Samuel and Saul: A Negative Symbiosis


This article by Moshe Reiss challenges the orthodox view that would consider Samuel an upright man beyond reproach and Saul as a failure of a king.

Saul’s faults?

It asks some interesting questions that are worth considering: What command did Saul break when he sacrificed before the Lord in chapter 13? David and Solomon both sacrificed animals, so why was it wrong for Saul (2 Samuel 6:13; 1 Kings 3:15). Also was Saul wrong to leave some of the best animals for sacrifice in chapter 15? Reiss points out that in Hebrew the commandment Samuel gave was rather ambiguous: “Samuel mandates a sequence; first put the Amalekites in herem , then kill them.”

Early on in an account of Saul seeking the donkeys we see that his servant is more knowledgeable and decisive than he is. The servant knows of Samuel; Saul doesn’t. The servant has some money; Saul doesn’t. The servant has a plan; Saul doesn’t.


Samuels’s faults?

After the “disaster” with Saul – whose chief qualifications were that he was tall, dark and handsome – Samuel nearly picks David’s eldest brother for the very same reason.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”’ (2 Samuel 16:6-7).

Note that Samuel who sacrificed offerings was not himself from the priestly tribe of Levi.

Is Samuel hard on Saul because he is angry that he and his sons have been rejected, and a king chosen instead? Why did he not manage to bring his sons up well?