It should be remembered that, according to the Scriptures, it was God who directed Samuel to anoint Saul King of Israel and this must be seen alongside the Prophet’s warnings about having a king. As God directed Samuel to anoint Saul, one is left with one of two options; either God was persuaded to participate in something that was wrong (not very omnipotent) or this was all according to a divine plan from the start. Obviously, the second would seem to be the obvious choice and, at the outset, Saul seemed to be the very embodiment of an ideal monarch. He is described as being strong, handsome, very tall and dedicated. He was also successful in the initial task which was to deliver Israel from the domination of the Philistines. After some initial victories against them, King Saul also won victories over virtually all of the enemy nations that had been plaguing the Israelites while throughout his life the on-going war with the Philistines continued to rage. He was, in short, a very adept and successful warrior king who had delivered his people from their enemies and put them back on the offensive. However, he fell out of favor rather quickly in an odd way.
|The Prophet Samuel scolding King Saul|
Throughout the rest of the scriptures dealing with King Saul he is portrayed as a fallen hero rapidly becoming a paranoid tyrant. He was constantly fighting battles with the Philistines, was becoming ever more antagonistic toward Samuel and falling ever farther from God’s favor. The young David was chosen by Samuel as the “true” monarch that God preferred and sometime after Samuel passed away. King Saul was thus also worried about a young rival in the person of David and tried, unsuccessfully, to kill him. His fears increasing, King Saul turned in desperation to the witch of Endor to conjure up the ghost of the dead Samuel. This brought him no comfort and was also a violation of God’s wishes and his own law by which he had earlier expelled all sorcerers from the land. When King Saul made war on the Gibeonites, when God had not ordered such an attack, a famine fell on the land for three years as punishment and David, who had refrained from killing Saul when he had the chance (as he was God’s anointed), had seven sons of Saul’s family executed. All of this was done, we are told, as retribution for King Saul turning away from God but it also helped secure the future throne of King David for his own dynasty, eliminating potential rivals.
|David plays his harp for King Saul|
King Saul was defeated in his last battle with the Philistines and, after being badly wounded, asked his aides to take his life. When they refused, he killed himself. His body, along with his sons, were put on display on the walls of Beth-shean but were rescued for burial by a raiding party of men from Jabesh-gilead. For a man who was portrayed in the Biblical account in a mostly villainous or at least antagonistic role, the reaction of King David to hearing of the death of Saul seems, again, somewhat curious and hints that he might not have been such a bad monarch after all. This was the last account we have addressing King Saul when David said, “Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you daintily in scarlet, who put ornaments of gold upon your apparel. How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!” It is an oddly positive and remorseful note on which to end the story of a monarch given grudgingly and then demonized as one God had turned His back on. Yet, it set the scene for the start of the rule of King David, known as a man after God’s own heart. The monarchy that Samuel warned against, under David, would be raised to exalted status and his dynasty secured with a covenant giving it a divine right to rule God’s people. For King Saul, he remains a mysterious figure, a monarch wanted, raised and then abandoned, punished and harassed and finally praised in death. There will doubtless always remain more questions about King Saul than there are answers. Nonetheless, his reign marks the beginning of the history of Israel as a united kingdom under one sacred monarchy.