Saul’s Victory at Jabesh-gilead & Saul and the Philistines

ThinkingI don’t know, but Saul doesn’t really seem the king type, nor that smart.  But then again You gave him a new heart. 

What you had said a while back doesn’t sound like he’ll be obeying Your laws (1 Sam 8:11-19), or at least not entirely. 

What’s going to happen?

1. Geba
Southwest of Michmash is the modern Arab village of Jaba, which preserves the biblical site of Geba.

A Levitical city in the tribal territory of Benjamin, Geba was fortified by Asa during his war with Baasha (1 Kgs 15:22).

During the time of Josiah, Geba was apparently the northernmost city in Judah, as the king destroyed the high places “from Geba to Beersheba” (2 Kgs 23:8).

Because of the present occupation, the site has not been excavated.

“Then Nahash the Ammonite came up, and encamped against Jabesh-gilead: 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. 

And the elders of Jabesh said unto him, Give us seven days’ respite, that we may send messengers unto all the coasts of Israel: and then, if there be no man to save us, we will come out to thee”  (1 Sam 11:1-3).

A messenger had heard the plan and told it to the people and they wept.  When Saul came in from the field they told him, and the Spirit of God came upon Saul and He was infuriated.

“And he took a yoke of oxen, and hewed them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the coasts of Israel by the hands of messengers, saying, Whosoever cometh not forth after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done unto his oxen.  And the fear of the LORD fell on the people, and they came out with one consent”  (1 Sam 11:7).

Saul then numbered the people, 300,000 in Bezek and 30,000 in Judah.

2. Wadis
“The Pass”
The hill country is deeply cut by deep canyons (wadis) that run east-west.

These significantly restrict traffic to the ridges above the wadis, making passage north-south difficult except on the central watershed ridge.

One exception to this is this “pass” in the Wadi Suwenit – a broad place in the canyon where passage is easy.

Consequently this route is noted in Scripture on several occasions. Isaiah the prophet speaks about an invasion from the north that moves by Michmash, across “the pass,” and on to Geba, Ramah, Gibeah, and Jerusalem (Is 10:28-32).

“And they said unto the messengers that came, Thus shall ye say unto the men of Jabesh-gilead, Tomorrow, by that time the sun be hot, ye shall have help. And the messengers came and shewed it to the men of Jabesh; and they were glad. 

Therefore the men of Jabesh said, Tomorrow we will come out unto you, and ye shall do with us all that seemeth good unto you”  (1 Sam 11:9-10).

The next day, Saul and his people slew the Ammonites all day, and the few that escaped were all lone.

“And the people said unto Samuel, Who is he that said, Shall Saul reign over us?  Bring the men, that we may put them to death. 

And Saul said, There shall not a man be put to death this day: for today the LORD hath wrought salvation in Israel.

Then said Samuel to the people, Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there.  And all the people went to Gilgal; and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal; and there they sacrificed sacrifices of peace offerings before the LORD; and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly” (1 Sam 11:12-15).

3. Cliff
The Cliffs
The pass is also mentioned in connection with Jonathan’s attack on the Philistines (1 Sam 14).

Saul’s son surprised the Philistine garrison by not coming across the pass, but instead going around and climbing up and down steep cliffs.

These cliffs were named Seneh and Bozez (scholars debate the meanings of these words).

When the Philistines saw Jonathan and his armor bearer climbing up, they called to them to continue, thus signaling to Jonathan that God was with them.

Jonathan’s defeat of this contingent led to a national victory that day.

Samuel then told the people that all that God had done for Israel, from the time of Moses and Aaron to now, including how he had sold the Israelites at times for disobeying Him.  He then said,

“Now therefore behold the king whom ye have chosen, and whom ye have desired! And, behold, the LORD hath set a king over you” (1 Sam 12:13).

“Now therefore stand and see this great thing, which the LORD will do before your eyes. 

Is it not wheat harvest to day? I will call unto the LORD, and he shall send thunder and rain; that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking you a king.  

So Samuel called unto the LORD; and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day: and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel.

And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the LORD thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king. 

And Samuel said unto the people, Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart;

And turn ye not aside: for then should ye go after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver; for they are vain.

For the LORD will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake: because it hath pleased the LORD to make you his people. 

Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way:

Only fear the LORD, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you. 

But if ye shall still do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both ye and your king” (1 Sam 12:16-25).

Saul and the Philistines

4. territory of Benjamin
A town on the Northeast boundary of the territory of Benjamin (Josh 18:24), given to the Levites (Josh 21:17 1 Chr 6:60).

It stood on the northern frontier of the kingdom of Judah, Geba and Beersheba marking respectively the northern and southern limits (2 Kgs 23:8). In 2 Sam 5:25 “Geba” should be altered to “Gibeon,” which stands in the corresponding passage, 1 Chr 14:16. In Jdg 20:10, 33 1 Sam 13:3, 16, the Heb reads “Geba,” the translation “Gibeah” being due to confusion of the two names.

From 1 Sam 14:5 we gather that Geba stood to the South of the great gorge,

Wady Suweinit, commanding the pass at Michmash.

This was the scene of Jonathan’s daring enterprise against the Philistines, when, accompanied by his armor-bearer, he accomplished an apparently impossible feat, climbing the rocky steeps of the gorge to the North and putting the enemy to flight.

There can be no doubt that the modern village of Jeba` occupies the ancient site. It stands to the South of Wady Suweinit, looking toward Michmash-modern Mukhmas-with Seneh, the crag on the southern lip of the gorge, in front of it.

The distance from Jerusalem is about 6 miles.

It was fortified by Asa with materials that his enemy Baasha had used to fortify Ramah against him (1 Kgs 15:22).

It is named by Isaiah in his description of the terrifying march of the Assyrians upon

Jerusalem from the North (10:28).

It appears among the cities which were reoccupied by Israel after the Exile.

Saul faced a more formidable threat from the Philistines then Samson had.  And he established a garrison at Geba in Benjamin, evidently located at Jaba overlooking the Wadi Suweinit.  

Saul and his son Jonathan gathered Israel’s forces at Michmash and Gibeah – presumably the Gibeah of Saul generally located at Tell el-Ful.  The locations of various Benjamite towns – Gibeah, Geba, Gibeon  – are notoriously difficult.  

The terms come from Hebrew words meaning “hill” or “height” and were used to describe many points in this mountainous region.  Jonathan attacked Geba, forcing the withdrawal of the Philistines.

The Philistines responded by moving a larger force to Michmash across the Wadi Suweinit from Geba. The move provoked fear in the Israelites, who abandoned Geba and fled.  

Some hid in the caves of the rugged wadi while others sought refuge across the Jordan in Gilead.  

In maneuvers designed to scatter any remaining Israelite forces, Philistine troops raided north, east, and west from Michmash.  Saul retreated to Gilgal, well away from the fighting. 

Again the valor of Jonathan turned the tide against the Philistines.  Jonathan and his armor bearer slipped across the wadi and scaled the jagged cliffs named Bozez and Seneh.  

The attack caught the Philistines by surprise and set the Philistine camp in confusion.  Saul, alerted by the commotion, rallied the Israelites at Gibeah and rushed to Jonathan’s aid.  

Together Saul and Jonathan routed the Philistines at Michmash, sending them in a disorderly westward retreat.  For the moment, the Philistine threat was averted.

The ensuing years of Saul’s reign brought conflict both on and off the battlefield.  Saul won victories over Moab, Edom, the Arameans kingdom of Zobah, and the Amalekites (1 Sam 14:47-48), but he could never end the crucial conflict with the Philistines. 

As the Bible puts it, “There was hard fighting against the Philistines all the days of Saul” (1 Sam 14:52). 

Moreover, Saul lost the support of Samuel when he usurped the functions of a priest in an ill-advised sacrifice offered at Gilgal. 

He angered Samuel further when he kept spoils of war taken from the Amalekites in defiance of God’s command to destroy everything (1 Sam 13:11-14; 15:1-35).   

Ultimately, God rejected Saul as an unfit king and commanded Samuel to anoint David as Israel’s next king (1 Sam 16).

The women would chant, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands (1 Sam 18:7).  Finally, in a fit of jealous rage Saul, with his attempts of killing David, forced David to flee the royal court and he lived like a fugitive until Saul died.

Saul’s real enemy was the Philistines.  Saul attempted to take away the enemy’s advantage by defending the slopes of Mount Gilboa, where the chariot may not be so effective.  

Still, the Philistine attack overran the Israelite positions.  Many of Saul’s sons, including the valiant Jonathan, died on Mount Gilboa.

Saul was wounded and instead of letting the Philistines catch him and torcher him to death he fell on his sword. 

When the Philistines found the dead bodies of Saul and his sons they took them to Beth-shan and displayed them on the walls.

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