rob Saul of any halo which might surround him; typically this view is similar to the republican source. The passage referring to Saul as a choice young man, and goodly (1 Samuel 9:2) is in this view interpreted as meaning that Saul was not good in every respect, but goodly only with respect to his personal appearance (Num. Rashi 9:28). According to this view, Saul is only a weak branch (Gen. Rashi 25:3), owing his kingship not to his own merits, but rather to his grandfather, who had been accustomed to light the streets for those who went to the bet ha-midrash, and had received as his reward the promise that one of his grandsons should sit upon the throne (Lev. Rashi 9:2).

The second view of Saul makes him appear in the most favourable light as man, as hero, and as king. This view is similar to that of the monarchical source. In this view it was on account of his modesty that he did not reveal the fact that he had been anointed king (1 Samuel 10:16; Meg. 13b); and he was extraordinarily upright as well as perfectly just. Nor was there any one more pious than he (M. Q. 16b; Ex. Rashi 30:12); for when he ascended the throne he was as pure as a child, and had never committed sin (Yoma 22b). He was marvelously handsome; and the maidens who told him concerning Samuel (cf 1 Samuel 9:11-13) talked so long with him that they might observe his beauty the more (Ber. 48b). In war he was able to march 120 miles without rest. When he received the command to smite Rizpah}, while David had many. Saul expended his own substance for the war, and although he knew that he and his sons would fall in battle, he nevertheless went forward, while David heeded the wish of his soldiers not to go to war in person (2 Samuel 21:17; Lev. Rashi 26:7; Yalq., Sam. 138).

According to the Rabbis, Saul ate his food with due regard for the rules of ceremonial purity prescribed for the sacrifice (Yalq., l.c.), and taught the people how they should slay cattle (cf 1 Samuel 14:34). As a reward for this, God himself gave Saul a sword on the day of battle, since no other sword suitable for him was found (ibid 13:22). Saul's attitude toward David finds its excuse in the fact that his courtiers were all tale-bearers, and slandered David to him (Deut. Rashi 5:10); and in like manner he was incited by Doeg against the priests of Nob (1 Samuel 22:16-19; Yalq., Sam. 131) - this act was forgiven him, however, and a heavenly voice (bat qol) was heard, proclaiming: Saul is the chosen one of God (Ber. 12b). His anger at the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:2) was not personal hatred, but was induced by zeal for the welfare of Israel (Num. Rashi 8:4). The fact that he made his daughter remarry (1 Samuel 25:44), finds its explanation in his (Saul's) view that her betrothal to David had been gained by false pretenses, and was therefore invalid (Sanhedrin 19b). During the lifetime of Saul there was no idolatry in Israel. The famine in the reign of David (cf 2 Samuel 21:1) was to punish the people, because they had not accorded Saul the proper honours at his burial (Num. Rashi 8:4). In Sheol, Samuel reveals to Saul that in the next world, Saul would dwell with Samuel, which is a proof that all has been forgiven him by God('Er. 53ba]

Biblical criticism

Saul's name and Samuel's birth-narrative

The birth-narrative of the prophet Samuel is found at 1 Samuel 1-28. It describes how Samuel's mother Hannah requests a son from Yahweh, and dedicates the child to God at the shrine of Shiloh. The passage makes extensive play with the root-elements of Saul's name, and ends with the phrase hu sa'ul le-Yahweh, "he is dedicated to Yahweh." Hannah names the resulting son Samuel, giving as her explanation, "because from God I requested him." Samuel's name, however, can mean "name of God," (or "Heard of God" or "Told of God") and the etymology and multiple references to the root of the name seems to fit Saul instead. The majority explanation for the discrepancy is that the narrative originally described the birth of Saul, and was given to Samuel in order to enhance the position of David and Samuel at the former king's expense.[10]

Divine rejection or judgement

The main challenge Saul encounters is his lack of divine approval; he is portrayed negatively as soon as David is added to the narrative.[11] At this point Saul is rejected and the Spirit of the Lord is replaced by an "evil spirit" explained in 1 Samuel 16:14. In contrast, once David is anointed, "the spirit of the Lord comes upon [him]."[11] David's anointment differs from Saul's because it is relatively unfailing throughout the narrative despite David's shortcomings, such as his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah.

In spite of this rejection from God, Saul's name was apparently respected enough that it was Paul the Apostle's birth name some thousand years later.

In Islam

Muslims believe Saul (Arabic: طالوت, Tālūt‎) was the commander of Israel, as do Jews and Christians. According to the Qur'an, Saul was chosen by the prophet Samuel (not mentioned by name explicitly but rather as "a Prophet" of Israelites) after being asked by the people of Israel for a king to lead them into war. The Israelites criticized Samuel for appointing Saul because Saul was not wealthy so they had no respect for him. Samuel rebuked the people for this and told them that Saul was far more favored than they were. Saul led the Israelites to victory over the army of Goliath who was killed by David. Saul is not considered a prophet generally but rather a divinely appointed king.


The name Tālūt has uncertain etymological origins. It is not similar to the Hebrew name (Sha'ul), like most Qur'anic figures. According to Muslim exegetes, the name Tālūt means 'tall' (from the Arabic "tūl") and refers to the extraordinary stature of Saul - in consonance with Biblical accounts, Muslim exegetes explain that Saul's remarkable feature was his stature.[12] In explanation of the name, exegetes such as Tha'labi hold that at this time, the future king of Israel was to be recognised by his height; Samuel set up a measure, but no one in Israel reached its height except Tālūt (Saul).

Saul as the first king

In the Qur'an, Israel demanded a king after the time of Moses. God appointed Saul king, but the people did not find him worthy of the throne. Saul was distinguished for the greatness of his knowledge and for his great physique; it was a sign of his role as king to rule that God brought back the Ark of the Covenant for Israel. Saul tested his people at a river; whoever drank from it, would not follow him in battle. Many drank but only the faithful ventured on. In the battle, however, David slew Goliath and was made the subsequent King of Israel. The Qur'anic account differs slightly from the Biblical account in that the sacred ark was recaptured in the Bible before Saul's accession and the test by drinking water is made in the Bible not by Saul but by Gideon.[13]


See also

  • Midrash Samuel
  • Islamic view of David

Further reading

  • Wellhausen, Julius, Der Text der Bücher Samuelis
  • Budde, Die Bücher Richter und Samuel, 1890, pp. 167–276
  • Driver, S. R., Notes on the Hebrew Text of the Books of Samuel, 1890
  • Cheyne, T. K., Aids to the Devout Study of Criticism, 1892, pp. 1–126
  • Smith, H. P., Old Testament History, 1903, ch. vii.
  • Cheyne, T. K., and Black, (eds.) Encyclopedia Biblica
  • Hudson, J. Francis, 'Rabshakeh' [Lion Publishing 1992] is a fictionalisation of Saul's tragedy.
  • Green, A., 'King Saul, The True History of the First Messiah' [Lutterworth Press 2007]
Saul of the United Kingdom of Israel & Judah
House of Saul
Cadet branch of the Tribe of Benjamin
Regnal titles
New title
Anointed king to
replace Judge Samuel
King of the United Kingdom
of Israel and Judah

1047 BC – 1007 BC
Succeeded by
Ish-bosheth, David

Template:Characters and Names in Quran Template:IsraeliteKings


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