These chapters of 1 Samuel move rapidly from jubilation to humiliation. Saul’s early rule was marked by military success against Nahash the Ammonite, but his zeal soon turned selfish—so much so that he was even willing to sacrifice his son! Saul went from following the direction of the Spirit to being dominated by selfish ambition. Thus, while Israel’s choice of a king brought temporal success, they soon discovered that the character of their king was not good enough for God:

  1. Israel enjoyed temporal success through Saul’s deliverance of Jabesh-gilead (11.1-11). When the message of the Ammonite invasion reached Saul, “the Spirit of God suddenly took control of him, and his anger burned furiously. He took a team of oxen, cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout the land of Israel by messengers who said, ‘This is what will be done to the ox of anyone who doesn’t march behind Saul and Samuel.’ As a result, the terror of the LORD fell on the people, and they went out united” (vv. 6-7). Saul was so confident in the LORD and the troops that he instructed messengers: “Tell this to the men of Jabesh-gilead: ‘Deliverance will be yours tomorrow by the time the sun is hot’” (v. 9). Israel celebrated their king’s military leadership, and “all the people went to Gilgal, and there in the LORD’s presence they made Saul king. They sacrificed fellowship offerings in the LORD’s presence and Saul and all the men of Israel greatly rejoiced” (v. 15)
  2. Yet, in his farewell address, Samuel reminded Israel that their choice of a human king would result in potential dangers (1 Samuel 12). After reviewing Israel’s history from the time Jacob went to Egypt to the point when Israel asked for a king, he confronted Israel’s motive in wanting a man to reign over them: “when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was coming against you, you said to me, ‘No, we must have a king rule over us’—even though the LORD your God is your king” (v. 12). Here Samuel identified Israel’s motive in wanting a king—not only so that they would “be like all the other nations,” but further in their statement, “our king will…fight our battles” (1 Sam 8.20). Israel wanted a human king because they were afraid; they thought God was no longer up to the task of conquering the remaining kings of Canaan. This was so grievous to Samuel and the LORD that He sent a great storm upon them so that they would acknowledge their sin and again fear Him (vv. 16-19). Yet, as is the case throughout the Old Testament, God’s word of condemnation is often accompanied by a word of opportunity to walk in righteousness, and Samuel said: “Look, this is the king the LORD has placed over you. If you fear the LORD, worship and obey Him, and if you don’t rebel against the LORD’s command, then both you and the king who rules over you will follow the LORD your God” (vv. 13-15)
  3. Saul failed to walk by faith, and was dismissed by the LORD as Israel’s king (1 Samuel 13-14). Israel thought that having a human king would ease their fear of the surrounding nations, yet the opposite proved to be the case; fear of the imposing Ammonite king caused Israel to plead for a human king (cf. 1 Sam 8.19-20; 12.12; contra Ps 44.1-8). Even though they had Saul reigning over them, when the Philistines approached for battle, “The men of Israel saw that they were in trouble because the troops were in a difficult situation” (13.6a). It was so bad that, “They hid in caves, thickets, among rocks, and in holes and cisterns” (13.6b)! God gave them their preferred object of security (a human king, in this case Saul), and yet they were scared out of their wits! Further, Israel’s fear of the Philistines also led Saul to act unfaithfully, and as a result his reign would not endure (13.14). Saul’s desire for vengeance—which ultimately cost him the throne—led him to make a rash vow against any of his warriors who ate food that day (14.24). Sadly, “Jonathan had not heard his father make the troops swear the oath” (14.27) and ate some wild honey. In the end, the Israelites recognized that the honey was in fact the means of “God’s help” (14.45), and they spared Jonathan of Saul’s second rash vow, when he said: “May God punish me severely if you do not die, Jonathan!” (14.44). Saul’s brief reign was marked by this kind of zealous attitude (14.47-52).

When Samuel confronted Saul with the news that he would not endure as king, he said: “You have not kept the command which the LORD your God gave you…The LORD has found a man loyal to Him, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not done what the LORD commanded” (13.13, 14). In the immediate, this “loyal man” was David, Jesse’s youngest son (cf. 16.11-13), the one who would courageously defeat Goliath (1 Samuel 17). But David’s reign would be scarred by infidelity (2 Samuel 11), and pride (2 Samuel 24). David’s reign though was foundational for the storyline of Scripture and set the stage for the coming of Jesus Christ. Only Jesus could fulfill the ideal of Israel’s king. But Jesus did not provide His followers temporary security in the Roman empire, He offered them security in a higher kingdom; shortly before He was crucified, Jesus said so much in a dialogue with Pilate. John’s Gospel records the scene:

“Pilate went back into the headquarters, summoned Jesus, and said to Him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’

Jesus answered, ‘Are you asking this on your own, or have others told you about Me?”

‘I’m not a Jew, am I?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own nation and the chief priests handed You over to me. What have You done?’

‘My kingdom is not of this world,’ said Jesus. ‘If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here’” (John 18.33-36).

But it is not the case that Jesus was merely acquiescing to the Roman governor. Within a short time, Pilate would again interrogate Jesus in his headquarters, saying: “Where are You from?” (John 19.9). Jesus remained silent. This was no small front to the governor, who retorted, “You’re not talking to me? Don’t You know that I have the authority to release You and the authority to crucify You?” (John 19.10). Jesus’ reply states the degree to which He fulfilled Israel’s longing for an authoritative human king; He said to Pilate: “You would have no authority over Me at all…if it hadn’t been given you from above” (John 19.11).



*For a complete list of references, please see