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The ascent and descent of Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin

The leadership of Samuel proved essential in preserving, protecting and defending the land of the Israelites. Samuel served foremost as the prophet and interpreter of the will of God. He had battled the Philistines and had occupied the seat of judgment, settling disputes among the people. The Bible says that God spoke to Samuel, telling the prophet that he was being rejected by the Israelites in similar fashion to their rejection of the Almighty after their delivery from bondage in Egypt. Samuel was instructed to warn the tribes of what would happen during the reign of an earthly king. God instructed Samuel to give the people a king. His choice was Saul, who is described as an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites, and who stood a head taller than any other man. Saul was a son of the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest of the Israelite tribes but also one with battle experience. With Saul as king, some of the internal quarreling among the larger tribes might be quelled. Only a month after becoming the first king of Israel, Saul received a call to action. For a brief period, Saul had returned to a life of farming at Gibeah. Upon his return from the field one day, he was confronted with a messenger from Jabesh-Gilead bearing news of the horrific ultimatum. Saul took action chopping a pair of oxen into pieces and dispersing them by messenger across Israel, decreeing:’This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel’ (1 Samuel 11:7).

Saul marched his formidable force, aligned in three divisions, to meet the enemy. He attacked under cover of darkness, neutralizing any advantage of superior arms that the Ammonites might have Saul’s troops fell upon the Ammonite camp and wrecked havoc, killing until the sun was fully risen in the sky. The raising of the siege of Jabesh-Gilead brought Saul tremendous prestige, and at Gilgal all of Israel affirmed his position as their sovereign. However, even as he rejoiced in the victory, the newly embolden king made preparations to eject the Philistines from his country. For both offensive and defensive reasons, he established a small standing army, numbering only 3000, with 1000 soldiers under his son, Jonathan, at Gibeah, and the other 2000 with Saul at Michmash and in the neighbouring hills around Bethel in the territory of Benjamin. Jonathan, the eldest of Saul’s sons, struck the Philistine outpost at Geba, which the interlopers had garrisoned to maintain control of the Israelites in the vicinity and killed the Philistine governor. This was followed by Saul’s anouncement of the action and a rallying cry to the Israelites to join him at Gilgal; ‘Let the Hebrews hear!’ So all Israel heard the news: ‘Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel has become a stench to the Philistine!(1 Samuel 12:2-4).

The ability of both Samuel and Saul to arouse the religious fervour of the Israelites and spur them to military action played an important role in their subsequent efforts to rid the land of the Philistines. Saul had relocated his force to Geba, which Jonathan had previously occupied. Saul, his force now dwindles to a mere 600 soldiers, had also raised the ire of Samuel, who had instructed him to wait seven days for the prophets arrival at Gilgal. The Bible relates that Saul was disturbed by the desertions and chose not to wait for Samuel, taking it upon himself to offer a burnt sacrifice to God. Samuel chastised Saul for his lack of faith, pronouncing that Saul’s kingdom would not endure. Meanwhile, the Philistines, probably aware of the disagreement between Samuel and Saul and of the mass desertions that had occurred among the Israelites, sent three strong raiding parties against Ophrah, Beth-Horon and the valley of Zeboim along the rim of the Judean desert. With the Philistines now in control of the pass of Michmash, and their destructive forays laying waste tot he surrounding towns and villages, Saul marched his small army to Migron. On the day of the battle of Michmash, it is said that only Saul and Jonathan were armed with a spear or sword. With Saul and the Israelite army in the most precarious of situations, it was Jonathan who seized the moment. When Saul’s lookouts observed what was happening, the king ordered his meagre forces to assemble and discovered that Jonathan and his armour bearer were missing. The Israelites executed a frontal assault against the disorganized Philistines, and in the melee many Hebrews who had been with the Philistines changed sides, joining Saul’s force.

Villagers who had fled the raiding parties and deserters from the ranks of Saul’s army were now heartened enough to harass the Philistine withdrawal for miles. Saul had ordered his army to fast on the day of battle, possibly to prevent his soldiers from pausing in the pursuit of a beaten enemy and to maximize casualties. Jonathan, ironically, did not hear the command, and Saul ordered the hero of the battle, his own son, put to death. Only the outcry of the soldiers and the possibility of a mutiny saved Jonathan’s life that day. Saul had been vexed by both God’s silence when he had asked for direction in continuing the battle against the fleeing enemy, and by Jonathan’s impetuous act-even though the result was a victory. Saul, the Bible says, was later victorious against the enemies of Israel on every side. During one confrontation, the famed single combat of David and Goliath took place. During the ensuing years, Saul would fall into disfavour with God, and become a rival of David, the future king of Israel. Ultimately, he perished, along with Jonathan, at the battle of Mount Gilboa.

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