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1 Samuel 13

“Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue’ ” (vv. 13–14).

Continuing our look at the reign of King Saul, we come today to 1 Samuel 13, which describes a key turning point in God’s dealings with the first king of Israel. The chapter opens by saying that “Saul lived for one year and then became king, and when he had reigned for two years over Israel . . .” (v. 1). This is one of the “more serious” textual issues in the Old Testament, for it suggests that Saul became king as a one-year-old and then ruled for only two years. The former is impossible, and the latter is at odds with Acts 13:42, which says that Saul reigned forty years. Many scholars say the original Hebrew text has been lost here and that we lack enough manuscript copies to determine what the text should say. If so, it is one of the very few examples of “significant” textual uncertainty in Scripture, which shows just how reliable our text is. Moreover, uncertainty regarding the length of Saul’s reign affects no Christian doctrine. Finally, it is possible that what we have is the original Hebrew text. In that case, the author is not giving the age at which Saul became king or the length of his reign but is informing us that God’s rejection of Saul’s kingdom took place two years after Saul was anointed king.

First Samuel 13 focuses on Saul’s first fight against the Philistines after he began ruling over Israel. Battling the Philistines was one of the purposes for which Saul was anointed king (9:16), but what stands out in this chapter is that Saul did not strike the initial blow against Philistia. Instead, his son Jonathan was the first to defeat the Philistines (13:3, 16). Here we have another indication that all was not going to be well with Saul. Though he did well in fighting the Ammonites (chap. 10), he did not take the initiative against the enemies he was specifically appointed to defeat. Add this to Saul’s hiding from his own anointing (10:20–23), and it is clear that this king left a lot to be desired.

But the most striking proof that Saul would not live up to the ideal was his disobedience of an explicit order from the Lord. When the time came to fight the Philistines, Saul was supposed to go to Gilgal and wait seven days for Samuel to come and offer sacrifices before Israel headed into battle (13:8). But when Saul went to Gilgal, he did not wait long enough but took the initiative to offer the sacrifices himself. Because of this blatant disobedience to a revealed command, God rejected Saul’s kingdom. That is, the Lord determined not to give Saul’s family a lasting dynasty to reign over His people (vv. 8–15).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

God is most gracious, but we should never think that disobeying His explicit commands will be without consequence. Saul disobeyed the Lord and lost the opportunity to have a lasting dynasty of sons to reign over Israel. If we are in Christ, we cannot lose our salvation, but our disobedience can cause us to lose earthly blessings. Let us seek to obey God’s revealed will so that we do not miss out on divine blessings.


For Further Study
  • 2 Samuel 12:1–15
  • 1 Corinthians 3:10–15

Hope for Israel

The Unchurched

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From the April 2019 Issue
Apr 2019 Issue