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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

1 Samuel 13

Verses 1-23

The Revolt Against the Philistines (13:1-15:35)

Preparations for War, and the Breach Between Saul and Samuel (13:1-23)

Despite his farewell speech, and perhaps because of its miraculous accompaniment, Samuel’s influence in public affairs continued, as this chapter shows. Here we return to the early tradition of 1 Samuel 9:1 to 1 Samuel 10:16; 1 Samuel 11:1-15. The Philistine menace now became serious. Philistine oppression was heavy and extended to economic monopolies. The editorial formula in verse 1 gives Saul’s age and the duration of his reign; details have been omitted from the text so that the age and the duration are alike not clear. This formula characterizes the introduction to all later reigns in the Deuteronomic history of Samuel and Kings.

Saul’s son Jonathan is now brought into the story, which shows a tendency to confuse Gibeah with Geba, situated only three miles away. The word translated "garrison" is better rendered "officer" or "prefect" (vss. 3-4; see also comment on 10:5). In 1 Samuel 10:5 this officer is stationed at Gibeah, not Geba. Geba, it has been suggested, was the center for Jonathan. The latter’s defeat of the Philistine officer at Gibeah precipitated a general uprising. Israel was summoned to Saul at Gilgal, while presumably Jonathan took command of the forces already in the field. The latter were soon opposed by a vastly superior Philistine host which gathered at Michmash, situated across from Geba and separated from it by a deep valley. The size of the Philistine army apparently caused an Israelite stampede.

At this point, we return to the Samuel-Saul story interrupted at 1 Samuel 10:16. In this story Samuel had instructed Saul to go to Gilgal and wait for him there (1 Samuel 10:8). Now, some months after this instruction, we find Saul at Gilgal, waiting for the seven days that Samuel had appointed until the prophet arrived. This story, which is inserted somewhat incongruously in the narrative at this point, is accepted by most interpreters as a later addition. It is highly probable that authentic tradition is involved and that Samuel and Saul may well have clashed at Gilgal, but the chronological setting of the incident is apparently not as we have it here, and we shall treat it as an independent story. Samuel failed to turn up on time. Saul became impatient and offered the sacrifices himself. Then Samuel arrived and condemned Saul for his action. We note that the ministry of the prophet took precedence over that of the king, in the thought of this story. Apparently it is preserved as an indication of why the house of Saul was not allowed to continue and the house of David was raised up. Saul had displeased the Lord by disobeying the prophetic injunction. The story reflects the later pretensions of the Levitical priesthood and shows no appreciation for the king as a holy person with a significant place in Israel’s worship, such as seems to have held for the Davidic kings. It is difficult, therefore, to estimate how much of this tradition is historically authentic. At least there was a striking breach at Gilgal between Samuel and Saul, and some sacrificial issue was involved. From here on Samuel began to look elsewhere than to the house of Saul for a king.

We now return to Geba and find both Saul and Jonathan, showing that the Gilgal story is out of its chronological order. The Israelite stampede left Saul with only six hundred men. Furthermore, Israel was in a helpless state from the lack of a native smith. The Israelites were apparently dependent upon the Philistines for the state of their arms, but we may doubt whether they were in such dire straits as the passage in verses 19-22 indicates. The Hebrew text is very disorganized here and it seems difficult, in the light of the victory over the Ammonites, to believe that the Israelites were as short of arms as is suggested by this insertion.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Samuel 13". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/1-samuel-13.html.