I have always assumed that King Saul was not a believer. Nevertheless, I was surprised to learn that a great number of venerable Bible commentators do believe that King Saul is in heaven. One of the most important texts in favor of such an interpretation is 1 Samuel 10:1-12:
Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, “Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince[a] over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies. And this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince[b] over his heritage. 2 When you depart from me today, you will meet two men by Rachel's tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah, and they will say to you, ‘The donkeys that you went to seek are found, and now your father has ceased to care about the donkeys and is anxious about you, saying, “What shall I do about my son?”’ 3 Then you shall go on from there farther and come to the oak of Tabor. Three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you there, one carrying three young goats, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a skin of wine. 4 And they will greet you and give you two loaves of bread, which you shall accept from their hand. 5 After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim,[c] where there is a garrison of the Philistines. And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. 6 Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. 7 Now when these signs meet you, do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you. 8 Then go down before me to Gilgal. And behold, I am coming down to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do.”
9 When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. 10 When they came to Gibeah,[d] behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. 11 And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” 12 And a man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” 13 When he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place.
It is predicted that the Holy Spirit would cause Saul to be "turned into another man"(v. 6). Saul being given "another heart"(v. 9) is associated with the Holy Spirit's coming upon him (v. 10). John Wesley, for example, understands this as a reference to regeneration, and they believe that 1 Samuel 28:19, in which the summoned spirit of Samuel tells Saul that he would be "with" him "tomorrow" (i.e., when he died), is a reference to King Saul going to heaven. So John Wesley:
28:19 Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: What do these solemn words portend? A gleam of hope when life shall end. Thou and thy sons, tho' slain shall be To-morrow in repose with me. Not in a state of health or pain If Saul with Samuel doth remain; Not in a state of damn'd despair, If loving Jonathan is there. Tho' these words may only mean, ye shall surely die, without any reference to the state of their souls after death. See note on 1Sa 31:8
Adam Clarke quotes the hymn of Charles Wesley, which was in reference to this passage, though disagrees with his interpretation of it, and understands it merely as referring to Saul's death:
To-morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me - What an awful message! In the course of the ensuing day thou shalt be slain, thy three sons shall be slain, and the armies of Israel shall be delivered into the hands of the Philistines! Can any person read this, properly considering the situation of this unfortunate monarch, the triumph of the enemies of God, and the speedy ruin in which the godlike Jonathan is about to be involved, without feeling the keenest anguish of heart?
But Samuel says, "He and his sons should be with him." Does not this mean that they were to go to paradise? I suppose it means no more than that they should all die. Yet the paraphrase of the Rev. C. Wesley is beautiful: -
"What do these solemn words portend?
A ray of hope when life shall end.
Thou and thy sons, though slain, shall be
To-morrow in repose with me.
Not in a state of hellish pain,
If Saul with Samuel do remain:
Not in a state of damn'd despair,
If loving Jonathan be there."
Saul had committed the sin unto death - the sin to be visited with a violent death, while tile mercy of God was extended to the soul. Thus say my faith, my hope, and my charity; and doth not the mercy of God say the same?
John Gill, though he interprets the text in a manner similar to that of Adam Clarke, notes that the Jews understand this text as referring to King Saul's eschatological redemption, pardon and salvation:
and tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me; which if understood in what sense it may, seems to be a lie of the devil, and at best an ambiguous expression, such as he has been wont to give in the Heathen oracles; if he meant this of himself as an evil spirit, it could not be true of Saul and all his sons, that they should be with him in hell, especially of Jonathan who appears throughout the whole of his life to have been a good man; if he would have it understood of him as representing Samuel, and of their being with him in heaven, it must be a great stretch of charity to believe it true of Saul, so wicked a man, and who died in the act of suicide; though the Jews (k), some of them, understand it in this sense, that his sins were pardoned, and he was saved; and if it is taken in the sense of being in the state of the dead, and in the earth, from whence he is said to ascend, and where the body of Samuel was, which seems to be the best sense that is put upon the phrase, "with me"
Gill, however, understands the Spirit's role here in 1 Samuel 10, not as salvific, but as merely having reference to the Spirit's office of anointing and equipping people for specific offices. So his commentary on 1 Sam. 10:6:
and shall be turned into another man; for the Spirit of God would not only operate on him in that way, as to fit him for composing and singing psalms and hymns, but inspire him with wisdom, and prudence, and greatness of mind, and with every qualification necessary for a king; so that he would appear quite another man than he was before, in his outward behaviour, as well as in the endowments of his mind; and from a rustic, an husbandman, a farmer's son, would appear with the air of a prince, and in the majesty of a king; and, as Procopius Gazaeus, have a royal mind or heart given him.
Likewise, Albert Barnes:
Will come upon thee - The word rendered "come," means to "come" or "pass upon," as fire does when it breaks out and spreads Amos 5:6; hence, it is frequently used of the Spirit of God passing upon anyone. (See Judges 14:19; Judges 15:14; below 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 11:6; 1 Samuel 16:13.)
Shalt be turned into another man - This is a remarkable expression, and occurs nowhere else. It describes the change in point of mental power and energy which would result from the influx of the Spirit of the Lord 1 Samuel 10:9. In the case of Samson it was a supernatural bodily strength; in the case of Saul a capacity for ruling and leading the people of which before he was destitute, and which the Spirit worked in him. (Compare Acts 1:8; Isaiah 11:2-4.)
Was King Saul elect? Only God knows.