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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel,
The text of this verse, omitted by the Septuagint, is held to be corrupt, and the numerals denoting Saul's age at his accession as well as the duration of his reign, are thought to be omitted or faulty. Saul may have been about 30 at his accession, and have reigned some 32 years, since we know that his grandson Mephibosheth was five years old at Saul's death 2 Samuel 4:4; and 32 added to the seven and a half years between the death of Saul and that of Ishbosheth, makes up the 40 years assigned to Saul's dynasty in Acts 13:21. Neither is there any clue to the interval of time between the events recorded in the preceding chapter, and those which follow in this and succeeding chapters. But the appearance of Jonathan as a warrior 1 Samuel 13:2 compared with the mention of Saul as "a young man" 1 Samuel 9:2, implies an interval of not less than ten or fifteen years, perhaps more. The object of the historian is to prepare the way for the history of David's reign. He therefore passes at once to that incident in Saul's reign, which led to his rejection by God, as recorded in 1 Samuel 13:13-14.
2Saul chose him three thousand men of Israel; whereof two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and in mount Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin: and the rest of the people he sent every man to his tent.
The state of things which preceded the events described in this chapter seems to have been a comparative peace between Israel and the Philistines, since Saul had only 3,000 men under arms. At the same time Philistine garrisons continued to occupy the country of the Israelites in certain strong places, whereof one was at Geba (Jeba), in the immediate neighborhood of Gibeah 1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Samuel 13:3, and exactly opposite Michmash (Mukhmas), which was on the northern edge of the great Wady Suweinit.
3And Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, Let the Hebrews hear.
This was the first act in the war of independence, and probably the first feat in arms of the young hero Jonathan.
4And all Israel heard say that Saul had smitten a garrison of the Philistines, and that Israel also was had in abomination with the Philistines. And the people were called together after Saul to Gilgal.
To Gilgal - The Wady Suweinit de-bouches into the plain of the Jordan in which Gilgal was situated. For the sanctity of Gilgal, see above, 1 Samuel 11:14 note.
5And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Bethaven.
Thirty thousand chariots - Probably a copyist's mistake for 300. (Compare, for a similar numerical variation, 1 Chronicles 18:4 with 2 Samuel 8:4.)
Eastward from Bethaven - Or more simply "to the east of Bethaven," which Joshua 7:2 lay "on the east side of Bethel." Bethaven (thought to be the same as Deir Diwan) lay between Bethel and Michmash, which had been evacuated by Saul.
6When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, (for the people were distressed,) then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits.
In thickets - literally, "among thorns."
High places - Not the high places for worship, but holds or towers Judges 9:46, Judges 9:49; that particular kind of tower which was the work of the old Canaanite inhabitants, and which remained as ruins in the time of Saul.
7And some of the Hebrews went over Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. As for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.
The words "some of," which are the emphatic words in the King James Version, as distinguishing those who crossed the Jordan from those who hid themselves, are not in the Hebrew at all. The "Hebrews" seem to be distinguished from the "men of Israel" in 1 Samuel 13:6. (Compare 1 Samuel 14:21.)
8And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him.
Had appointed - This appointment has of course nothing whatever to do with that made years before 1 Samuel 10:8, the keeping of which is expressly mentioned at the natural time 1 Samuel 11:15. But Samuel had again, on this later occasion, made an appointment at the end of seven days. It seems to have been as a trial of faith and obedience, under which, this time, Saul unhappily broke down.
9And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering.
There is a difference of opinion among commentators whether Saul himself offered the sacrifices prepared for Samuel, thus entrenching upon the priest's office; or whether he ordered the priests to sacrifice, as Solomon did. In the latter case his sin consisted in disobeying the word of God, who had bidden him wait until Samuel came. And this is, on the whole, the more probable; since Samuel's rebuke says nothing of any assumption of priesthood, such as we read in the case of Uzziah 2 Chronicles 26:18.
10And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him.
11And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash;
Saul had come from Michmash to Gilgal, expecting to gather the force of the whole nation around him. Instead of that, the people fled, leaving him in the exposed plain with only 600 men 1 Samuel 13:15. The Philistines occupied Michmash, and might at any moment pour down the valley upon Gilgal. Saul's situation was obviously one of extreme peril. A few hours' delay might prove fatal to him and his little army. Hence, he "forced" himself, etc.
12Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.
13And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.
Thou hast done foolishly ... - Motives of worldly expediency were not to be weighed against the express commandment of God. All the circumstances and all the dangers were as well known to God as they were to Saul, and God had bidden him wait until Samuel came. Here was exactly the same sin of willful disobedience which broke out again, and was so severely reproved 1 Samuel 15:17-23.
14But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee.
15And Samuel arose, and gat him up from Gilgal unto Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people that were present with him, about six hundred men.
Samuel arose - Saul could not return to his own station at Michmash, seeing it was occupied by the Philistines; so, perhaps by Samuel's advice (since, according to the text, he preceded him there), he effected a junction with Jonathan at Gibeah. Some would read "Saul" instead of "Samuel."
16And Saul, and Jonathan his son, and the people that were present with them, abode in Gibeah of Benjamin: but the Philistines encamped in Michmash.
17And the spoilers came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies: one company turned unto the way that leadeth to Ophrah, unto the land of Shual:
The spoilers - "The devastator:" the same word is used of the destroying Angel Exodus 12:23. The verse describes the system adopted by the Philistines by which for a time they subjugated the Israelites. From their central camp at Michmash they sent out three bands to kill and lay waste and destroy. One took a northerly direction toward Ophrah - five miles east of Bethel, identified with "Ephrain" 2 Chronicles 13:19 and the modern "Taiyibeh," - and toward the land of Shual, possibly the same as Shalim 1 Samuel 9:4; the second westward to Beth-horon; and the third eastward, by the unknown valley of Zeboim, toward the wilderness, i. e., the Jordan valley, toward Jericho.
18And another company turned the way to Bethhoron: and another company turned to the way of the border that looketh to the valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.
19Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears:
There was no smith - This was the result of the fierce inroads described in the preceding verses, and the method adopted to make the Philistine conquests permanent.
20But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock.
The best rendering of the passage is perhaps as follows: "But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen etc. 1 Samuel 13:21, whenever there was bluntness of edge to their shares and coulters and prong-forks and axes, and to point their goads." Coulters and mattocks were cutting instruments of the type of the share.
21Yet they had a file for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads.
22So it came to pass in the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan: but with Saul and with Jonathan his son was there found.
This seems to be mentioned here, in anticipation of the narrative in the next chapter, to enhance the victory gained, through God's help 1 Samuel 14:23, by the comparatively unarmed Israelites over their enemies. What with occasional skirmishes with the Philistines, the necessity of using their arms for domestic purposes, accidental losses, and the ordinary wear and tear, coupled with the impossibility of renewing their arms from the want of smiths and forges, the people that were with Saul and Jonathan came to be very imperfectly armed. It has been observed, moreover, that the Benjamites were more famous for the use of the sling than for any other weapon Judges 20:16, and this would be an additional cause of the paucity of swords and spears.
23And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the passage of Michmash.
The passage of Michmash - The steep and precipitous path from Michmash to Geba, over the valley of Suweinit. The same term is used in Isaiah 10:28-29, where the march of the Assyrian army is described.