Personal name meaning, “asked for.” First king of Israel and the Hebrew name of Paul, the apostle. See Paul.
Old Testament The Hebrew name Sha' ul is used of four persons in the Old Testament. It is usually rendered Shaul for a king of Edom (Genesis 36:37-38), the last son of Simeon (Genesis 46:10), and a Levite of the Kohathites (1 Chronicles 6:24). Saul, however, primarily refers to the first king of a united Israel, a tall and handsome son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin (1 Samuel 9:1-2,1 Samuel 9:21). Chosen by God (1 Samuel 9:15-17) and secretly anointed by Samuel (1 Samuel 10:1), Saul was later selected publicly by lot (1 Samuel 10:17-24). Despite some people's skepticism (1 Samuel 10:27), he proved himself an able leader by delivering the city of Jabesh-gilead and was acclaimed king at Gilgal (1 Samuel 11:1-15).
The numbers in
1 Samuel 13:1 are incomplete in the Hebrew text, but Saul's reign is generally dated about 1020-1000 B.C. He made his capital at “Gibeah of Saul” (“Saul's hill,”
1 Samuel 11:4), probably tell el-Ful, three miles north of Jerusalem where excavations have uncovered contemporary foundations of a modest fortresslike palace. From Gibeah, Saul drove the Philistines from the hill country (1 Samuel 13:19-14:23) and fought other enemies of Israel (1 Samuel 14:47-48).
A tragic figure, Saul's heart was initially changed; he had even prophesied (1 Samuel 10:9-13). See Prophets. His presumptuous offering (1 Samuel 13:8-14), however, and violation of a holy war ban led to his break with Samuel and rejection by God (1 Samuel 15:7-23). The spirit of the Lord left Saul and was replaced by an evil spirit which tormented him. David is introduced as a musician who soothed him by playing the lyre (1 Samuel 16:14-23). After the Goliath episode, Saul became jealous and fearful of David (1 Samuel 18:7,1 Samuel 18:12), eventually making several spontaneous and indirect attempts on David's life (1 Samuel 18:10-11,1 Samuel 18:25;
1 Samuel 19:1,1 Samuel 19:9-11). Saul's fits of rage, his obsession with David, and the slaughter of the priests at Nob (1 Samuel 22:17-19), make it appear as though he suffered from some sort of psychotic state. His final wretched condition is betrayed by his consultation of the witch at En-dor (1 Samuel 28:7-8). The following day, Saul and three sons were killed at the hands of the Philistines on Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:1). Saul's body was beheaded and hung on the walls of Beth-shan, from whence it was rescued and buried by the grateful inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead (1 Samuel 31:8-13).
The enigma of Saul was sensed by David who refused to lift his hand against “the Lord's anointed” (1 Samuel 26:9-11,1 Samuel 26:23) and at his death provided a fitting elegy (2 Samuel 1:17-27).
New Testament Though the king Saul is mentioned in passing, most occurrences of the name in the New Testament refer to the Hebrew name of the apostle Paul.
Daniel C. Browning, Jr.