Our reading begins today two years into the reign of Saul (13:1).* We are introduced to Jonathan in verse 2, though it appears that the writer of the book assumed his readers would know who Jonathan is since he gives nothing but his name. In verse 3 we see that there are multiple Philistine garrisons in Israel (see 10:5). When the Philistines draw up to battle Israel (v. 5), we see that Israel is afraid (v. 6) and even crossed the Jordan to escape (v. 7). This reveals their faithlessness. In verse 8, we see that Saul was waiting for Samuel at the prophet’s instructions. In verse 9, we see through his impatience his faithlessness. Chapter 12 ended with a choice before Israel and their king (12:24-25). In 13:10 we see Saul’s choice. He was seeing with worldly eyes, not eyes of faith (vv. 11-12).
In verses 13-14, Samuel rebukes Saul for his faithlessness, and pronounces God’s judgment: the removal of the kingdom. God would find someone else to be the king. In this we have a callback to the Garden of Eden, where the man that God called to rule in obedience failed when he saw with worldly eyes and disobeyed. Adam lost the blessing of God, and God left it to another: the One Who would succeed where Adam failed, and be perfectly obedient. The remainder of the chapter paints a bleak picture for Israel. Saul’s army was greatly reduced (v. 15). They were not equipped for battle, and were in subservience to the Philistines (v. 19). Only Saul and Jonathan had weapons.
Chapter 14 reveals the faith and valiance of Jonathan. He is willing to attack a garrison of the Philistines alone, knowing it is God Who will win victory (14: 6). Even his armor bearer shows great faith (v. 7). Jonathan seeks a sign from God that He will win the victory (v. 10), and God gives him that sign (v. 12). Jonathan believes God. And God wins the victory (v. 15). In verse 16, we see it is not going as well with Saul. The army of Israel is beginning to disperse. But Saul, this time, seeks God (v. 18). And God fights for Israel (v. 21, 23). But Saul’s faith is fleeting, and in verses 24 makes a rash and foolish oath. Jonathan, not knowing of the oath, eats (v. 27). When he hears of the oath, Jonathan knows it was foolish (vv. 29-30).
In verses 31-32, we see that Saul’s sin has bred even worse sin among his people. When Saul does not hear an answer from God about pursuing the Philistines (and only after the priest encouraged him to seek God!), rather than see his own sin, Saul blames Jonathan for God’s absence (vv. 36-39). God indicates that the sin was with Saul or Jonathan, not the people of Israel (v. 41). When lots are then cast between Saul and Jonathan, the lot falls to Jonathan. It does not say that he was guilty, but that the lot fell to him. In verse 45, the people choose Jonathan over Saul, and his life is saved. Note that the one to whom the lot of sin fell is the one who did no sin, but in fact was the savior of Israel.
In chapter 15, we see that Saul continues his faithless ways. In 15:1-3, we see that God places the responsibility of fulfilling His promise from Deuteronomy 25:19 (see also Ex 17:14) squarely on the king. God explicitly tells Saul to devote the Amalekites to complete destruction (v. 3), but Saul again does things his way (vv. 8-9). In verse 10, God rejects Saul as king, just as Samuel prophesied in 13:14. We see that Saul does not even recognize his sin (v. 13), but believes he has done something better than what God commanded him (v. 15). Even when Samuel tells Saul that he has sinned (vv. 18-19), Saul cannot but believe he has obeyed (vv. 20-21).
In verses 22-23, we see that the offering God wants is the heart. Saul wanted to perform external acts that he believed pleased God, but a heart of obedience was the requirement. Saul’s heart is rebellious, sinful, presumptuous, and idolatrous. Saul has rejected God, so God has rejected Saul. Only when Saul sees what he stands to lose does he “confess” any wrongdoing (v. 24), and asks for forgiveness because of his “repentance” (v. 25). We have already seen that God does indeed forgive the truly repentant. Here, we see that Saul was not truly repentant because God does not forgive him (v. 26-28). The judgment that God has pronounced will come to pass (v. 29). The chapter ends with Samuel’s obedience to God. He does what God commanded and devotes King Agag to destruction (v. 33). Samuel does not see Saul again, representing God’s presence being removed from Saul (v. 35).
*The “lived for one year” is literally saying that Saul was a year old when he began to reign. What we have here is very likely a scribal error, and part of his age has been left off. The Greek Old Testament puts him at 30 years old, though this would not explain the “one” in the Hebrew text.