Study Guide

1 Samuel Warfare

Warfare

So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again. And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of the LORD was come into the camp. And the Philistines were afraid, for they said, God is come into the camp. And they said, Woe unto us! for there hath not been such a thing heretofore. {heretofore: Heb. yesterday, or, the third day} Woe unto us! who shall deliver us out of the hand of these mighty Gods? these are the Gods that smote the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness. Be strong, and quit yourselves like men, O ye Philistines, that ye be not servants unto the Hebrews, as they have been to you: quit yourselves like men, and fight. {quit...: Heb. be men}. (1 Samuel 4:4-9, KJV)

So the people sent to Shiloh, and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. When the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. When the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, "What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?" When they learned that the ark of the LORD had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid; for they said, "Gods have come into the camp." They also said, "Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, in order not to become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight." (1 Samuel 4:4-9, NRSV)

When we go to sporting events, the home team often tries to rally fan support. The mascot pumps up the crowd, the cheerleaders shake their pom-poms, and the band plays an inspiring song. In ancient Israel, the priests attempted to encourage the Israelite soldiers by bringing the Ark of the God into the battle. Unfortunately, the Ark is stolen by the Philistines. Maybe if the priests wore skimpy matching uniforms, all of that could be avoided.

And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain. {were slain: Heb. died} And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head. And when he came, lo, Eli sat upon a seat by the wayside watching: for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city, and told it, all the city cried out. And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said, What meaneth the noise of this tumult? And the man came in hastily, and told Eli. (1 Samuel 4:11-14, KJV)

The ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died. A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line, and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with earth upon his head. When he arrived, Eli was sitting upon his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God. When the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out. When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, "What is this uproar?" Then the man came quickly and told Eli. (1 Samuel 4:11-14, NRSV)

Bad news is always a part of war. Somebody's going to get hurt or something's going to get taken. After all, isn't that the point of a war? Whatever the cause for the news is, that's never an easy thing to hear. Poor Eli, now God has gone missing.

But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof. And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god. They sent therefore and gathered all the lords of the Philistines unto them, and said, What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel? And they answered, Let the ark of the God of Israel be carried about unto Gath. And they carried the ark of the God of Israel about thither. And it was so, that, after they had carried it about, the hand of the LORD was against the city with a very great destruction: and he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts. (1 Samuel 5:6-9, KJV)

The hand of the LORD was heavy upon the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and struck them with tumors, both in Ashdod and in its territory. And when the inhabitants of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, "The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us; for his hand is heavy on us and on our god Dagon." So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, "What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?" The inhabitants of Gath replied, "Let the ark of God be moved on to us." So they moved the ark of the God of Israel to Gath. But after they had brought it to Gath, the hand of the LORD was against the city, causing a very great panic; he struck the inhabitants of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them. (1 Samuel 5:6-9, NRSV)

If you've ever seen or heard of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, then you may know the penalty for opening the Ark of God is getting your face melted off. Okay, that's not actually the real punishment, but it's about on par with what we imagine would happen. The Philistines didn't even open the ark (smart move), but they still faced a very serious medical problem. We're not exactly sure what it was, but it happened in some, um, very sensitive areas.

Then Nahash the Ammonite came up, and encamped against Jabeshgilead: and all the men of Jabesh said unto Nahash, Make a covenant with us, and we will serve thee. And Nahash the Ammonite answered them, On this condition will I make a covenant with you, that I may thrust out all your right eyes, and lay it for a reproach upon all Israel. (1 Samuel 11:1-2, KJV)

About a month later, Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh-gilead; and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, "Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you." But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, "On this condition I will make a treaty with you, namely that I gouge out everyone's right eye, and thus put disgrace upon all Israel." (1 Samuel 11:1-2, NRSV)

War can either bring out the best or the worst in you. In 1 Samuel, we meet Nahash, a man who definitely has had the worst brought out. He offers to make a treaty with some Israelites, but even if they make the treaty, he still wants to gouge out their right eye. Saul didn't exactly see eye-to-eye with this guy. Pardon our pun. The point is, by defeating Nahash in battle, Saul solidifies his position as king.

Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears: But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock. Yet they had a file for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads. {a file: Heb. a file with mouths} {sharpen: Heb. set} So it came to pass in the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan: but with Saul and with Jonathan his son was there found. And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the passage of Michmash. {garrison: or, standing camp}. (1 Samuel 13:19-23, KJV)

Now there was no smith to be found throughout all the land of Israel; for the Philistines said, "The Hebrews must not make swords or spears for themselves"; so all the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen their plowshare, mattocks, axes, or sickles; The charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and one-third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads. So on the day of the battle neither sword nor spear was to be found in the possession of any of the people with Saul and Jonathan; but Saul and his son Jonathan had them. Now a garrison of the Philistines had gone out to the pass of Michmash. (1 Samuel 13:19-23, NRSV)

The best way to defeat your enemy is to prevent them from engaging in warfare against you in the first place. If you can prevent their access to weapons, then you can control them. Apparently, the Philistines have mastered this strategy. The Israelites were not allowed to have swords or spears, but they can have farming equipment. Plowshares were used to prepare the ground for planting. A mattock was used to put holes into the ground for planting. A sickle was used for cutting wheat during the harvest. These items were good for farming, but not for fighting. Well, we guess the sickle was okay. We've seen enough horror movies to know how that works.

And Jonathan said to the young man that bare his armour, Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that the LORD will work for us: for there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few. And his armourbearer said unto him, Do all that is in thine heart: turn thee; behold, I am with thee according to thy heart. Then said Jonathan, Behold, we will pass over unto these men, and we will discover ourselves unto them. If they say thus unto us, Tarry until we come to you; then we will stand still in our place, and will not go up unto them. {Tarry: Heb. Be still} But if they say thus, Come up unto us; then we will go up: for the LORD hath delivered them into our hand: and this shall be a sign unto us. And both of them discovered themselves unto the garrison of the Philistines: and the Philistines said, Behold, the Hebrews come forth out of the holes where they had hid themselves. And the men of the garrison answered Jonathan and his armourbearer, and said, Come up to us, and we will shew you a thing. And Jonathan said unto his armourbearer, Come up after me: for the LORD hath delivered them into the hand of Israel. (1 Samuel 14:6-12, KJV)

Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, "Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the LORD will act for us; for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few." His armor-bearer said to him, "Do all that your mind inclines to. I am with you; as your mind is, so is mine." Then Jonathan said, "Now we will cross over to those men and will show ourselves to them. If they say to us, 'Wait until we come to you,' then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. But if they say, 'Come up to us,' then we will go up; for the LORD has given them into our hand. That will be the sign for us." So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines; and the Philistines said, "Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves." The men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer, saying, "Come up to us, and we will show you something." Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, "Come up after me; for the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel." (1 Samuel 14:6-12, NRSV)

During battle, some soldiers would have an armor-bearer to carry their weapons. We might compare them to the squires who served knights. These armor-bearers were most likely being trained to become soldiers. Saul's son Jonathan has a good armor-bearer. He willingly goes with him to fight against the Philistines. While all of the other Israelites were running away, Jonathan and his armor-bearer won a great victory over the Philistines. Their win encouraged other Israelites to join in the fight.

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (1 Samuel 15:2-3, KJV)

Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'" (1 Samuel 15:2-3, NRSV)

God does not forget things. Having an invincible memory is just part of being God. Way back in Exodus 17, the Amalekites fought against the Israelites. God is still angry with them for this starting this fight so he commands Saul to completely wipe them out. Saul is to kill everything the Amalekites haveā€”their men, women, children, and animals. Lesson of the verses: don't make God angry.

And the king said unto the footmen that stood about him, Turn, and slay the priests of the LORD; because their hand also is with David, and because they knew when he fled, and did not shew it to me. But the servants of the king would not put forth their hand to fall upon the priests of the LORD. {footmen: or, guard: Heb. runners} And the king said to Doeg, Turn thou, and fall upon the priests. And Doeg the Edomite turned, and he fell upon the priests, and slew on that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, smote he with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses, and sheep, with the edge of the sword. (1 Samuel 22:17-19, KJV)

The king said to the guard who stood around him, "Turn and kill the priests of the LORD, because their hand also is with David; they knew that he fled, and did not disclose it to me." But the servants of the king would not raise their hand to attack the priests of the LORD. Then the king said to Doeg, "You, Doeg, turn and attack the priests." Doeg the Edomite turned and attacked the priests; on that day he killed eighty-five who wore the linen ephod. Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; men and women, children and infants, oxen, donkeys, and sheep, he put to the sword. (1 Samuel 22:17-19, NRSV)

Killing a priest is not really a good idea. Well, killing anyone is pretty much the worst thing you could do, but this is a special kind of terrible. See, priests serve God, and you really don't want to tick off their boss. But Saul is mad and crazy, so anything goes. He learns the priest Ahimelech helped David out, and now he wants him dead. In Ahimelech's defense, he didn't know that Saul and David were having problems. But that doesn't matter to Saul. He tells his guards to kill the priest. They wisely refuse. They're more afraid of God than they are of Saul. So Saul gets a hired gun to do it. Win for a king? Not in our book.

Now the Philistines gathered together all their armies to Aphek: and the Israelites pitched by a fountain which is in Jezreel. And the lords of the Philistines passed on by hundreds, and by thousands: but David and his men passed on in the rereward with Achish. Then said the princes of the Philistines, What do these Hebrews here? And Achish said unto the princes of the Philistines, Is not this David, the servant of Saul the king of Israel, which hath been with me these days, or these years, and I have found no fault in him since he fell unto me unto this day? And the princes of the Philistines were wroth with him; and the princes of the Philistines said unto him, Make this fellow return, that he may go again to his place which thou hast appointed him, and let him not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he be an adversary to us: for wherewith should he reconcile himself unto his master? should it not be with the heads of these men? Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances, saying, Saul slew his thousands, and David his ten thousands? Then Achish called David, and said unto him, Surely, as the LORD liveth, thou hast been upright, and thy going out and thy coming in with me in the host is good in my sight: for I have not found evil in thee since the day of thy coming unto me unto this day: nevertheless the lords favour thee not. {the lords...: Heb. thou art not good in the eyes of the lords} Wherefore now return, and go in peace, that thou displease not the lords of the Philistines. {displease...: Heb. do not evil in the eyes of the lords}. (1 Samuel 29:1-7, KJV)

Now the Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, while the Israelites were encamped by the fountain that is in Jezreel. As the lords of the Philistines were passing on by hundreds and by thousands, and David and his men were passing on in the rear with Achish, the commanders of the Philistines said, "What are these Hebrews doing here?" Achish said to the commanders of the Philistines, "Is this not David, the servant of King Saul of Israel, who has been with me now for days and years? Since he deserted to me I have found no fault in him to this day." But the commanders of the Philistines were angry with him; and the commanders of the Philistines said to him, "Send the man back, so that he may return to the place that you have assigned to him; he shall not go down with us to battle, or else he may become an adversary to us in the battle. For how could this fellow reconcile himself to his lord? Would it not be with the heads of the men here? Is this not David, of whom they sing to one another in dances, 'Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands'?" Then Achish called David and said to him, "As the LORD lives, you have been honest, and to me it seems right that you should march out and in with me in the campaign; for I have found nothing wrong in you from the day of your coming to me until today. Nevertheless the lords do not approve of you. So go back now; and go peaceably; do nothing to displease the lords of the Philistines." (1 Samuel 29:1-7, NRSV)

Sometimes in war, you have to change sides. Benedict Arnold knows all about that. In David's case, he's only faking his treachery to Israel. We think deep down inside Achish's subconscious he knew this so he refuses to let David fight in the upcoming battle. Fortunately for David, this really worked to his advantage.

And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa. And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armour, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people. And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan. (1 Samuel 31:8-10, KJV)

The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. They cut off his head, stripped off his armor, and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to carry the good news to the houses of their idols and to the people. They put his armor in the temple of Astarte; and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. (1 Samuel 31:8-10, NRSV)

When people win victories in the sporting world, they raise a trophy for all the fans to see. In the ancient world, people took trophies from their battles. Oftentimes these trophies were the bodies of their enemies. Getting even more specific, the Philistines from this battle cut off Saul's head. They placed his armor in the temple of a goddess, and put his body on the wall of a city. Everyone who passed by could see what happened to a king who opposed the Philistines. However harsh this seems, remember that David took Goliath's head in chapter 17. Tit for tat?

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