The prophet Samuel, the last of Israel's charismatic judges, arrived on the scene to organise the transition between Confrederacy and Monarchy. This change was realised principally in one person, Saul, who became Israel's first titular king. Prior to Saul's annointing, Israel had descended into moral depravity, had been defeated by the Philistines, and had temporarily lost the Ark of the Covenant. Samuel arrived to save the Israelite people from utter oblivion.
The moral decay that had been grawing at the fabric of the Confrederacy led to a demand for a monarchy like those of the surrounding nations. Samuel's first recorded contact with Saul came at ramah where by divine design Saul was led to the prophet as he went in search of lost donkeys. Samuel had been told by Yahweh previous to their meeting of Saul's destiny as Israel's first king and was instantly recognised by the prophet when he came asking for help in his search for his missing donkeys. Saul was handsome and in possession of that 'divine charisma' which had for hundreds of years set apart special men for leadership in Istrael as judges. The two dined together, got to know each other, and presumably discussed religious matters. By this time Samuel had already gained a tremendous reputation in Israel and if Saul's later conduct is anything to go by, we can be quite sure that Saul looked up to this great prophet of Yahweh. Saul was certainly Samuel's devoted disciple.
After several signs had been given the young man by Samuel he was ordained King of Israel at Mizpah. Initially regarded with low esteem by his countrymen, support for his kingship soon came after his successful campaign against the Ammonite besiegers of jabesh-gilead. Saul was a righteous man to begin with, genuinely felt for his people, and was much loved in return. Even after he had fallen from grace, his dynamic charisma still ensured him a big following.
His first clash with Samuel came after the war against the Philistines at Michmash when, impatient waiting for Samuel, took it upon himself to administer sacrifices, an honour forbidden to the tribe of Benjamin of which he was a member, and reserved only for the priests of Levi. His impatience and hot-headedness cost his family yhe kingdom, and the more unpleasant sude of his nature is born when he is informed by the prophet that another will succeed him as king.
We are not told specifically whether or not contact between Samuel and Saul was continued after this incident, buit successive events indicate an estrangement. All the indications are that Saul remained a devout Yahweh-worshipper though it also seems as though he may have incorporated into his belief-structure some Canaanite religious practices. Though the evidence is not strong we should note that some of his children were given Baal names . Samuel may well have been aware of an admixing of Baal and Yahweh worship in Saul's life and this may explain why Samuel progressively distanced himself from the king.
The loss of the royal inheritance must have come as a sever blow to Saul's pride and though Yahweh was clearly displaesed with this, he was not abandoned by Yahweh until his next big mistake. He remained a successful warrior and though partially estranged from Yahweh was nevertheless given victory in battle for the sake of his people. Saul was never a 'king' in the Davidic or Solomionic sense and led a simple rustic existence. His reign was characterised by a curious mixture of the old and the new, the Confederacy and the Monarchy, a mixture reflected in his personality.
His final estrangemrnt from Samuel came in his war against the Amalekites. His instructions to attack these southern neighbours came direct from Yahweh through Samuel in much the same way as Moses and Joshua had received their instructions. The war was to be a 'holy war' which meant that everything Amalekite was consecrated to Yahweh and set-apart. The parallels with Achan's infraction at Jericho under Joshua are similar to Sauö's here. Saul disobeyed Yahweh deliberately by failing to kill the Amalekite king Agag and for appropriating the best of the Amalekite flocks. Though his retention of the flocks were out of the purest motives (he wanted to offer them up to Yahweh in sacrifice) his disobedience nevertheless counted for more. From this incident comes the famous saying, "It is better to obey than to sacrifice" given to Saul by Samuel.
Saul's spiritual end came after the Amalekite war. It must have been with great sorrow in his heart that Samuel informed Saul that he was no longer king and that the crown was to be given to a neighbour (David as it turns out). Saul went to pieces after this and in all likelihood never saw Samuel again. From this moment a bitter struggle with David began that was to ultimately lead to his ignominious death at the battle of Gilboa.
Samuel's death must have come as a great blow to Saul for despite his rejection of Saul evidently had a high regard and love for Samuel. This is evidenced by his pathetic attempt to conjure up the spirit of the deceased Samuel through the mediumship of the witch of Endor . The spirit's words were none too consoling to him and he shortly thereafter died at the edge of his own sword.
The story of Saul and Samuel is a tragedy. Saul, a young man with great promise, falls because of rashness. One can easily feel sympathy for Saul who seems often to have been the victim of circumstances beyond his control The strictness of Yahweh's Covenant law is so well illustrated in the lives of these two men. Saul must have been a bitter disappointment to Samuel who must have felt a keen sense of responsibility towards this first Israelite king. His obsessive jealousy of David underlies the weakness of this man and the very real feelings of insecurity he felt after the blessings of Yahweh had been removed from him. In our day and age of atheism Saul would probably have been looked upon as an eccentric hero, popular with his people, burdened with guilt, and passionately jealous of rivals. The deaths of Saul and Samuel marked the true end of the Israelite Confederacy. Together these men must stand as a truely strange chapter in the history of Yahweh's chosen people. Samuel, the last judge, and Saul the last connection with the Confrederacy before Israel's lightning birth into monarchy and eventual destruction. Their story is a tug-of-war between the old and the new, between people and a nation. Perhaps one day they will be recognised as having a significant rôle in Israel's history on par with the work of Moses. Saul was a Moses who went wrong, a heroic figure but a victim of baffling, uncontrollable circumstances and the dark depths of his own sensitive and passionate nature.
Revised and expanded on 4 August 2009
 Though see Footnote #3 in The Religion of Baal and its Influence on Hebrew Religion from the Time of the Settlement to the Reign of Saul
 There is considerable debate as to whether the spirit appearing to Saul was actually the disembodied prophet Samuel or a demon imitating him. Contacting the spirits of the dead is expressly forbidden by the Law and when this is attempted the result is always a demonic impersonation. However, the evidence in the incident with Saul does suggest that an exception was made and that Yahweh did indeed permit the deceased Samuel to pronounce Saul's final judgment. A related issue that stems from this incident is whether the doctrine of soul-sleeping is scriptural or not.