1 Samuel 13
Saul’s mistake costs him a dynasty
Saul preps for war with Philistines1Who knows how old Saul was when he became king?  But we know he lasted only two years.
2Saul selected 3,000 Israelites for active duty in his army. He took 2,000 to the town of Michmash and to the hills around the town of Bethel. Jonathan took 1,000 to Gibeah, in the tribal territory of Benjamin. Saul sent the rest of his army to their homes.
3Jonathan destroyed a Philistine camp  at the town of Geba.  Word spread among the Philistines. So, Saul ordered Israelites everywhere to blow a ram’s horn as a war alert. He said “Let the Hebrews  hear this.” 4Israelite warriors joined Saul at Gilgal. They came because they heard Saul’s men defeated a Philistine camp—and that because of it, Philistines now hated Israel.
5Philistines massed an army of 3,000  chariots with 6,000 horses. No one could count their infantry any more than you could count sand on a beach. Philistines set up camp at Michmash, east of the town of Beth Aven.
Israel’s army hides in holes6When Israel saw they were in trouble, most of the army retreated to anything they could crawl into or behind: caves, rocks, tombs, dry wells called cisterns, and dirt holes in the ground. They got invisible fast. 7Some jumped the Jordan. They crossed the Jordan River into territory of Gad’s tribe and the land of Gilead. But Saul stayed at Gilgal, with a lot of terrified Israelite citizens.
8Saul waited to attack for seven days, to give time for Samuel to get there.  Samuel told him to do that. But Saul’s fighters were quickly slipping out of camp and running away.
Saul does Samuel’s job, gets in trouble9Saul decided to do Samuel’s job for him so he could get on with the war. He said, “Bring me the animals for the burnt offering sacrifice and the peace offering. I’ll offer the sacrifices.” 
10Just as Saul finished sacrificing the animals, Samuel arrived. Saul went out to meet him.
11Samuel said, “What did you do?” Saul said, “Well, my fighters were sneaking out of camp and running away. I waited as long as you told me. But you never came. Meanwhile, Philistines set up camp over there in the hills at Michmash. 12I was afraid Philistines would charge down the hills and attack me before you had a chance to pray. So, I did what I didn’t want to do. I performed the sacrifices.”
Saul, Israel’s one-and-done king13Samuel told Saul, “Huge mistake. You broke God’s law. The LORD would have made you the founding king of a dynasty over Israel that would have lasted forever. 14But now your kingdom is just a hiccup in history. The LORD has another king in mind—someone who wants nothing more than to please God. The LORD has already chosen him to become Israel’s ruler. This is all because you broke the law.
The 60015Samuel left Gilgal. But everyone else followed Saul from Gilgal toward Gibeah, in the tribal territory of Benjamin. Saul counted the fighters with him: 600.
16Saul and his son Jonathan and their small army camped at Geba in the tribal land of Benjamin. Philistines camped at Michmash. 
17Philistines deployed three raiding parties. One went to Ophrah in the land of Shual.  18A second raiding patrol went to Beth-horan. A third group of raiders went to the mountain overlooking the Zeboim  valley near the desert.
19Israel didn’t have any ironsmiths who could make iron weapons or tools. Philistines outlawed it. They said, “Hebrews aren’t allowed to make swords or spears for themselves.” 20So, Israelites couldn’t sharpen or repair their iron plow tips, picks, axes, and sickles. They had to go to Philistine ironsmiths for that.
21Philistines had rates for sharpening Israelite farming tools:
- Plow or pick, quarter of an ounce (8 grams), silver 
- Axes and metal prods,  eighth of an ounce (4 grams), silver.
22On the day of the battle, Saul and his son Jonathan each had a sword and spear. No one else did. There weren’t any weapons in town. 23A company of Philistines advanced to set up camp at the valley pass of Michmash. 
The Hebrew text more literally raises the “age” question only to skip it: “Saul was…years old.” Well, that’s not very helpful. Bible newcomers might ask if God forgot. That starts a debate on the role of humans in reporting God’s messages and Israel’s history and poetry and wise sayings.
Or Jonathan killed the Philistine governor. The Hebrew word for an outpost or garrison is the same for a governor.
Geba was about three miles (5 km) north of Saul’s hometown of Gibeah. And Gibeah is about the same distance north of Jerusalem. So, all the action was taking place on what today might be considered the outskirts of Jerusalem.
He used the name Philistines called them: Hebrews, not Israelites. The implication may have been something like this: They call us Hebrews. Let them see what an army of Hebrews can do.
The word for “three” in 3,000 can also be 30 or 13 and more. But 3,000 chariots pulled by 6,000 horses makes sense.
It was customary throughout the ancient Middle East to check with the gods before going into battle. Each side wanted to win, so they asked their god if they would win or lose. Jews apparently offered prayers and sacrifices before battle—at least before this battle.
Saul was a king, not a priest. He had no right to conduct sacred sacrifices. Some sacrificed animals were burned entirely on the altar, the “burnt offering,” for one—an offering for sin. Other sacrifices, such as the “peace offering,” were expressions of thanks. Only some of that meat was burned on the altar. Worshipers shared the rest among the presiding priests along with guests.
Michmash was about 3 miles (5 km) northeast of Geba. Both cities were in the Judean hills near Jerusalem.
Shual is unknown.
Zeboim was one of five cities on a plain destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah. The area is often associated with the southeastern tip of the Dead Sea.
A quarter of an ounce is about the weight of an American quarter and a dime or a 2 euro coin. Two dimes would weigh half that. So would a 10 cent euro.
The Hebrew word is often translated “goads,” but the meaning is unclear. Some describe it as a stick for prodding cattle forward.
That was about 3 miles (5 km) north of Saul’s position at Geba.
- Sorry, there are currently no questions for this chapter.