1 Samuel 13
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel,
Ch. 1 Samuel 13:1-7. Revolt of the Israelites under Saul from the Philistines

1. Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel] The Hebrew cannot be thus translated. It is the common formula for denoting the age of a king at his accession, and the length of his reign. See 2 Samuel 2:10; 2 Samuel 5:4; 1 Kings 14:21, &c. We must render, “Saul was [ ] years old when he began to reign, and reigned [ ] and two years over Israel.” Either the numbers were wanting in the original document, or they have been accidentally lost. 30 is supplied in the first place by some MSS. of the Sept., and is a plausible conjecture. The length of Saul’s reign may have been 22 or 32 years. He was in the prime of life when elected king, and his reign must have been of some considerable duration. But if he was only 30 years old at his accession, the events here recorded cannot have happened till at least 10 or 15 years after that event, for Jonathan, who has not been mentioned before, now appears as a stout warrior. In this case we have no account of the early years of Saul’s reign. This view appears to be preferable to the supposition that Saul was older at his accession, and that the history is continuous. See Introd. Ch. III.

The whole verse Is omitted by the older copies of the Septuagint, and possibly was not in the original text.

Saul chose him three thousand men of Israel; whereof two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and in mount Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin: and the rest of the people he sent every man to his tent.
2. Saul chose him three thousand men] And Saul chose, &c. The formation of a standing army marks an important epoch in the history of a nation. It was a natural result of the election of a king, who was to be a military leader. Cp. 1 Samuel 14:52. This body was only large enough to form a nucleus for the general levy of fighting men (1 Samuel 13:4), like the hus-carls of the Saxon kings for the Land-Fyrd. See Green’s Hist. of the Engl. People, p. 75.

in Michmash] The villages of Mŭkhmâs and Jeba preserve the names and mark the sites of Michmash and Geba. They stand on the N. and S. respectively of the Wady es Suweinit, a deep ravine with precipitous sides running from the highlands of Benjamin to Jericho. “About two miles S. E. of Ai it becomes a narrow gorge with vertical precipices some 800 feet high.” Jonathan was in Gibeah, a few miles to the S. W. of Geba. See note on 1 Samuel 10:5. We may conjecture that when Saul occupied Michmash the Philistines transferred their post, which had previously been at Gibeah (1 Samuel 10:5), to Geba, in order to watch him more closely. Jonathan thereupon seized Gibeah, from which he made the successful sally described in 1 Samuel 13:3.

mount Beth-el] The high ground between Bethel and Michmash.

Jonathan] The first mention of Saul’s eldest son, whose memory is famous not so much for his military achievements, as for his fast friendship with David. The name Jonathan means “the gift of Jehovah,” and may be compared with the Greek Theodore.

And Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, Let the Hebrews hear.
3. the garrison of the Philistines] See note on 1 Samuel 10:5.

Saul blew the trumpet] Heralds blowing trumpets to attract attention carried the news of Jonathan’s daring exploit throughout the country to prepare the people for a speedy summons to fight for their liberty. Cp. Jdg 3:27; Jdg 6:34; 2 Samuel 20:1.

Let the Hebrews hear] The name “Hebrews” is generally employed only by foreigners, or in speaking to foreigners. See note on 1 Samuel 4:6. If the text is correct, it is here used (cp. 1 Samuel 13:7) to place the nationality of Israel in contrast with the Philistines, or to describe them from the Philistine point of view as the subject race. But the Sept. reads “The slaves have revolted,” and it may be conjectured that we should transpose the words, and read “The Philistines heard saying, The slaves (or, the Hebrews) have revolted.” The consonants of the Hebrew words for “slaves” and “Hebrews” are almost identical, and are constantly liable to be confused.

And all Israel heard say that Saul had smitten a garrison of the Philistines, and that Israel also was had in abomination with the Philistines. And the people were called together after Saul to Gilgal.
4. heard say that Saul had smitten a garrison] Heard saying, Saul hath smitten the garrison of the Philistines. The first blow in the war of independence was doubtless struck by Jonathan under Saul’s direction.

was had in abomination] The same word meaning literally, “to make one’s self stink” occurs in Genesis 34:30; Exodus 5:21; 1 Samuel 27:12; 2 Samuel 10:6.

the people were called together after Saul to Gilgal] Gilgal (see note on 1 Samuel 7:15) was probably chosen for the rendezvous as being the usual meeting-place, and the least liable to an attack from the Philistines.

And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Bethaven.
5. thirty thousand chariots] This reading, though as old as the Sept., is certainly wrong. The number of chariots was always less than that of horsemen, and such an enormous force of chariots is not only quite unparalleled, but would be useless in the mountainous country. Possibly the numeral 30, expressed in Hebrew by the letter l, was due to the accidental repetition of the last letter of the word Israel, and we should read “a thousand chariots.” Jabin had “nine hundred chariots” (Jdg 4:3).

people as the sand which is on the sea shore] “People” = infantry. “The sand on the sea shore” is a common figure for an indefinite number. Cp. Genesis 22:17; Genesis 41:49; Joshua 11:4; Psalm 78:27, &c.

in Michmash, eastward from Beth-aven] Saul evacuated Michmash and withdrew to Gilgal. Jonathan however still held Gibeah (1 Samuel 13:16). Beth-aven (= “house of naught” i.e. idols) was near Ai, between Michmash and Bethel (Joshua 7:2). The position was an important one, commanding the chief approach from Gilgal to the heart of the country.

When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, (for the people were distressed,) then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits.
6. in a strait] In distress and danger: as it were, hemmed in and unable to turn in any direction.

the people did hide themselves] Cp. Jdg 6:2.

in high places] The word thus translated occurs elsewhere only in Jdg 9:46; Jdg 9:49 (E. V. hold), and is supposed to mean “a fortified tower,” like the “peels” of the border counties, possibly the work of the old Canaanite inhabitants. But the context rather points to some natural hiding-place.

And some of the Hebrews went over Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. As for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.
7. some of the Hebrews] The soundness of the text is rendered doubtful by the peculiarity of the construction, and the use of the term “Hebrews” without apparent reason. The Sept., changing the vowels of the word Hebrews, renders, “And they who went over went over Jordan, &c.;” but this can hardly be right either.

all the people followed him trembling] The nation obeyed his summons, but in the greatest alarm at the proximity of the Philistine host.

And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him.
8–14. Saul’s disobedience and its penalty

8. the set time that Samuel had appointed] It seems clear that the historian intends to refer to Samuel’s injunction in 1 Samuel 10:8, although in all probability the interview there recorded had taken place many years before. But the command may have been repeated now, and in any case the spirit of it survived. Chosen by Jehovah expressly to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines, Saul was not at liberty to begin the war of independence upon his own authority, but was to wait until duly commissioned to do so by Samuel.

And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering.
9. Bring hither a burnt offering, &c.] “Bring hither to me the burnt-offering and the peace-offerings,” which were ready, awaiting Samuel’s arrival.

he offered the burnt offering] The same phrase is used of David (2 Samuel 24:25), and Solomon (1 Kings 3:4), and probably does not mean that they actually performed the sacrifice themselves, If they did do so, it must be inferred that it was lawful for the king to act as priest. At any rate there is no hint here that Saul’s sin consisted in the usurpation of priestly functions.

And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him.
10. Samuel came] Perhaps before Saul had had time to offer the peace-offerings.

And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash;
11. Because I saw, &c.] The situation was critical in the extreme. Saul’s army was hourly melting away. Scarcely ten miles distant was the Philistine host, ready to pour down and crush him. How could he take the field without entreating God’s favour? Was not this sufficient excuse for his conduct?

Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.
And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.
13. Thou hast done foolishly] Saul’s sin seems excusable and scarcely deserving of so heavy a punishment. But it involved the whole principle of the subordination of the theocratic king to the Will of Jehovah as expressed by His prophets. On the one hand it shewed a distrust of God, as though God after choosing him for this work could forsake him in the hour of need: on the other hand it shewed a spirit of self-assertion, as though he could make war by himself without the assistance and counsel of God communicated through His prophet. Such a character was unfit for the office of king.

for ever] i.e. permanently, not of course absolutely without end. Cp. the use of the word in 1 Samuel 1:22.

But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee.
14. a man after his own heart] Quoted by St Paul in his discourse at Antioch (Acts 13:22). Cp. Psalm 89:20.

And Samuel arose, and gat him up from Gilgal unto Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people that were present with him, about six hundred men.
15–18. The Philistine invasion

15. And Samuel arose] The Sept. has a fuller text, which gives the connexion more clearly thus; “And Samuel arose and departed from Gilgal. And the remnant of the people went up after Saul to join the men of war [or, to the battle after the men of war]: and when they were come from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin, Saul numbered, &c.” After Samuel’s departure Saul marched up and effected a junction with Jonathan at Gibeah or Geba.

about six hundred men] Cp. 1 Samuel 14:2. Saul’s precipitate action failed to produce the desired result of holding the army together.

And Saul, and Jonathan his son, and the people that were present with them, abode in Gibeah of Benjamin: but the Philistines encamped in Michmash.
16. in Gibeah of Benjamin] Heb. in Geba of Benjamin. The positions of 1 Samuel 13:2-3 are now reversed, the Philistines occupying Michmash on the northern side of the valley, Saul and Jonathan holding Geba on the southern side.

And the spoilers came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies: one company turned unto the way that leadeth to Ophrah, unto the land of Shual:
17. the spoilers came out] Lit. the destroyer, the part of the army sent out to harry the country. (a) One band of marauders turned northwards to Ophrah, a city of Benjamin (Joshua 18:23), conjecturally placed by Robinson at et Taiyibeh, 4 miles N. E. of Bethel, in the land of Shual (= jackal) possibly the same as Shalim (1 Samuel 9:4). (b) Another band took a westerly direction to Beth-horon (= house of caverns) on the main pass from the hill country of Judaea into the plain of Philistia. (c) A third band went eastwards to “the way of the border,” probably that between Judah and Benjamin, by “the valley of Zeboim” (Nehemiah 11:34) = “the ravine of hyenas,” “towards the wilderness” or uncultivated district between the central district of Benjamin and the Jordan valley. Mr Grove went from Jericho to Michmash up a wild gorge bearing the name Shuk-ed-Dubba, or “ravine of the hyena,” the exact Arabic equivalent of “the valley of Zeboim,” and possibly the same. Dict. of Bible, iii. 1819.

Southwards, Saul’s camp in Geba protected the country. The tense of the verbs “turned” expresses repeated action, indicating that these ravages were continued for some time. The Philistines hoped to draw Saul out from his strong position, and force him to an engagement.

And another company turned the way to Bethhoron: and another company turned to the way of the border that looketh to the valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.
Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears:
19–23. The disarmament of the Israelites

19. Now there was no smith found, &c.] A signal proof of the severity of the Philistine oppression, and the difficulties against which Saul had to contend. This general disarmament clearly points to the lasting subjugation of a large district in the later years of Samuel’s judgeship and the beginning of Saul’s reign, and was not merely the temporary result of the present invasion. A similar tyranny was practised by the Canaanites before Deborah’s victory (Jdg 5:8, cp. Jdg 3:31); and Porsena is reported by Pliny to have prohibited the Romans from using iron except for agricultural purposes (Hist. Nat. XXXIV. 14).

But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock.
20. to sharpen] The word signifies “to sharpen by forging.”

his share, &c.] The agricultural implements mentioned cannot be identified with any certainty. The words rendered “share” and “mattock” are derived from the same root meaning to cut, and are almost identical in form. That rendered “coulter” is elsewhere translated “plow-share” (Isaiah 2:4, &c.).

Yet they had a file for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads.
21. Yet they had a file] So the Targum and some Rabbinic commentators. If the rendering is correct, the meaning will be that for the ordinary sharpening of tools they had files, but for any forging work they had to go to the Philistines. But the best rendering appears to be either, “When the edges, &c. were blunt:” or that of the Vulgate, “So the edges of the mattocks … used to be blunt.” The result of the necessity of going so far to get their tools repaired was that they got into a very unserviceable condition. The words, “and to set (i.e. sharpen or point) the goad” must be taken as depending on “the Israelites went down to the Philistines,” the intervening words being regarded as a parenthesis.

So it came to pass in the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan: but with Saul and with Jonathan his son was there found.
And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the passage of Michmash.
23. the passage of Michmash] By “the passage of Michmash,” mentioned also In the description of Sennacherib’s march upon Jerusalem in Isaiah 10:29, is meant the deep ravine now known as the Wady es-Suweinit (1 Samuel 13:2, note). The Philistines threw out an advanced post from their main camp to one of the bluffs on the very edge of the valley, with the view of watching the Israelites in Geba opposite, and preventing a surprise attack on their camp. It was this post which Jonathan attacked.

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