Thursday, November 29, 2012

XCIII - Saul's Success and Failure - Chapter 13:1 - 14:23

Chapter 13  -   The previous chapter told about Samuel's farewell address, which was discussed in the last post.  This chapter skips to Saul and his son Jonathan having become warriors and military leaders.  Together they have adopted the task of dealing with the dreaded Philistines militarily.  As discussed in recent posts, the Philistines are always ready for war and have the most sophisticated weapons in the region.   {Having studied the Philistines, I believed if it were not for the Israelites, the Philistines would have taken over this entire region and beyond, as southerly as Egypt.  I think they would have been genocidal in doing so, which would have been violent and bloody.  They were smart when it came to war and they had troop strength to occupy whatever territory they might have conquered.  I submit that only the Edomites and the Egyptians could have withstood Philistine aggression.  Even the Persians (Northwest) would have eventually fallen to these people.}   Chapter 13 seems to abruptly change narrative, as it opens up with telling that Saul was 30 years old when he began his reign and was king of Israel for 42 years.  Then (I'm a little confused with Saul's reasoning) it goes on to tell how Saul reduces his massive army of 330,000 men down to 3000.  2000 stayed with Saul and 1000 went with his son Jonathan.  He sent the rest of his army home.  Although I think this was rather short-sighted, this was not Saul's biggest mistake.  The Scripture goes on to tell us that Jonathan and Saul both attacked Philistine outposts successfully.  But in doing that they brought the wrath of the entire Philistine military down on themselves.  The Philistines immediately assembled 3000 chariots, 6000 charioteers, and foot soldiers that were numbered as sand on the seashore.  (That means too many to count, which tells me it was in the hundreds of thousands.)  So fearful did the Israelites become, that Sauls 3000-man army scattered and all he and Jonathan had left was 600 men.  All of a sudden, Saul went from a mighty slaughterer of the Philistines to a king who could not keep his army from abandoning him.

Then Saul makes the big mistake in vss 8-15.  Granted, Saul had reason to be worried.  He was to wait for Samuel to give Saul directions from God.  Saul got impatient an acted as High Priest and performed the sacrificial ritual himself.  Samuel arrived and when he saw what was happening, he scolded Saul severely and prophesied a failed kingship for Saul.  {Although Saul was king, his authority was limited.  The Law concerning sacrifice was not within the boundries of the king, or anyone else who was not ordained into the priesthood.  The Law was clear on this and Saul knew better.  But Saul sincerely thought his decision was a good one.  His defending that decision only made Samuel realize Saul's weaknesses all the more.  Vss 16-22 seem like a parenthetical passage.  Remember when I commented on the Philistines being smart militarily.  This passage tells how the Philistines had captured not only all the weapons that could be at Israel's disposal, but also captured all the blacksmiths who could be commissioned to make weapons.  Pretty smart.  In the last few verses of this chapter it says that Saul and Jonathan were the only two with weapons.  The rest of Israel's soldiers had plow points, mattocks, and axes for weapons.  All of a sudden, things aren't looking very good for Saul.

Chapter 14 continues the with the Philistine army surrounding Saul and his shrunken army.  While the Philistines leaders were busy making their attack plans they posted a small garrison of twenty soldiers to keep an eye on Saul.  This was at the passage of Mikmash, which was a passage necessary for access to the rest of the region.  Militarily, it was a must possession.  Jonathan, being young and impatient, decided to take his armor-bearer and spy on the Philistine garrison.  When they were spotted by the enemy soldiers, they were taunted into a fight.  Jonathan and his young armor-bearer killed all twenty soldiers in that brief skirmish.  Upon hearing of this, the entire Philistine army paniced and was thrown into chaos (with the help of an earthquake God had made).  All of this emboldenened Saul and the Israelite soldiers.  So Saul gathered as many soldiers as were available to him and took the liberty of calling for the Ark of the Covenent to be brought into battle with them.  The Israelites enjoyed victory that day and scattered the Philistine army.  {Bear in mind that although there were hundreds of thousands of Philistine soldiers, they fled.  They were not all killed by the Israelites.  Therefore these soldiers still existed and would be gathered to fight another day.  We must keep in mid how clumsy and inefficient communication within an army must have been back then.  It's not difficult to imagine the exagerations that must have taken place when as reports were handed from one person to the next.}  Note in verse 20 that the Philistines went into total panic and confusion, to the point that they were killing each other.  {We've seen this happen a number of times thus far in our study, (ie Gideon).  It's not hard to picture how this could happen.  There were no military uniforms that outwardly showed what side you were on.  At the most, there were flags or banners, but that only marked large groups in transit.  Try to imagine being a foot soldier among two hundred thousand others, camped in one large, but strange area.  Then panic breaks out, and you sense that you are under attack by the enemy.  Again, communication is clumsy and inaccurate.  Also, Saul attacked them in the dark, adding to the panic and confusion.  A soldier would be inclined to defend himself from anyone close to him.  This had to be a terrible time to live.}
This defeat of the Philistine army was a great victory for Saul and Israel.  Unformtunately, it will be marred by some foolish decisions by Saul, which we'll look at in the next post.

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