Ammonite day of destiny?
Where we think the Tabernacle was placed. Also, where a Byzantine Church has been uncovered, This is the Mount Shiloh.
Though, by our standards, the state of society in Samuel’s day may seem primitive, even the most learned reader and student of scripture simply cannot be prepared to find Saul following the herd in the field after his election as King of Israel. It was Farmer Saul doing his earthly father’s bidding back on the ranch. I often wonder, and would love to know, what Kish’s response was when he found out he had fathered the first King of Israel.
As with most academics we have to give ground to the theory that the opposition to him at the national lottery was far from contemptible in number and influence. For this reason, we project that although being elected King was a fact, and even though having a band of men follow him was to his encouragement, for unity’s sake Saul probably thought it best to keep a low profile until his moment came to express kingly leadership and initiate some policy or action that would truly signify his royal authority. On top of this, frankly, the resources and infrastructure that are normally instituted in order to maintain a monarchy had simply not been conceived of in Israel yet.
Human life was of little value in these times, and the crime of destroying it was little thought of. If Saul provoked the lunatic fringe he would no doubt be the target of some furtive assassin’s dagger. Perhaps that was the reason God gave Saul a band of men whose hearts God had touched. i.e. loyalty to their king and his physical safety would have been their paramount mission.
Shiloh. Taken from the west.
So we conclude that it was probably wise for Saul to wait to prove himself as worthy of the temporal sceptre of Israel – the anointed of Yahweh, before elevating himself to a palace and a body of servants.
According to Josephus the wait was something like a single calendar month. But we shall follow the narrative from the perspective of our prophet: the mighty in spirit – yet aged in body – Samuel. Routine is good. Daily routines, weekly routines. Routines with family, work, and society. But crises come and have to be responded to. One particular crisis was about to burst upon Israel that, prior to Saul’s lottery win, could not have been responded to so quickly, so nationally, and resolved so efficiently. King Saul was about to exercise his royal prerogative.
Again, as with the distance of time between Samuel anointing Saul and the drawing of lots, so with the passage of time between the public selection of Saul and what transpired next. The scripture says nought of the number of days passage. We are thankful for Josephus’s assertion of the thirty days passing. It gives us a working draft sketch.
Saul battling the Ammonites.
Another point of biblical silence is Samuel’s relationship and dialogue with Saul. Indeed: Was there any? None is indicated.
To continue the narrative and to keep the biblical record as our absolute, all that we know for certain is that one day in Ramah, perhaps in Naioth itself, came a messenger. This was the UPS parcel post of the day. At breakneck speed this messenger ran into town, called the people together, and when there was sufficient of the elders to formulate a required quorum, he opened a bloody package of flesh that had been hacked and sliced without mercy or forethought. One could not tell what the flesh was. Beef? Pork? Human being? It could have been anything. Undoubtedly the farmers amongst them knew. It was from somebody’s herd.
After the messenger had called the people of Ramah round to see the several pounds of horror, the folks sat back and waited for the messenger to speak. He had been sent from the new king; so to say the people were electrified in giving their attention, would have been an understatement.
“Whosoever does not come after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen”.
I would think it likely that Samuel would have had his contacts that would keep him informed. Having read First Samuel over and over again, I feel that the words spoken suggest that Saul was not a man Samuel got on well with, whether in a personal dimension or in matters of state. I think Samuel was looking for someone who could hear God and obey him to rule the nation, and if such a man was found and proven in Saul, Samuel would be content.
So even though we are not told that the messenger told the people the rest of the story, I am still convinced that the prophet of God who had led the nation for so many decades, was still in touch with those who kept him up to date with the, “National Intelligence,” grapevine. We are talking of Samuel’s own infrastructure of intelligence. It must have been difficult for the people to let Samuel go for the sake of Saul.
One artist’s impression of Samuel anointing Saul.
This trip away from home, the furthest trip that Samuel ever took (as far as the bible tells us), was possibly one of the greatest highs the prophet ever had, as far as his personal projections of what was happening to Israel in the future, after his demise was concerned. It is a dastardly shame that the high was not sustained under the rule of the person that was King Saul the first, of Israel.
As they camped and were ordered into rank and file at Bezek, the farmer soldiers would have caught up on the story of what happened and why the blood stained messenger had visited their town, before rushing on to other hamlets and cities across Israel. A swift night time march led forces across the Jordan and along the Wadi Yabis to the verdant valley below Jabesh–Gilead, belonging to the Trans Jordanian half tribe of Manasseh. And to keep you, my reader, informed as to the intricacies of the story we need to digress a little to make sure we know, “the crack,” on each issue.
Jabesh Gilead had been besieged. Now there’s a city if ever there was one. Jabesh Gilead was a city in northern Gilead on the eastern side of the Jordan, about 45 miles north east of Ramah on the far side of Jordan. It was in the eastern half – tribe of Manasseh’s territory. Yet again we have to give thanks to Josephus for informing us that it was the capital city of Gilead.
This city had a more than close relationship with the people of Benjamin. How far back this strange union of twin towns and tribes had existed we cannot tell, but it could have been anything between 10 or 200 years before Samuel was born. In Judges 21, Israel was summoned as “one man,” more than likely by Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, to avenge on Benjamin, the crime committed by the men of Gibeah. This is neither the time nor the place to expand on the crime under issue here, but it was an inhumane atrocity committed on a young woman. Sufficient to say that Jabesh-Gilead was the only city that refused to respond to the summons. Whether it was this action that forged the friendship, or whether the friendship was already there, is conjecture. For this act of non alignment with the rest of the tribes of Israel, Jabesh Gilead was raised to the ground and the population put to the sword by fellow Israelites.
The tribes that were involved in it all, however, deeply repented of their remorseless cruelty in their punishment of Benjamin, and feared, lest their brother’s name “might perish from the earth” (i.e. Benjamin). The virgin women, who were the only survivors of Jabesh Gilead, were given to the Benjamites in order to “replenish” their families and numbers. Since then Jabesh must have raised its popular head again among the cities, and so must have Benjamin, though, for the reasons just explained, Benjamin was now the smallest of all the tribes.
Now, it would seem safe to presume that the folks from Jabesh had been present at the sacred lot that defined their new king. So it was more than relevant to note, that when Jabesh had been besieged they did not send to Samuel, as Israelites had been doing in similar circumstances, for decades. They did, however, send word to Saul, the new king, who would obviously have blood ties as well as emotional bonds with the city.
Surrealist portrait of Saul
This, “war criminal,” was a certain “Nahash the Ammonite,” who, to his misfortune, had attacked Jabesh Gilead. Rest assured, by the end of our story, Nahash will have wished he had stayed at home in bed, on his farm, or in his palace, whatever lifestyle he was used to. Nahash was king of the children of Ammon (1 Sam. 12:12). (As an aside we remark that by reading 2 Samuel 17:25 and 1 Chronicles 1:16-17, we note that the family of David, possibly not yet even born in our narrative’s chronology, was related to the royal family of Nahash.)
The Ammonites were a kindred nation to the Moabites, having both derived their life blood from their forefather Lot, incestuously. The Ammonite excuse for attacking Jabesh Gilead, was that in a recent generation, a Hebrew judge called Jephthah had wrought an incredible slaughter on Ammon, and taken land off them. The Israeli tribes had generally been, since the days of Moses, a thorn in the side of Ammon. So – undoubtedly one of two circumstances was ruling over this scenario. Either, not having heard of the new king they believed that the aged Samuel would not travel the distance to deal with the issue, and so they believed themselves safe from any military repercussions. Or, perhaps, they knew they had elected a new king, but were not expecting it to have yet injected much efficiency or ferocity into Israel. Whatever the truth, they chose, in their ignorance, to seize back Jabesh-Gilead to their own bosom. They would soon wish very heartily that they had not even discussed or thought of such a move.
The people of Jabesh- Gilead initially spoke not only cowardly, but in a manner that broke their covenant with Yahweh. They actually offered, in covenant, to become the Ammonites’ servants. Readers, we are talking of serious communal cowardice on the part of Jabeh Gilead.
The Ammonites, in a most gentlemanly fashion, responded by saying, “Yes! That’s wonderful! And we will gouge out all Jabeshite right eyes to ratify this covenant.” I don’t know what that sounds like to you, but I believe we are talking about “heavy duty” random belligerence. (The significance of such a gouging was that when battle commenced most of the troops held their shield in their left hand, covering their left eye as they held it, so that the battle was fought with the right eye watching the side they fought on.) Jabesh Gilead’s leaders asked for seven days respite in order to seek aid from the other tribes. If by that time no help had come, they would submit to the barbarous Nahash and his inhuman suggestion. We can only conclude that Nahash thought the suggestion laughable. Why any aggressor would allow the suggestion of, “going for help,” to stand, I simply cannot grasp, unless one or more of the following options were relevant to the story.
a. He considered Jabesh well and truly besieged and was under the impression no one could get out to take the message.
b. He believed Jephthah’s out and out slaughter was a fluke of circumstance that Israel could not replicate in this present generation.
c. Perhaps he thought that even if Israel sent help, his army was sufficient to handle it.
d. Perhaps he believed that even if they came with help, Israel were too clumsy a hegemony to get their troops together and be fully mobilised in seven days, by which time they would be behind the strong walls of “their” Jabesh Gilead.
Whatever the truth of the matter, by the course of the narrative we know that a messenger- cum- spy left Jabesh Gilead and went straight to Gibeah, the palace, – pardon me, – the rough rustic farm where King Saul reigned, eh – lived, – eh – farmed -eh – scratched a living.
When news had reached King Saul he had responded by chopping up the cattle he had been working with, sending some part of the bloody carcase to every tribe in Israel, and threatened to do the same with anybody else’s precious herds who did not join the battle for the nations’ dignity and security, to save Jabesh Gilead.
Oh! This was excellent! Absolutely excellent! The monarchical system was biting! Ladies and gentlemen, for Saul-ben-Kish, to show himself a true king, opportunity had knocked loud and clearly.
It was received on various levels of understanding. Jabesh-Gilead was quite a large settlement, and if that was to fall, there was no telling how many attacks, or how deep an inroad Nahash might want to make into Israel’s eleven other tribal distinctions. On top of that, if Jabesh was neglected as a seemingly “remote” outpost, how many other warring hordes might start to pick off “outpost” cities.
Also, it would seem that the Ammonites were quite numerous, and the inference is made in the biblical narrative, that it would take a nationally recruited group of fighters to match Nahash’s army. No mention, however, or indication is given of the numerical size of Nahash’s troops.
All the pre-discussed grounds for wanting a king had come into play with the first national crisis of Saul’s reign. And like the dream set of a Hollywood movie, the scripture says: “and the fear of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out with one consent.” The unity and resolve to follow their king to battle was a startling new social and spiritual phenomenon in Israel. It was as much a spectacle as the selecting of the monarch. Bezek lay about sixteen miles from Jabesh. The Israeli camp in Bezek had a spirit, an anticipation, an expectation all of its own. Saul numbered, mobilised and arranged his men. “And when he numbered them in Bezek, the children of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand.” Now that is a wonderful army to go out warring with on your first battle as King of Israel. Could he possibly lose?
There is an amazing amount of undertone of all shapes and sizes in every line of the scriptural narrative. It is primary to note that 330,000 men was the army amassed to slay the Ammonites, suggesting how big an attack on Jabesh-Gilead the Ammonites had mounted. The Ammonites were obviously not intending to return home after taking Jabesh Gilead. Jabesh would be their home – and so it does reveal to us, that in defending Jabesh, the masses were fighting for their own freedom. To be objective however, whether or not 330,000 men matched Nahash, or totally overwhelmed them is not explained.
As yet another aside, (there are so many that need to be highlighted) it is also important to note that they had numbered the fighting men and separated the men of Judah from the rest of the nation. This undercurrent of superiority by Judah over the rest of the nation was a source of irritation for many as was utilised by men and demonic spiritual powers to split the nation after Solomon’s death. It informs us that even though Samuel had overcome the national prejudices of both sides, and Saul also now that the entire nation had rounded to meet him at Bezek, the division of Judah and “the rest,” never left the minds of the people. This was a mindset that had negative repercussions for centuries afterwards.
Samuel was undoubtedly discerning in his understanding of the dynamics of what was going on. The Bible says, “and the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard those tidings.” I am more than confident in saying several things of Samuel’s state of mind on this rescue mission. I believe Samuel went along as the figurehead, as the prophet, but most of all, as the eager spectator wanting, and even willing Saul to excel, and succeed and to further the destiny of the nation State of Israel.
Several points! Firstly; Samuel would have been as delirious as he ever could get at the concept of the Spirit of God dominating the new King in his role of monarchical ruler. To Samuel this was wonderful. This would have been the main burden of his soul. If the nation were disobedient enough to ask for a king, at least let them have a man of God play the role to minimise the damage and cut the losses.
Secondly the visible unity of the nation would have delighted Samuel also. This was the purpose of the cry of the people. For a “First-time” phenomena of the nation fighting under their own king, things could not have gone better. Only the, “Judah superiority,” issue would have marred the scene, and neither Saul, nor the call for a king had brought that about.
Thirdly, what was almost heavenly for Samuel the prophet, was that he himself was wonderfully and marvellously reduced to the role of observer. He watched, stood aghast and made mental notes as he studied King Saul doing all the things that Israel wanted out of their king, i.e. win wars and rule. What Samuel wanted was the warring and the ruling to be done under the leadership of Yahweh and the anointing of the Spirit. Both Nation and prophet got exactly what they were after. It was wonderful to witness. So when the scripture notes that the Spirit of God came upon Saul, rest assured that Samuel revelled in the spectacle. This was releasing the Seer to take himself into another direction – i.e. in God – a direction that we shall highlight later.
Israel are happy with Saul simply because they won a war.
And it was so that in the morning, Saul put people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the host in the morning watch, and slew the Ammonites until the heat of the day: and it came to pass, that they which remained were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.
Could it have been explained more succinctly? Could Hollywood have made a film so well, where the hero comes out on top?
And the people said to Samuel “who is he that said, “Shall Saul reign over us?” Bring the men, that we can put them to death”. This must have been the moment that Samuel’s spirit fled the coop. As the twenty-first century adage has it, Samuel must have thought he’d died and gone to heaven. The people spoke to Samuel. In all seriousness, many of the fighting men, elated at both their own success and the acumen of their king, remembered vividly those who had derided Saul at the election. Samuel was experienced at handling such pettiness of attitude amongst the masses. I picture him drawing breath and opening his mouth to speak – and then, before uttering a sound, he was interrupted by King Saul. And Saul said, “there shall not a man be put to death this day: for today the LORD hath wrought salvation in Israel.” Samuel could not have said it more authoritatively himself. That was the final straw of blessing for the prophet. How could he really be expected to contain his feelings. Samuel was released into a glorious freedom, a wonderful liberty of spirit. There was only one thing to do. Samuel felt empowered and anointed of God to do it.
Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there.” And all the people went to Gilgal; and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal; and there they sacrificed sacrifices of peace offerings before the LORD; and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.
As we are thinking on how well Saul had acted on this occasion, we see how the old friend of the nation had come on the scene to assist the masses to materially and substantially understand the moment. Saul and the nation are all the better for Samuel’s guidance and prayers. The old Seer has no jealousy for the man who has taken his place at the helm of the people’s destiny. But knowing well the fickleness of the people, he is eager to turn the occasion to account for confirming their feelings, as well as the issue of their sins that brought them to this place. Seeing how Saul had acknowledged God as the author of the victory, as noted in his quote saying that “the Lord has wrought salvation in Israel today,” Samuel wisely and subtly decides to strike while the iron is hot. He wanted to “renew” the kingdom.
So having anointed Saul privately as the nation’s prophet. And having supervised the sacred lottery that installed Saul, acting in the role of “pseudo-king” himself, now, as priest, Samuel calls for a religious, priestly sacrificial gathering to declare Saul, King of Israel, while the entire nation is in a hot flush of warm appreciation and zeal for the Benjamite from Gibeah. The victorious battle scene was a successful PR exercise for Saul. The hype of popularity for the King was as high as it was very going to be.
Returning from Jabesh Gilead to Gilgal, Samuel would have been deep in thought and meditation. Right or wrong (and it was wrong) the people had clawed for a king. God had given them just what they wanted. And now, even though the scenarios was a second best one, a Yahweh worshiping, fearless, decisive, fighting king had won the hearts of the nation, and, seemingly, as much as was possible in the circumstances, he had won Samuel’s heart as well. In modern paralell’s, Samuel would have had his “speech-writers” hard at work as they rode their donkeys back to Gilgal. The people did not know what was going to hit them.
God save the King