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King Saul


Saul, according to the Hebrew Bible, was the first king of the Kingdom of Israel and Judah. His reign, traditionally placed in the late 11th century BCE, marked a transition from a tribal society to statehood.


According to the Tanakh, Saul was the son of Kish, of the family of the Matrites, and a member of the tribe of Benjamin, one of the twelve Tribes of Israel. It appears that he came from Gibeah.


According to the first, the prophet Samuel was told by God that he should anoint as king a man whom God had selected. The following day, Saul came to the land of Zuph in search of his father’s lost asses. He is described as taller and more handsome than any other man and God iden-tified him to Samuel as the man of whom he had spoken and Samuel duly anointed him. According to the second, Samuel was approached by the elders, who demanded a king but did not propose a candidate. Samuel initially objected, seeing the proposal as compromising the kingship of God, but eventually relented and presided over Saul’s election in Mizpah . According to the third, Saul was made king by popular acclaim at Gilgal after leading an army to a victory over the Ammonites in Transjordan and rescuing the threatened city of Jabesh Gilead.

An able and courageous soldier, Saul expanded the kingdom, making Benjamin its most important tribe. Under the command of himself and his son, Jonathan, he established a three-hundred-man standing army, the First such Israelite force.

Despite the advantage of Israel’s main enemy, the Philistines, in possessing iron chariots, Saufsucceeded in defeating them in their first major battle, thanks largely to the courageous daring of Jonathan. The outcome was the temporary exclusion of the Philistines from the central hill country. His next victory was over the Amalekites, but on this occasion he offended Samuel by sparing the life of the Amalekite king, Agag, against the ancient commandment to exterminate all Amalekites. He also offended Samuel by offering a sacrifice before another battle, prior to Samuel’s arrival. Samuel reached the conclusion that the house of Saul would have to be deposed and secretly anointed David as Saul’s future successor. Meanwhile Saul fought not only the Philistines but also all surrounding nations, scoring a series of victories and strengthening his kingdom. He was noted as a military leader, although his killing of the Gibeonites gave him a bloodthirsty reputation, Little is known of economic developments during his reign. The organization of the kingdom was still primitive and he appointed relatives and Benjaminites, whom he could trust, to most of the key positions. He was zealous in outlawing pagan practices and promoted the religious authority of the priests.

Apart from the tension with Samuel, there was a growing rift with David, complicated by the fast friendship between David and Jonathan. David entered the court as minstrel, and played to Saul, especially during his periods of melancholia. Saul grew increasingly jealous of David as the latter’s military prowess established him as a rival and potential successor. Saul made repeated efforts to kill David. Even his offer to give David the hand of his daughter Michal, if David would kill one hundred Philistines, was motivated by the hope that the challenge would lead to David’s death. David succeeded, however, and became Saul’s son-in-law. After David fled for his life, Saul went to great lengths in unsuccessful attempts to locate and kill him. Eventually he had to break off in order to turn his attention to the renewed threat from the Philistines. In a great battle on Mount Gilboa, the Philistines were victorious and Saul and three of this sons, including Jonathan, died Saul either by committing suicide or, according to another account, being dispatched by an Amalekite. His body was placed on a heathen temple in Beth Shean but was eventually rescued by the men of Jabesh Gilead who also buried his bones.


Saul married Ahinoam, daughter of Ahimaaz. They had four sons and two daughters. The sons were Jonathan, Abinadab, Malchishua and Ish-bosheth. Their daughters were named Merab and Michal. Saul also had a concubine named Rizpah, daughter of Aiah, who bore him two sons, Armoni and Mephibosheth.