Israel’s expressed desire for a king and Saul’s selection are described in the post called ‘Samuel the King Maker ‘.
Saul is portrayed as having physical prowess due to his height, but at the time of his selection as being of humble disposition, seeking to hide himself away (1 Samuel 10:21-24).
Being a Benjamite, by birth, his selection is also a surprise to Saul himself.
Benjamin suffered almost total annihilation as a tribe in the civil war described in Judges 19-21 and as he states, his father’s house is of little account within this diminished tribe (1 Samuel 9:21).
Over time his apparent timidity in taking the leadership role was replaced with an aggressive tenacity, in seeking to retain his royal legacy and hand on the throne to his son Jonathan.
This is illustrated by his numerous attempts to eliminate David his perceived rival.
Israel’s request for a king, at that given point in time, appears to relate to a desire for a military leader to counter an Ammonite threat (1 Samuel 12:12). Saul’s first defence of the nation was a successful campaign against Nahash king of Ammon who threatened Jabesh-Gilead, which is described in 1 Samuel 11.
He also was involved in the elimination of the Amalekites as presented in 1 Samuel 15, where he failed to complete the task delivered by Samuel (1 Samuel 15:1-3), sparing Agag their king’s life, and not destroying all their herds and flocks. Samuel slew Agag (1 Samuel 15:32), and delivered a prophetic message of Saul’s loss of kingship and replacement by one from another family in Israel (1 Samuel 15:26-28).
A major national threat throughout Saul’s reign came from the Philistines; a Mediterranean coastal nation which today approximately equates with the area of the Gaza Strip. From the battle sites listed, it would appear that they made significant incursions into the territory held by Israel.
The level of control exerted by the Philistines in the territory they held is illustrated in the following passage: 1 Samuel 13:19-22 Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears: But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock. 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. 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.
Fixed battles and skirmishes with the Philistines, are described:
- 1 Samuel 13-14, where Jonathan proves his prowess in the area of Michmash, Gibeah and Aijalon.
- 1 Samuel 17, in the valley of Elah, where David gained his celebratory victory over Goliath.
- 1 Samuel 23, at Keilah where David whilst a fugitive from Saul gained a victory.
- 1 Samuel 23:27, 1 Samuel 24:1, unspecified Philistine invasions.
- 1 Samuel 28-29, 31, 1 Chronicles 10, Aphek in Jezreel, the battle in which Saul and Jonathan were slain on Mt Gilboa.
Saul’s vendetta against David his successor is discussed in the blog post ‘David’.