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.)