Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How long did King Saul Reign Over Israel? Acts 13:21 Forty Years!


                                  How Long Did Saul Reign?
   Acts 13:21 And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years.

     To answer that question isn't easy. You'll get a different answer with each version of the Bible you consult. I became aware of this controversy while working on my Chronology of the Ages as recorded in the Bible. I'm working on the Monarchal period, and since Saul is first in the list of kings of Israel, I had to know how long he reigned. Luke records in Acts 13:21 a statement by Paul saying that Saul reigned "by the space of 40 years". Now you have to wonder, did Luke agree with this statement? It would seem that Luke had a very good understanding of the Old Testament. Would he simply record what Paul said if he didn't agree with it? How did Paul come up with this number? Did he learn it at "the feet of Gamaliel" Acts 22:3, or did he discern it by his own study of the scriptures? Or, did the Holy Ghost reveal it to him? Remember, he was trying to persuade Jews that Jesus is Christ, and he was leading them to that point by recounting their history, if he had said something that wasn't generally believed, he would have lost his audience right there. Also notice that he said "by the space of 40 Years". That's not precise, it would seem to me to suggest a little longer or a little less, maybe. Now you might be thinking why is there a controversy? Hasn't Paul settled the issue? The answer to that is, no!
    The controversy comes about because of 1 Samuel 13:1 "Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel," as translated in the King James Version (KJV). It would seem that most Bible scholars believe that the original text has been corrupted. Either the parchment was damaged and text was lost, or a scribe failed to copy the complete text. They believe that the verse originally told how old Saul was when he began to reign, and how long he reigned. This is typically the way the Bible recorded the reign of a king. Now let's look at some of the English translations to see these scholars at work.
                                                      New International Version (NIV)       
13 Saul was thirty[a] years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-[b] two years

                                                       English Standard Version (ESV)
13 Saul lived for one year and then became king, and when he had reigned for two years over Israel

                                                      American Standard Version (ASV)
1 Saul was forty years old when he began to reign; and when he had reigned two years over Israel,

                                                    Contemporary English Version (CEV)
 13 Saul was a young man[a] when he became king, and he ruled Israel for two years.

                                                        Young's Literal Translation (YLT)
  1A son of a year [is] Saul in his reigning, yea, two years he hath reigned over Israel,

                                                                    Wycliffe (WYC)
 1 Saul was a son of one year, that is, as innocent and clean of sin as a child of one year, when he began to reign; and he reigned upon Israel two (and twenty) years. (Saul was fifty years old when he began to reign; and he reigned over Israel for twenty-two years.) 

These are all 1Samuel 13:1. So now you can see the controversy.  These are all the result of scholarly work. I don't want anyone to think that I don't like scholars. Would we have an English Bible if not for scholars? William Tyndale was a scholar. He was burnt at the stake on Sept. 6, 1536. His crime, translating the Bible into English. It has been said that 80 percent of the King James Bible is from Tyndale'  translation. So when you pick up your Bible, remember, a lot of people, scholars, gave their lives to bring the Word of God to the average man. So my point is, I appreciate scholars, but that doesn't mean that I have to go along with them on everything. I believe we should use the King James translation of this verse, and I will explain why later. But first we need to consider the Septuagint (LXX) reported to be the oldest translation of the Hebrew Bible. The Septuagint is reported to be a translation from the original Hebrew into Greek starting in the third century BCE. So presumably it would have been around during the time of Paul. And if so, Paul might have studied it. Scholars today hold it in very high regard. It predates the Masoretic Text by hundreds of years. This would put it closer to the original Hebrew in history. So how does the Septuagint translate 1 Samuel 13:1? It doesn't! It completely leaves that verse out. Does this mean that verse 1 wasn't in the Hebrew text when the Septuagint was translated? Or did the translator think verse 1 didn't make sense, so he left it out? Let's look at an early Latin translation of the Hebrew Text.

                                                             Latin Vulgate
                      By Jerome in the 4th century CE. Translated from the Hebrew.
                                                    (Translated into English.)
Saul was a child of one year when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel.

Jerome liked the Septuagint at first, but later in life he turned away from it in favor of the Hebrew. He and Augustine had a long and sometimes angry debate over the subject of the Septuagint vs. the Original Hebrew. Jerome favored the Hebrew and Augustine favored the Septuagint. As we can see, in the 4th century, verse 1 was in the Hebrew text that Jerome used to translate the Vulgate with. Jerome must have thought that it was in the original Hebrew and had been left out of the Septuagint, and not that it was added to the Hebrew text after the Septuagint translation.
      Seeing that modern scholars hold the Septuagint in such high regard, why don't they leave verse 1 out of modern translations? If verse 1 goes away, the controversy goes away. With that you would be left with what Paul said, and the narrative of the story of Saul's reign to try and figure out how long he reigned. If you read the narrative it would suggest a very long reign. As we have seen from the examples of translations above, some scholars support a longer reign, and some do not, and they have taken great liberties in the translation of verse 1. The King James is said to be a more literal translation of this verse that supports the narrative.  I think that with a controversial text that's the best approach. I like the King James translation of 1 Samuel 13:1, and I'm going to use it and Paul's 40 years, and the narrative of Saul's life to build a chronology of his reign. 

                                            Chronology of the Reign of King Saul
       The elders of Israel come to Samuel the Prophet and say, "make us a king to judge us" 1Sa. 8:5. God said to Samuel they rejected me not you, 1 Sa. 8:7. They wanted a king to fight their battles, they didn't want to trust God to fight for them, 1 Sa. 8:20. God told Samuel to anoint Saul captain over his people, and that Saul would save them from the hand of the Philistines. 1 Sa. 9:16. Samuel anoints Saul with oil. 1Sa. 10:1. Samuel tells Saul to go before him to Gilgal and wait seven days, and that he will come down and offer burnt offerings and show him what he should do. 1 Sa. 10:8. Samuel calls all the people of Israel to Mizpeh, and God picks Saul from among the people to be king. But Saul is a reluctant king. And when some of the people rejected him, Saul said nothing, but held his peace. 1 Sa. 10:17-27. And Saul goes home and tends his flocks. The appointed time to go to Gilgal has not yet arrived.
      While the reluctant and backward King Saul waits at home for the appointed time set by Samuel to go to Gilgal, Nahash, king of the Ammonites attacks Jabesh-gilead of Israel. 1Sa. 11:1-3. This event will transform Saul from a reluctant backward king into a strong and forceful king. Also we see in verses 12-13 that he shows mercy and honors God for their victory, in that he doesn't have those who rejected him put to death. Saul's victory over Nahash establishes his position as king in the eyes of the people. And they go to Gilgal and the people make Saul king. 1 Sa. 11:15. As we shall see, the opinion of the people and their desires becomes more important to Saul than the desires of God. 
      Some points to keep in mind. First. Saul was grown when Samuel anoints him to be king. Second.The minimum military age in Israel is 20 years of age. Third. Jonathan isn't mentioned in the battle against the Ammonites. Which would suggest that he wasn't yet of military age. Fourth. Jonathan is given command of one thousand men after the people make Saul king. So now let us look at 1 Sa 13:1a. Saul reigned one year;  this is the time that Saul spent in the fields with his herds, after Samuel had anointed him king and presented him to the people at Mizpeh. At this point Saul is a reluctant king. Let's go back a little, God said that Saul would save the people from the hand of the Philistines. 1 Sa 9:16. After Samuel anoints him king, God leads him to the "hill of God," 1 Sa. 10:5. Where there is a garrison of the Philistines. Verse 7 says after these signs, do as occasion serve you; for God is with you. God had told him who the enemy was, and now he showed him the enemy. Was this the first test of Saul, to see if he would be a man of God, and fight the enemies of God's people? When Nahash attacks Jabesh-gilead, Saul calls the men of Israel to gather and numbers them, three hundred and thirty thousand. He doesn't ask of God, shall I go up against the Ammonites, like David will do before battle, but Saul goes up by the strength of the numbers of the people that are with him. By going up against Nahash, Saul is doing what the people had wanted when they ask for a king, 1 Sa. 12:12. As we shall see it is very important to Saul that the people be with him, when he should be concerned that God be with him. Now let's look at 1 Sa. 13:1b. and when he had reigned two years over Israel, his stature has now risen, he has defeated the Ammonites, he has been established as king, and he has raised a permanent army to serve with him and Jonathan. Since the military age is 20, for Jonathan to be the captain of a thousand men he would need be at least 20 years old. If we say that Saul was 20 when Jonathan was born, that would make Saul 40 years old, two years into his reign. So he would have been 38 when Samuel anointed him king. If we say that he reigned 40 years, that would make him 78 when he is killed on the battle field. Latter I will show why he would be on the battle field at such an advanced age. Saul will have other sons who aren't mentioned here, or in this first battle with the Philistines, it would seem that they were not yet of military age.
      Jonathan attacks and destroys a garrison of the Philistines. 1Sa. 13:3. And this is the event that finally brings Saul to Gilgal to wait on Samuel. But here we see Saul's desire to have man on his side more than he desires God to be with him. And Saul disobeys God by offering the burnt offering, because he wanted to please the people more than he feared God. So Samuel says his kingdom will not continue. 1 Sa 13:14. So Samuel departs from Saul, and what is the first thing that Saul does? He numbers the people that are with him. Six hundred men! That must have been disheartening to a man who depended on men more than on God. Will this man stop here, and ask God what he should do? No he will not. Only after Jonathan has engaged the enemy and God has moved against them and turned them on each other, does Saul turn to the priest to inquire of God. But even then he stops the priest. Saul never inquired of God by means of the the ark while he was king, 1 Chr. 13:3. This man is the exact opposite of David. Saul seems to be loathed to consult God, and David won't do anything without consulting God. (Saul is careful not to transgress the law of God, and David always obeys the word of God).  After the battle is over and he has a victory over the Philistines because of Jonathan, Saul ask counsel of God. 1 Sa. 14:37. But God does not answer, because Jonathan had ate the honey. Saul had charged the army with an oath that no man was to eat anything until evening, but Jonathan was unaware of the oath and he ate of the honey that was on the ground. 1 Sa. 14:24-28. Now this was a sin because Saul had made the oath and he is God's anointed. The men in the army would not eat the honey because they feared the oath, verse 26. A greater victory would have been had, had the men ate the honey provided by God, a victory by God's providence, and not by Saul's strength. But notice in vs. 32-34, in the evening the men took livestock from the spoil and ate it with the blood. It would seem that the men feared Saul but not God, in that they broke the law of Moses. But Saul being a religious man, builds an alter and he has the men bring their ox and sheep there and slay them and eat. Now the battle against the Philistines ends because of Saul's oath, and the Philistines are saved from a much greater slaughter, and they go back to their place. Saul will have future battles with the Philistines and all the other nations that are the enemies of Israel, and he will have victories over them all. 1 Sa 14:47. This would seem to me to be something that would take a period of a few years at least.
      Samuel had told Saul at Gilgal that his kingdom would not continue. But, God is not done with Saul, he will give him one more opportunity to obey his word. Samuel tells Saul to go and destroy Amalek. 1 Sa. 15:3  Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. But Saul fails this test, and disobeys God, and Samuel tells Saul that God has rejected him from being king. 1Sa 15:28. God will take the kingdom from Saul and give it to a man who is better than he is. And v29 says God will not repent. Saul will not get another chance. God has turned away from him and rejected him, but notice in verses 30-31 who it is that Saul is concerned about. He pleads with Samuel to turn and worship with him in the presence of the elders and of Israel, because he fears the people will reject him if they see that God has rejected him. The narrative of Saul's reign ends until David is anointed king. If Paul's statement of a 40 year reign is correct, then we have a period of 20 to 25 years where nothing is recorded about Saul's reign. I'm going to refer to this period as the Interim Period.
       It would seem to me that the events up to the point where Saul is rejected, would have taken several years. I'm going to say that it has taken five years, and I'll explain why later. But now let's look at the son's of Saul. There are five list given of Saul's sons. Three of these list are genealogical, and two are obituaries.
Genealogical List: The first list is at the beginning of Saul's reign, the other two are after.
List One: 1 Sa 14:49              Jonathan       - Jehovah-given
                                                Ishui             - Level
                                                Melchishua  - King of Wealth

List Two: 1 Chr. 8:33            Jonathan       - Jehovah-given
                                               Malchishua   - King of Wealth
                                               Abinadab      - Father of generosity
                                               Eshbaal         - Man of Baal

List Three: 1 Chr. 9:39         Jonathan       - Jehovah-given
                                               Malchishua   - King of Wealth
                                               Abinadab      - Father of generosity
                                               Eshbaal         - Man of Baal

Jonathan appears first in all three list, he is the oldest, and therefore the heir. Melchishua appears in all three list. Two of the list are the same, but the first list is different. Eshbaal is born in the Interim Period so he is not in the first list. It's possible that Ishui and Abinadab are the same person, but here is another possibility. Abinadab is Ishui's son; he is born in the Interim Period a little before Eshbaal. His father Ishui dies about the time of his birth and his death is not recorded. Abinadab is then listed as Saul's son and not his grandson.
Obituary List: Remember, Saul dies with his son's, and this is the end of his reign.
List One: 1 Sa. 31:2             Jonathan       - Jehovah-given
                                              Abinadab      - Father of generosity
                                              Melchishua  - King of Wealth 

List Two: 1 Chr. 10:2          Jonathan       - Jehovah-given  
                                             Abinadab      - Father of generosity
                                             Malchishua   - King of Wealth

Notice that Abinadab is listed before Melchishua in the obituary list, but after him in the genealogical list. If he is younger than Melchishua he would be listed after him in the genealogical list. And it could be that when he is killed in battle he is given the place in the obituary list that his father would have held. If Abinadab is Ishui's son, and he is born in the Interim Period, this would support a long reign for Saul, as the minimum military age is 20. So Abinadab would have been 20 years old or older when he died in battle. Abinadab appears before Eshbaal in the genealogical list, so I think that makes him older than Eshbaal. But I think that he is older by only a few weeks or months. I believe that Eshbaal is 35 when Saul dies, so Abinadab would have been a little older than that when he was killed in battle. I'll explain more about Eshbaal and why I think he was 35 years old at the death of Saul near the end of my essay.
      Let's look at the priest who served while Saul was king. This also suggest a very long reign for Saul. When Saul goes to fight the Philistines we see in 1 Sa. 14:3 that the priest Ahiah, the great grandson of Eli is there wearing an ephod. And in v18 we are told that the ark of God is there also. Ahiah is said to be the son of Ahitub, the grandson of Eli. When David is fleeing from Saul he goes to Nob, and to Ahimelech the high priest, 1 Sa. 21:1, who is said in 1 Sa 22:11 to also be the son of Ahitub. Some believe that Ahiah and Ahimelech are the same person, I'm going to suggest that they are brothers, and that Ahiah is the older, and that he dies in the Interim Period, and he has no sons or they are to young to become high priest, so his younger brother Ahimelech becomes the high priest. After this Saul has Ahimelech killed and all his house, his son Abiathar escapes and goes to David. Abiathar becomes the priest to David. The minimum age to be a priest is 30 years old, so this would suggest that Ahimelech, the father of Abiathar, was an older man. The lives of these men would seem to suggest a period of many years, all during the reign of Saul.
      God says to Samuel "How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel?"  1 Sa. 16:1. And Samuel goes and anoints David to be king. The younger that we say David is at this time, the stronger the argument for a longer reign for Saul. But regardless, I'm going to say that David was at least 18 years old when Samuel anoints him to be king. There are many words used in the text that suggest a younger David. I think these words are used to illuminate the great differences between the Saul, the aged warrior-king,  and the zealous but youthful David, who is willing to fight the giant when no one else will. Also, I think the narrative as a whole suggest a David of military age. When Saul's servants suggest that he needs someone who can play the harp, to relax the king when he is troubled, one of his servants tells of David, how he can play the harp, "a mighty valiant man, and a man of war"   1 Sa 16:18. And they send and get David and he is made Saul's armourbearer. By being made Saul's armourbearer suggest that he is at least 20 when he comes before Saul. And then when he goes to fight Goliath, if he had been a teenage boy and Saul had allowed him to fight, and he had been killed, his death would have been on Saul. And Saul would have looked to be very foolish and desperate. But if David was of military age and he volunteered, if he won, that would be good, but if he was killed, Saul could say, he was a brave man who took his life in his own hands. Saul didn't think that David could defeat Goliath, and he said as much. And then Saul offers David his armour (1Sa. 17:38) knowing that it wouldn't fit, as Saul was a head taller than all the men of Israel, 1 Sa. 10:23. What's being illustrated here is the difference between David and Saul. Saul is the type of king that the people would choose, and David is the type of man God would choose. And further, after he kills Goliath he is made captain over a thousand men. I believe that this proves that he was of military age, but also that he had a very youthful appearance.
      When David is about to flee from Saul, he makes a covenant with Jonathan; 1 Sa. 20:42. David promises not to cut off the seed of Jonathan. Jonathan knows that God has anointed David to be king, Jonathan isn't concerned about himself, he's concerned about his only son Mephibosheth - dispeller of shame. Mephibosheth was five years old when his father Jonathan was killed. 2 Sa. 4:4. It would seem that David fled from Saul and made his covenant with Jonathan some time after Mephibosheth was born. Saul is an old man and is on the field of battle fighting the Philistines, and he and Jonathan are killed, 1 Sa. 31:6. The reason I believe that Saul is on the field of battle in command of his army at his age, he can't trust Jonathan with command of the army, he would turn it over to David. In 1 Sa 22:8, Saul laments; That all of you have conspired against me, and there is none that sheweth me that my son hath made a league with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you that is sorry for me, or sheweth unto me that my son hath stirred up my servant against me, to lie in wait, as at this day?
        After Saul's death the men of Israel fled and the Philistines came and dwelt in their cities. 1 Sa. 31:7. David goes to Hebron and is anointed king over the tribe of Judah. 2 Sa 2:1-4. David is 30 years old when he becomes king and he reigns for 40 years and six months. 2 Sa. 5:4-5. He reigns 7 and a half years over Judah in Hebron, and 33 years over Judah and all of Israel from Jerusalem. After Saul is killed, Abner escapes with Saul's son Ishbosheth, also called Eshbaal, across the Jordan river to Gilead, and makes him king over Israel. Ishbosheth was 40 years old when he began to reign, and he reigned 2 years. 2 Sa. 2:8-10. After Ishbosheth is murdered all of Israel comes to Hebron and anoints David king over Israel. 2 Sa. 5:1-5. From the narrative we can see that it took Abner 5 years to recover from the defeat by the Philistines, and to consolidate his power and make Ishbosheth king. Ishbosheth reigned over Israel for 2 years and David reigned over Judah from Hebron for 7 and a half years, so it took 5 years after the death of Saul before Ishbosheth is made king. That would have made him 35 when Saul died, as he was 40 years old when he began to reign. Usually it is the mother who names the children in the Bible, and you have to wonder why anyone would name their son Ishbosheth, which means man of shame. I have a theory that he is named this to mark an event in his fathers life. That event would be when God rejects Saul. This child is then a reminder to Saul that he has been rejected by God, and this could explain why Ishbosheth isn't with Saul and Jonathan when they are killed. Also Ishbosheth is a timid man faint of heart, and probably not much of a soldier.
       I said earlier that I thought that it was 5 years into Saul's reign when God rejected him, add this to the age of Ishbosheth at the death of Saul, 35 years plus 5 years equals 40 years. The Apostle Paul said that Saul reigned 40 years, and I agree.



  1. Thank you so much this is a very good answer

  2. Wonderful research! Thank you!

    1. It is good to know someone is benefiting from my articles. The Bible is more than just a book, it is the word of God.

  3. He couldnt have reigned 40 years, Saul was rejected and He may have raigned for some 20 or 15 years. Samuel was old when he made saul king, remember that the 3 older David's brother were in the field to fight the Philistines, they were about 40 years age like Jonathan Nahash the Ammonite was not killed by saul and he dies in David's reign, also the king of Gath is the same during Solomon's time. I guess Samuel was 70 or 80 years when he dies, and Josephus said that Saul reigned 20 years. I think Saul's statement is wrong or maybe the translations of copies made by greeks.

  4. Lolita July 17,2017
    This question was asked Sunday , the length of Kings Saul's reign. There is so much internet information it get's over whelming. I know the problem in the world now is sin. But the question piqued my interest that should have been up already. Your site had just enough to answer but not a landslide burying my little understanding and putting out my appetite for learning. Acts 13:21 gave me base and your site filled in the gaps for me. To identify sin and the consequences and the far reaching effects on his relationship with God, his family and the loss of his kingdom. To prove God's way is best and the only way He will accept our lives... Thank you

    1. Let God be true and every man a liar. God's word it true and I am glad that my writings are helping people understand his word. The Bible is under attack from without and within the church. We must stand by the word of God. Thank you for your comment. I will be going to Israel next month, if you would like you can follow me as I hike around the Sea of Galilee. If you have a Facebook account you can do a search for the group "Here I Go". Join the group and you can see the videos and pictures I post of the Holy Lands. My goal is to show that the Bible is true in all that it says.