Considering that (a) the apostle Paul was in Thessalonica for three Sabbath days (Acts 17:2), and (b) a good portion of the church was made up of former pagans (Acts 17:4, 1 Thessalonians 1:9), it is remarkable how much the apostle had to remind them of in his first letter (you can’t remind someone of something they don’t already know).
I shall not fail to remind you of things like this although you know them and are already established in the truth. I consider it my duty, as long as I live in the temporary dwelling of this body, to stimulate you by these reminders. I know that I shall have to leave this body at very short notice, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. Consequently I shall make the most of every opportunity, so that after I am gone you will remember these things.
–2 Peter 1:12-15, J. B. Phillips New Testament
Paul, what about you? Anything new?
To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
–Philippians 3:1b, ESV
Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old command that you have had from the beginning. The old command is the message you have heard.
–1 John 2:7, HCSB
I copy-pasted every instance where the English translators placed Saul’s words in quotation marks and analysed his speech. In my last post I looked at Saul talking to his subordinates and his son.
Saul speaks to (and about) Samuel
In chapter 9 we’re introduced to Saul and his servant as they are on an errand to recover his father’s lost donkeys. A couple of perplexing things emerge from their dialogue:
Saul did not know of Samuel even though all Israel did (see 1 Samuel 3:20).
It was the servant, not Saul, who suggested seeking help from the prophet.
Samuel and Saul next talk in chapter 13, after Saul offers sacrifices he shouldn’t have offered. When Samuel asks for an explanation, Saul shifts the blame for his actions from himself to the soldiers (who were scattering), to Samuel (who was late) and to the Philistines (who were assembling nearby). He takes no personal responsibility.
Chapter 15 records their last meeting. Earlier, Samuel had given Saul a command to fulfil a promise Yahweh had made during the wilderness wandering period (Deuteronomy 25:17-19, see Exodus 17:8-16). Saul partially obeyed. Unsurprisingly, he shifts the blame—to the soldiers. In his conversation with Samuel, Saul uses “Yahweh” nine times. I found it disturbing that his greatest concentration of God-language was right after he had disobeyed a direct order from God. And while he does say, “I have sinned,” (15:24, 30) he is more concerned for what the people think of him than what God thinks of him.
He speaks again to Samuel in 28:15 at the medium’s house. By his own admission, God had turned away from him.
Saul speaks to (and about) David
Saul speaks to David before he went to fight Goliath (1 Samuel 17:33, 37). While David’s words exude faith in God, Saul’s are pragmatic (17:33). In 17:37 Saul says, “Go, and may the LORD be with you.” Was he just being pious, or did he really mean it?
In chapter 18, he offers in marriage each of his two daughters in turn to David. Before this, he had been unsuccessful at killing David and only made these offers as part of an underhanded plan to get David killed in battle (18:17, 21, 25).
Chapters 24 and 26 tell of two separate incidents when David spared Saul’s life. Both times, Saul’s first words are, “Is that your voice, David my son?” In chapter 24 he weeps and declares David to be more righteous than he. He goes on to make a predictive prophecy that David would surely be king and that Israel would prosper under him. In chapter 26, he acknowledges his sin and promises to not harm David again.
Both times he seemed genuinely contrite, but on neither occasion does David return to Saul’s court.
Saul’s last recorded words
Said to his armour-bearer: “Draw your sword and run me through with it, or these uncircumcised men will come and run me through and torture me.” (1 Samuel 31:4, HCSB)
Said to an Amalekite: “‘Stand here by me and kill me! I’m in the throes of death, but I’m still alive.” (2 Samuel 1:9, NIV2011)
Having dwelt sufficiently long on Saul’s flaws, I’ll now change tack and focus on the evidences of God’s grace in his life.
Out of all the tens of thousands of eligible men in Israel, God chose him, Saul son of Kish, to be leader over Israel.
He had access to God through a prophet and a priest. He ignored the one and killed the family of the other, cutting himself off from divine revelation and guidance. When he was finally desperate for a word from God, he found none and sought it through a method expressly forbidden in Torah (see Leviticus 19:31, 20:6; Deuteronomy 18:10-13).
Yahweh showed him exceeding kindness and patience. It isn’t clear how long he ruled after being rejected as king, but it was a great mercy that he wasn’t immediately struck down.
The Lord is… patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
–2 Peter 3:9, ESV
Random fact: Did you know that Saul, first king of Israel, is only mentioned once in the New Testament—by another Saul also from the tribe of Benjamin?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Saul’s kingship was a disaster. Not finding many resources on Saul in the places I normally look, I came upon the idea of studying all the words the narrator attributes to him. I copy-pasted every instance where the English translators placed Saul’s words in quotation marks (when written, Old Testament Hebrew had neither vowels nor punctuation so the placement of quotation marks may vary between translations). I observed some patterns in the resulting four-page document, though a better-trained mind than mine would no doubt find more to chew on.
First, I was struck by how much of Saul’s direct speech was in the form of a command or an implied command. Maybe I’m reading too much into the text, but this seems to accord with the warnings in 1 Samuel 8.
Second, Saul doesn’t pray much. We have him seeking guidance (presumably through the priest) in 1 Samuel 14:37, 41. In the latter of these two verses, the narrator specifies that he prayed to “the LORD the God of Israel”. That phrase must be significant, but I don’t know how.
Third, the narrator lets us in on Saul’s thoughts in chapters 18, 20 and 23. The subject of all these internal monologues is David. Tellingly, this happened after God withdrew His Spirit from Saul and sent the troublesome spirit (1 Samuel 16:14, 18:10).
Saul speaks to his men/ servants
Chapter 11 is the apex of Saul’s career as king. The Israelites had wanted someone to lead them into battle (1 Samuel 8:20), and that’s what Saul did (11:8). Saul verbally credits Yahweh for the victory (11:13).
However, Saul changes. He takes the glory for Jonathan’s victory (13:3-4). A few verses after that he commands that the animals for sacrifice be brought to him (14:9), usurping Samuel’s role. In 14:24, he placed the Israelite army under an oath not to eat until he had avenged himself on his enemies.
In chapter 18, he has his servants relay messages to David in order to manipulate him. His speech in 1 Samuel 22:7-8 gives us a glimpse into his paranoid mind. Shortly after that, his men defy his order to kill Ahimelech the priest; Doeg the Edomite carries out Saul’s command with much relish. In chapter 28, he asks his servants to find him a woman who was a medium, to which they have a ready answer.
Apart for his concern for others in 1 Samuel 11:4 and his restraint in 11:13, Saul’s words to his subordinates are mainly focused on himself—self-aggrandisement and eliminating his (perceived) enemies.
Saul speaks to Jonathan
Jonathan, Saul’s son and heir, did not know of the oath his father had taken and ate some honey (14:27). When it was revealed that Jonathan was guilty, Saul took another oath (14:44) and would have killed Jonathan had the men present with them not restrained him. In 19:6, he makes another oath to Jonathan—one which turned out to be prophetic.
In 1 Samuel 20:27-31, he has a heated discussion with Jonathan in which he insults his son and hurls a spear at him. Note that the first part of verse 31 is again prophetic: Saul was speaking better than he knew.
In the next post: Saul’s words to Samuel and David.
Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say! Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply. Alleluia!
Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won: Alleluia!
Lo! our sun’s eclipse is o’er, Alleluia!
Lo! he sets in blood no more. Alleluia!
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell: Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids his rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened Paradise. Alleluia!
Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save; Alleluia!
Where’s thy victory, O grave?” Alleluia!
Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted head; Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Alleluia!
I imagine that Charles Wesley (author of this hymn) was a prim and proper British gentleman. But some of his hymns—this one included—just beg to be sang at the top of one’s lungs with reverently reckless abandon. After all, in the first stanza, he calls upon the entire created order—human beings, angels, the earth and the heavens—to join in praise. That can hardly be a quiet, dignified affair (unlike the video I’ve embedded 😉 ).
So this resurrection day, pull a David and sing like crazy to Jesus Christ, for “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Romans 4:25)