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The text of this verse, omitted by the Septuagint, is held to be corrupt, and the numerals denoting Saul’s age at his accession as well as the duration of his reign, are thought to be omitted or faulty. Saul may have been about 30 at his accession, and have reigned some 32 years, since we know that his grandson Mephibosheth was five years old at Saul’s death 2 Samuel 4:4; and 32 added to the seven and a half years between the death of Saul and that of Ishbosheth, makes up the 40 years assigned to Saul’s dynasty in Acts 13:21. Neither is there any clue to the interval of time between the events recorded in the preceding chapter, and those which follow in this and succeeding chapters. But the appearance of Jonathan as a warrior 1 Samuel 13:2 compared with the mention of Saul as “a young man” 1 Samuel 9:2, implies an interval of not less than ten or fifteen years, perhaps more. The object of the historian is to prepare the way for the history of David’s reign. He therefore passes at once to that incident in Saul’s reign, which led to his rejection by God, as recorded in 1 Samuel 13:13-14.
The state of things which preceded the events described in this chapter seems to have been a comparative peace between Israel and the Philistines, since Saul had only 3,000 men under arms. At the same time Philistine garrisons continued to occupy the country of the Israelites in certain strong places, whereof one was at Geba (Jeba), in the immediate neighborhood of Gibeah 1Sa 10:5; 1 Samuel 13:3, and exactly opposite Michmash (Mukhmas), which was on the northern edge of the great Wady Suweinit.
This was the first act in the war of independence, and probably the first feat in arms of the young hero Jonathan.
To Gilgal - The Wady Suweinit de-bouches into the plain of the Jordan in which Gilgal was situated. For the sanctity of Gilgal, see above, 1 Samuel 11:14 note.
Thirty thousand chariots - Probably a copyist’s mistake for 300. (Compare, for a similar numerical variation, 1 Chronicles 18:4 with 2 Samuel 8:4.)
Eastward from Bethaven - Or more simply “to the east of Bethaven,” which Joshua 7:2 lay “on the east side of Bethel.” Bethaven (thought to be the same as Deir Diwan) lay between Bethel and Michmash, which had been evacuated by Saul.
In thickets - literally, “among thorns.”
High places - Not the high places for worship, but holds or towers Judges 9:46, Judges 9:49; that particular kind of tower which was the work of the old Canaanite inhabitants, and which remained as ruins in the time of Saul.
The words “some of,” which are the emphatic words in the King James Version, as distinguishing those who crossed the Jordan from those who hid themselves, are not in the Hebrew at all. The “Hebrews” seem to be distinguished from the “men of Israel” in 1 Samuel 13:6. (Compare 1 Samuel 14:21.)
Had appointed - This appointment has of course nothing whatever to do with that made years before 1 Samuel 10:8, the keeping of which is expressly mentioned at the natural time 1 Samuel 11:15. But Samuel had again, on this later occasion, made an appointment at the end of seven days. It seems to have been as a trial of faith and obedience, under which, this time, Saul unhappily broke down.
There is a difference of opinion among commentators whether Saul himself offered the sacrifices prepared for Samuel, thus entrenching upon the priest’s office; or whether he ordered the priests to sacrifice, as Solomon did. In the latter case his sin consisted in disobeying the word of God, who had bidden him wait until Samuel came. And this is, on the whole, the more probable; since Samuel’s rebuke says nothing of any assumption of priesthood, such as we read in the case of Uzziah 2 Chronicles 26:18.
Saul had come from Michmash to Gilgal, expecting to gather the force of the whole nation around him. Instead of that, the people fled, leaving him in the exposed plain with only 600 men 1 Samuel 13:15. The Philistines occupied Michmash, and might at any moment pour down the valley upon Gilgal. Saul’s situation was obviously one of extreme peril. A few hours’ delay might prove fatal to him and his little army. Hence, he “forced” himself, etc.
Thou hast done foolishly ... - Motives of worldly expediency were not to be weighed against the express commandment of God. All the circumstances and all the dangers were as well known to God as they were to Saul, and God had bidden him wait until Samuel came. Here was exactly the same sin of willful disobedience which broke out again, and was so severely reproved 1 Samuel 15:17-23.
Samuel arose - Saul could not return to his own station at Michmash, seeing it was occupied by the Philistines; so, perhaps by Samuel’s advice (since, according to the text, he preceded him there), he effected a junction with Jonathan at Gibeah. Some would read “Saul” instead of “Samuel.”
The spoilers - “The devastator:” the same word is used of the destroying Angel Exodus 12:23. The verse describes the system adopted by the Philistines by which for a time they subjugated the Israelites. From their central camp at Michmash they sent out three bands to kill and lay waste and destroy. One took a northerly direction toward Ophrah - five miles east of Bethel, identified with “Ephrain” 2 Chronicles 13:19 and the modern “Taiyibeh,” - and toward the land of Shual, possibly the same as Shalim 1 Samuel 9:4; the second westward to Beth-horon; and the third eastward, by the unknown valley of Zeboim, toward the wilderness, i. e., the Jordan valley, toward Jericho.
There was no smith - This was the result of the fierce inroads described in the preceding verses, and the method adopted to make the Philistine conquests permanent.
The best rendering of the passage is perhaps as follows: “But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen etc. 1 Samuel 13:21, whenever there was bluntness of edge to their shares and coulters and prong-forks and axes, and to point their goads.” Coulters and mattocks were cutting instruments of the type of the share.
This seems to be mentioned here, in anticipation of the narrative in the next chapter, to enhance the victory gained, through God’s help 1 Samuel 14:23, by the comparatively unarmed Israelites over their enemies. What with occasional skirmishes with the Philistines, the necessity of using their arms for domestic purposes, accidental losses, and the ordinary wear and tear, coupled with the impossibility of renewing their arms from the want of smiths and forges, the people that were with Saul and Jonathan came to be very imperfectly armed. It has been observed, moreover, that the Benjamites were more famous for the use of the sling than for any other weapon Judges 20:16, and this would be an additional cause of the paucity of swords and spears.
The passage of Michmash - The steep and precipitous path from Michmash to Geba, over the valley of Suweinit. The same term is used in Isaiah 10:28-29, where the march of the Assyrian army is described.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 13". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent