The Bible Story
Volume 4, Chapters 80-89
"We Want a King!"
THE immense gathering of Israelites at Mizpeh in the autumn of the year had resulted in many thousands repenting and pledging themselves to greater obedience to God. (I Samuel 7:6.) It was the season of the Feast of Tabernacles.
As soon as it was over, the news came that a Philistine army was approaching. The people fell into a state of panic. They pleaded with Samuel to ask God to spare them from their enemies. (Verses 7-8.)
After Samuel had made certain that the Philistine army was indeed near at hand, he had a lamb prepared for a burnt offering to God. Samuel officiated at the ceremony. He had God's authorization to do so because the priesthood at that time had passed from Eli to himself.
(Although Samuel was not of the priesthood family, he was a Levite. He had been consecrated to God's service as a Nazarite and trained in the priesthood by Eli. [Numbers 6:1-6; I Samuel 1:11; 2:11, 18, 26; 3:1.] Until a worthy descendant of Aaron could be trained in the responsibilities of the priesthood, Samuel served as priest, as well as prophet. Thus it was proper for him to make this offering.)
As the lamb burned on the altar, Samuel prayed fervently. (I Samuel 7:9.)
"God of Israel, deliver your people here at Mizpeh from their enemies!" he cried. "You have seen and heard how they have come to admit and repent of their wrong ways. You have promised to protect the repentant and the obedient. Now I claim that promise of protection for these people, and commit their lives into your merciful hands!"
Even before Samuel had finished praying, the Philistine army swept into the Mizpeh area intending to set upon the thousands of families camped there. Although many of the Israelite men were armed, they weren't organized or prepared to meet an onslaught by so many well trained and determined enemy troops.
Just before the Philistine army came into view, the sky clouded over with alarming rapidity. The clouds were low, very dark and swirled about in a most unusual manner. As the attackers came almost within reach of the outermost tents pitched around Mizpeh, great bolts of lightning forked down from the brooding overcast, striking directly into the foremost ranks of the Philistines! (I Samuel 7:9-10.)
As the thunder roared, an earthquake shook the ground around the Philistines and threw their whole army into disordered confusion. Scorched and blasted bodies were tossed in all directions. Those near the front ranks who witnessed the blinding slaughter cringed back in stark fear, then turned to collide with and trample the troops behind them. This set off a disrupting chain reaction that carried all the way to the soldiers in the rear ranks. What had been a confident advance was turned to swift retreat, to the awesome roar of ear-splitting thunder!
This sudden turn of events was the cue for the armed Israelite men to act. Quickly banding together, they set out in swift pursuit of the fleeing Philistines. Those who had no weapons picked up weapons that were dropped by dying or fleeing Philistines. The enemy soldiers had just gone through a long, fast march, and were easily overtaken. In their state of fatigue they were no match for the Israelites. Not very many Philistines escaped the lightning -- or the swords, spears and arrows of the pursuers.
Shortly after the battle, Samuel had a large stone pillar set up at the site of the conflict, which was a few miles north of Jerusalem. It was a monument to commemorate the help God had given them that day. (I Samuel 7:11-12.)
Samuel's Foolish Sons
This was the turning point in the struggle of Israel against Philistia. The Philistines had long since captured Israelite towns from Ekron to Gath, a distance of about fifteen miles in an area not far from the coast. Israel at last took the towns back. At the same time hostilities ceased with the Arameans to the east. They dwelt in the old land of the Amorites, whom Moses destroyed. The Arameans came to be known at this time in history by the name Amorites, because they dwelt in the land of the uprooted Amorites. (Verse 14, last part.)
All this was a reward from God because most of Israel had turned away from worshipping the idols of surrounding nations.
Samuel was the spiritual advisor to Israel for the rest of his long life -- about fifty years. He didn't return to Shiloh because God had forsaken the city and the tabernacle. (Psalm 78:55-64.) Shiloh was destroyed during the trouble with the Philistines, although the Bible gives no detailed account of such a great loss. (Jeremiah 7:12 and 26:6.)
Samuel chose to live at Ramah, six or seven miles north of Jerusalem. There he built an altar to be used for sacrifices to God.
Every year Samuel moved his quarters for a time to the cities of Bethel, Gilgal and Mizpeh. This made it more convenient for people to contact him for matters of spiritual judgment. (I Samuel 7:15-17.)
After many years of such activity, Samuel began to feel the strain. Gradually he delegated more and more of his duties to his two sons, Joel and Abiah. He spent most of his time at Ramah, while his sons took over a large part of his work by establishing quarters in Beer-sheba in the territory of Simeon to the south.
Although Samuel had carefully reared his sons in the right ways, and felt that they were prepared to be assistant judges because of their ample training and ability, matters didn't work out as he expected. Out from under the watchful eye of their father, the two men began to take advantage of their positions by secretly taking bribes for judging some cases unfairly. (I Samuel 8:13.)
This corrupt practice was car tried on for only a few years. While Joel and Abiah were becoming increasingly greedy and wealthy, a growing number of Israelites were unnecessarily suffering in one way or another because of injustice. Samuel had no knowledge of what was going on, or he would have acted at once to remove his sons and make amends for their unfair deeds.
One day a group of the leading men of Israel came to Ramah to talk to Samuel, who had no idea of their intention.
"We are here to protest the conduct of your sons at Beer-sheba," one elder explained. "We want no more of them. Instead of helping people, they have been harmful!"
"Sirs, I don't know what you are talking about," Samuel said in a puzzled tone. "Please explain what my sons have done."
"It would take days to tell of their wrongdoings," another elder observed. "We have found they aren't honest and just, as you are. If you were twenty or thirty years younger, we might be satisfied with you as our leader. But we need someone else -- someone who can be more than a judge to Israel. We want the kind of leader that other nations have -- a king!" (I Sam. 8:4-5.)
"... a King?"
Samuel could scarcely believe what he had heard. This sudden demand for a change in form of government was so startling that he forgot for the time being about the accusations against his sons. He carefully scanned the faces of those before him. It wasn't difficult to tell by their serious expressions that they were quite determined.
"Please excuse me a few minutes, gentlemen," he said. "I shall return shortly."
He went at once to a private room to pray. He realized that he needed God's advice on how to answer the elders.
"What must I say to these men?" Samuel earnestly asked God. "If I say that I will have no part in helping them with their impudent request, they will surely turn against me. If I so much as think of agreeing to their demands, that would be against your will."
"Don't be too upset over this," God answered Samuel, though the Bible doesn't explain how He communicated with him. "The elders and the people they represent do indeed want a king. It isn't that they don't want you as their leader. It's because they don't want me, their Creator, to rule over them. Ever since I brought the Israelites up from the land of Egypt, they have rejected me again and again by rejecting the men I have chosen as leaders. During the past several years most of Israel has turned back to me in some degree. Now they are again going back to the ways of the pagan nations about them. You haven't known it, but your sons have given them cause to protest. They are using this as a reason for rejecting my government and demanding a change to a man-made form of government. If they insist on a king, that's what they deserve. Tell them they can have one. At the same time warn them what they can expect if a king is to rule them." (I Samuel 8:6-9. )
Samuel was most unhappy to hear about his sons' conduct and about the direction Israel was once more taking. As he had promised, he went back a little later to confront the Israelite leaders.
"I have taken your request to God," Samuel addressed them. "He isn't pleased with what you are asking, so He has decided to grant you something that in the long run won't really please you -- a king!"
Feeble grins broke out on the faces of only a few of the elders. Samuel's manner of describing their so-called victory didn't seem to inspire cheerfulness in most of them.
"Now let me tell you what you can expect if a king is made the head of Israel," Samuel continued in an ominous tone. "In the first place, he will draft your young men into a great standing army. A king chooses whom he pleases for what he pleases. Many of your sons who are trained toward being master craftsmen in various pursuits will be forced into lesser careers in the bloody art of war. At the same time, many who have lesser ability will become military leaders.
"He will also take your young women to be bakers, cooks, maids, housecleaners, dishwashers and for every service for which a king and his princes and underlings have a need. Besides, he will choose your best fields, vineyards and orchards to take from you to give to those in high offices under him. He will demand a tenth of what all farmers and wage earners produce. He will take your servants and your animals if they are to his liking. Even some of you may become his lowliest servants. In time many will cry out in despair because the king has taken so much from them. In that day God will do nothing to help you because of the choice you are now making." (I Samuel 8:10-18.)
God's Warning Ignored
There was silence among the elders following Samuel's warning. Then the men began to talk in subdued voices among themselves. After a period of discussion, a spokesman approached Samuel.
"We have considered all you have told us," he said to Samuel, "but we can't believe that any king of Israel would ever do as you have pointed out. You can't convince us that we won't be better off with a leader like the ones other nations have -- one who is able to preserve order as well as successfully fight our battles."
Samuel sorrowfully surveyed the men before him. He knew that Israel would soon face her enemies, who were beginning again to make attacks at the borders. This was one of the reasons why the elders wanted a fighting leader. There was no need for a massive fighting force for the Israelites as long as they obeyed God, but they were inclined to go their own ways and now looked to an army for protection. It is the same way in present-day Israel.
"Sirs, you will soon learn what will be done to carry out your unusual request," Samuel told the assembled leaders. "I trust you all will return safely to your various cities." (I Samuel 8:19-22.)
Shortly afterward, in the territory of Benjamin, an ordinary event took place that had a great bearing on Israel's future. There a man by the name of Kish, who owned a farm and raised fine donkeys, discovered that his mare donkeys and their colts had disappeared from his grazing fields. Fences around farms weren't common in those times } except for low stone walls around some of their vineyards, gardens and fields. Livestock often roved far away, sometimes to be recovered only after searching for them a long time.
Realizing that his missing animals might be in some distant area, Kish decided to send his son Saul after them. The stock raiser was a large and powerful man, but his son was even larger. Young Saul had developed a strong physique in his years of labor on his father's farm, and towered to a height of about seven feet! Kish knew that if his son found that someone had stolen the donkeys, he wouldn't have too much trouble convincing the thief to give them back.
"Take provisions for a few days for both yourself and one of your servants," Kish told Saul. "Bring the animals back even if you have to search behind every hill in the high country of Ephraim." (I Samuel 9:1-3.)
Setting out with donkeys, Saul and the servant zig-zagged north through the territory of Benjamin and into Ephraim. There they turned back southeast to pursue a circular course through the rugged Mt. Ephraim and Benjamin area into the northern region of Judah.
God Leads Saul to Samuel
"We shouldn't waste any more time," Saul told his servant. "We have covered many miles and have been gone over two days and have accomplished nothing. By now my father is probably much more concerned about us than he is about the donkeys. We should return home at once. Later we can look for the animals in other directions."
"I have a suggestion, sir," the servant said. "We are very near the city where lives the man of God who is Israel's prophet. If we were to visit him, he might be able to tell us where the donkeys are."
"Do you mean Samuel?" Saul asked. "Should we bother the leader of most of Israel with a matter such as ours? Besides, we have nothing to bring him as a gift. Even all our food is gone."
"Perhaps we have enough money to give him," the servant suggested.
There was little need for the two men to be carrying much money with them, inasmuch as they had brought what they considered sufficient provisions. All they could come up with was a quarter shekel, which would be equal to a small sum today. But it had good value in those times. Saul decided that it would suffice as a token of respect, and they set out to try to find Samuel. (I Samuel 9:4-10.)
Just outside the city they met some young women carrying water from a well. From them they learned that Samuel lived most of the time outside of town, but that he would soon be arriving to officiate at a special sacrifice that was to take place that day.
The day before this took place, God had spoken again to Samuel, informing him that about twenty-four hours later He would send him a young Benjamite to be the new leader of Israel and a staunch captain against the Philistines.
"You won't recognize him when you see him," God explained, "but I will let you know who he is."
As Saul and his servant came into the city, they noted that other people were hurrying to the place where the special sacrifice was to be made. Among them was a well-dressed, elderly man with a friendly but dignified appearance.
"Sir, could you tell me where I can find Samuel, the chief of Israel?" Saul asked the elderly one.
Samuel turned to look. When he saw the young giant striding along behind him, he stopped and regarded him with unusual interest, wondering if he could be the one God revealed he was to meet. At the same instant he heard a voice. "This is the one who will soon reign over my people," the voice spoke. "Anoint him captain of Israel as soon as you have the opportunity to be alone with him!" (I Samuel 9:11-17.)
Bible Story Book Index
A King is Chosen!
WHEN SAMUEL saw Saul for the first time, God informed Samuel that this was the powerful young Benjamite who would become the leader of Israel. Saul didn't know who Samuel was, though God had caused him to walk up to Samuel and inquire where the chief of Israel could be found. (I Samuel 9:10-18.)
Samuel Finds His Man
"I am Samuel," the older man answered. "Is there some way I may help you?"
Saul and his servant were startled by the words. They hadn't expected to meet Samuel among the people who were walking to the spot where a special sacrifice would be made.
"Yes -- there is, sir," Saul explained hesitantly, "but probably you won't consider it a very important matter. My father owns a farm northwest of here. A few days ago he discovered that several of his donkeys were missing. This man and I have been looking for them over a large area. We have come to you to ask if you know where they are, or if God might tell you where they are."
Much as Saul had been startled and surprised when he realized that he had run into Samuel, he was even more startled and surprised by Samuel's next remark.
"God has already helped locate your father's donkeys. I shall tell you about that later. There is a matter of much greater importance that you should be concerned about now. I am aware that you are Saul, the son of Kish, and I happen to know that you have been chosen for a very high office in Israel."
Saul didn't know exactly what to say, and that was because he didn't understand what Samuel was talking about. "I don't know what you mean, sir," the young Benjamite said in an uncomfortable tone. "I am of the smallest tribe of Israel, the tribe that has suffered great disgrace. And," he added modestly, "my family is the least important in the tribe of Benjamin. Why should I be chosen for anything?"
"I shall explain all this at another time," Samuel replied. "Go now before me to where the sacrifice is being made. I'll speak more with you after the sacrificial ceremonies are over."
Samuel then seated Saul and his servant as dinner guests with about thirty other people. These probably included certain leaders of Israel and some of the learned men who were instructors in a nearby college Samuel had established for training chosen men for careers in teaching the laws of God to the people.
Saul was greatly impressed by being in the company of such men. He was honored almost to the point of embarrassment when Samuel requested that a special portion of meat be set before Saul. This was the shoulder. The shoulder, the choice part of an offering, told those present that Saul was a very special guest. (I Samuel 9:19-24.)
That night Saul and his servant were guests at the house occupied by Samuel. Before bedtime Samuel took Saul up on the roof, which was a flat area where the dwellers of the house went for privacy. There the elderly judge explained to Saul that God had picked him to be the head of Israel, and briefly told him what would be expected of him. Saul could scarcely believe that such honor and responsibility would soon be his. He felt that he wasn't prepared for such a position, but Samuel persuaded him that inasmuch as God had chosen him, He would surely give him divine help.
Saul Anointed King!
After a night's rest, Samuel told Saul that he should return to his home for a time, and that he would like to walk along with him and his servant on their way out of town. As soon as they arrived in a secluded area, Samuel asked Saul to send his servant on ahead. (I Samuel 9:25-27.)
When the two of them were alone, Samuel followed God's instructions by pouring a small container of olive oil over Saul's head.
"I anoint you for consecration to the rank of captain of Israel!" Samuel exclaimed. "This is the office God has already decreed for you."
The elderly judge congratulated Saul by kissing him on the cheek, which in those times meant about the same as our present-day handshake.
"I shall leave you here," Samuel told Saul. "Don't be concerned about your father's donkeys. They have been found. Let me tell you what will happen to you on your way back, so that you will know for certain that God is speaking through me concerning you.
"A little way north of here, at the place where Jacob buried Rachel, his wife, two men will appear and inform you that your father's donkeys have been found, and that he is worried because you have been gone so long. After you leave them, you will walk out on a plain where there is a large oak tree. There you will meet three men who will be going northward to offer sacrifices at Bethel. One will be carrying three young goats. One will be carrying three loaves of bread. The other will be carrying a bottle of wine. They will speak to you and insist on giving two loaves of their bread to you." (I Samuel 10:1-4.)
"Later, you will come to the hill of God -- Mount Moriah, at Jerusalem -- where the Philistines have built a garrison. As you approach the nearby city, you will see a group of men carrying musical instruments. They will be from one of my colleges for training ministers. They shall speak and sing of things that have to do with God. You will join them, and God will guide you in what to say before them. You will begin to feel like another man with other interests. When you experience all these things I have mentioned, you will realize that God is beginning to work through you.
"After you have rested at your home, go down to Gilgal. Stay there for a week. I shall join you there to tell you what next to do." (I Samuel 10:5-8.)
As Saul moved northward with his servant companion, his head was swimming with the startling events of the past hours. It was like a fantastic dream. But as he thought about these things, he realized that if God could inspire Samuel to forecast the details of their return trip home, there was no reason to doubt that God could work through anyone He chose, and that the Creator owed no explanation to those whom He chose to work through as to why He picked them. Somehow Saul felt that he suddenly had a different outlook on many things.
Samuel's Prophecies Fulfilled
He wasn't completely convinced, however, that matters were going to turn out just as Samuel had predicted. Soon, however, as they traveled, his servant reminded him that they were passing close to Rachel's tomb, and pointed to the rocky area off to the left that had been a landmark of the Israelites for centuries. Saul remembered what Samuel had told him about two men meeting him at this place, but he didn't see anyone around except a few laborers in a distant field. As he walked on past the tomb site he began to think that Samuel hadn't been exactly accurate in his predictions.
Suddenly Saul was aware that two of the field laborers had left their work and were hurrying toward the road. They were waving and shouting to attract his attention. Saul stopped to see what they wanted.
"We've been watching for you to come by this way!" one of the men panted. "We have news for you!"
"Your father's donkeys have been found, and have been returned to his farm," the other said. "Your father is very concerned about you, and hopes that you will return very soon."
Saul was pleasantly startled to find these strangers carrying out a part of Samuel's prediction. At the same time he experienced a surprising feeling when he realized that the God of Israel had arranged this matter just because of him. He heartily thanked the two men for their information and continued northward into a prairie area. After a while he and his servant arrived at an unusually large oak tree. They sat down there to rest in the shade.
"I was told that we would meet three men at an oak tree on our way home," Saul mentioned to his servant. "There is no one in sight. Perhaps this isn't the right tree."
At almost that moment three men appeared over a nearby rise. As they approached, Saul could see that one was carrying three young goats. Another had a leather bottle hanging over his shoulder. The third had a flat package tucked under his arm. (I Samuel 10:9.)
"Hello, there!" one of them called out. The other two gave friendly nods.
"A good day to you, sirs," Saul answered. "Are you by any chance going up to Bethel?"
"We are indeed," one of them replied in a puzzled tone. "How could you guess that?"
"I noted the young goats and the wineskin," Saul answered, "and I supposed they were for sacrificing on the altar at Bethel."
"Perhaps you are as hungry as you are observing," the man with the package remarked. "We have three loaves of bread here, and we have just eaten. All we need is one for the offering. We would like to give you the other two loaves."
"Thank you," Saul said, "but we really don't need them. We are close to the end of our trip."
"A man of your size requires an unusual amount of nourishment," the fellow countered. "Please take these two loaves."
"All right," Saul smilingly agreed, remembering Samuel's words about accepting the bread. "Thank you for being so considerate of us."
As the two men moved on with their beasts, Saul marveled at how Samuel's predictions had come true to that time. He wondered if any or all of the beings they had met up to that time could have been angels instead of men.
When they arrived at the hill where a Philistine fortress was situated -- at present-day Jerusalem -- Saul anxiously looked for the group of men about which Samuel had spoken. He expected to see the men as soon as he arrived. His disappointment mounted as the minutes went by. Just when he had begun to conclude that Samuel had done well, after all, in correctly predicting two out of three situations, he spotted several men walking together and carrying musical instruments. He moved eagerly toward them, and hesitantly joined them when they began playing, singing and speaking.
These students and instructors from one of the colleges Samuel had instituted were impressed by Saul's willingness and desire to join them so that he might learn more of the history of Israel and what God required of obedient Israelites. Meanwhile, several people passed by who knew Saul, all of whom wondered what this young man was doing in the company of such a religious group. (I Samuel 10:10-13.)
When Saul finally arrived home, he was warmly greeted by his family. He didn't at first mention to any of his relatives his exciting experience with Samuel. Finally an inquisitive uncle began to question him.
"Just where have you been these past few days?" the uncle inquired.
"Why do you ask?" Saul cheerfully queried. "You know that we were trying to find my father's lost donkeys."
"I know that you set out to try to find them," the uncle persisted. "But where did you go and what did you do?"
"We went north to Mt. Ephraim and then southward into southern Benjamin," Saul replied. "On our way back we went to the leader of Israel, Samuel, to ask him if he could tell us where the donkeys were. He told me that the animals had already been found. We returned home to find them here."
"That Samuel is an amazing man," the uncle observed, wagging his head thoughtfully.
Saul could have told his uncle about Samuel's feast and other matters, but he didn't wish to invite questions that might lead to the disclosure of Saul's being chosen as the future leader of Israel. (I Samuel 10:14-16.)
Shortly after Saul's return home, Samuel sent out a decree that the Israelites should come to Mizpeh on a certain day to witness the election of their future king. Of course Samuel already knew that Saul would be king, but God had told him that at least the heads of families should be present when the person who would rule them should be chosen.
Because this was something they had long desired, the people turned out in huge numbers. The mood of most of them was most festive, but Samuel sobered many of them by what he had to say.
God Guides the Selection
"Before we get to the business of choosing a king," Samuel addressed the crowd, "I want to pass on to you some things that God has spoken to me. He wants me to remind you that although He brought your ancestors out of Egypt and saved them and you from many enemies, you rejected Him as your ruler when you asked for a man to rule over you. God's way is to lead and instruct you through men who have a special knowledge of God's laws and ways -- men who are dedicated to serving God and the welfare of the people through God's great mercy and wisdom. But now you want a king, the kind of leader pagan nations look up to, God will give you a king, and He has told you what to expect if that kind of leader becomes too ambitious or lets his power go to his head. Now let us get on with the election, and may God guide the one who will be chosen!" (I Samuel 10:17-19.)
Inasmuch as this matter was to be determined by the drawing of lots, the leaders of the tribes of Israel were asked by Samuel to participate in the drawing. Marked tabs were put into a container. One was taken out at random, and handed to Samuel. There was silence as the people waited, each person hoping that his tribe would be chosen.
"Benjamin has been chosen!" Samuel announced. "Your king will come from that tribe!"
There was a cheer from the Benjamites, but after it ceased there was a murmur from the rest of the people. They couldn't forget the bloody civil war that had been triggered by the evil actions of a few wanton Benjamites.
The next choice to be made was that of a family or clan from the tribe that had just been picked. There was a tab for every family. One was taken out and handed to Samuel.
"The Benjamite family of Matri has been chosen!" Samuel told the people.
A cheer went up from those of that family who were present. Tabs were then prepared for all eligible men in the family of Matri. One tab was taken from the container and given to Samuel.
"From the tribe of Benjamin, of the family of Matri, a son of Kish has been chosen as the man to be your king!" Samuel declared. "His name is Saul!" (I Samuel 10:20-21.)
Although most of the Israelites didn't know Saul, a great sound thundered up from the crowd.
"Show us this man!" the people roared. Samuel sent men to bring Saul. They returned a few minutes later, while the crowd still yelled, to report that Saul was nowhere to be found!
Bible Story Book Index
King Saul to the Rescue!
A DRAWING of lots before a large throng of people at Mizpeh disclosed that Saul, a Benjamite, was to become the first king of Israel. The people loudly demanded to see the man, but he couldn't be found. (I Samuel 10:17-21.)
A Bashful King
The continued boisterous demands of the crowd became wearying to Samuel. He realized that the people wouldn't be satisfied until Saul appeared. Samuel was certain that Saul couldn't be very far away because he had seen him earlier in the day. Searching had been futile. The only thing left to do was to take the matter to God, who had just performed a miracle for Israel by causing certain lots to be drawn.
"We humbly ask you to make known to us where Saul is," Samuel asked God.
"He is hiding in the mass of carts and camping gear brought in by the people who arrived this morning," a voice said to Samuel.
The elderly prophet immediately advised his aides where to look. Shortly afterward they returned with Saul, who was greatly embarrassed.
"I'm sorry," he apologized to Samuel. "The thought of appearing before such a large crowd was too much for me."
"Buck up!" Samuel smiled. "You'll be all right. Pull yourself up to your full height and walk with me out before the people."
It was difficult for the young Benjamite to go before such a throng as though he were something on display, but he obediently accompanied Samuel to the elevated place where the lots had been cast.
"This is Saul, the man who will be your king!" Samuel called out to the people as he took the younger man by the arm and gently pushed him forward. (I Samuel 10:22-23.)
A mighty cheer welled up from the crowd at sight of the large, tall, athletic and handsome man. The cheering continued for so long that Samuel finally held up his hands for silence, but the noise of the crowd didn't die down right away.
"Your God has chosen this man for you!" Samuel called out to the people. "You see for yourselves that there is none quite like him in all of Israel!"
Another long cheer came from the crowd. Gradually it turned into a disorganized chant, finally developing into a definite statement.
"Long live the king!" the people shouted over and over. This expression of affection for royalty has lasted to this day.
After Saul had walked out of view, the voices gradually ceased. Samuel then outlined to the people the changes that would be required because of a different kind of government soon to go into effect.
"Return to your homes, and may God be with you," was the last thing Samuel said to the assembled Israelites. (I Samuel 10:24-25.)
A King Without a Kingdom
Carefully eluding the people, Saul set out for his home in Gibeah to continue working on his father's farm. This was according to Samuel's suggestion. The older man knew that it was up to God to create a situation that would lead to Saul's coming into active leadership of Israel.
Saul didn't go home by himself, though possibly he would have preferred to do so because of his retiring nature. Whether or not he liked it, he was accompanied by a number of trusted men whose business it was to make certain that he arrived safely at his father's farm -- and thereafter to serve as his royal attendants.
For days after his returning home, many people came to bring him gifts and wish him well. At the same time there were some who came to jeer at him and taunt him with insulting remarks. Large and strong as he was, Saul could have given these hoodlums some painful moments. But he realized that a king should never brawl nor lay hands on his taunters. Nor should anyone who lives by God's laws, for that matter. Saul controlled himself to the point that he didn't even act as though he heard them. (I Samuel 10:26-27.) However, because Saul did not receive the complete support of the people, he was unable to set up a royal organization. Saul waited patiently until circumstances should work toward his being more widely accepted.
Shortly after lots had been drawn to determine the man who should become Israel's first king, an Ammonite army appeared in the area of Jabesh-gilead, a city just east of the Jordan River in the territory of Gad.
The inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead were fearful when they saw such a fighting force approaching, but they were filled with panic when the Ammonite army marched up and completely surrounded their city. The people weren't equipped to fight off armed besiegers. This could mean being bottled up until food ran out, if the enemy chose to stay that long. If the Ammonites chose to attack, defeat would be only that much sooner.
All they could do would be to throw themselves on the Ammonites' mercy -- if any. And the Ammonites were known as a very cruel people.
The leaders of Jabesh-gilead made their decision, and fearfully went to confer with their besiegers.
Nahash, the Ammonite king, was a harsh, arrogant man who was intent on driving Israel out from the territory east of the Jordan River. He was aware that Israel under Jephthah's leadership had crushed his nation's army nearly forty years previously. And he felt that it was time the score was more than evened.
"For Israelites, you show considerable courage," Nahash observed sarcastically as he stared at the leaders of Jabesh-gilead. "Surely you are aware that the people of your city are alive only because I prefer to take my time in destroying them!"
"We realize that," the Gadites replied uneasily. "But by fighting to the end, we could make your siege costly. We're here to tell you that we are willing to become your servants if you will agree to spare us."
Nahash gazed at them in disbelief. Then he broke out into a roar of hoarse laughter. When he finished laughing, his expression abruptly changed again.
Cruel Peace Terms
"My only agreement with you," he spat at the Gadites, "is that I will scoop out the right eyeball of every man in Jabesh-gilead! That would prevent you from ever taking up arms against me and should give the rest of Israel something to think about!" (I Samuel 11:1-2.)
The Gadites were startled at this cruel declaration, but they made one more attempt at trying to save their city.
"Please give us seven more days of freedom," they humbly asked the glaring Nahash.
"Now why should I spare your city for seven more days?" the Ammonite leader slowly asked in mock concern.
"So that we may send messengers to other Israelite tribes to bring us help," they explained. "If no one comes to rescue us within a week, then do as you will with us."
Nahash glanced around wide-eyed at his officers. "Have you ever heard anything like this?" he asked. "We have come many miles over a hot desert to conquer these people, and they have the gall to suggest that we postpone the conquering until they can scrape together an army to try to fight us off!."
"You fear that an Israelite army will come if we send the messengers?" the Gadites bravely asked, knowing that such a question might be their last.
For a moment it seemed that Nahash would become very angry. It was evident that he was making an effort to control himself. Then a bitter grin crept over his swarthy face.
"You wouldn't believe me if I were to tell you that I don't fear any part or all of Israel," he muttered slowly as he leaned forward and shook his finger at the Gadites. "Just to prove my contempt for your nation, I'm going to give you those seven days you've asked for! You have my permission to alert all your tribes. If they send an army here, then that will spare me the trouble of going over the Jordan to destroy it! Now go!" (I Samuel 11:3.)
As soon as the Gadites had disappeared from view, Nahash's officers began to express their Concern because of what could result from their king's rash promise.
"We'll see to it that those messengers never get far from Jabesh-gilead, sir," they told Nahash.
"Why bother?" the king grinned. "We know that Israel doesn't have a standing army. It would be impossible to form one and move it here within a week. After we've taken Jabesh-gilead, we'll clear the Israelites out of the land east of the Jordan. Then we'll give some attention to those on the other side of the river."
So saying, Nahash settled back to enjoy a glass of wine. His officers withdrew, their exchanged glances making it plain that they didn't completely share their leader's confidence.
Not long afterward messengers arrived in various parts of Canaan with the startling news that the Ammonites were besieging Jabesh-gilead, and would move into western Canaan unless an army could be sent at once to stop them.
The messengers were not sent directly to new king Saul for help. Although they had accepted Saul as their king, most Israelites knew he was just a farmer with no military background. They had little confidence in his ability to save them. Saul had not yet proved himself to them.
King Saul Acts
As in other parts of Canaan, the people of Gibeah, Saul's home town, fell into a state of fear when they heard the news. Some were so terrified at what they imagined would happen that they went around shrieking and moaning.
Saul knew nothing of all this until after a messenger had arrived in Gibeah. He was driving a herd of cattle in from a grazing area when one of his men met him to tell him what had happened. (I Samuel 11:4-5.)
These events having to do with the Ammonites triggered Saul into action as the king of Israel. He knew he had an immediate responsibility to the people of Jabesh-gilead. He was so moved by the threat of one of Israel's ancient enemies that he decided to whip up a fighting force immediately. As a means of getting fast action, he sent pieces of freshly butchered work bulls to the leaders of the tribes of Israel. The messengers who brought the pieces explained to the leaders that it was a reminder from Saul and Samuel that their bulls, too, would be slashed up in like pieces -- unless the leaders immediately sent armed men to help rescue the people of Jabesh-gilead.
This edict was promptly obeyed by the leaders, who feared what God might do to them if they failed to deliver the men. Within hours thousands of able men were swarming into Bezek, a town west of the Jordan River not far from Jabesh-gilead.
Meanwhile, the men who had come from Jabesh-gilead returned to their city with news that help would be there by about mid-morning of the next day. The leaders were so happy to hear that rescue was on the way that they decided to talk to Nahash again.
"We have decided to surrender to you," the Gadites told the Ammonite king. "By tomorrow our people will come out to you. We hope that you will spare our city, if not us."
"A very touching performance," Nahash grinned, nodding knowingly. "Why speak of surrender when you have no choice? I've given you your chance, but don't think that your people will get away with keeping any valuable possessions. Everything they bring out with them will be examined by my men. Now enjoy your last few hours with the sight of both eyes. By tomorrow night every man of you will have only one good eye!"
Back in Bezek, Saul was pleased at the count of Israelites who had rallied in defense of Jabesh-gilead and the nation of Israel. Close to a third of a million men showed up. Most of them were untrained, but all were armed and ready to fight. (I Samuel 11:6-10.)
Although Saul had never commanded an army, he was inspired in what to do. He lost no time in getting the men by night across the Jordan River. There he divided them into three parts. Each division was commanded by a man who had military experience. One was sent south of Jabesh-gilead to wait until dawn. Another was dispatched to a point out of sight north of the city to wait until the same time. The third stayed on the west side toward the river.
By dawn next day, Nahash was getting anxious for the people of Jabesh-gilead to come out of the city.
The Surprise of His Life!
"I'll give them just a little while longer," he grumbled to his officers. "Then if they're not out, pull up your equipment and batter the gates in!"
At that moment an excited lookout raced up to Nahash's tent. "Many men are approaching on foot from the west!" he panted. The Ammonite king lunged to his feet and strode outside with his officers. When he saw the dark line of humanity spreading across the plain, in the early dawn light, his anger was greater than his surprise.
"Those Gadites are trying to trick me!" he snapped. "Form all the men in their fighting ranks except enough to guard the gates of the city! We'll settle with those Gadites as soon as we wipe out our attackers!"
Ammonite officers began barking orders. The circle of Ammonite soldiers melted away from around Jabesh-gilead. While men were moving swiftly and noisily about, another excited lookout was desperately trying to make himself heard.
"An army is coming from the north!" he kept yelling. An officer finally heard him, and rushed the report to Nahash. At first the Ammonite leader wouldn't believe it, but when the oncoming men were pointed out to him, his angry mood started to turn to one of concern. He shouted orders to his officers to change battle tactics. Officers yelled new orders to their men, who began to become confused. Then someone noticed that both attacking bodies of men had ceased moving. The Ammonites were puzzled, but all they could do was stand and wait or flee.
"Hah!!! Perhaps they're losing their nerve, now that they see how many there are of us," Nahash remarked as he stared intently at one group and then at the other.
There was an excited shout from several Ammonite soldiers who were pointing southward. Nahash looked to see a third army coming into view over the low hills! Glancing to the north and to the west, he saw that the other two divisions were approaching again. It was plain to him then that the first two divisions had halted to await the arrival of the third so that all three could attack at once!
For a moment Nahash was tempted to give the command to retreat to the east. Many of his soldiers, including himself, were mounted and could easily have escaped. But he knew that he would have to account to his people for leaving his foot soldiers behind to be slain. The only thing to do was to spread out and meet the oncoming human vise.
Minutes later arose the harsh shouts of men rushing together in the deadly contact of battle! (I Samuel 11:11.)
Bible Story Book Index
Indecision, Idolatry, Chaos!
THREE LARGE Israelite divisions closed in on his army from three different directions. But the cruel, haughty and boastful king of the Ammonites stood up to the attack. He hated the Israelites too much to do otherwise. (I Samuel 11:1-10.)
The Invader Routed
The Ammonites had always prided themselves on their fighting ability. On clashing with their ancient enemy, they fought desperately, but it wasn't God's will that they should succeed. God determines the outcome of wars. For hours they battled to free themselves from the closing ring of Israelites, and for hours they fell before the fiercely wielded weapons of Israel.
By the middle of the day the Ammonites were defeated and scattered. Not even two of them remained together to fight. Here and there could be seen a man fleeing toward the east, but the Israelites overtook and slew these fugitives. (I Samuel 11:11.)
Nahash, who had bragged that he would remove the right eyes of the men of Jabesh-gilead, hoped to seek out a leader of the Israelites so that he might slay one of high rank. The opportunity didn't arrive. The Ammonite king went down in a pool of blood early in the battle.
Leaving thousands of dead Ammonites scattered over a vast expanse of the plain, Saul regrouped his army for instruction.
"With God's help you have been victorious," he told them. "The people of Jabesh-gilead have asked me to thank you for helping save them and their city. Return to your homes if you wish. Those of you who would like to accompany me back across the Jordan River are welcome to do so."
Samuel came out to meet Saul after the new king had crossed over to the west side of the river. With him were many people who wished to join the elderly prophet in congratulating Saul. Now, at last, there was great and growing enthusiasm for the new leader. But trouble started to develop when a part of the crowd began to loudly demand that something be done about the men who had insulted Saul at his home near Gibeah, and who had refused to recognize him as their leader.
"Find all those who treated Saul with contempt and disrespect!" was the cry that came up from many throats. "Bring them here and let us kill them before our brave new king!"
When Saul heard this, he hastily strode out before the crowd. He realized that public opinion was beginning to run strongly in his favor because he had become a sort of hero overnight, but he didn't want anyone punished because of disclaiming him as Israel's leader.
"I appreciate your loyalty!" Saul called out to the crowd, "but no one is to be slain just because he doesn't approve of me! Your strong feelings of revenge aren't right! They should be drowned in a warm glow of thankfulness to God for sparing our lives and giving us victory over the Ammonites!" (I Samuel 11:12-13.)
The throng was silent. Those who had made the demand for a death penalty to Saul's dislikers were either angered or embarrassed. But no one spoke out in defiance of their leader's rebuke. Finally someone started to cheer, and most of the people joined in a loud ovation.
After the shouting ceased, Samuel appeared before the people to ask them to congregate soon at Gilgal, about forty-five miles southward. There all of Israel was invited for public ceremonies having to do with Saul.
Samuel Warns Against Idolatry
Later, at Gilgal, a growing crowd applauded King Saul for leading the army of Israel to overcome the Ammonites. Although he had already anointed Saul privately as the new leader of the nation, Samuel went through the rite-once more to confirm it for the benefit of the people. (I Samuel 11:14-15.)
After hours of celebration, offerings and sacrifices, when the festive mood of the crowd was beginning to subside, Samuel went out to speak to the people.
"Over the years I have listened to your requests," Samuel told them. "One of them was for a human king and a change of government. I took the matter to God, and now your young king is standing in your sight. I have been of service to you and to God ever since my childhood. I have executed His decisions. Now tell me, have God or I been unfair? Can anyone say that I have taken a bribe? If anyone can prove it, I am ready to pay it back here and now. If any of you has a fault to find with me, step up here and let me know about it."
Nobody came forward and nobody spoke up. "Am I to assume that your silence means that God is a witness that you have found no fault with me as God's servant?" Samuel asked of the crowd.
"God is our witness that you have been honest," many voices chorused. (I Samuel 12:1-5.)
"Then take heed to what I'm saying now," Samuel continued. "You have seen down through our history how God supplied men of great ability when Israel was in trouble. Israel cried out for help in Egypt, and Moses and Aaron were raised up to help lead our ancestors here. When the people turned to idolatry, God sent the armies of the kings of Hazor, Philistia and Moab. The Israelites cried to God when the pagan armies attacked, tearfully confessing that they had sinned by worshipping Baal and Astaroth [Astaroth is the Hebrew word for the Anglo-Saxon goddess Easter].
"God then sent men such as Jerubbaal [Gideon], Bedan, Jephthah and Samuel to help rescue Israel time after time. Lately there has been more trouble because of breaking God's laws. But even when it was reported that the king of Ammon was planning to attack you, you desired to have a human king, such as Nahash was, to ride before your army. I reminded you that God is your King, but you insisted that your king be a man. God has given you your desire in the man who was confirmed just a few hours ago. (I Samuel 12:6-13.)
"Now I am solemnly warning you that you must obey God if you want Him to protect you and your king. If you refuse to live by your Creator's ways, then you will lose His protection and blessing. You and your king will come into a time of misery and want. Your enemies will come to conquer you as they did your ancestors!"
Most of the people were impressed and sobered by this warning, but even from where he stood, Samuel could make out the slightly sneering expressions of not a few who believed that there was nothing to fear from God under any circumstances. Many still insisted in their hearts on learning the hard way. They were the kind who refuse to take correction until forced to admit they have been wrong!
"I perceive that there are some among us who don't think of our Creator as a real and mighty force," Samuel went on. "Perhaps a great miracle would give them a better understanding. Look at the sky! This is the wheat harvest season when it is clear and cloudless. Look in the sky. Does anyone think that a thunderstorm will occur this afternoon?"
"Of course not!" some hardheaded character shouted. "It hardly ever rains this time of year!"
There was a chorus of agreement. "Ordinarily we might not expect any rain, "Samuel concurred. "But I am going to ask God to send a sudden thunderstorm! You'll see God's power. It will also be a sign that those who asked for a king over Israel have sinned in doing so, even though God has allowed that king!"
Most of the people looked a little uneasy. Some of them grinned. A few laughed sarcastically. Samuel fell to his knees and stretched his arms upward. (I Samuel 12:14-17.)
"Great God our Creator, I call on you to show your people that you are aware of all that goes on with them, even to their very thoughts," Samuel prayed. "Make their wicked ways known to them, that they may repent and follow your ways. Show them your miraculous power by causing a deluge of rain to fall this very afternoon!"
Most eyes turned upward to the clear, blue spring sky. Samuel didn't join the crowd in scanning the heavens. He disappeared into a nearby tent for a time. Those who believed him didn't know just what to expect. A few of those who didn't believe him began to make fun of the situation.
"How can we have rain without clouds?" someone yelled. "That's the part the prophet forgot!" someone else shouted. "Somebody go get a cloud and shove it up in the air."
"Help! I'm drowning, Samuel!" "I brought a washcloth! Now bring on the rain so I can have a bath!"
"This rain is so dry that it's chapping my skin!" "That's the sort of thunder I like -- the kind that can't be heard!"
While these distasteful remarks were spouting up from here and there in the throng, the greater number of Israelites could only wait in uncomfortable suspense. Then came shouts from some of these, but not because they were trying to be funny. They were shouting because a small, wispy cloud had resolved out of the blue. It grew so swiftly that within minutes it was a heavy, spreading mass of vapor.
What a Miracle!
The foolish remarks ceased. All eyes were glued to the dark, turbulent, threatening sky. The sun was blotted out. A heavy shadow hung over the assemblage. The next instant the area was brilliant with a bolt of lightning stabbing down from the clouds, followed by a booming clap of thunder.
The lightning stabbed down with increasing intensity. The whole region was soon crackling and hissing with flashes of electricity. Thunder became a constant earth-shaking roar.
Then came the rain, streaming down in such a massive torrent that men shouted, women screamed and children screeched with fear. The ones who had made fun of Samuel, afraid that they would be struck by lightning, were among the first to run and yell for help. (I Samuel 12:18.)
"Come out of your tent, Samuel!" they loudly begged. "Ask God to stop this storm before we are killed!"
"Pray for us, Samuel!" others shouted. "We realize that we were wrong in asking for a king!"
When Samuel heard people repenting because of demanding a change in leadership, he came out of his tent and into the heavy down pour to implore God to stop the storm. There was a sudden decrease in the lightning and rain -- almost as if suddenly turned off. The clouds dissolved, leaving clear, blue sky again. Warm breezes soon dried soaked clothing, but many people were so frightened that they continued shivering. Everyone knew God had dealt with them for their sin. There were no doubters now.
"You have nothing to fear now," Samuel called out to the crowd, "as long as you obey God and let nothing turn you aside from serving Him at all times. Then He will never forsake you, for you are the people He has chosen for a mighty purpose. You should be thankful for that, and for all that God has done for you. I shall continue to pray for you and to show you the right way. And once more I make this warning: DON'T TURN AWAY FROM GOD, OR YOU AND YOUR KING WILL BE DESTROYED!" (I Samuel 12:19-25.)
With that, Samuel dismissed the people. They left with good intentions, but what happened later proved that the elderly prophet's warnings weren't as effective as he hoped and prayed they would be.
Saul, meanwhile, was shy about using his authority as king. He let the people do as they pleased. Soon they were again turning to paganism.
After several years of Israelite lawlessness, God again allowed the Philistines to take over part of Israel. It happened so quickly that Saul didn't know about it until after it took place. He wasn't aware until then of the need of a communication system that would give him knowledge of what went on all over the nation, and that he should use his authority to do something about the nation's protection. He was beginning to learn the responsibilities of a king.
But when Saul saw the Philistines overrun his Israelite brethren whom he loved, he finally realized he must take action. After having been king about twenty years, Saul began to mobilize a small army for action.
King Saul Challenges the Philistines
By this time Saul was in the beginning of his second twenty years of reign as king of Israel. Conditions now were really bad. The Philistines from the west, who had overpowered the Israelites, had become increasingly demanding masters of a great part of Israel.
One way in which the Philistines controlled the Israelites was to forbid them possession of files or devices for sharpening metal cutting edges, which meant that it was almost impossible for the Israelites to make knives or swords for equipping an army. The Philistines saw to it that no blacksmiths should remain among the Israelites. When the Israelite farmers and carpenters needed their tools sharpened, they had to go to the Philistines. (I Samuel 13:19-21.)
Saul continued to rule Israel from Gibeah in the territory of Benjamin. This must have been somewhat awkward, what with Philistine garrisons located only miles distant. One garrison was only two or three miles to the north at a place called Geba.
Saul's fighting force consisted of only about three thousand men, few of whom carried swords or knives because of the Philistines' restrictions. Their only weapons were a few bows and arrows, slings and farm implements. Saul kept two thousand of the troops as a bodyguard. The other thousand soldiers were used to protect his young son, Jonathan, who had been trained as a soldier. (I Samuel 13:2.) Saul possessed a sword and armor, as also did Jonathan. (I Samuel 13:22.)
Although he didn't have his father's permission, Jonathan one day led his thousand soldiers toward the small garrison at Geba. It was situated on a hill. More of a lookout or outpost than a fort, it had relatively few Philistines stationed there. Their prime purpose was to keep their eyes on the area to the north of Gibeah.
Moving at night and carefully concealing themselves among the rocks as they approached, Jonathan and his men managed to completely surround the hill. Silently and slowly they crept up to close in on the fortification. A ladder was quietly placed against the wall, and men stealthily filed up and over the top. Most of Jonathan's troops had no part in scaling the wall, nor was it necessary. The handful of Philistines was completely surprised and overcome. It wasn't much of a victory, but it meant much to Jonathan to overcome even a few of his nation's oppressors and to capture some precious swords, spears and knives.
This capture of the lookout at Geba had a far-reaching effect, however. The news spread swiftly throughout Israel. Each time it was related, the matter gained in scope and meaning. By the time it reached the commanders of the Philistines, the reports were that Saul had stormed and captured a major Philistine garrison, and that Israel was now completely armed and ready for war.
Realizing that the enemy would do something quite forceful about these reports, Saul had no choice but to summon able men to battle by the blowing of trumpets and by fire signals the Israelites understood. Men were to assemble as soon as possible at Gilgal for quick organization into fighting units, though without swords they would be ill-equipped. (I Samuel 13:3-4.)
Israel's able men answered the call, but two or three days later they lost all desire to fight. That was when it was reported that thousands upon thousands of enemy foot soldiers, horsemen and chariots were moving eastward only a few miles from Gibeah! (I Samuel 13:5.)
Bible Story Book Index
Without an Army
WHEN Jonathan overran a Philistine garrison, King Saul called for men to come to Gilgal to get ready for war with the Philistines. Thousands of Israelites obeyed the summons. (I Samuel 13:1-4.) But when they learned that a huge fighting force of enemy foot soldiers, horsemen and charioteers was approaching from the west, panic overcame them.
Saul Disobeys God
A great part of the would-be troops fled out of Gilgal to hide in groves, bushes, pits, gullies, on hilltops and anywhere they thought they could conceal themselves from the enemy. Some scattered across the Jordan River into the territory of Gad.
A small part of the Israelite men mustered enough courage to stay with Saul in Gilgal, but the king was discouraged at such a display of cowardice by so many. (I Samuel 13:5-7.) He had already sent a message to Samuel for help, and again he was discouraged to receive word from Samuel that he would arrive from Ramah a few days later. Saul was supposed to wait in Gilgal a week after sending for Samuel during any time of trouble. (I Samuel 10:8.)
What with the enemy approaching, a week was a long time to Saul. He had almost decided that all was lost when he received a report that the Philistines had stopped their advance to set up a camp at Michmash, a few miles north of Gibeah. (I Samuel 13:5.) This was only about fifteen or twenty miles from Gilgal. This meant that the Philistines were only a day or two away if they should move on. Lookouts and messengers were stationed to let Saul know immediately what the enemy would do next.
Six days of painful suspense dragged by. The Philistines continued at Michmash. Saul knew that they knew he was in Gilgal, and that they probably were aware that he wasn't prepared to confront them. He spent most of his time wondering why they didn't attack. When the seventh day dawned since Saul had sent his request to Samuel, Saul was becoming more worried every hour. By late afternoon he was so worried that he decided to wait no longer for the elderly prophet and his advice in prayers and offerings. Saul decided that he would personally make burnt offerings and peace offerings so that God might be moved to step in and somehow save Israel. (I Samuel 13:8-9.) He should have been patient. The seventh day was not yet over.
Just as he finished making a burnt offering, it was reported that Samuel was riding into Gilgal. Saul stopped what he was doing and hurried to meet him.
"I have been told that you are making offerings to God," Samuel said to Saul. "I hope that the report isn't true."
"Why -- yes, it is," Saul replied hesitantly. "But why?" inquired Samuel. "You know that it isn't for the king to direct spiritual matters. That is a responsibility of God's ministers."
"I did it because I hoped God would be pleased and not allow the Philistines to come on us," Saul replied. "I did it against my better judgment, since you didn't show up to advise me. My army is scattered and the Philistines are ready to attack. I was fearful of waiting any longer."
"You have been most unwise in your conduct!" Samuel bluntly told the king. "I did show up in time. The seventh day is not yet over and the Philistines have not yet attacked. If you had obeyed God, He would have established your family as perpetual kings.
"But you have overstepped your authority, which does have definite limits. God has made it known to me that your days are numbered as the king of Israel!"
A Bewildered King
Saul's self-willed expression faded. He knew that the elderly prophet always spoke the truth, and he was shaken by his words.
"Are you saying that Israel will fall merely because of me?" Saul asked anxiously.
"Israel will survive for a time in spite of you!" Samuel replied. "God will produce another man to become king who is more inclined to be obedient to Him." (I Samuel 13:10-14.)
Leaving Saul in a thoughtful state, Samuel left for Gibeah. Saul was confused, bewildered. Samuel hadn't told him when he would lose his throne. Hoping to gain God's favor by staying close to Samuel, Saul summoned his men and his son, and all of them followed Samuel to Gibeah. Only about six hundred soldiers had remained with the king. Saul moved with them to Gibeah by night, hoping that the Philistines wouldn't learn where the Israelites had gone.
The vast Philistine forces remained for a time at Michmash, obviously aware that their presence was keeping the Israelites in a state of constant fear. (I Samuel 13:15-16.) Then one day they showed signs of moving. Excited Israelite lookouts hoped they would be able to report that the enemy was on its way back to Philistia. But instead of retreating, the Philistines moved a short distance to the southeast to camp at a more advantageous spot near the edge of a deep valley. (I Samuel 13:23.) From there they sent out three companies -- one to the northeast, one to the east and one to the west. They moved slowly, pitifully plundering and ravaging the Israelite homes and farms and villages in their paths. For some reason they chose not to move south toward Gibeah. Very likely they considered Saul's little army not worth the bother. The Israelites were powerless, since the Philistines had taken away their swords, spears and blacksmith's tools. (I Samuel 13:17-22.)
Saul's son Jonathan had lost his little army when so many soldiers had fled for their lives. His only remaining helper was a young and loyal armorbearer, who carried Jonathan's shield and extra weapon until they were needed in battle. But Jonathan and his courageous companion were about to accomplish more, with God's help, than a thousand soldiers could accomplish under ordinary circumstances.
"Many of the Philistines are gone from their camp," Jonathan observed. "Let's sneak over there and see what's going on! God can do anything. And if He chooses to give us protection, perhaps we can do something worthwhile for Israel. God can work through two men as easily as through a whole army."
"If that's what you want to do, then I'm for it," the other agreed.
"Good!" Jonathan exclaimed. "Now here's my plan. From where we are here at Gibeah, it's over two miles across the valley and up to the camp of the enemy. If we're careful, probably we won't be seen till we're very close to the base of the cliff where one edge of the camp is. If the Philistines discover us and threaten to come down against us if we come any closer, then we'll give up and return here. But if they ask us to come up to them, then we'll do so. We'll consider it a sign from God that He will help us." (I Samuel 14:1, 4-10.)
A Daring Exploit Succeeds
Saul and his six hundred men, together with the high priest Ahiah, were at that hour concealed in a high, rocky area, possibly the same place where the six hundred escaped Benjamites had taken refuge when there was war between the Benjamites and the other tribes of Israel. From there, without Saul's knowledge, the two young men quietly crept away and down into the valley. (I Samuel 14:2-3.)
As they neared the other side, they saw enemy sentries appearing at the edge of the cliff. They heard them loudly and laughingly remark that at last Israelites were beginning to come out of their hiding places to surrender.
"Come up here!" the sentries called down. "We won't harm you! We want to show you how well we're stocked with arms to use against your people! We'll even let you return to tell them how wise it would be for all of them to surrender now instead of being killed later!"
"That's the sign I told you about," Jonathan said in a low voice to his armorbearer. "I really believe it means that God will help and protect us. Follow me up the cliff!" (I Samuel 14:11-12.)
At that point there was a steep, rough rock jutting up from the sloping cliff. Jonathan clambered up the rock on the side opposite the garrison, with his companion close behind. After reaching the top, he suddenly leaped onto the edge of the cliff to face the grinning men who thought they were about to take two prisoners. Before they realized what was happening, Jonathan's sword was slashing into the nearest of them, killing or maiming all within reach. His armorbearer, with Jonathan's spear, followed behind, finishing off all who were not killed by Jonathan.
Within that vital minute about twenty of the enemy lost their lives at the hands of only two young Israelites whom God had inspired to start something that turned out to be more than a great battle. (I Samuel 14:13-14.)
Having slain all the guards who had come into sight, Jonathan and his companion hid themselves behind a rock to wait for more men I to appear. When more rushed into sight and saw the bodies sprawled near the edge of the cliff, they stopped in their tracks.
"The Israelites must be gathered behind that rock and down under the edge of the cliff!" someone shouted. "Get back before they attack again!"
The Philistines Panic
This was enough to trigger the imaginations of the Philistines, who fancied that Israelites were about to swarm up over the ledge in great numbers. They rushed back through the camp, shouting that they were being attacked. Startled by the running and shouting, thousands of other troops assumed that something terrible must be happening, and joined the mad retreat.
Some of the Philistine officers weren't so easily frightened. Realizing that the sudden confusion had probably stemmed from some kind of misunderstanding, they ordered men to leap in and halt the running troops. The result was dreadful. Some soldiers were hired troops of different nationalities. In the confusion they couldn't tell friends from enemies. Soon all the soldiers were fighting among themselves with such violence that the Philistine army was well on its way to self-destruction!
Frantic officers sent messengers out to the three companies of soldiers that had spread out on plundering missions, ordering them to return as quickly as possible to camp to help quell the disorder.
To add to the confusion, the ground suddenly began to shake in the area of Michmash and the new campsite and then throughout the land of the Philistines. Men weren't the only beings to panic when the earthquake began. The Philistines' horses frantically lunged free of their tethers and charged in all directions. Some trampled the battling men to death as they bucked and galloped through the throng.
When excited lookouts during the immense earthquake reported to Saul that the Philistines were fighting among themselves, the king could scarcely believe it. (I Samuel 14:15-16.)
"Probably they are staging a show to make us believe that they are destroying each other," Saul observed. "Then if we should go over to investigate, they would fall on us."
"That can't be," the lookouts explained. "Some of us were close enough to see men and horses falling over the cliff!"
"Then some of our men must have gone over there and started some kind of trouble," Saul surmised. "Count my soldiers to see if any are missing. If any are not here, find out who they are."
A little later the news was brought to Saul that Jonathan and his armorbearer were missing and hadn't been seen for several hours. Saul was fearful and puzzled. He knew that his son was ambitious to trouble the Philistines. He could only guess that Jonathan and his companion had gone across the valley and might have started the furore among the Philistines. Not knowing just what to do, he asked Ahiah the high priest to ask God for wisdom and the meaning of the terrible earthquake.
Ahiah lifted his arms skyward and started praying. At the same time the noise of battle -- screams, shouts, groans, the clash of metal and the whinnying of horses -- wafted across the valley in increasing volume. These dread sounds of war were accented by a rumble like that of thunder and a continual shaking of the ground. A huge cloud of dust billowed up from the place of conflict. Perhaps Saul wasn't wise in interrupting the priest's prayer, but he put a restraining hand on one of Ahiah's arms.
Saul Takes Courage
"I think God has already shown us what to do," he said to the priest. "There is indeed confusion among the Philistines, and now is the time to go against them!" (I Samuel 14:17-19.)
Saul and his men set out at once across the valley. Within an hour they crawled up the steep bank on the opposite side. They could scarcely believe their eyes when they came up on the ledge. Dead and dying soldiers lay in heaps, but clusters of Philistines were still savagely fighting among themselves. Saul and his soldiers downed the nearest group with arrows and slings, and began to arm themselves with Philistine swords and spears. Then they moved on to eliminate many more of the enemy. The Philistines at first seemed too occupied in self-destruction to pay much attention to the Israelites. The Israelites who had joined the Philistines and those hiding in nearby mountains came out quickly to join Saul's little army.
By that time the three companies of Philistines who had been sent out to pillage the land had received orders to return. They were in three widely separated areas. So, as soon as they reversed their directions, the Israelites who saw them decided they were retreating. Emboldened by this turn of events, and fighting angry because of the manner in which the Philistines had ransacked their homes, fields, vineyards, barns and corrals, the Israelites swiftly grouped together and set upon the Philistines with their farm implements, axes, pitchforks, mattocks, hoes, ox goads and anything else they could use as weapons.
The Philistines had been ordered to get back to camp on the double. Now they had to choose between disobeying orders by stopping to fight on the one hand, and fleeing shamefully on the other, while being attacked from both sides of their columns and from the rear. In trying to take both courses, the Philistines fell by the thousands and thousands at the hands of irate Israelites who collected a very great number of badly needed weapons in that battle. Those Philistine troops who reached camp unharmed were set upon either by their own soldiers or by Saul's men. Through God's control of nature and circumstances, Israel had been saved by the destruction of the Philistine army. (I Samuel 14:20-23.)
The battle finally was over, but not all the Philistines had been killed or wounded. Many fled toward their homeland that day. Saul was certain that a great number of enemy troops had escaped. But he finally stopped chasing them because of an unexpected event that happened during the day.
Earlier in the day King Saul had bound the people with an oath not to eat any food until evening. (I Samuel 14:24.) His little army was so outnumbered that Saul felt they needed to spend every minute fighting so as to avenge themselves for all the trouble the Philistines had brought upon them. As the Philistines fled westward, Saul and his growing army battled them all the way to Aijalon. (I Samuel 14:31.) Early in the battle Jonathan and his armorbearer had rejoined Saul's little army -- but too late to hear Saul's edict that the men shouldn't eat till evening.
As Saul's army trudged through the forest, the men saw that during the battle a honeycomb had been knocked from a tree to the ground.
Sometimes bees build their honeycombs out in the open on the underside of the limbs of trees, where it is easily dislodged. Seeing honey on the ground was a great temptation to the tired and hungry soldiers, but fearing that something terrible would happen to them if they ate any, they marched staunchly by.
An Accidental Violation
All, that is, except Jonathan. He knew of no reason not-to eat it, and so stopped to scoop up some of the honey on a stick he was carrying and transfer it to his mouth. Just then a soldier looked back and saw what Jonathan was doing. He turned and hurried to Saul's son.
"You -- you're Jonathan!" exclaimed the soldier, surprised at suddenly realizing who he was. "Your father has been greatly upset because he didn't know where you were. He would be even more upset if he knew you ate that honey!" (I Samuel 14:25-28.)
"But why?" Jonathan asked. "What's wrong with honey?" "Nothing," the soldier explained, "but your father pronounced a curse of death on any of us who would eat anything before sundown!"
Bible Story Book Index
Amalek is Judged
THE triumphant Israelites had pursued part of the Philistine army for several miles before defeating it. The chase toward Aijalon had required just about all the failing strength Saul's soldiers could muster.
Unwise Fast -- Reckless Feast
Saul's son Jonathan was surprised when he was told, as he ate a piece of wild honey, that his father had pronounced a curse on any Israelite soldier who ate anything before evening. (I Samuel 14:20-28.) At the rate the battle was moving, it would be evening before it was over.
"I have done nothing wrong because I didn't know of such an order," Jonathan explained to the soldier who had seen him eating some honey. "Besides, why should my father tell his men not to eat when they are so tired and hungry? If escaped Philistines should band together in sufficient numbers to attack us, without food we wouldn't have the strength for more fighting. Just that one mouthful of honey has already caused me to feel stronger." (I Samuel 14:29-30.)
It was sundown by the time the Israelites quit fighting and dragged into their camp near Aijalon. The hungry, tired men wasted no time in bathing or resting. Their main thought was of food, and they rushed into slaughtering and butchering the animals they had taken from the Philistines. They didn't even take the time to properly bleed the carcasses, as God commanded (Leviticus 17:10-13), but tossed them immediately over fires or into caldrons of boiling water. A few more impatient ones even gulped down chunks of raw meat. (I Samuel 14:31-32.)
When the high priest saw what the soldiers were doing, he was discouraged that Saul would allow his men to prepare and consume meat in such a careless manner. He went at once to Saul.
"I have learned that the men were very careful to obey your order not to eat till evening," Ahiah pointed out, "but now they are ignoring one of God's health laws by gorging themselves with blood-filled meat!"
Saul immediately ordered the soldiers to come to attention and listen to him.
"You have done wrong by not properly bleeding the animals you have slaughtered," he told them. "Cease the slaughtering. Bring a large stone here to the center of the camp for an altar."
As soon as the stone was laboriously dragged in, Saul spoke again to the soldiers.
"From now on this evening all animals that are to be used for food must be killed and properly bled at this spot. I don't want to hear of anyone else eating meat that isn't rightly prepared." (I Samuel 14:33-35.)
Much more meat was prepared for eating that night, but only according to God's instructions. (Leviticus 3:17; Deuteronomy 12:23-25.) Saul's little army didn't require a huge amount of food, but Israelites who had been freed from the Philistines kept pouring into the camp to ask for something to eat.
Hoping to please God, Saul gave orders that a complete altar should later be erected at the spot where the stone was. It isn't recorded whether or not he sought Samuel's or Ahiah's advice in this matter.
No Answer This Time
Later, when the soldiers were refreshed and rested, Saul felt that the Israelites should seek out and destroy the Philistine troops who had hidden or escaped.
"Now that we have taken from the enemy all the metal weapons that we could carry," Saul asked his officers, "don't you think it would be wise to mop up the scattered Philistine soldiers before they regroup and possibly attack us? If we delay later than tonight, we could miss the opportunity to wipe out about all that is left of their army."
Some of Saul's officers agreed that it should be the thing to do. Others hesitantly made it known that the Philistines had suffered enough defeat, but all left the decision up to their leader.
"This is our opportunity to completely crush the Philistines," Saul pointed out. "Tell our men to prepare to march!"
Ahiah the high priest was present. He had only listened, but now he stepped forward and held up his hands for attention.
"Before we act any further," he broke in, "I suggest that we take the matter to God. It might not be His will for us to strike against the enemy so soon again." (I Samuel 14:36.)
Saul wasn't exactly pleased by Ahiah's interruption, but he knew that it wouldn't be wise to go against the suggestion of the high priest.
"Ask God to tell us what to do," Saul told Ahiah. "Ask Him if He will give us victory over the rest of the Philistines if we go after them."
Ahiah prayed earnestly about this matter. But no sign or indication came from God as to what Israel's troops should do or how successful they would be in another battle. After a little wait, Saul's patience ran out. (I Samuel 14:37.)
"It must be that God hasn't answered us because someone has committed some great sin," Saul announced. "I want the leaders of the tribes to meet with me here as soon as possible. I'll determine who has sinned and caused God to ignore our inquiry. Even if it turns out to be Jonathan my son, I promise that he shall die!"
When the leaders gathered, Saul accused an unknown person of doing some unknown thing so terrible that it was separating the people from God. He called for the guilty one to come forward, or for anyone to speak out who knew of such a matter.
Not a man spoke out or stepped up. "If no one will admit guilt, then I'll seek him out by casting lots!" Saul declared resolutely. "My son 'and I will be on one side, and all the rest of you on the other. Do you agree that handling it that way is fair to start?"
The assembled leaders, soldiers and onlookers nodded and murmured in agreement. Saul then asked Ahiah to request that God make His will known through the casting of lots. Ahiah produced the lot device, and two drawings were made. Saul blinked in surprise when he realized that his lot seemed to indicate that he or Jonathan was guilty! (I Samuel 14:38-41.)
"According to this, the finger of blame is pointing to me or my son," Saul announced hesitantly. "Now lots must be cast between us."
Each man drew a lot. Saul scowled at seeing Jonathan's, which seemed to point out that the younger man was in some way responsible for God's silence.
"What awful thing have you done to cause God to show you as the offender?" Saul demanded.
"I'm not guilty of any great offense," Jonathan replied. "When my armorbearer and I joined your soldiers during their battle with the Philistines, I ate a little honey I found by the trail. Later I learned that you had pronounced a curse on any soldier who ate before sundown. I wasn't aware you had told your men until ..."
"Then it WAS you!" Saul excitedly cut in. "You ate honey and spoiled my vow to God that no man should touch food until we were safely back in camp at sundown! No wonder God wouldn't answer Ahiah's prayers! The curse I pronounced rests on YOU!" (I Samuel 14:42-44.)
"You mean you think I should die just because I ate some honey?" Jonathan asked, frowning perplexedly.
"As king of Israel, I have spoken before God that it should be so," Saul replied in a somewhat shaky voice.
Saul was almost overcome with remorse that he should lose his son in this manner. At the same time he couldn't help being angry with him for being the one who had done what Saul had told all his soldiers not to do. Obviously he had no choice but to sentence Jonathan to death.
"Seize my son!" Saul finally ordered some nearby soldiers. "Keep him prisoner until I decide how he shall die!"
God Rescues Jonathan
The soldiers moved reluctantly toward Jonathan, whom they greatly admired and respected. In the next instant a wave of people surged in quickly to surround and protect Jonathan. The soldiers who had been ordered to seize him made no effort to confront Jonathan's protectors.
"I have ordered my son to be taken into military custody!" Saul shouted. "What is the meaning of this interference?"
"We intend to defend your son with our lives!" someone yelled. "We have learned that he and his armorbearer had much to do with the victory God gave us over the Philistines, and that he hasn't committed any great sin. That's why we're not allowing one hair of his head to be harmed!"
"Make the people stand back from Jonathan!" Saul commanded his soldiers.
"We would have to kill our people to do that, sir," one officer grimly observed. "Surely you wouldn't want that."
Even in his anger and embarrassment at being disobeyed, Saul knew that the officer was right. Frowning and red-faced, the leader of Israel gestured curtly for his son to be freed, and strode away to his tent. It was a blow to his ego that his own people and soldiers had taken a stand against him, but after he had calmed down he was thankful that he had been spared the responsibility of sending his son to his death. (I Samuel 14:45.)
God had caused the lots to be drawn in such a way that Jonathan would be presumed guilty so that matters would turn out as they did. The real reasons God hadn't answered Saul's requests through the high priest were that Saul had unwisely pronounced a curse on any man who didn't fast during the battle, and because so many men ate meat that hadn't been properly drained of blood. Saul eventually came to realize these things after thinking about the day's happenings.
Because events turned out as they did, no attempt was made to round up the surviving Philistine soldiers, who fled to their nation on the east coast of the Great Sea. (I Samuel 14:46.) From time to time other Philistine armies were formed to attack Israel, but Saul built up a powerful fighting force with which to keep the Philistines out of Canaan.
During the next several years Saul encountered the same kind of trouble from every direction, but God made it possible for him to protect Israel from all of them. (I Samuel 14:47-52.)
Meanwhile, Saul returned as often as possible from the wars to live with Ahinoam his wife and his several children. During one of the ruler's stays at home, Samuel came to see Saul about a most urgent matter.
"I have a message for you from God!" Samuel told Saul when they were alone. "As the one who anointed you king of Israel and who directed and advised you in many matters, you must believe me and act on what I am about to tell you."
"You know that I respect your wisdom and judgment," Saul said, "but years ago you told me that God would remove me from the leadership of Israel. God hasn't removed me. On the contrary, I have built up Israel's army and have put back this nation's enemies time after time. Israel is at last secure because God has worked through me. You have been wrong in this matter, so how can I be sure that you are right in whatever you are about to tell me now?"
"God did not tell you when He would remove you from your office," Samuel explained. "God is patient. It could be that your place as king of Israel would be ended if you refuse to do this thing that God has told me that He has chosen you to do."
"Have l refused to listen?" Saul asked a little impatiently. God's Commission
"No," Samuel smilingly replied. "You have had so much experience in battle that you could be most interested in accepting this challenge to destroy an ancient enemy of Israel." (I Samuel 15:1-2.)
Samuel then reminded Saul of how the Amalekites had so cruelly treated the Israelites when they had come up from Egypt over four hundred years previously (Exodus 17:8-14), and of God's promise to Israel that after the people were settled in Canaan, Israel would return to the land of Amalek to destroy the whole nation. (Deuteronomy 25:17-19.)
"God has chosen this time to punish that nation," Samuel explained. "As king of Israel, it's your duty to take an army down to the land of this enemy and utterly wipeout all the cruel Amalekites, including women and children. No one within sight is to be left alive. No animal is to be taken as booty. Camels, donkeys, cattle and sheep are all to be destroyed!" (I Samuel 15:3.)
Saul was somewhat surprised at being told that he should direct an army to kill women and even babies. But he also knew how cruel the Amalekites were to their enemies. Saul feared to disobey in this matter of the Amalekites, lest God be angry with him.
"I shall muster men as soon as possible to march against the Amalekites," Saul finally spoke out.
Samuel was pleased that Israel's king should accept this special task without an argument. Saul had little enthusiasm for such a commission at first, but enthusiasm grew the more he considered it. He began to see that wiping out a whole nation could increase his popularity with the people and cause him to be more respected and feared by his enemies.
During the days that followed, Saul built an especially large fighting force at an area south of Gibeah. He didn't set out on his mission until he had two hundred and ten thousand men, all well-trained and well-armed. Then his army moved southward through the territories of Judah and Simeon. (I Samuel 15:4-5.)
Close to the desert city of Arad, Saul delayed his march to contact the leaders of the Kenites, people who had descended from a desert tribe of the Sinai peninsula. When the Israelites were on their way up from Egypt, they had help from the Kenites when they needed guidance across a desert region. Hobab, son of a Kenite who was Moses' father-in-law, helped lead them through the desert. (Numbers 10:29-32.) Because the Kenites liked the Israelites, many of these people went with the Israelites into Canaan, where they were given land with the tribe of Judah in the southwest part of the nation. (Judges 1:16.) There they lived just north of the Amalekites. There was considerable intermingling of the two peoples because they had in common a love of the desert.
"We are moving against the Amalekites," Saul informed the chief Kenites. "Your people have been our friends ever since we came up from Egypt, so we are warning you now to separate from the Amalekites at once. Any of you who are with them when we attack might accidentally be killed along with our enemy!"
Within hours most of the Kenites had quietly departed from the country of the Amalekites. (I Samuel 15:6.) It would have been too much to expect that none of the Kenites would warn their neighbors of the approach of danger, though they had been warned by their leaders not to do so. Under the circumstances, Saul knew that it would be a miracle if he could surprise the enemy. He simply continued marching from the valley where his men had shortly rested. As he approached the main city of the Amalekites, he surrounded it swiftly by breaking his army into two parts.
Some of the Amalekites had already left their city. More fled when they saw the attackers approaching, but most were trapped and slain. The Amalekites were proud warriors, but their soldiers could do little against the human walls of power, nearly a quarter of a million strong, surging in on them to avenge Israelite ancestors who had suffered and died because of the cruelty of the Amalekites more than four centuries before.
The Israelites moved on, overtaking most who had fled from the city, and spreading out to pick off the people in Amalekite villages far down the Sinai peninsula. Every Amalekite within sight was killed -- except one. That was the king of the Amalekites, Agag. Saul gave orders that he should be taken back to Canaan alive, so that the people could see what their king had accomplished. (I Samuel 15:7-8.)
But Saul had been plainly told not to spare ANY Amalekite. This disobedience was about to result in grave trouble for him!
Bible Story Book Index
God Chooses David
WHILE Saul and his soldiers were on their way back north following their triumph over the Amalekites (I Samuel 15:1-9), Samuel received a message from God.
"Samuel, I am not pleased with the man I set on the throne of Israel," the Creator informed the elderly prophet. "He has rebelled. At this moment he is returning from the slaughter of the Amalekites. He performed that part of his task well which pleased the people, but he refused to carry out all the things he was plainly told to do on this mission. Go out tomorrow to meet him as he comes from the south. Then you will learn of the manner in which he has been disobedient in recent hours."
Samuel was grieved at this report. He had a great affection for Saul, and it was discouraging to the old prophet to realize that the time had come for him to inform the younger man that he could no longer be king with such a rebellious attitude, though Samuel realized that this had to happen sooner or later. He was so saddened that he spent all night praying that God would give Saul another opportunity to overcome his willful ways. (I Samuel 15:10-11.)
As dawn approached, Samuel gradually was aware that he was being too sentimental in this matter, and was praying for a lost cause. He ceased his petitions and prepared to go out to meet Saul.
"Saul and his men passed through here very early this morning," Samuel was told by people who had been up and around before dawn. "Some of his soldiers mentioned that they had camped at Carmel, south of here, where Saul had a monument erected as a reminder of his destroying the Amalekites. They said that from there he intended to march straight through to Gilgal." (I Samuel 15:12.)
At first Samuel was puzzled because of Saul's not stopping to report his triumph to him. Then he realized that Saul had done something that he didn't want him to know about. It was God's orders that Samuel contact Israel's king, so he set out at once for Gilgal.
"May God's blessing be on you!" Saul smilingly greeted Samuel when the old prophet approached him in Gilgal that evening.
His smile faded a little as Samuel soberly came up to him. "I'm pleased that you are safely back," Samuel said in an earnest tone. "I trust that you carried out all the instructions that God gave me to give to you."
"With God's help, I accomplished what I set out to do," Saul replied. "But why are you looking at me with a doubtful expression? As you know, we wiped out the Amalekites. Is it that you expected more than that?"
"I didn't expect to hear the many animal sounds that I am now hearing," Samuel observed. "Why is our conversation being interrupted by so much bleating of sheep and lowing of cattle? There must be some great accumulation of livestock out there in the dark." (I Samuel 15:13-14.)
"Oh -- those are the herds my men brought back from the Amalekites," Saul casually answered. "They picked out the very best animals to bring back to sacrifice to God."
"Rebellion Is as Bad as Witchcraft"
The king evaded the questioning look of the older man, perhaps because at that moment there was a loud braying of donkeys.
"Now listen, Saul," Samuel said, lowering his voice so that others couldn't hear. "Just last night God spoke to me. He reminded me that He had chosen you as Israel's leader when you/had a humble attitude and thought of yourself as of little worth. But He is not pleased with you now because you more and more ignore your Creator's instructions and take matters into your own hands. You were sent to destroy ALL the Amalekites and ALL their belongings. Why haven't you obeyed?"
"But I did obey," Saul argued. "I saw that all the Amalekites were destroyed except their ruler, whom I brought back as proof of our victory. It was my men who insisted on bringing back the livestock for sacrificing. I couldn't very well deny them something that had to do with the worship of God."
"With God, obedience comes before burnt offerings and sacrifices," Samuel sternly reminded the king. "You know how God abhors witchcraft. Disobedience is as bad as witchcraft in God's sight, and stubbornness such as yours is as evil as the worship of heathen idols! What your conduct adds up to is rebellion against God. Now I must tell you that God is rejecting you as king of Israel!" (I Samuel 15:15-23.)
Saul stared unhappily at Samuel. He knew that the old prophet spoke the truth.
"It is the people who are to blame," said Saul in a slightly quavering voice. "I was afraid of what they might say. I just couldn't be firmer with my men. Samuel, please go with me to offer sacrifices of repentance to God!"
"I can hardly do that," Samuel explained. "I have already asked God to forgive you. He has refused to heed my prayers because you refuse to repent and do what He commands. He has rejected you as king, and nothing is going to change that." (I Samuel 15:24-26.)
The old prophet turned away in disappointment. Saul quickly stepped after him, reaching out to detain him by seizing his coat. Samuel kept on walking, and to Saul's embarrassment the coat ripped apart. The older man stopped, turned and gazed at the piece of his coat Saul was holding in his hand.
"This should be a sign to you," Samuel pointed out to Saul. "Just as my coat was torn from me, so shall the kingdom of Israel be torn from you at this time. Besides, the rulership shall be turned over to one who lives only a short distance from here, and be assured that God will not change His mind about this matter!" (I Samuel 15:27-29.)
Saul was shaken by this last remark. He begged the prophet not to forsake him, lest the people receive the impression that the two men weren't in accord. Samuel was greatly respected in Israel, and Saul feared that his own popularity as king of Israel would lessen if the Israelites came to believe that he and Samuel were having some serious differences. He was intent on hanging on as king.
"For the sake of the people," Samuel finally agreed, "I'll appear with you in public from time to time until God removes you from office." (I Samuel 15:30-31.)
Samuel was disappointed and angered by Saul's bringing the king of the Amalekites back as a prisoner. He knew that Saul had done it to build himself up as a national hero. But he didn't discuss the matter at the time Saul had mentioned the Amalekite leader, because he wanted to deal directly and as soon as possible with the enemy king before there could be any interference from Saul, and before any public display of the pagan ruler could be made. Samuel demanded that Agag, the Amalekite king, be brought before him in a private place.
When he was brought in between two soldiers, he appeared rather smug for a prisoner of war. He was wearing an expensive robe on which were fastened the insignias of royalty and power of his nation.
"I understood that I was to have an audience with Saul, the king of Israel," Agag observed curtly. "Who are you?"
"I am Samuel, a friend of the king," the old prophet answered after a pause.
"Then you will see that I am treated with respect, as Saul promised I would be?" the Amalekite king asked hesitantly.
"You shall be treated with all the respect you deserve," Samuel told him. "Men, let go of this man."
The two soldiers stepped back from the prisoner, who hunched his shoulders with relief and grinned weakly at Samuel. He seemed to have little concern about the destruction of his nation. His consuming interest now was to be regarded as a guest.
"There is really no reason to allow our past differences to cause further violence," the Amalekite observed as he shrugged his shoulders. "I can well pay for my freedom by showing you where treasures are hidden that your men didn't find during their attack on my people."
"You misunderstood my motive for telling the soldiers to let go of you," Samuel frowned. "They couldn't very well execute you by standing so close!"
"What do you mean?" Agag snapped fearfully as he whirled to glance back at the two men who had brought him in.
Destroy the Murderer
"I mean," Samuel pointed out sternly, "that too many women have become childless by the sword because of your cruel commands! Now -- as far as you are concerned -- YOUR mother is to become childless!"
At a command from Samuel, the soldiers whipped out their swords and leaped toward the cringing Amalekite. A minute or two later, when Samuel left, he couldn't help viewing Agag for the last time. The pagan ruler had been chopped to pieces, just as he had cut to pieces infants in war. Thus Samuel had given an order for execution that Saul had refused to give. (I Samuel 15:32-33.)
At this point a few overly sensitive readers -- particularly parents who are reading this account to their children -- will be horrified at the bloody ending of Agag. Some will even write letters to protest the printing of narratives of such violence in the Bible. Others will be offended because the illustrations are not all the peaceful, beautiful type that have been shown for so many decades in church publications.
"Why do you use such horrible material?" people ask. "Why not pick the good and the lovely things?"
Again it should be pointed out that the Bible is the source of this account. It shows human nature as it really is. No part of the Bible should be kept from anyone, though many falsely believe that some areas of the Scriptures are unfit to read. That sort of warped thinking has helped to develop and promote the hundreds of so-called Christian sects that exist today. None of these churches can rightfully claim to be God's churches unless they teach ALL of the Bible God inspired, and observe and keep ALL of God's rules for the right way of living.
Samuel returned to Ramah. Greatly displeased by what had been done to Agag, Saul went to his home in Gibeah. From that time on, Samuel never referred to Saul as the king of Israel, though he continued to have a fatherly feeling toward the younger man. (I Samuel 15:34-35.)
How God Selects Another King
"How long must you go on feeling sorry for Saul?" God later inquired of Samuel. "You know he is no longer king in my eyes, so forget about him. Fill your horn with olive oil for anointing and go to Bethlehem. I will send you to a man called Jesse. From his sons I have chosen one who will be the next king of Israel. You are to anoint him as such."
"But Saul is very angry with me," Samuel told God. "If I should be picked up by his men and if they should find out why I am going to Bethlehem, they would probably kill me."
"Don't be concerned," God answered. "Take a young cow with you, and if anyone asks you questions, explain that you are taking the heifer for a sacrifice. When you arrive in Bethlehem, request that Jesse and his sons go with you to sacrifice. After that I shall let you know what to do." (I Samuel 16:1-3)
Samuel reached-Bethlehem without being accosted by any of Saul's men. When it was reported to the leaders of the city that the prophet was entering the gates, the chief men hurried to meet him, but not because they were overjoyed at his coming.
"We are honored that you should visit our city," they greeted him nervously. "We trust that you come on some mission of peace."
"I do," Samuel answered, pointing to his young cow. "I have come to sacrifice this animal. Prepare yourselves as you should for sacrificing and come and join me, if you will. But first I must visit the home of a man called Jesse. Kindly tell me where he lives."
The leaders were relieved. Bethlehem didn't have the best reputation for an Israelite city, and they had feared that the prophet had come to pronounce some kind of curse on the people.
Samuel was directed to where he wanted to go. It turned out to be a home at the edge of Bethlehem. Jesse was a rugged, very elderly livestock grower who was surprised and pleased that the prophet had come to visit his family.
"I have been told that you have several very fine sons," Samuel explained to Jesse. "I am looking for a young man to anoint for a special service for Israel -- a position I'll explain later -- and I hope to find the man I need in your family. Would it be possible to meet your sons?"
"Indeed it would!" Jesse answered, wondering why the prophet had come all the way to Bethlehem and to his home to look for help in this special service, whatever it could be. "My sons would be honored to meet you. One of them is working just outside. I'll have him come in."
Moments later a tall, handsome, muscular young man stepped into the room. Jesse introduced him as Eliab, and obviously was quite proud of him. Samuel was greatly impressed by the size and the bearing of Eliab. He concluded at once that this was the man whom God had picked as the next leader of Israel. (I Samuel 16:4-6.)
"Do not be hasty!" a small voice came to Samuel, as if from inside his head. "Don't try to determine what a man is like by his appearance only. I judge men by what is in their minds. This is not the man I have chosen to succeed Saul."
Jesse called in another son, Abinadab, who also impressed Samuel. But again the voice informed him that Abinadab wasn't the one. A third son, named Shammah, was brought in. Samuel was told not to anoint him. Four more young men appeared, but the voice warned that none of them was the right one.
"These are all of your sons?" Samuel asked Jesse. "Not one of them quite fits into the work I have in mind."
"I am sorry to have disappointed you," Jesse said in an apologetic tone. "I have another son, David, but he is my youngest and he is out taking care of our sheep. You wouldn't be interested in him."
"But I am," Samuel insisted. "Send for him. We won't sit down until I see this David." (I Samuel 16:7-11.)
A little later young David came in, having run in from some distance after being told that he was wanted at the feast immediately. Samuel noticed at once that he was the smallest of Jesse's sons, though the most wholesome and bright-appearing. He was healthy and tanned from his outdoor task of herding sheep.
"This is the one!" the voice came to Samuel. Samuel walked up to David and regarded him earnestly. "I am about to perform a brief but very important ceremony," the prophet informed the lad, placing his hands on David's shoulders. "I know this will come as a great surprise to you, but you are now chosen by God to be ordained to a very high office."
The prophet opened his horn of oil and poured some of it on David's head.
"David, in the name and by the authority of the God of Israel, I proclaim you the king of all Israel!" Samuel declared. "May the Eternal guide and protect you in your reign over the nation that God has chosen to use in carrying out His divine purpose!"
There was a long silence as Jesse and his family, startled by Samuel's words, wondered if this could be a fantastic dream. David was the most amazed, inasmuch as he couldn't imagine, at the moment, why he had been made the king of Israel.
"Prepare yourselves to go with me to sacrifice to God," Samuel told Jesse and his family before a spirited conversation could get started. "As for what has happened here, it would be wise to say nothing about it to others. I shall be in touch with you later about the matter."
After Samuel had returned to Ramah and excitement had abated in Jesse's household, a change came over David. Although he had been taught to observe God's laws, a new outlook and special understanding began to come to him. God was imbuing him with a gift of unusual wisdom, as well as with a confident, peaceful state of mind. (I Samuel 16:12-13.)
At the same time a change was taking place in Saul. He became more irritable and worried. He brooded over what Samuel had told him. He had growing periods of depression, and suspected those about him as spies. God was taking from him the comfort of a sound and peaceful mind. (I Samuel 16:14.)
Bible Story Book Index
Goliath Challenges God!
SAUL was very unhappy. He had lately felt a great emptiness, as though the future held only disappointment for him. Nothing pleased him. A distrust of his friends and acquaintances grew in his restless mind. He kept remembering Samuel's remark about God rejecting him as king of Israel, and that made him more depressed. (I Samuel 16:14.)
David Meets King Saul
Saul didn't fully realize that God had withdrawn from him that wonderful peace and soundness of mind that God imparts to people who humbly and earnestly seek their Creator's mercy and help, and who obey His laws. Such pursuits had been Saul's in his early years as king. But later disobedience changed his character. As a result God had not only deprived him of a peaceful state of mind, but had allowed an evil spirit to trouble and disrupt his way of thinking.
Saul's servants were so concerned over their master's behavior that they diplomatically suggested that he use music to bring him out of his periods of depression.
"Perhaps if good music were available when you're not feeling well," some of the servants told Saul, "it might work wonders for you. Harp music can be very melodic and soothing. Would you like us to find a good harpist for you?" (I Samuel 16:15-16.)
"Suit yourself!" Saul growled. "I'll try anything to relieve me when I feel worst -- and that's when I feel as though invisible hands are wrapped around my neck and trying to choke me!"
The servants were startled at this disclosure. It was something Saul hadn't told them about before. They decided that something should be done as soon as possible.
"I know of a young lad who plays the harp exceptionally well," one servant spoke up. "I heard him perform at Bethlehem, and happened to overhear that he is the son of Jesse, a livestock farmer whose land borders the city. This youngster is a sheepherder who has become adept as a musician because he carries his harp with him, and spends much of his time playing as he watches his flock. He is also valiant, handsome and intelligent, and a fine soldier because of his ability to protect his flock from wild animals by unusually skillful use of a sling." (I Samuel 16:17 18.)
"Don't waste time by running on any more about this fellow!" Saul commanded impatiently. "Just find him and bring him back with you!"
Saul's servants later confronted Jesse to tell him that Saul wanted David to go back with them to Gibeah to play his harp for him. David's father was troubled. He realized that his youngest son, having been named the next king of Israel, could run into great difficulty with Saul, who didn't want to give up being king. On the other hand, there might be trouble if he refused to let David go with Saul's men. Much as he disliked doing it, Jesse sent for David to come in from the pastures.
When David heard why Saul's servants were in his father's home, he obediently agreed to go with them willingly. Jesse loaded a burro with provisions of wine and bread, and sent a young goat to Saul as a gift. (I Samuel 16:19-20.)
Saul saw David coming into his residence. He was a little surprised to learn that he was yet in his teens. He had expected an older person. After he had talked to him a while, he was gratified by the lad's alertness and friendliness.
"You are my guest here," he told David. "My servants will show you where you're to stay, so that you may refresh yourself. I might call for you at any time, night or day. When I do, be prepared to play your harp for me."
Saul Trains His Successor ~
It was only a few hours later that a servant came to David's quarters to tell him that Saul wanted to see him right away. When the young man was brought to Saul, he saw that Saul was having trouble breathing, and looked very uncomfortable as he sat stiffly in his chair.
"Play your harp!" Saul muttered. "If your music can give me any relief, I need it now!"
David began strumming his harp. It was a light, easy handled instrument fashioned somewhat like a lyre. Everyone in the room was pleased with the soothing music of the skillfully fingered strings. After a few minutes Saul started to relax and stretch out comfortably in his chair.
David continued playing for quite a while, carefully confining his performance to the kind that would be restfully cheerful. Finally Saul stood up. David assumed that this meant that he should stop playing.
"Your music has caused me to feel much better," Saul smilingly told David. "Now I shall be able to sleep. Do whatever you want to do, but be close at hand if I should need you again."
During the next few days David was sent for several times, whenever Saul's miserable malady recurred. Happily for Saul, his trouble gradually went away every time David played for him.
"You have been a great help to me," Saul told David. "I wish you could stay with me for a long time, but if the Philistines stir up another war, I'll have to leave here and suffer through my ill spells without your music."
"Why couldn't I join your army and go with you?" David asked.
"My soldiers must be older men who are experienced in battle," Saul replied. "You are a fine musician -- not a trained fighter."
"Why couldn't I go along as your armor-bearer?" David eagerly inquired. "If you think I would be afraid when the enemy approaches, I promise to always hand you your armor before I start running."
"A great idea!" Saul laughed. "From now on you're my official armor-bearer!"
Saul had developed such a need and liking for the boy that he sent a message to David's father. He requested that David stay indefinitely with Saul. Jesse preferred that his son return home, but he agreed to Saul's wishes. He would have agreed more willingly if he could have known that it was God's plan to keep David for a time where he could learn directly from King Saul something of the government of Israel. It was an odd circumstance that the real king of Israel (in God's eyes) was serving the one who was actually no longer king, but who still considered himself as such. (I Samuel 16:21-23.)
In the weeks that followed, there was no cause for the army of Israel to go into battle. David's function as Saul's armor-bearer was carried out only in army training maneuvers. But David learned much during this military practice. Saul's mental and physical condition improved so much that David was seldom called on to play. Saul more or less forgot about David. Realizing that his use to Saul had greatly diminished, David asked to return to his family. The officer-in charge let him go with the understanding that David should return any time Saul should send for him.
David's First Big Test
David was glad to return home and his family was happy to have him back. David went back to herding sheep, and months went by without any word from Saul. (I Samuel 17:15.) In fact, Saul never again sent for David, who spent the next several months in the wilderness watching over his father's growing flock of sheep. Meanwhile, he spent much time thinking about Israel's welfare, and about what could be done to improve it. His stay with Saul had made him very conscious of his nation's government, just as God had planned.
As time went by, his skill with his harp increased. So did his ability with his sling. Any animals that tried to attack his sheep almost always lost their lives by well-aimed stones that were catapulted out of David's sling with almost the speed of a bullet.
On at least two occasions the young shepherd came close to losing his life for his sheep.
At one time a lion leaped from behind nearby rocks to seize between its teeth a lamb that had strayed away a short distance. The lions of that land weren't as large and powerful as mature African lions. But they could easily kill a person with one ferocious thrust of a clawed paw, and David knew it. Nevertheless, he leaped after the lion as it tried to scramble over steep boulders. David fiercely struck the beast on its spine with the staff he carried at all times. The dazed animal dropped the lamb and stumbled to the ground. The young shepherd seized the lion by its long chin hair and snapped its head backward with such force that its neck was broken.
At another time a bear dashed into the startled flock to snatch up a lamb. When the bear saw David rushing toward him with upraised staff, it dropped the lamb and came growling to meet him. A swift blow of the staff across a delicate nose sent the bear on its back, howling with pain. David moved in quickly for the kill, while the animal was still flustered. Within a few minutes the bear was dead. (I Samuel 17:34-35.)
Not long after David had grown out of his teens, the Philistine army moved against Israel in the greatest number since the battle at Michmash a few years previously. Saul was informed of what was happening, and gathered his troops to confront the enemy at a lofty point a few miles west of Bethlehem. The Philistine army, having arrived from the west, set up camp at another high area not far from the Israelites. All that separated them was a rather narrow valley dotted with a few trees. (I Samuel 17:1-3.)
For several days neither side took any action except to keep their spies busy. Then one morning two men came down from the Philistine camp and boldly crossed the valley till they were near the slopes leading up to the Israelite camp.
Goliath Bluffs Israel's Army!
When the Israelites saw the men coming, they wondered at their difference in height. One seemed to be nothing more than a boy, but when the two came closer, it could be seen that the smaller one was a powerful man over six feet tall, and that the other towered about twice as high!
This giant's head was encased in a huge brass helmet that resembled a caldron. His coat of mail weighed more than a hundred and fifty pounds. Heavy brass semi-cylinders enclosed his lower legs. and a wide brass plate, to protect his chest, was carried on his back except during battle. His entire armor weighed about three hundred pounds, but it wasn't too much of a burden for him, inasmuch as his weight must have been close to five times as much as that of his armor. Added to all this were a large sword and spear. The spear shaft was like a pole, and the head on it was sharpened iron weighing more than eighteen pounds. The armored man with the giant walked a few feet ahead with Goliath's shield. It was his task to protect the larger man from arrows, stones and spears. (I Samuel 17:4-7.)
"I am Goliath, a Philistine from the city of Gath!" the giant shouted to the Israelites in a powerful, hoarse voice that echoed from one side of the valley to the other. "I have come with a plan to make this war a simple and quick one! Instead of our two armies clashing with a loss of many lives, why not settle matters by using just one man for each side? I'll fight Saul or any man who is sent down to me! If he is able to kill me, the Philistine army will surrender to you, but if I kill him, we expect you to surrender to us! Who can say that this plan isn't fair?"
Saul and his officers, who had been anxiously watching and listening, glanced at each other in dismay. Here was a miserable situation that surely wasn't fair to the Israelites. It was embarrassing to Saul, who knew he was no match for the giant, although Israel's leader was a very tall, strong and skillful soldier. There was no one else among Saul's troops who could possibly stand up to the challenger. (I Samuel 17:8-11.)
It would have been easy for the Israelites to storm down the slopes and do away with Goliath by surrounding and attacking him, but such action would bring the Philistine army charging down into the valley. The Israelites were ready to defend their country in the event of an attack. But they didn't intend to provoke a battle that might mean their defeat.
"Is the mighty Saul afraid of me?" roared Goliath, after he had stood waiting for a few minutes. "Or is he busy combing his ranks for one who will fight for him? I'll come back later to meet the man who has the courage to stand up to me!"
Saul glumly watched the giant stomp back across the valley with his shield-bearer.
"We'll just have to wait and see what happens," he muttered to his discouraged officers.
They didn't have to wait long. Late that afternoon Goliath and his man returned from the enemy camp to a point below the Israelite tents.
"Is the great king of Israel ready to fight me yet?" the giant bellowed. "Or has he fled across the Jordan River by now?"
Saul Is Bewildered
There was agonizing silence from Saul and his men as the laughing Goliath lumbered back to his camp. Next morning, to their continued dismay, he was back again with his shield-bearer to taunt his enemies. He returned in the afternoon, and again the following morning. This kept up day after day. (I Samuel 17:16.)
Every time it happened Saul became more disturbed. More than once he was driven to the brink of commanding his men to charge the obnoxious Goliath. But he was restrained at the last moment by the sobering judgment that a furious and bloody battle would result. On the other hand, it was unthinkable that this ridiculous challenge should go on and on. Saul was trapped between two unfavorable choices.
Meanwhile, David had continued the peaceful pursuit of herding sheep. His three oldest brothers were in Saul's army, and inasmuch as the camping troops depended to some extent on food from their families, David's father prepared to send some special provisions to his sons. (I Samuel 17:12-15.)
"I'm sending you to the army camp with some things for your brothers and to see how they are faring," Jesse told David when he came home that evening. "I'll hire a neighbor to take care of your flock tomorrow. If you get started very early, you can make the fifteen miles to the camp before the day becomes too warm for the food you'll be carrying."
Next morning before sunrise David set out with a burro loaded with a bushel of roasted grain, ten large flat loaves of bread and ten tasty cheeses. The sun wasn't very high in the sky when he arrived at the Israelite camp to present the provisions to the man in charge of kitchen supplies.
David came to the camp at a time when the soldiers were shouting battle cries and singing songs that were meant to inspire them to battle and impress the enemy. There wasn't much, however, to look forward to except another day of waiting for the Philistines to make a move. David moved among the noisy troops until he found his three brothers, who were happy to see him. (I Samuel 17:17-22.)
After visiting for a while, it seemed to David that his brothers weren't too anxious for him to stay very long. They kept suggesting that he get started back early so that he could reach home before it got too dark.
Suddenly the battle songs of the Israelites ceased. Word was spreading that Goliath was approaching again; this time for the fortieth day. David's brothers tried to hustle him out of the camp, but the young man refused to leave after he had caught sight of the giant and his shieldbearer coming across the valley. David could hardly believe his ears and eyes when Goliath challenged the Israelites and added his usual insults. He was dismayed to see some of the men furtively moving back from their front line positions because they obviously feared that the giant might suddenly hurl the massive spear he balanced on his shoulder.
On making inquiries, David learned that this had been going on for weeks, and that Saul had offered various rewards to Goliath's slayer, including money, jewels, cattle, freedom from taxes and army duty -- and his daughter. (I Samuel 17:23-25.)
"Why should anyone need a reward as a reason to do away with this infidel who had defied the army of our God?" David shouted to those about him.
Embarrassed at David's conduct, Eliab, his oldest brother, accused him of coming just to see a battle, and told him to go back home to his sheep. As David was answering him, soldiers came to escort the shepherd to Saul, who had been informed that a civilian was trying to stir up his troops. Saul failed to recognize him as the lad who had played the harp for him in the past. (I Samuel 17:26-32.)
"Why are you troubling my men with your opinions?" Saul asked.
"Because everyone is afraid of that boastful giant," David answered. "But there's no more reason for fear. I'll go down and fight him now!"
Bible Story Book Index
David a National Hero
DAVID was disappointed because of the Israelite soldiers' fear of Goliath -- the giant Philistine soldier. For loudly voicing his opinion to some of the troops, David was taken to Saul. King Saul asked for an explanation. Saul was surprised when David blurted out that he would fight Goliath. (I Samuel 17:20-32.)
Reacquaintance with King Saul
"I admire your courage, young man," Saul told him, "but you would have no chance of coming out alive in a contest with this mountain of a man. You are young and untrained. He has been a professional soldier for years. And according to his terms, Israel would have to surrender after-your death!"
"I'm not exactly inexperienced in fighting, sir," David explained. "I herd sheep for my father, and once I killed a grown bear that had stolen a lamb. At another time a lamb was taken by a lion. I killed the powerful beast with my bare hands!"
Some of Saul's officers glanced at each other and exchanged winks. Others grinned, but the grins faded as David continued his appeal.
"God made it possible for me to save both lambs by giving me the ability to slay both beasts. God will also help me slay the defiant, heathen Philistine who has challenged the people of God!"
Saul stared at David. He could see that the strangely familiar young man was quite sincere, though it was difficult for him to believe that David had killed a lion without using a sword or spear.
"You seem so confident," Saul observed, "that perhaps you should be the one to go out against Goliath. Go if you insist, and may God protect you!" (I Samuel 17:33-37.)
"But, sir," a surprised officer said to Saul as he took him aside, "this would mean that there'll be an attack!"
"I know," Saul replied. "But this senseless state of affairs has to end sometime. Have our men ready to follow this fellow. We'll rush in behind him to cut down that Goliath before the Philistines can get across the valley! After that -- who knows?"
Saul insisted that David put on his special armor for protection. Aides quickly outfitted him, even giving him Saul's very fine sword. But the metal equipment was so bulky and heavy that David could hardly walk, and it had to be removed.
There was no time to be lost. Goliath was still lingering at the edge of the valley and shouting occasional affronts at the Israelites in general. Instead of Saul's sword, David took the staff he usually carried and walked down the slopes toward the giant. He had to cross a small stream that trickled into the valley. From its bed he selected five stones that had been worn smooth and round by the action of the water. These he slipped into the small shepherd's bag he wore attached to his belt along with his sling. (I Samuel 17:38-40.)
When Goliath saw someone approaching, he picked up his huge spear and slowly strode toward David, his heavy armor gleaming and clanking. As soon as the two men were close enough to easily view each other, Goliath came to a halt and let out a roar of disdain. His shieldbearer, stalking before him, lowered his shield to the ground to indicate that protection for his champion wouldn't be necessary.
David Against Goliath
"Why has Saul sent out an unarmed youngster to meet me?" the giant bellowed. "Does he think I have no more fighting ability than a dog? What do you plan on doing to me with that stick you are holding? May the gods of my nation curse you for this insult to me!"
Goliath spat toward David, then turned and glared in another direction in a gesture of scorn.
Out of the corner of his eye Goliath could see David moving slowly toward him. His massive hand clenched his spear tighter as he turned to glare at his challenger. David knew that if the spear left the giant's grasp, it would hurtle toward him like a catapulted log!
"That's it, boy!" Goliath taunted, beckoning with his left hand. "Come a little close to me, if you dare, you brainless runt! As long as you're here, I might as well turn you into carrion for the birds and animals of this valley!" (I Samuel 17:41-44.)
"You are too sure of yourself!" David shouted to Goliath. "You have come here to fight with only the help of your sword and spear. You have only your armor and shield to protect you. I come here in the name of the mighty Lord of millions, the God of the armies of Israel -- the same God you have foolishly defied for the last forty days. You trust in your sword, spear, and shield. I trust in the living God. This God will now make it possible for me to bring you to the ground, so that I can cut off your head! Then the birds and the beasts will have more food than they can eat, because today they'll feast on the carcasses of thousands of your fellow soldiers as well as on your own! All who see this thing or hear of it will realize that battles aren't decided by the plans of men and the strength of their arms. The God of Israel decides who shall win, and in this battle Israel shall be the victor!" (I Samuel 17:45-47.)
"Bringing your God into this doesn't frighten me, little fellow!" Goliath shouted back, signaling to his shield-bearer to withdraw to one side. "No God can save you now!"
With surprising speed for one of his size, the Philistine lunged forward, at the same time lifting his great spear from his shoulder and drawing it backward for the thrust. While Goliath had been talking, David had slipped a stone into the leather socket of his sling. He rushed forward and forcefully slung the stone.
The giant's spear was never thrown. The stone from David's sling hissed into the Philistine's forehead just beneath the rim of his helmet. Goliath's knees buckled, and then his massive body toppled forward like a great tree, crashing to the ground with a loud clang of metal!
David rushed to the fallen giant. The helmet had rolled several yards away, and he could see that the stone was deeply embedded in the huge head, proving that death had been instant. David dragged Goliath's weighty sword from the scabbard, raised it as high as he could, then brought it down on the giant's bullish neck, severing the head from the body. (I Samuel 17:48-51.)
Vanquished in God's Name
David looked up to see Goliath's shield-bearer racing back toward the Philistine army. The foremost ranks and officers could clearly see what had happened to their champion. The frightened Philistines turned and fled.
Soon the first ranks of Saul's shouting army were swarming past David, and took off in swift pursuit of the Philistines as they fled across the valley. The Israelites overtook and killed thousands of them in a wild retreat that covered many miles.
A large part of the army of the enemy managed to get off to a good start toward the homeland. Many troops succeeded in reaching Philistia to seek refuge in their fortified cities, including Shaaraim, Gath and Ekron, but without quite gaining freedom. They were overtaken at the very gates of the cities they almost reached. Hundreds fell by the swords, spears and arrows of the Israelites, who were consumed with vengeful feelings because the Philistines' champion had insulted them for so many days.
There were no enemy troops to come out of the cities against the Israelites, who later safely marched back to their barracks. On their way they took provisions and arms left in the Philistine camp, and destroyed everything they couldn't use. (I Samuel 17:52-53.)
Hours before, when David had gone out against Goliath, Saul had asked Abner, next in command of the Israelite army, if he knew who the young man was and from where he had come. Abner had assured Saul that he had no idea who David was. There was no more time to inquire before the Israelites set out after the Philistines. After the pursuit began, David trudged up to the barracks carrying Goliath's head and the giant's armor. Abner sent some of his aides to carry the armor and bring David before Saul.
"I want to commend you for your bravery and skill," Saul told David. "It's amazing that a young man like you, not even a soldier, succeeded in doing what none of my men would dare try! Tell me about yourself."
"I am David, the youngest son of Jesse of Bethlehem," David answered. "I came here today to bring food to three of my brothers who are in your army. I was angry when I heard the giant speaking contemptible things of Israel. I knew that God would help me silence him, and He did." (I Samuel 17:54-58.)
A Hero's Acclaim
"I salute you, David!" Saul exclaimed. "I should like to have you remain here with me and my officers, so that you can train to become an accomplished soldier." (I Samuel 18:2.)
David thanked Saul, at the same time wondering how Saul could have forgotten the weeks David had spent with him as a musician and armor-bearer. Not wishing to embarrass Saul, David refrained from mentioning these things to him.
One of the first matters David took care of that day was to send a message to Jesse, his father, informing him that he was safe and would be staying with Saul for a time.
In the days that followed, David and Saul's son, Jonathan, became close friends. Jonathan honored David by presenting him with some of his costly military clothing and weapons. David was so useful and well liked by all that Saul made him an officer of high rank in his army. That didn't mean he was to start out by commanding men in battle, but that he had other duties of a lighter nature that nevertheless afforded him great respect. And he would be quickly trained to lead troops into battle. (I Samuel 18:1, 3-5.)
Then an incident took place that destroyed Saul's friendliness toward David. It was part of God's plan to eventually move David into power as king of Israel. Days were required for news of the Philistines' defeat to spread over all Israel. The people were so happily excited that some of the cities sent to Gibeah groups of young women, trained as dancers, singers and musicians, to praise the Israelite army for its victory.
When it was announced that the girls were coming to parade past Saul's royal quarters, crowds gathered along the streets. Saul and his officers, including David and Jonathan, waited on the balcony of the building while thousands of troops stood at attention nearby.
Band after band of young women, singing loudly, banging tambourines, plucking lyres and blowing horns, moved nimbly down the street past the crowds and Saul's balcony. Some marched, some danced and others rode on animals as they played. They shouted tributes to the troops and officers and sang songs that were composed to direct enthusiastic esteem to the victorious warriors. Saul and his men were very pleased by this animated demonstration.
Then, toward the end of the parade, came an especially vocal group of singers whose song was worded rather carelessly:
"OUR THANKS TO SAUL, OUR MIGHTY KING, FOR FACING THOUSANDS ONE CANNOT COUNT; BUT DAVID'S FEAT WAS A GREATER THING -- LIKE FACING TEN TIMES THAT AMOUNT!" The bystanders, having heard so much of David's heroism, broke into wild applause. Saul's expression of pleasure abruptly melted away to make way for a scowl he couldn't hide. He glanced darkly at David, who was so embarrassed by the singers that he turned away from the balcony. Saul quickly strode off to his quarters.
"That was a most disloyal display!" Saul muttered to himself as he paced irritably back and forth in a private room. "The crowd applauded David's name more than mine. Surely it isn't possible that this young upstart is the one Samuel predicted would take the leadership of Israel from me!" (I Samuel 18:6-9.)
Royal Jealousy Flares
Next morning Saul awakened to find that he was in the same miserable condition that had bothered him in former times. He was wretched and depressed. He felt as though everyone about him were plotting to take his life. It was difficult for him to breathe, as if invisible hands were closing about his throat. He shouted for his servants to help him, but ordered them out as soon as they touched him.
"My father is ill this morning," Jonathan worriedly confided to David. "He acts as though he is out of his mind, but no one knows how to help him."
"Perhaps I can help him if you can find a harp for me," David suggested. "I can play a harp fairly well, and the music might calm him."
Jonathan immediately sent servants to find a harp. When one was brought a little later, David tuned it, went into the hallway leading to the room occupied by Saul, and began playing. Wondering at the source of the music, Saul opened the hall door just enough to be able to see through. When he saw who was playing the harp, he was furious.
This was the first time that David's playing upset the Israelite leader instead of soothing him. All he could think of at the moment was how to get rid of the younger man. He seized the scepter he often kept with him, which was actually a fancifully carved spear, and peered out to see if there were others in the hallway. Assured that David was alone, he opened the door wider.
"I'll put an end to at least some of my troubles by nailing that ambitious young buck to the wall!" Saul murmured to himself.
He drew the spear back, then savagely sent it hurtling toward David's chest. At that precise moment David dodged. The spear zipped close over his shoulder to gouge chips of stone out of the wall behind him. Realizing that it would be foolish to linger, he ran down the hall.
Angered still further by the failure of his effort, Saul leaped out of his room to snatch up his spear and hurl it again at David's retreating figure. The weapon embedded itself in a wooden pillar at the end of the hall only a second after David ducked aside to descend a stairway. (I Samuel 18:10-11.)
Saul Plots Against David
When next Saul and David met, it was as though nothing unusual had happened, David had concluded that Saul's rash behavior was due to a temporary mental upset. He told no one about it. Saul seemingly was as friendly as usual. In fact, he announced publicly that he was making David the commander of a thousand of his trained soldiers. David at first was pleased. But later he began to realize why Saul did this when it was disclosed that the thousand soldiers were stationed several miles from Gibeah. Saul had suddenly come to dislike David, and this was his way of getting the young man out of his sight and at the same time pleasing the many people who admired David.
As the months passed, David proved himself an exceptionally capable leader of the troops given to his command. He conducted himself wisely at all times, at the same interval growing in favor with his soldiers and the people, to Saul's envy. Meanwhile, Saul's suspicion grew that David was destined to be the next king. His dislike for the younger man grew accordingly. He even feared him in that he almost expected that God would act through David to punish him for trying to kill David with a spear. (I Samuel 18:12-16.)
Saul had noticed that there were some signs of affection between David and his daughters. He seized on this circumstance to start carrying out a base scheme.
"Would you care to have Merab, my older daughter, for your wife?" Saul bluntly asked David next time he met him.
"Not unless she prefers me above others for her husband," David answered.
Saul wasn't pleased by this equally blunt reply. When a king offered a daughter in marriage, it was highly irregular for a condition to be mentioned by the one who was to receive her. Saul managed a smile as he continued.
"I can promise you that Merab will prefer you. I'll happily give her in marriage to you within the week as a reward for your outstanding service in my army. Of course from then on I'll expect your men to go first into any battle with the Philistines. The husband of a princess should set an example in valor."
"I am very flattered," David observed, "but I am not from a wealthy or famous family. Your daughter wouldn't be happy to be married to a former sheepherder."
Saul had expected that David would eagerly accept his older daughter, and that the younger man's obligation to Saul would mean so much exposure in battle that David would soon be killed by the Philistines. He was so angry at David's polite refusal that he immediately gave Merab away in marriage to another man.
David wasn't disappointed. Michal, Saul's younger daughter, was the one to whom he was more attracted, and Michal had a strong liking for David.
When Saul learned, to his relish, that it was Michal whom David preferred, he started planning again. (I Samuel 18:17-21.)
"This time our overly particular hero can't refuse me," Saul mused sinisterly, "and he'll pay with his life much sooner than I planned!"
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Saul Schemes Again
WHEN Saul was informed that David cared deeply for Michal, Saul's younger daughter, a new scheme occurred to him. He instructed his servants to casually let David know that he was so well-liked by Saul and those about him that it was hoped by all that he would soon marry Michal. (I Samuel 18:17-22.)
Royal Plot Backfires
In the next few days David was surprised at the number of Saul's aides, servants and officers who mentioned to him how much it would please everyone if David would marry Michal.
"I am not a wealthy man," was his usual answer. "It would hardly be proper for one with my humble background to presume to ask a king's daughter to marry me."
David's remarks were carried to Saul, who decided that the only obstacle to David's and Michal's marriage was the inability of David and his family to contribute the costly gifts that would ordinarily be expected from the groom and his parents.
"As soon as the opportunity presents itself," Saul told his servants, "mention to David that I would never expect any son-in-law of mine nor his family to contribute gifts when a daughter of mine is married. Being a military man, I would expect instead that my son-in-law be enough of a warrior to approach the enemy and cause the death of a hundred Philistine soldiers. Of course I would require proof of the deed within a few days. If my prospective son-in-law couldn't produce proof of what I expect of him, I wouldn't allow him to marry my daughter." (I Samuel 18:23-25.)
Shortly afterward David was approached by many individuals who gave him the same information. He readily realized that it was something promoted by Saul, and so he gave to all the answer he knew that Saul hoped to receive.
"I'll set out at once to rid the land of a hundred Philistines," David said. "And when you report this to Saul, be sure to add that I'll hold you as witnesses in the event he decides to give Michal in marriage to some other fellow before I get back."
This jibe by David embarrassed Saul's servants, as David intended it to in a bantering way, because Saul and his aides had been so clumsy in approaching David. David knew that none of the servants would incur Saul's anger by reporting David's remarks about Saul giving his daughter in marriage to someone else. They wouldn't have dared to mention such a thing.
Saul was elated when he learned that David was setting out to fulfill the conditions he had established for marriage to his daughter. He was certain that David loved Michal so much that he would try to gain his goal as soon as possible by some youthfully rash action against the well-seasoned warriors of Philistia. He thought his would-be son-in-law would surely lose his life in battle. (I Samuel 18:26.)
Keeping his plans to himself, David secretly marched a company of his troops westward to where there was a small garrison of Philistines. He approached and attacked at night, completely surprising the enemy. His men succeeded in routing all of the Philistines and killing more than two hundred of them.
Saul had set a time when proof of the slaying of a hundred Philistines should be brought to him. He had been generous in this matter, being confident that David wouldn't live to carry out the requirements. It was quite a shock to the Israelite king when he was informed only two or three days later that David and his soldiers had returned victorious. He was even more upset when he was told that David's men had brought back small parts (foreskins) of the bodies of two hundred Philistine troops as proof that twice the required number of the enemy had been slaughtered.
"I'll believe it only after I see proper evidence," Saul declared indignantly. "David isn't going to get away with any tricks!"
Saul didn't have to wait long before David appeared before him with two men bearing the evidence in a basket. It was placed provokingly close to the Israelite leader.
"Sir, here is my proof that my men and I have done away with two hundred Philistine soldiers," David declared. "That is twice the number you requested, and so I feel that there should be no doubt that I have more than fulfilled your wish."
"Should I take your word in this matter?" Saul inquired suspiciously. "How do I know what you have in this basket?"
"I don't expect you to take my word or that of anyone else," David replied. "I respectfully suggest that you personally inspect the contents of the basket."
Saul had already seen too much. With a curt and sickly wave of hasty resignation to David, he hurried away to his private quarters.
Later, Saul's servants gave a full, fair account of David's bloody tokens, and Michal was given to David in marriage.
When the Philistines heard what had happened to their slain men, they angrily sent small battalions to launch barbarous attacks on Israelite villages in western Canaan. It was only because David was so alert and active with his soldiers that he constantly outwitted and outfought most of these troublesome invaders. The former shepherd's popularity and fame continued to grow in Israel because of the courageous manner in which he helped protect the people. (I Samuel 18:27-30.)
Meanwhile, Saul had a growing fear, dislike and envy of David. It was increasingly clear to him that God was protecting David, and that he was destined to become Israel's next king. Regardless of what he thought God might do to him, Saul made it known to his servants, aides and officers that they should kill David whenever an opportunity came that would make the killing appear as an accident. He even made this an order to his son Jonathan, who respected and admired David. Saul should have realized that his son's friendship with David would mean that Jonathan would warn David that his life was in danger.
"Don't sleep at your home tonight," Jonathan told David. "If you do, you could be dead before morning. Take blankets and sleep in the bushes in the field" (I Samuel 19:1-3.)
Next morning Saul took a walk in the same field where David lay hidden. When Jonathan saw his father there, he hurried out to join him.
"Your order to have David killed must surely be quite displeasing to God," Jonathan observed after the two men had exchanged morning greetings.
"And displeasing to you, too," Saul frowned. "Don't think I haven't noticed how friendly you two are."
Saul's Hatred Grows
"I'm concerned about you as well as David," Jonathan explained. "Surely you wouldn't want to be responsible for the death of a valiant young man who has been so loyal to you -- who killed Goliath after he had reproached your army for forty days. I would fear what God would do to me if I were the cause of the murder of an innocent man who has done so much for Israel."
Saul walked along in silence. Although he had become increasingly rebellious as a servant of God, there were times when he went through brief periods of remorse. This was one of those times.
"You are right, my son," Saul finally spoke. "I have acted hastily in this matter. I'll tell my men right away that they are not to harm him. I promise you that David shall remain alive as far as my servants are concerned."
David was so nearby in his place of concealment that he could hear what Saul said, and he was greatly relieved. He was later received in Saul's household as though everyone had always been the best of friends (I Samuel 19:4-7.)
Shortly afterward the Philistines began another series of attacks on the Israelites' western towns. Saul ordered various parts of his army to rout the enemy. As usual, because of careful planning, brilliant battle strategy and brave leadership, David's troops were so successful in driving back the Philistines that David was again hailed as a national hero.
Once more Saul was consumed with envy. He was overcome by the evil spirit that had troubled his mind so often in the past when he had lost control of his emotions. Invisible hands seemed to be trying to cut off his breath. After struggling to free himself from this miserable situation, he fell into a mood of intense depression.
"Send for David!" he barked at a servant. "Tell him to bring his harp!"
When David arrived, Saul scowlingly motioned for him to sit down and play. David obeyed, choosing his most restful tunes.
But the music didn't soothe Saul, nor did the Israelite leader expect that it should. He had a different purpose in getting David to his quarters. After a while he stretched out on his couch, and it seemed to David that he was falling asleep. Suddenly he rolled to his feet, seized his nearby spear and hurled it toward David. The younger man jerked his harp aside and bobbed forward. The spear missed his back only by inches and buried itself into the heavily paneled wall. If David hadn't dodged quickly, the spear would have gone through his body as well as into the wall.
Saul muttered angrily to himself because of his failure, then leaped forward to retrieve his spear so that he could use it again. The only right thing for David to do was run and run fast. When he reached home he told his wife what had happened. (I Samuel 19:8-10.)
"Unless my father's terrible state of mind changes, another attempt will be made on your life tonight!" Michal exclaimed anxiously. "Leave at once and go to Samuel's home at Ramah. You'll be safe there."
"I'll go if you'll come with me," David said. At that moment there was a noise outside. Michal peeped out an upstairs window to see that several of Saul's soldiers were gathering at the front door of the house.
"My father's men are here!" she whispered to David. "It's too late for both of us to escape. Leave quickly through the window at the back of the house before they surround our home!"
David knew that it would be unwise to stay a minute longer, and that his wife would probably be safe under any circumstance. The window at the back of the building was too high for a safe leap to the ground, but Michal successfully lowered her husband with a rope. David waved to her and slipped quietly into the darkness. (I Samuel 19:11-12.)
Shortly afterward officers pounded on the door. When Michal appeared, they demanded to see David.
"My husband is ill," Michal declared curtly. "What is so important that you should drag a sick man from his bed?"
Ignoring Michal, Saul's men stomped upstairs and into the bedroom. When they glanced at the silent figure in bed, they withdrew from David's home. One of them went to report to Saul that David was ill, and that they had respected Saul's daughter's wish that her husband not be removed from his bed.
"I, too, shall respect her wish!" Saul shouted angrily. "Go back and tell my men to bring David to me at once -- bound to his bed! I'll dispose of him while he's still prone!"
When Saul's men again went up to David's bedroom, they deftly tossed ropes across the bed and quickly bound their victim. Then they discovered, to their embarrassment, that David wasn't there. Michal had cleverly arranged some objects under the blankets to give the appearance of a person in bed, thus giving her husband more precious time for escape. (I Samuel 19:13-16.)
Saul's men were so angry that they seized Michal, even though she was a princess, and forcefully brought her before her father. "What kind of a daughter are you to deliberately let my enemy escape?" he fumed. "Your disloyalty to me could cost me my life!"
Michal didn't know what to say, so in fear of her father she lied: "I had to let him go; he threatened me." (Verse 17.)
David Reports to Samuel
Shortly after his escape, David arrived at Samuel's residence in Ramah. He related to the elderly prophet all that had recently taken place between him and Saul.
"Don't worry about your wife or yourself," Samuel comforted the younger man. "Rest here for a while. Then we'll go to Naioth, just outside this town, where my college for ministers is located. You should be safe there for a time."
Next day one of Saul's alert spies happened to see David at Naioth, however, and it wasn't long before a group of military police strode into the college. They arrived just when the students were carrying on a spirited song session. The soldiers were so impressed by the strong devotional manner of this service led by Samuel that they forgot their mission and enthusiastically added their voices to those of the others. (I Samuel 19:18-20.)
It wasn't very far from Gibeah, where Saul was, to Naioth, and so it wasn't very long before Saul heard what was going on. He immediately dispatched more soldiers to seize the first group as well as David, but the second group also arrived during a song service and was moved to join fellow soldiers and the students in hymns of praise to God.
When Saul heard what had happened to the second contingent, he wrathfully sent a third, only to be advised later that it, too, had gone the peaceful way of the others.
"I should have gone in the first place!" Saul stormed, gesturing wildly to his aides to muster more troops.
Later, just as Saul and his soldiers carefully surrounded the building where Saul's first three groups of men were, Samuel paused to suggest that his audience would become more alert if everyone sang. The singing began just as Saul and his men broke into the room. Samuel and his audience continued as though nothing unusual had happened, singing with such fervor and feeling that Saul and his men came to a halt. They stood and listened for a minute or two, and then joined in little by little until they were all expressing themselves as loudly as the others!
Certain onlookers were surprised to see Israel's king at the college. A report later went over the land that Saul was studying to become a minister -- much to Saul's indignation!
Just as those sent before him forgot the reason for coming to Naioth, so did Saul forget. Probably they didn't entirely forget, but for a time they didn't care. Saul even felt that he wasn't attired properly for religious services. He removed his armor and commanded his men to do likewise. (I Samuel 19:21-24.) Then he stayed a day and a night with Samuel in a worshipful, friendly mood, not realizing that God had caused this attitude so that David could freely escape again!
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