1 Samuel


Neil Short

work in progress

13:1 Saul was . . . years old.... It is interesting that this passage is obviously missing some important historical-technical detail. NRSV is the most honest to the text by not attempting correct the passage by supplying the missing data. Doing so really requires a great deal of conjecture and, to a great extent, guesswork. McCarter reports that a literal translation of the rendering of MT is:

Saul was a year old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel.(McCarter 222)

There are other manuscript clues but none satisfactorily solve the problem.

In public Bible classes on the Book of Samuel, the teacher may report this interesting textual anomaly. The nice thing about it is that we clearly do not miss much at the loss of the original condition of the text. We find it therefor comfortable to discuss this text. More interesting to examine are passages in the Book of Samuel where the restoration of the text broadens our appreciation of the historical record (e.g., 1 Sam 4:1 and 14:41) but these passages are rarely discussed in the context of a Bible class. I suspect that the reason is because the mere acknowledgment of the difficulty would challenge the thoughts of the students and result in some discomfort that most instructors would rather avoid.

I think in general it is best to avoid alerts to textual difficulties when in a Bible class situation - unless there is a real understanding benefit to the examination. If a rendering of a passage becomes a doctrinal centerpiece for some theological claim but the original passage is meaningless and the translators resorted to near guesswork for their rendering then it is worth noting the difficulty. If restored text adds to our appreciation of the record (e.g., 14:41) or makes it more clear (e.g., 4:1, 13:15) then it is worth mentioning the improvement.

Expect a lively discussion. The present passage is a paper tiger.

13:3 Jonathan... Jonathan? Who's Jonathan? We don't learn his identity until 13:16. He comes into the story quite abruptly. Of course, we know all about him, having studied about him in Sunday school; but as the story unfolds from the beginning we would be surprised when we here of him in 13:3.

13:3 Jonathan defeated the garrison of the Philistines. McCarter has, “Jonathan slew the Philistine perfect who was in Gibeah,...” and he renders 13:4, “... and all Israel was told, “Saul has slain the Philistine perfect! ...” (224). Whether it was a garrison that was defeated or an appointed governor who was assassinated, the incident provided the Philistines with sufficient motivation to engage in a long war with Israel.

13:6-7 ... the people hid themselves.... Some Hebrews crossed... to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling. The idea is that the people, recognizing that they are out gunned by the Philistines, hid themselves or completely left town. The army behind Saul trembled.

13:8 ... seven days, the time appointed by Samuel... Here is one of those textual difficulties. It seems that everybody is comfortable with this appointment referring to the charge given in 10:8. But it seems that a lot of water has run under the bridge since 10:8. When Samuel gave the charge Saul was still a “young man” (9:2). In the mean time Saul has been appointed king. At least a month later he engaged the Amonites in battle. He becomes a grown man and has a grown son. Together, they start a war with the Philistines. It is at this time that Saul is supposed to remember the seven-day appointment command given by Samuel years earlier.

If this story didn't focus so much on the seven-day appointment and draw our attention back to 10:8, we would be inclined to believe that Saul grew up and raised a family between 10:16 and 10:17 or perhaps he was appointed king as a young man and established his kingdom between 12:24 and 13:2.

McCarter explains the puzzle by proposing that the work of several authors have been incorporated into the current story. Somehow, the sequence was not precisely assembled. To one author, the “prophetic author,” Saul's sacrifice occurred only days after the events of chapter 10.

[A]ccording to the timetable of the prophetic author of 10:8 and 13:7b-15a, only seven days have passed since Saul's completion of the journey Samuel started him on in 10:2ff! In the older, unamended version of the story the events of cc 13-14 were supposed to have taken place long after Saul's return from the search for his father's asses. (228)

Campbell argues that 10:8 was actually inserted into its present context (Commentary 149). He appears to be correct in his assessment and it certainly helps shed light on the various sources. If 10:8 comes from a source that sees Saul as a grown man then it would fit properly with the incident in 13:7-15. McCarter makes this same point on p. 183 of his commentary:

This verse [10:8] is editorial and secondary. Its purpose is to prepare the reader for the account of the rejection of Saul in 13:7b-15.

Jameson, Fausset and Brown offer a more comfortable explanation for 10:8 that permits many years to transpire between 10:8 and chapter 13:

This, according to JOSEPHUS, was to be a standing rule for the observance of Saul while the prophet and he lived; that in every great crisis, such as a hostile incursion on the country, he should repair to Gilgal, where he was to remain seven days, to afford time for the tribes on both sides Jordan to assemble, and Samuel to reach it.

Matthew Henry doesn't take this position in his comments on 10:8 but asserts in standard understanding that Saul violated this charge in chapter 13. In his comments on 13:8 he looks back to 10:8 and says this about it:

Perhaps that order, though inserted there, was given him afterwards, or was given him as a general rule to be observed in every public congress at Gilgal, or, as is most probable, though not mentioned again, was lately repeated with reference to this particular occasion; for it is plain that Saul himself understood it as obliging him from God now to stay till Samuel came, else he would not have made so many excuses as he did for not staying, v. 11.

So there is the possibility that Samuel repeated his order to wait seven days but that more recent charge is not recorded for us in the text; or Samuel gave the charge in 10:8 as a new practice that when inquiry into the will of Yahweh is necessary, Saul should go to Gilgal and wait seven days for Samuel.


Campbell, Antony F. “1-2 Samuel: Introduction.” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990. 145-146.

Campbell, Antony F. “1 Samuel: Commentary.” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990. 146-154.

Flanagan, James, W. “2 Samuel: Commentary.” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990. 154-159.

Henry, Matthew. Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible.

Jameson, Fausset and Brown. Commentary on the Whole Bible.

McCarter, P. Kyle. I Samuel. New York: Doubleday, 1980.