Study Guide

Saul in 1 Samuel

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Poor Saul.

And we're done.

Just kidding. We'll do a brief rundown, and then we'll dive into what makes him such a pathetic headcase:

  • Samuel anoints Saul to be king.
  • Saul defeats Nahash the Ammonite in battle.
  • Saul makes a terrible mistake. (Okay, he makes a lot of them, but this is the first bad one.) He offers a sacrifice before battle. Only a priest like Samuel was allowed to make a sacrifice. Saul puts his kingship in jeopardy.
  • Saul commands his men not to eat and misses out on a chance to thoroughly defeat the Philistines.
  • God commands Saul to completely wipe out the Amalekites, but he lets their kings and their animals live.
  • God takes the kingdom away from Saul. Bummer.
  • An evil spirit begins to trouble Saul. Bigger bummer.
  • Saul attempts to kill David. When David runs away, he starts chasing him.
  • When God will not speak to him, Saul visits the witch of Endor. 
  • Philistine archers hit Saul multiple times on Mt. Gilboa. Saul falls on his sword and dies.

Let Your Glory Fade

Saul was a man with potential, promise, and acclaim. Actually, we're lying, he was none of these things. Poor Saul was kind of set up to fail right from the beginning of his career as king. Once he was sneak-attack anointed by Samuel, Saul never had to opportunity to train or learn from anyone. He was kind of left to his own devices with very little guidance about what it means to be king. This, we feel was Samuel's mistake, but we're not here to judge (10:1-27).

After Saul has some victories in battle, the people really start to like him (11:1-15). But it all goes south when Saul makes the mistake of offering a sacrifice before battle. That sounds harmless enough, but that's a job meant for priests and prophets. God does not take lightly to this sacrilege and Saul almost loses his kingship at that very moment. This act sets up a very clear characteristic of Saul: he lets his own power go to his head (14:20-52).

We'd like to say that Saul learns a good lesson, becomes a thoughtful, benevolent king, and everything comes up roses. But, dear Shmoopers, that would be a lie. Unfortunately, Saul continues this trend of screwing up battle plans and disobeying God. Finally, God takes his blessing away from Saul, leaving the already troubled king to be haunted by evil spirits (15:1-35). These "evil spirits" could also be another way to say Saul's psychological issues, but we can only speculate. The bottom line is, dude's unfit to be king.

Paranoia Paroxysms

The blessing that was upon Saul goes to David who becomes Saul's armor-bearer and evil spirit soother. After David's popularity begins to grow, Saul becomes paranoid that David would become king instead of himself. To be fair, this wasn't actual real paranoia so much as seeing the truth. Either way, Saul sets out on a campaign to murder David over the course of several years. David wins out in the end (16-27), and Israel's first king Saul is left in disgrace.

If we're being honest, we'd have to say that Saul's own paranoia is really what does him under. If Saul had reined in his own hubris, then he probably would have made a pretty decent king. Some people just get trapped under the weight of their own egos. And we know from, oh, every story ever, that that doesn't turn out well at all.

Where's a Hogwarts When You Need One?

Towards the end of Saul's life (though he doesn't know it yet), the king sets out for a witch. In Saul's mind, this witch will aid him in keeping his throne. Saul actually ends up speaking with the ghost of Samuel who tells Saul David will be king and that Saul and his sons will die in battle the next time. Yeah, that wasn't quite the reassurance he was looking for.

This dismal prediction of course comes to pass and Saul's body is mocked and beaten by the Philistines until buried by some Israelite followers. So, in conclusion, whenever you feel like you're having a bad day, think of Saul. It'll make you feel better (28-31).

If you track the progression of Saul's character, you see a man whose only aim in life was to help his family. Then his dreams expanded to helping the whole Israelite nation. Which sounds great and all, but Saul just wasn't any good at it. Saul, in the end, was just a man who failed in his family—and everyone else, for that matter—on the most epic of scales. Sorry bro.

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