Saul Becomes Israel's First King

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This second installment from The Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus discusses the circumstances surrounding Saul's selection as the first human king over Israel. How did God arrange for him to meet Samuel? Where were lots used to publically select him ruler over God's people? In what year was Saul anointed by the prophet? Other materials in this series are listed at the bottom of this article.

There was one of the tribe of Benjamin, a man of a good family, and of a virtuous disposition. His name was Kish. He had a son, a young man of a comely countenance, and of a tall body, but his understanding and his mind were preferable to what was visible in him: they called him Saul.

Now this Kish had some fine she-asses that were wandered out of the pasture wherein they fed, for he was more delighted with these than with any other cattle he had. He sent out his son, and one servant with him, to search for the beasts. When, however, he had gone over his own tribe in search after the asses, he went to other tribes, and when he found them not there neither, he determined to go his way home.

Meeting Samuel

The servant that followed Saul told him as they were near the city of Ramah, that there was a true prophet in that city, and advised him to go to him, for that by him they should know the upshot of the affair of their asses. Saul replied, that if they should go to him, they had nothing to give him as a reward for his prophecy, for their subsistence money was spent. The servant answered, that he had still the fourth part of a shekel, and he would present him with that; for they were mistaken out of ignorance, as not knowing that the prophet received no such reward. So they went to him.

When they were before the gates, they lit upon certain maidens that were going to fetch water, and they asked them which was the prophet's house. They maidens told them where the prophet lived and bid them make haste before he sat down to supper.

Triumph of Saul with David
Triumph of Saul with David
Jan van den Hoecke, 1630s

Now Samuel had then gathered many together to feast with him on this very account. He, every day, prayed to God to tell him beforehand whom he would make king. God had informed him of this man the day before, for that he would send him a certain young man out of the tribe of Benjamin about this hour of the day. Samuel, therefore, sat on the top of the house in expectation of that visit.

And when the time was completed, Samuel came down and went to supper. He met with Saul, and God discovered to him that this was he who should rule over them. Then Saul went up to Samuel and saluted him, and desired him to inform him which was the prophet's house, for he said he was a stranger and did not know it. When Samuel had told him that he himself was the person, he led him in to supper, and assured him that the asses were found which he had been to seek, and that the greatest of good things were assured to him. Saul then said the Samuel.

"I am too inconsiderable to hope for any such thing, and of a tribe to small to have kings made out of it, and of a family smaller than several other families. But thou tellest me this in jest, and makest me an object of laughter, when thou discoursest with me of greater matters than what I stand in need of."

Feast for a king

However, the prophet led him in to the feast, and made him sit down, him and his servant that followed him, above the other guests that were invited, which were seventy in number. He gave orders to the servants to set the royal portion before Saul. And when the time of going to bed was come, the rest rose up, and every one of them went home, but Saul stayed with the prophet, he and his servant, and slept with him.

The anointing

Now as soon as it was day, Samuel raised up Saul out of his bed, and conducted him homeward. When he was out of the city, he desired him to cause his servant to go before, but to stay behind himself, for that he had somewhat to say to him when nobody else was present. Accordingly, Saul sent away his servant that followed him. Then did the prophet take a vessel of oil, and poured it upon the head of the young man, and kissed him, and said the following.

"Be thou a king, by the ordination of God, against the Philistines, and for avenging the Hebrews for what they have suffered by them; of this thou shalt have a sign, which I would have thee take notice of.

"As soon as thou art departed hence, thou will find three men upon the road, going to worship God at Bethel. The first of whom thou wilt see carrying three loaves of bread, the second carrying a kid of the goats, and the third will follow them carrying a bottle of wine. These three men will salute thee, and speak kindly to thee, and will give thee two of their loaves, which thou shalt accept of.

"And thence thou shalt come to a place called Rachel's Monument, where thou shalt meet with those that will tell thee thy asses are found. After this, when thou comest to Gabatha, thou shalt overtake a company of prophets, and thou shalt be seized with the Divine Spirit.

"You will give prophesy along with them, till every one that sees thee shall be astonished, and wonder, and say, Whence is it that the son of Kish has arrived at this degree of happiness? And when these signs have happened to thee, know that God is with thee. Then, do thou salute thy father and thy kindred. Thou shalt also come when I send for thee to Gilgal, that we may offer thank-offerings to God for these blessings."

When Samuel had said this, and foretold these things, he sent the young man away. Now all things fell out to Saul according to the prophecy of Samuel.

Keeping a secret

But as soon as Saul came into the house of his kinsman Abner, whom indeed he loved better than the rest of his relations, he was asked by him concerning his journey, and what accidents happened to him therein. He concealed none of the other things from him, no, not his coming to Samuel the prophet, nor how he told him the asses were found.

Saul said nothing, however, to his kinsman about the kingdom, and what belonged thereto, which he thought would procure him envy, and when such things are heard, they are not easily believed. Nor did he think it prudent to tell those things to him, although he appeared very friendly to him, and one whom he loved above the rest of his relations.

Samuel warns the people

Then Samuel called the people together to the city Mizpeh (Mizpah), and spake to them in the words following, which he said he was to speak by the command of God - That when God had granted them a state of liberty, and brought their enemies into subjection, they were become unmindful of his benefits, and rejected God that he should not be their King. As not considering that it would be most for their advantage to be presided over by the best of beings, and they chose to have a man for their king.

While kings will use their subjects as beasts, according to the violence of their own wills and inclinations, and other passions, as wholly carried away with the lust of power, but will not endeavor so to preserve the race of mankind as his own workmanship and creation, which, for that very reason, God would take cake of. "But since you have come to a fixed resolution, and this injurious treatment of God has quite prevailed over you, dispose yourselves by your tribes and scepters, and cast lots."

Chosen by lots

When the Hebrews had so done, the lot fell upon the tribe of Benjamin. When the lot was cast for the families of this tribe, that which was called Matri was taken. When the lot was cast for the single persons of that family, Saul, the son of Kish, was taken for their king. When the young man knew this, he prevented [their sending for him], and immediately went away and hid himself.

I suppose that it was because he would not have it thought that he willingly took the government upon him. He showed such a degree of command over himself, and of modesty, that while the greatest part are not able to contain their joy, even in the gaining of small advantages, but presently show themselves publicly to all men, this man did not only show nothing of that nature, when he was appointed to be the lord of so many and so great tribes.

A sign of humility

Saul, however, crept away and concealed himself out of the sight of those he was to reign over, and made them seek him, and that with a good deal of trouble. So when the people were at a loss, and solicitous, because he disappeared, the prophet besought God to show where the young man was, and to produce him before them.

So when they had learned of God the place where Saul was hidden, they sent men to bring him. When he was come, they set him in the midst of the multitude. Now he was taller than any of them, and his stature was very majestic.

Then the prophet Samuel said, "God gives you this man to be your king: see how he is higher than any of the people, and worthy of this dominion."

So as soon as the people had made acclamation, God save the king, the prophet wrote down what would come to pass in a book. He read it in the hearing of the king, and laid up the book in the tabernacle of God, to be a witness to future generations of what he had foretold.

So when Samuel had finished this matter, he dismissed the multitude, and came himself to the city Ramah, for it was his own country.

Saul also went away to Gibeah where he was born. Many good men there were who paid him the respect that was due to him. The greater part, however, were ill men, who despised him and derided the others, who neither did bring him presents, nor did they in affection, or even in words, regard to please him.

Our Notes

This section by Josephus refers to the Biblical events found in 1Samuel 8 - 10. It is also interesting to note that although Saul had already been anointed king (1Samuel 10:1), Samuel had lots cast to publically reaffirm his selection by God (verses 17 - 21).

1183 B.C.
Eli, who would eventually become High Priest as well as a Judge over Israel, is born.

Eli, at age thirty, begins to serve as Israel's Judge for the next forty years.

c. 1115
Hannah, who is barren, vows to dedicate her child to God's service if she is healed (1Samuel 1). After visiting Eli, who serves in Shiloh, she conceives and gives birth to Samuel. After the child is weaned, she gives him to Eli in fulfillment of her vow.

Eli is a rather obese 98 year old man (1Samuel 4:15, 18). During the Philistine victory over Israel, where the Ark of the Covenant is taken as war booty, Eli's two sons are slain. Eli himself, upon hearing the Ark was captured, falls backwards on his chair. The fall breaks his neck and kills him instantly (1Samuel 4:1 - 18).

The prophet Samuel, at about the age of 30, begins to serve as Israel's Judge after Eli's death.

Samuel, when he is old (about 62), makes his sons Judges over Israel (1Samuel 8:1).

Samuel, per the request of the Israelites who consider him old and his sons corrupt (1Samuel 8:1 - 5), anoints Saul as the first human king over Israel.

The prophet Samuel dies and is buried in his hometown of Ramah. His death takes place roughly two years before King Saul perishes.

1010 B.C.
Saul consults the witch of Endor in the hopes of contacting Samuel's dead spirit (1Samuel 28). Israel, soon afterwards, battles the Philistines yet again. Saul, after the nation is soundly defeated, commits suicide on Mount Gilboa (1Samuel 31). David is made King over the tribe of Judah for what would amount to be a seven and one-half year period (2Samuel 2:4, 5:1 - 5, 1Chronicles 3:4, 29:27).

Recommended Articles
Conspiracies of King Saul
Can We Contact the Dead?
Where Is Mount Gilboa Located?
Rachel, Ramah and the Birth of Jesus!
Who Was the Witch of Endor?
Judges of Israel Timeline
Can We Cheat Death?
Where Are Old Testament People Buried?

Biblical History by Josephus
with Background Notes!
The Tower of Babel
Saul Is Made Israel's King
Solomon Builds Jerusalem's Temple
Babylon Destroys Jerusalem and Temple
Alexander the Great Visits Jerusalem!
Herod the Great Conquers Jerusalem
Herod Rebuilds the Temple

Excerpts taken from
Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus
Book 6, Chapter 4
Edited, expanded and ©

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