Saul, the First King of Judah

Saul (Hebrew  שָׁאוּל) was the first to unite Judah & the Kingdom of Israel. It was when the Jewish people moved from being scattered tribes to truly being a nation. (And, we can assume, was the namesake for the famous Saul who became Paul in the New Testament.)

The Bible tells us of the life of Saul, principally in the Books of Samuel. The New Testament tell us the he reigned for 40 years, quite an accomplishment at the time.

Before Saul there were the Twelve Tribes of Israel & it seems that Saul came from Gibeah, a hill near Jerusalem. He married Ahinoam & had four sons & two daughters, but his line was not to carry on.

We’re not sure exactly how Saul became King. The records are almost three thousand years old, so it is remarkable that we know as much as we do. The Holy Bible is indeed an amazing book.

Here are the accounts of how Saul may have achieved his kingship:

A popular uprising that knew that Judah needed a central government ruled by a wise monarch. It is Samuel in this account who assembles the people to choose their king, & it is Saul who is chosen.

Another story says that the Tribes of Israel & other tribes come to the aid of the people of Jabesh-Gilead. It is Saul who leads the army to victory & is subsequently crowned king.

The last version has Saul looking for his father’s stray donkeys. While out looking he & his companions hear of a famous seer in a nearby town. Their go to see this wise man, who is Samuel. The seer knows that Saul is to be king & anoints him on the spot.

Whichever version is what actually happened, we know that Saul was a great king. He led as a general campaigns against many of Israel’s enemies, including the Philistines, Edomites & Ammonites.

But all is not well in Saul’s world. After these many great victories, Samuel tells Saul to make war on the Amalekites, which he does, but earlier he had disobeyed Samuel’s instructions about a war on the Philistines. This leads to Samuel telling Saul that God has rejected him because of his disobedience. He grabs Saul’s clothes, ripping them, & prophecies that the Kingdom of Judah will be torn from Saul as the cloth was torn from his body.

It is at this juncture that David of the Tribe of Judah enters. He & his brothers are brought before Saul in Bethlehem & David, the youngest, is anointed by Sault to be his successor. In Samuel 16:14-23 we hear that David is brought to play harp music for the troubled Saul… but this is not the most famous story of how David was to become King of Judah. That, of course, is in Samuel 17:1-18:5 & tells of David’s battle with the giant Goliath.

There is much contention between Saul & David, including the demand of an unpleasant bride price for Saul’s daughter Michal. Saul even tries to assassinate David at one point, but Michal, who is now David’s wife, helps him escape.

David demonstrates at one point that he could have killed Saul by taking a spear & water jug from beside the sleeping king. This reconciles them & they swear to not harm each other, but after this they never meet again.

It is at the Battle of Gilboa that Saul meets his end. In those days kings led their armies. often in the front of the battle line. Before the battle, he visits the witch of Endor who conjures the spirit of Samuel. Samuel says that God will no longer hear Saul’s prayers & that he will lose the battle & his life.

Between 1 Samuel & 2 Samuel we find different accounts of the death of Saul. In one he falls upon his own sword, in the other he is killed by David, at the King’s request.

And so ends the tale of the first King of Judah. A leader uniting a people in a time of strife & providing the foundation for all that we value today as people of faith.

 

 

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