Saul’s battles the Ammonites and Philistines

Summary: The newly appointed king Saul leads the people to battle against the Ammonites, thus establishing his authority. Samuel warns the people to remember that salvation comes from God alone, not a king of flesh and blood however righteous he may be. Saul then faced war with the Philistines but could only mobilise a small, poorly equipped army. Saul’s son Jonathan crossed into the Philistine garrison with his armour-bearer and began to rout the Philistines before they were joined by the rest of the army.

A deeper look: As Saul’s army is waiting to do battle with the Philistines, Samuel had instructed Saul to wait for seven days so that he could join Saul on the front line in Gigal and offer sacrifices to God (Samuel I 10:8). Yet the army grew impatient waiting for Samuel and many began to desert Saul. Saul was surrounded by a larger and better armed Philistine army. Coupled with an ever more anxious group of soldiers, Saul decided to offer the sacrifices without Samuel. Just as he had finished, Samuel arrived.

Samuel admonished Saul severely and added that had Saul waited for him, God would have established Saul’s kingdom over Israel forever. After this sin, his kingship will be limited (Samuel I 13:13-14). Why was the punishment so harsh?

One of the explanations is that a king must be able to listen to God’s word and resist public pressure, however logical or rational it sounds. Despite his immense righteousness and courage, this was a flaw in Saul’s character that would later manifest again resulting in a grave error of judgement. Now the kingship had to be taken away from him, together with his special connection with God.

Rabbi Yosef Albo (d. 1444) further explains that Saul also failed to repent properly for his sin. He even suggests that had Saul done so, his kingship would have continued alongside the future kingship of David (Sefer HaIkkarim 4:26). Yet it wasn’t meant to be. Saul’s downfall would however pave the way for the young shepherd David to take over the leadership of the Jewish people, resulting in a complicated and oftentimes dangerous relationship between the two.