King Saul’s speech (1 of 2)

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.

General observations

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

This ornament shows Doeg the Edomite beheading...
This ornament shows Doeg the Edomite beheading the priests of Nob. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

5 thoughts on “King Saul’s speech (1 of 2)

  1. Good observations. As you mentioned, Saul is both prominent in the story and somewhat forgotten. As I studied through Samuel, I was impressed with how much was said about Saul in contrast with David. Each one of them stated something about the other one by providing opposite pictures of one another. In Hebrew literature, there is a strong focus on parallelism, so I would take this contrasting picture to be intentional.

    1. Speaking of contrasts, the Jonathan account in the first part of 1 Samuel14 is significant, coming between Saul’s disobedience in chapters 13 and 15. Jonathan’s speech overall is Yahweh-laden in a way his father’s isn’t. Maybe that will be another blog post…

      1. It should be – that would be a good one. I have found contrasts between characters to be a rich study. I just finished studying Jonah, and he seems to be contrasted with the sailors and the Ninevites in many ways. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Jonathan/Saul contrast.

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