The first president of the United States ordered all foreign troops off of American soil, established the Great Seal of the United States, established the Treasury Department, and declared that the 4th Thursday of each November would be Thanksgiving Day.
Who was the first president of the United States? Not George Washington. In fact, it was a man named John Hanson. When the US adopted the Articles of Confederation in 1781, Congress (which included George Washington) unanimously elected Hanson to be the first President. He accomplished a ton during his one-year term, as did the six men who were President after him. However, the Articles of Confederation didn't work well at all, so we wrote and adopted the Consitution as our basis of government. George Washington was the first man to serve as President under the Constitution, leaving the seven presidents before him to be lost in history.
Why bring this up in a Bible study? Because our popular history is very much like the book of Chronicles. You see, the Chronicler gives almost no space to Saul's reign as the first king of Israel. The history, which starts in chapter ten, actually begins with the death of Saul and his sons. Chapter eleven immediately begins to focus on David, and avoids the dreadfully sinful incidents in David's life. The same kind of thing happens when the Chronicler moves on to Solomon.
And so, before we look at the death of King Saul, I'd like to spend some time this evening reminding ourselves of how Saul became king, and what kind of king he was...
The days of the book of Judges were drawing to a close, when every man in Israel had been doing what was right in his own eyes. God had spoken through the prophet Samuel (1Sam. 3:20), but that didn't prevent the army from pulling the stupid stunt of taking the ark of the covenant into battle with the Philistines. The ark was captured, and the Israelites were defeated (1Sam 4:10-11).
When the ark was returned by the Philistines, Samuel told the people to return to the Lord. There was a revival at that time, and the people turned away from their idolatry (1Sam. 7:4) for a time.
But then Samuel got old, and his sons were not godly like he was (1Sam. 8:3). The people of Israel stopped trusting God to raise up another prophet and instead had another idea:
1Sam. 8:4-5 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, "Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations."
1Sam. 8:7-8 The LORD said to Samuel, "Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day - in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods - so they are doing to you also."
God warned the people through Samuel what would happen if they demanded a king, but they insisted. Samuel was told by God that he would be sent a man from the land of Benjamin that Samuel was to anoint as king (1Sam. 9:16). When a 30-year-old man (1Sam. 13:1) named Saul came to Samuel's house to ask about his father's lost donkeys, Samuel knew that this was the guy.
Saul was the perfect answer to Israel's request for a king like the other nations. The Bible says that he was...
1Sam. 9:2 ...a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people.
The Israelites had wanted a figurehead. They were about to get one.
When Israel was gathered together to find out who the new king would be, Saul was hiding himself among the baggage (1Sam. 10:22). This didn't seem to deter the Israelites, who saw his height and good looks, and shouted, "Long live the king!" (1Sam 10:24).
The nation was given a choice by Samuel:
1Sam. 12:14-15 "If you will fear the LORD and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the LORD, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God. If you will not listen to the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the command of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you, as it was against your fathers."
The people admitted that asking for a king had been evil (1Sam. 12:19), but Samuel told them to simply serve the Lord with all their heart.
Saul led Israel in victorious battles against the Philistines, and seemed to have a sense of trust in the Lord (1Sam. 11:13). But when the Philistines assembled 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen, and countless soldiers against Israel, the Jews were trembling with fear (1Sam. 13:5-7).
Samuel had said that he would arrive in seven days to offer an offering to the Lord for victory in the battle. But when Saul saw that people were leaving in fear, he took matters into his own hands. He himself offered the burnt offering. Samuel arrived immediately after and told King Saul,
1Sam. 13:13-14 ..."You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, for now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you."
Saul's leadership immediately began to deteriorate from there. At one point, he pridefully and foolishly commanded that no one was going to eat until he had avenged himself of his enemies (1Sam. 14:24). His son Jonathan was not aware of the command, and so when he tasted honey, Saul was going to put him to death. Fortunately, the people rescued Jonathan (1Sam. 14:45).
When God was refusing to speak to Saul, Saul always assumed it was because of someone else's sin (1Sam. 14:37-38).
Samuel said that God was commanding Saul to utterly destroy all of the Amalekites and their belongings.
1Sam. 15:9 But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.
Samuel said to Saul,
1Sam. 15:23 "...Rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king."
1Sam. 16:14 Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him.
Saul's violent insanity manifested in his angry suspicion (1Sam. 18:8-9) of a man named David that had been hired to play the harp for him (1Sam. 16:16). Saul began to plot his death. At first, he threw his spear at him, to pin him to the wall (1Sam. 18:11). When David escaped, he tried to have him die at the hands of the Philistines in battle (1Sam. 18:17). When this also did not work, Saul commanded his son and all his servants to put David to death (1Sam. 19:1). Saul again tried to impale him with his spear, and David knew it was time to leave the kingdom.
Saul had anyone who helped David put to death, including 85 priests (1Sam. 22:18) and pursued David for years.
When the prophet Samuel died, and God wouldn't answer Saul (1Sam. 28:6), he decided to consult with a medium. He asked her to bring Samuel up from the grave.
1Sam. 28:16-19 Samuel said, "Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has departed from you and has become your adversary? The LORD has done accordingly as He spoke through me; for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, to David. As you did not obey the LORD and did not execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, so the LORD has done this thing to you this day. Moreover the LORD will also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines, therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. Indeed the LORD will give over the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines!"
And this is where the Chronicler picks up the story of King Saul...
Saul's sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Mal-kee-SHOO-ah, were killed by the Philistines in battle the next day. Then Saul was hit by a Philistine arrow, and was terribly wounded. Knowing how armies treated a defeated king, Saul asked his armor bearer to kill him. The armor bearer refused, and so Saul fell on his own sword, killing himself.
There have been critics of the Bible who say that there is a contradiction in the account of the death of Saul. They say, "Here, it says that he killed himself, but in 2Samuel, it says that a young Amalekite killed him."
Is this a contradiction? No. Clearly, the narrative in 1Samuel 31 and 1Chronicles 10 are identical. The account in 2Samuel 1 is the young Amalekites' deceptive version of the story, for he is hoping to be rewarded by David for killing Saul. Instead, the reward he received was death, when David said,
2Sam. 1:14 ..."How is it you were not afraid to stretch out your hand to destroy the LORD'S anointed?"
King Saul was dead, and all of his sons had been killed on the battlefield. When the Israelites realized that their king and princes were dead, and that their armies had run away, they abandoned their homes. The Philistines had won a decisive victory.
After a battle, the victorious army would strip the slain of anything of value - clothes, weapons, money, food, etc. As the Philistines were doing this, they discovered King Saul's body. They cut off his head and put it in the temple of their false god Dagon. His body was fastened to the wall of Bayth-SHAWN, one of the Israelite cities which the Philistines had inhabited.
The men of Yaw-BASHE Ghil-AWD had been rescued from the Ammonites by Saul years before (1Sam. 11). And so they rescued his body from the wall of Bayth-SHAWN and buried Saul and his sons.
Saul had continually and unrepentantly trespassed against the Lord, and God killed him for it. We would do well to remember the words of the apostle Paul,
Gal. 6:7-8 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
Next week, we will see the beginning of the kingdom of David, who had been so horribly persecuted by Saul for so many years.