d-1 The Number of Years King Saul Reigned in Israel - 1 Samuel 13:1
KJV: Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel,ESV-1: Saul was...years old when he began to reign, and he reigned...and two years over Israel.
ESV-2: Saul lived for one year and then became king, and when he had reigned for two years,
NIV: "Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years."
NASV: "Saul was forty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty two years over Israel."
Modern translators think that the Hebrew text here exhibits copyist
error, and some rendered the literal age of Saul
when he began his first year of rule, the length of which they disagree over, followed by his literal total
years of reigning that they also disagree over. NIV translators evidently thought the reign was 42 years, and that the
40 years of his total reign noted in Acts 13:21
is a rounded-off figure. ESV editions offer two differ- ent renderings, one suggesting to readers that numbers are missing from the text, and another non-literal rendering assuming error in the Hebrew. All modern versions treat the Masoretic Text as presenting
numerical error, causing improper interpretation &
translation and variant degrees of incorrect syntax & punctuation
of the verse.
If the Hebrew in this
verse were following the usual pattern for the reign of a king, it would read literally, son of (x) year (name) when to become king, and he reigned (x) years, as seen in 2 Sam.5:4 that says David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years.
However, interpretation utilizing the usual literal pattern is improper since son
of "a" (the indefinite
article is implied) year usually refers to the age of a man in Biblical Hebrew language,
which can't refer to a literal one-year age of Saul when he began to reign. Thus the usual pattern doesn't apply in 1 Samuel 13:1, but the more literal one here does apply, which would be, son of year Saul when reigning him and two of years he reigned over Israel; the term son of year when reigning him (or in reigning of him) refers to the length of time Saul had been reigning, which appears in English form in the KJV that says Saul reigned one year. The verse ends with an incomplete thought, one that is completed in verse 2.
What is involved here is the beginning of a pattern on how the reign of a Hebrew king is presented in scripture. The initial form describes a potential ideal beginning of a reign, and amplification reveals this, and summarizes the fact that Saul fell far short of exten- ding the ideal throughout his reign. The ideal beginning seems to be a forerunner of the ultimate reign of Israel by the ultimate king who will begin and sustain an ideal reign of Israel and the world in the millennial kingdom. Thus the failures of Saul seem to emphasize the need for the ultimate reign of Christ at the very beginning of the earthly reign of men in Israel, in response to Israel's clamor for a king. The subsequent reign of David, though infinitely short of the nature of the reign of the Son of David, better prefigures that final blessed reign.
The common pattern of describing the beginning and end of the reign of a king of Israel begins with David, noting the king's age at the beginning of his reign, followed by the number of years that he reigned. Modern translators vainly try to apply this pattern to 1 Samuel 13:1, not recognizing that it doesn't apply. Their failure relates to the fact that son of has a different sense at times, as discussed in
item c-3 of essay 6, referring to a member of a category/group. This is the case with the 42-year
age of king Ahaziah in 2 Chron. 22:2 that refers to the sum of years in which an influence of evil kings had imposed a vile spirit
of idolatry on Judah. Ahaziah was a member of a category of evil
kings who for 42 years would invoke the idolatrous spirit of Omri in Israel and Judah.
A related sense of son of applies in 1 Samuel 13:1 where it does refer to the reign of a member of a category/group, and here the sense is a positive one, referring to the time Saul had reigned under the influence of the new heart that God gave him earlier in 1 Samuel 10. After he was endowed with a new heart, he prophesied like a prophet, and later won a great victory over the Ammonites (noted in chapter 11). For a brief time of one year, Saul was in the category of kings having the power of God's blessing (e.g. David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah & Josiah) that reflected God's will for the reigns of all kings of Israel. Thus, at the time in 1 Sam.13:1, he had been the son of, or member of, a group enjoying a beneficial influence of God, allowing him to be a great & proper king, but after one year he began exerting his own desires & ambitions; thus the power of the new heart from God waned until it ended in verse 2 where Saul gathered a small 3000-man army, and dismissed the rest of the people in a spirit of self-confid- ence, which was just the opposite of his gathering of all the people for battle against the Ammonites when he was guided by the new heart from God. 1 Sam.13:4-14 describes some of the self-confident behavior he was guilty of shortly after he lost the benefit of God's blessing, usurping the role of a priest in offering a sacrifice at Gilgal in hopes of getting God's help in battle against the Philistines as his plight now seemed hopeless. The extreme egoism of Saul at this time in his history is indicated by his intention to kill his own son Jonathan, just for not knowing Saul's edict on not eating before defeating the Philistines in a battle occurring not long after the time of the improper sacrifice; during this battle Jonathan's faith in God had won great victory for Israel. The proof of an incorrigible self-confidence in Saul, in association with the time of the improper sacrifice, is evident somewhat later when Saul disobeys another command of God; in 1 Sam.15:10-31, involving a decree that Saul is to destroy the Amalekites totally, he fails to obey fully, and his main concern is that the displeased Samuel remain with him to give the elders of the people the illusion that Samuel still favored him. Of course, the same pattern of behavior was exhibited much later when Saul tried to kill David, just because David was credited with greater deeds of valor, and seemed to be a threat to Saul's great desire to remain as the king of the nation.
Curiously, at the start of Saul's reign, 1 Sam. 10:8, deals with Samuel instructing Saul regarding a time when Samuel will meet him in Gilgal to offer sacrifice to the Lord, and this instruction seems to relate to both 1 Sam.11:14,15 & 13:4-14 that seem to speak of different results of the instruction at different times in Saul's reign. The instruction was to apply 7 days later, and immediately after it was given Saul received the new heart from God and a spirit of prophecy; a few days later he achieved the great victory over the Ammonites, causing great rejoicing by Israel, and he was made the king, and the sacrifices to the Lord noted by Samuel occurred at this time. All of this could easily occur in the 7-day time frame noted by Samuel in the instruction. On the other hand, the instruction seems to apply also to 1 Sam.13:4-14 describing events that occur about 2 years later when Saul is supposed to wait 7 days for Samuel to offer sacrifice to the Lord at Gilgal before engaging in battle with the Philistines, but Saul usurps the role of the priest, offering the sacrifice himself out of great fear over the immense size of the Philistine army. Thus Samuel's instruction seems to have a dual application, being prophetic of the latter incident that occurred about two years after the instruction. Indeed. a sense of prophecy applying to Saul's practice of guidance by the new heart seems to be emphasized in that Samuel arrived right after the unlawful sacrifice, as if Saul had been tested by a prophetic aspect of the instruction to see if the new heart from God could still govern his behavior, but obviously he was now acting on his own instincts. Assuming that this matter relates to prophecy, the timing of events, one year of control by the new heart, followed by another year of the waning of its effects, would certainly be realistic. This matter appears to be one of various aspects of the uniqueness of the Hebrew text that illustrate God's hand upon it, and our need to appreciate and study it on the basis of faith in God.
Summary: The KJV Saul reigned for one year is the correct sense, derived from son of year Saul when reigning him, in place of the common later when to become king. The term a son of (x) years often refers to the age of a king when he began to reign, but not to the years of his reign, and the latter type of use in 1 Sam. 13:1 has a unique purpose in regard to the new heart of Saul placing him in a special category or group for one year. Saul had an opportunity to participate in the type of reign that speaks of the blessed final reign of Christ, one better prefigured by David's reign soon to come.
Grammatical/linguistic factors: The syntax & punctuation of 1 Sam.13:1 are not straightforward, even when the significance of the one year is recognized. The Hebrew concludes verse 1 with the sign serving as our English period, yet the KJV & ESV-2 verse 1 end it with our comma to indicate a direct link to verse 2 where the syntax concludes, as needed for true English communication. The Hebrew evidently divides the two verses to separate the two types of behavior in Saul's life. Verse 1 would mark the time of Saul's descent into self-confidence, and verse 2 would begin his entirely perverse conduct in which he gathers a small army of men that he feels is sufficient to support a man as great as he presumes himself to be. Thus a break in Hebrew syntax separates the changing process of behavior after one year in verse 1 and the full change in verse 2, while proper English syntax requires a link of the two verses by a comma. Further, the literal Hebrew utilizes the literal sense of when, attaching this to the verb reign in the first part of verse 1, and implying its attachment to this verb in the second part; however in English communication when is properly linked literally to the second verb, as is common with Hebrew use of this term.
ESV-2 comes closer grammatically to the true rendering than other modern versions, but still misses the correct sense. Rendering Saul lived for one year and then became king incorrectly divides verse 1 into two thoughts, violates all possible senses of son of, suggests two Hebrew verbs when there is just one, and misses the first year of Saul's reign. Further, by making the one-year period precede Saul's reign, the ESV eliminates all possibility of relating this period to the prior context dealing with the new heart from God that actually relates to the initial part of Saul's reign.
the present writer's interpretation on Saul's one-year reign as a brief period of God's blessing on him is implied by the Hebrew, but the text
doesn't literally say this, so a proper literal translation is
that of the KJV, that Saul had reigned one year, and after reigning
two years, begins in verse 2 to choose his small army. The
implied interpret- ation requires that qualified instructors teach this point to the laity,
though it's quite possible for any serious reader to deduce
it from the context.