"–and the ground shook.
It was a panic sent by God.
–1 Samuel 14:15
"I am grieved that I
have made Saul king,
–1 Samuel 15:11
God had given the Israelites the king they wanted, but his fundamental relationship with Israel endured; God is still their leader. Samuel confronted Israel with the sinful nature of their request but also comforted them with the message that as long as Israel and their king kept God's laws and did not worship useless idol, they would be blessed. On the other hand, if they or their king persist in their evil, Israel and their king would be swept away. (1Samuel 12:25.)
Seeking God's will, Saul enjoyed a clear victory against the Ammonites, but in his initial conflict with the Philistines, Saul failed to follow Samuel's instructions when he assumed the priests duties himself. Once Samuel arrived, he rebukes Saul and tells him of the consequences of his actions: His kingdom will not endure. God doesn't remove him from leadership, but Saul knows he will be the last king in his family.
After Saul's failure at Gilgal, Samuel went back to Gibeah while the king assessed his situation. Saul began his campaign against the Philistines with three thousand men and had rallied the Israelites to join him in Gilgal. The bible doesn't say how many Israelites had met with Saul in Gilgal, but it is clear that many deserted. After Samuel's rebuke, Saul counted six hundred men. Saul and Jonathan returned to Gibeah. There is no mention of a battle at Gilgal in chapter thirteen.
With Saul and Jonathan back in Gibeah and the Philistines camped in Michmash - the towns are about five miles apart - King Saul would experience the burdens of kingship. First, the Philistines had considerably more material wealth than the Israelites. One hundred years earlier, the Canaanite Sisera assembled nine hundred chariots for battle against Israel. While Saul was preparing for battle in Gilgal, The Philistines assembled three thousand chariots.
After the non-skirmish at Gilgal, while Saul and Jonathan were staying in Gibeah, the Philistines were sending out raiding parties to various sections of Israel. This was not so much to engage militarily, but to plunder and demoralize the population.
Secondly, Saul's army had no weapons. The Philistines had monopolized the blacksmiths for the sole purpose of controlling weapon production. Iron was a new technology and "cornering the market" is apparently not a new idea. 1 Samuel 13:20-21 relates how the Israelites were having to pay the Philistines to sharpen their farming tools. Verse 22 explicitly states that only Saul and Jonathan had swords.
1Samuel 13:20-21 20. So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plowshares, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened. 21. The price was two thirds of a shekel for sharpening plowshares and mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening forks and axes and for repointing goads.
So I looked this up. A shekel is about twelve grams. At current market prices, silver is 52¢ per gram so it's $4.16 to sharpen the plowshares, mattocks, axes, and sickles and $2.08 to sharpen forks, axes, and repointing goads. Of course I have no way to know the buying power of $2.00 three thousand years ago since online currency calculators don't go back that far.
So you have the powerful Philistines camping close by and the unarmed Israelites trying not to start anything, and Saul's son Jonathan takes his armor bearer and without telling anyone sets out to engage the Philistines. The armor bearer is on-board and the two of them head for the Philistine outpost. Jonathan has a plan: if the Philistines say "Wait there.", then Jonathan and his friend would wait and not engage, but if they say, "Come on up.", Jonathan would take that as a sign from God to attack because "God has given them into our hands." The Philistines see the two men and taunt them saying, "Come up to us and we'll teach you a lesson." Jonathan and his armor bearer climb up and the Philistines fall at their feet. The two Hebrews kill about twenty men in a half acre patch.
1Samuel 14:15 Then panic struck the whole army-those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties-and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God.
Reminiscent of the battle Gideon fought against the Midianites in Judges 7, God rescued Israel from an overwhelming enemy. Saul and his six hundred men had been camping at the outskirts of Gibeah along with a priest named Ahijah. Ahijah was a descendant of Eli and was wearing an ephod. Saul's lookouts saw the Philistine army "melting away" and he noted that Jonathan was missing. His first reaction is to seek God's will* but the commotion among the Philistines prompted him to assemble his men for battle. When they got to the camp, they found the Philistines striking at each other in total confusion. The Hebrews that had been in hiding (or living amongst the Philistines) joined Saul and his men in pursuing and killing the Philistines.
Saul initially seeks God's will from Ahijah, the priest that was with him. Most bible versions have Saul saying, "Bring the ark of God." (At that time it was with the Israelites.), but this is likely incorrect. The New Living Translation (and the NIV footnote) has, "Bring the ephod here!" For at that time Ahijah was wearing the ephod in front of the Israelites. which was taken from the Septuagint (LXX.) The original Hebrew text says "ark" and that is reflected in most translations but there are a couple of problems with it. First, the ark is in Kiriath Jearim at this time and later text indicate that it stayed there until David had it brought to Jerusalem. Secondly, the Hebrews didn't use the ark to determine Gods will, but they did use the ephod which contained the Urim and Thummim***. Also, the command in verse 19 to "Withdraw your hand." is an appropriate directive with an ephod as opposed to the ark.
The Lord had given Saul and all of Israel a great victory against the Philistines. In spite of this, the king demonstrates poor judgment in leading Israel. Chapter 14 verse 24 relates the distress of Saul's troops because of an unnecessary oath he placed them under; while on patrol, the men were forbidden from eating any food until Saul avenged himself on his enemies or until night comes.
As the army entered the woods, there was honey on the ground but no one would touch it fearing Saul's oath. Jonathan, being unaware of the command, dipped his staff into the honey and ate some; his eyes immediately brightened. When one of the soldiers told him about the oath, Jonathan denounced his fathers orders saying "How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today..." Later that evening, the exhausted men seized some of the plundered livestock and slaughtered them on the ground and ate the meat with the blood still in it. Saul had a large stone rolled into place and directed them to slaughter the meat on the stone and not sin against the Lord as they had been. For the first time, Saul built an alter to God.
Saul made plans to go down that night and plunder and kill the Philistines, but the priest (Ahijah) suggested they ask God first. Saul inquires, but God doesn't answer. They draw lots, first clearing the men and then clearing Saul and leaving Jonathan. Jonathan confesses to eating the honey and Saul is prepared to kill him for it, but the men in the army come to Jonathan's defense and pointed out the victory Jonathan had brought with God's help. The men stood their ground against their king and the king backed down. Saul did not pursue the Philistines that night and they all headed home.
1Samuel 14:47-48 47. After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. 48. He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them.
Saul had his character flaws, but he was no weak king. He didn't understand his relationship with God, nor did he concern himself with religious matters. Even as God would chastise him, he didn't seem to learn from his mistakes. The events in chapter fifteen seem to be the breaking point in God's patience.
The Amalekites were descendants of Esau and were a thorn in Israel's side from the time they left Egypt. God is going to punish them by sending Saul to destroy them completely.**
1Samuel 15:3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.' "
Saul attacked the Amalekites with two hundred and ten thousand men but his army was unwilling to destroy everything completely. Saul captured Agag, the Amalekite king and spared the best of the sheep and cattle. Saul then traveled to Carmel and set up a monument to his own honor and then went to Gilgal where he was originally inaugurated. Samuel caught up with him in Gilgal.
1Samuel 15:11 "I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions." Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.
Saul is proud and clueless. He greets Samuel and declares he has accomplished the Lord's task but Samuel points out that he can hear the bleating of sheep and lowing of cattle. The seriousness of his sin begins to dawn on Saul and he asks Samuel's forgiveness, but as Samuel turns to leave Saul grabs the hem of his robe and it tears.
1Samuel 15:28 Samuel said to him, "The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors-to one better than you.
Saul once again acknowledges his sin and asks Samuel to accompany him before Israel to worship the Lord. Samuel goes with Saul and has the Amalekite king brought out. Samuel then kill Agag himself. Verse thirty-five says that until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again.
It is difficult to reconcile a merciful and loving God that sacrifices his Son as a substitutionary offering for my sins with the old testament God that commands the utter destruction of an entire people, and I'm not about to try. But, the Israelites were following the laws given them in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Here they are:
Leviticus 27:28-29 28. " 'But nothing that a man owns and devotes to the Lord -whether man or animal or family land-may be sold or redeemed; everything so devoted is most holy to the Lord. 29. " 'No person devoted to destruction may be ransomed; he must be put to death.
Deuteronomy 13:12-18 12. If you hear it said about one of the towns the Lord your God is giving you to live in 13. that wicked men have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods you have not known), 14. then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15. you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. Destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. 16. Gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. It is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt. 17. None of those condemned things shall be found in your hands, so that the Lord will turn from his fierce anger; he will show you mercy, have compassion on you, and increase your numbers, as he promised on oath to your forefathers, 18. because you obey the Lord your God, keeping all his commands that I am giving you today and doing what is right in his eyes.
WARNING: this is an unfortunate explanation.
In the old testament, there is occasional mention of "drawing lots" like they do in Joshua when they allocate the land for the tribes of Israel. This drawing of lots is not like drawing the long straw, it was a way to determine God's will and was done by the high priest who wore the ephod containing the Urim and Thummim. It is first mentioned in Exodus 28:30.
Exodus 28:27 29. "Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the Lord. 30. Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron's heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord . Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord.
The translations of the words Urim and Thummim are not clear, but "the curses and the perfections" seem to be widely accepted. The wikipedia article calls them "lights and perfections." In any case, they are sacred lots used in times of crisis to divine God's answer to a question.
No one knows what they looked like and there is considerable debate on their usage, but generally you would inquire with a yes or no question and if the Urim dominated the lot, the answer was "no", but if the Thummim dominated, the answer was "yes". Either way, they had authority in the Israelites decision making.