Attention!
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

1 Samuel 13

Verses 1-7

First Samuel - Chapter 13

New Philistine Trouble, vs. 1-7

A difficulty in the translation of the first verse of this chapter has left the meaning uncertain. It is probable that something has been omitted by the scribes sometime through the centuries. Perhaps the original inspired manuscript was giving here the length of Saul’s reign and his age when he began to reign, as with other kings (e.g., 2 Samuel 5:4). The New American Standard Version renders the verse, "Saul was forty years old when be began to reign, and he reigned thirty-two years over Israel," but the words, "forty" and "thirty" are not in the extant manuscripts. It seems impossible to understand the exact import of the verse today.

It would seem that the event of verse 2 refers to the dismissal of the troops who went with Saul to the relief of Jabesh-gilead (chapter 11). Thus Saul sent them all home, except for three thousand whom he reserved, two-thirds under his direct command, stationed in Michmash and mount Bethel, and the remaining thousand under command of Saul’s son, Jonathan, at Gibeah, the chief city of Benjamin.

This is the first introduction of Jonathan, Saul’s oldest son. From the first he stands out as bold, daring, and adventurous. He seems to have been for ridding the land of the Philistine presence in their military garrisons among the Israelites. Consequently he attacked the Philistine garrison at Geba, a smaller city of Benjamin between Gibeah and Michmash, and overran it. When the Philistines got news of this they considered it an act of rebellion by Israel and mobilized to fight against Israel. They raised a mighty force of thirty thousand chariots of war, six thousand cavalry, and unnumbered infantry. With this force they cam up to Michmash, and spread out their tents to Beth-aven nearby.

All Israel heard about Jonathan’s foray also, and that they were in danger of Philistine invasion. The people were gathered to meet Saul at Gilgal by the trumpet blast calling them to war (cf. Numbers 10:9; Judges 3:27 and others). The people came in majority numbers it would seem at first, but Saul vacillated in his decision, and time passed with the people growing more and more fearful. Eventually many of them took private means to escape the Philistines. They hid in caves, thickets, rocks, and high places. Perhaps they thought the heathen high places would be respected by the pagan Philistines. Many of them fled the country, crossing the Jordan to Gad and Gilead.

Verses 8-14

Saul’s First Major Error, vs. 8-14

Why did Saul tarry in Gilgal? Had Samuel actually promised to meet him there? Recall that in the very first anointing of Saul, which was perhaps as much as seven or eight years earlier, Samuel had instructed Saul to meet him at Gilgal, where the prophet would come within seven days. Some commentators say, therefore, that Saul expected Samuel to meet him here at such times of crisis as this to make the required offerings of burnt sacrifice and peace offerings. There is no indication that Saul had ever done this before, nor is there any other indication that Samuel had promised to meet him here at this time. Anyway by the seventh day Samuel had not appeared.

The people continued to desert Saul, and an already seemingly hopeless situation was deteriorating rapidly. Therefore when Samuel did not appear when Saul expected him he called for the animals and made the sacrifices, contrary to God’s law. Saul made the mistake of exalting the act of sacrifice over the purpose, first, and of losing patience too soon. Thus he intruded into an area where he had no business.

About the time Saul completed the sacrifices Samuel arrived, and Saul went to greet him. When the prophet inquired what the king had done, Saul gave what, to him, were legitimate reasons for his undertaking the sacrifices himself. They were, 1) the desertion of the people; 2) the delay of Samuel; 3) the threat of imminent Philistine attack; 4) the necessity of sacrifice before the battle. Saul further pleaded that he felt compelled to offer the sacrifices under the circumstances.

Samuel charged Saul with foolishness, in that he was guilty of disobedience of the Lord’s command. The Lord had raised up Saul to please the people, to be their king, but not to represent them in mediatorship of a priest. Samuel told Saul if he had been obedient his kingdom would have been established. Now, however, it would not continue, for the Lord would search Him out a king of the kind He desired and would make him captain over the people. The reference here to ’a man after his own heart."so often applied to David, Saul’s successor, is found for the first time.

It is not hard, humanly, to understand Saul’s anxiety, but his behaviour on this occasion was an example of his lack of faith and trust in the Lord. It is the first of several major errors which led to Saul’s eventual utter ruin. The others are found in chapters 14, 15, and 28, and will be noted in later comments. Here Saul is told only that his kingdom will not be permanent, with nothing being said of his personal removal. In short his error on this occasion can be summed up as intrusion into the priesthood.

Verses 15-23

Israel Grows Weaker, vs. 15-23

When Samuel left the scene of meeting with Saul he moved toward the place of action, where the Philistines were encamped, stopping off at Gibeah where Saul had his men. It is not revealed what his part was in the ensuing battle, however. Both Saul and Jonathan were then in Gibeah, and the three thousand men of their armies had dwindled to only six hundred. The camp of the Philistines at Michmash was about ten straight-line miles from Gibeah.

The Philistines had a huge army to support, and they sent out three companies of "spoilers" to forage off the land, thus destroying the crops and herds of the Israelites. One of the Philistine companies turned north toward Ophrah in the tribe of Manasseh west, the second west toward Beth-boron, and the third each toward Zeboim and the Jordan valley. No doubt the country where they came was utterly ruined, and the people left destitute. It was a terrible time.

Verse 19 introduces another condition then existent as a result of the Philistine oppression. The Philistines had deprived Israel of its smiths, so that there was none to forge their weapons or tools. This was a move to keep the Israelites from arming themselves, doubtless, but they were also compelled to carry their farm implements and tools down to the Philistine cities to have them repaired or sharpened. The share is now thought to have been a small hoe or spade, the coulter was what is today known as a plow-share, the mattock was a kind of pick-ax or grubbing hoe, the fork a pitchfork for haying, while the goad was an instrument sharpened on one end to goad the ox and guide him and flat on the other end to scrape the caked soil from the plow, the axe was the cutting instrument still known by that name. The best the Israelites had was a file to do simple sharpening of what weapons or implements they had.

Of the entire force of men under the king and his son they two alone had a sword and spear. Israel was in a very poor situation, and it was growing worse. It should have been apparent that the Lord alone could help them. Meanwhile the Philistine garrison at Michmash was maneuvering itself to attack the Israelites.

From this chapter should be learned 1) God’s people need to understand that their hope of success against the enemy is in Him alone; 2) the opposition of the world and Satan will always look formidable and frightening, but God’s people ought not to flee from the conflict; 3) there are no situations where God’s people are justified in disobeying His commands for what seems to be expedient to them; 4) the longer one waits for strength in himself the weaker he becomes and the less likely to succeed.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 13". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/1-samuel-13.html. 1985.