1 Samuel 13:1
Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel,
The sacred historian prefaces the account of the War of Independence with a statement as to Saul's age and reign. The Revised Version thus gives it: "Saul was thirty years old when he began to reign; and he reigned two years over Israel." There is no mention of Saul's ago in the present Hebrew text, the number having been accidentally dropped in the copying; but the number thirty, which the translators of the Revised Version have adopted from an emendation of the Septuagint, is very probably correct, as thirty was the usual age for public service amongst the Jews. As to the second half of the statement, many, such as Ewald and Dean Stanley, take it to be a correct account of the period that elapsed between Saul's election and the War of Independence. According to them, the War of Independence began after Saul had reigned two years. But there are several considerations which go to show that this can hardly be accepted.
1. The abject condition of the country when the War of Independence began.
2. The age of Jonathan. Jonathan appears in the War of Independence as the captain of a thousand and one of the most heroic warriors of the nation; and as such he could hardly have been less than twenty years of age. That would make him, if Saul had only reigned two years, eighteen years of age when his father was elected king.
3. The sad deterioration in the character of Saul. The character of Saul, as displayed in the War of Independence, is in marked contrast with that portrayed in the early part of his history. As a young man in the beginning of his career, he was meek, humble, considerate, and self-restrained; but in the War of Independence he is impatient, imperious, cruel, and rash. And according to the Latin proverb, Nemo repents turpissimus est — no one becomes wicked all at once — the period of little more than a year is much too short to account for this baleful and disastrous change. As the sacred writers are in the habit of giving the age of each king, and the length of his reign — there are no fewer than thirty-seven illustrations of this in the Old Testament — it seems extremely probable that this was what was actually done in this passage. And I am convinced that the passage originally stood thus: "Saul was thirty years old when he began to reign; and he reigned forty years over Israel." My reasons for thinking so are the following: —
(1) The testimony of Paul. He said to the Jews in the synagogue at Antioch, in Pisidia: "And afterwards they asked for a king: and God gave unto them Saul, the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for the space of forty years" (Acts 13:21).
(2) The simple way in which the text might be corrupted. There is the strongest ground for believing that the numbers wore originally written, not in words, but in letters which were used as numerals. (See Keil on Samuel in loc.) The Hebrew letter for forty was Mem, and for two Beth; and, as the two letters in the ancient Hebrew characters are not unlike, the copyist might easily mistake the one for the other, and put into the text the letter for two instead of the letter for forty.
(3) The period of forty years seems needful to account for all the facts of the history. It seems to explain best the age of Jonathan, the deterioration in the character of Saul, the abject condition of the country under the Philistines when the War of Independence began, and the fact that Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, was forty years of age when he began to reign at Mahanaim (2 Samuel 2:10). Saul might marry Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz, shortly after his confirmation in the kingdom; and from this union Jonathan might be born towards the close of the second year haul, the abject condition of the country under the Philistines when the War of Independence began, this national struggle would take place in the twenty-third year of Saul's reign. The contrast between this national gathering at Gilgal and that which took place when Saul was anointed king is very striking. Then there was a full muster, but now it is comparatively meagre. Then the people were flushed with victory, but now they are trembling with fear. Then the future was all bright, but now it is all dark, with hardly one gleam of hope. The truth seems to be that Saul's difficulty lay, not in forcing himself to act, but in restraining himself from acting for nearly the whole of the seven days. Saul's justification of himself was plausible, and might be deemed satisfactory before an earthly tribunal; but Samuel, who was inspired by the All-seeing One, treated it as altogether worthless. The kingdom, instead of descending to his eldest son, as it would have done, had he been faithful, was to be given to another whom God had chosen, and who was to be a man after His own heart. And if we are right in supposing that the War of Independence occurred in the twenty-third year of Saul's reign, David would then be a boy at Bethlehem about thirteen years of age
Parallel VersesKJV: Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel,