The Battle of Aphek About fifteen years elapsed between 3:21 and 4:1, so the events of chapter 4 took place in 1075 B.C. Samuel was about twenty-five years old and Israel had been under Philistine domination for about twenty years. The Philistines had assembled in battle array at Aphek, about twenty miles west of Shiloh, and Israel was defeated. The elders of Israel asked one another, “Wherefore hath the Lord smitten us today before the Philistines?” Then they devised a plan.
They would take the Ark out of Shiloh and carry it into battle. So the Ark, which represented the throne of God, was reduced, in the mentality of the people, to a mere talisman, much like a lucky rabbit’s foot. When the ark arrived at the battlefront, the people thought it was going to bring them victory and even the Philistines almost lost heart when they saw it. They said (vs. 8): 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.
Do you remember when that event happened? It was in 1446 B.C.
Three hundred and seventy-five years earlier, and still it was remembered by a pagan nation. How can the critics and the skeptics say that the Exodus never took place? How can they say the plagues never came down on Egypt by the hand of Moses from God? Even the Philistines knew it to be true almost four centuries after it happened. Nevertheless, even while fearing God, the Philistines gathered their spirits and went out with determination against Israel, defeating them with a great slaughter. Thirty thousand foot soldiers fell in that battle and the Ark of God was captured, fulfilling the prophecy of First Samuel 2:32, where God said, “Thou shalt see an enemy in my habitation. “ In addition, the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, who had carried the Ark into the battle were both killed, fulfilling the prophecy made in First Samuel 2:34, fifteen years earlier, that they would both die on the same day.
It is necessary to understand that since the Ark of God was the
symbol of His strength and power, and was symbolic of His throne, that God was not defeated as the Philistines thought He was. The
religion of the Philistines was polytheistic and the other surrounding
nations were polytheistic also. The Ammonites, the Moabites, the Syrians, the Egyptians, all believed in more than one god. In addition to being polytheistic, they were also henotheistic. Henotheists believed that certain gods were strong in certain geographical areas and that each god was strongest in the geographical area where the nation lived that worshiped him. That is why many of the artifacts that have been discovered, including paintings on the walls of Assyrian temples, show soldiers carrying the gods of defeated nations into their cities. In fact, we can see that later on in the Old Testament. One of the kings of Judah carried the gods of another nation back to Jerusalem to worship them.
Turning to II Chronicles 25:14, we read:
Now it came to pass, after that Amaziah was come from slaughter
of the Edomites, that he brought the gods of the children of Seir,
and set them up to be his gods, and bowed down himself before
them, and burned incense unto them.
So the concept of henotheism was practiced even by a king of
Judah. We know the Syrians also were henotheistic because we will
read later on that when the Israelites had defeated them in a battle, they said, “Their gods are gods of the hills; therefore they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they” (I Kings 20:23).
Likewise, the Philistines were henotheists. When they captured
the Ark they planned to carry it back to their city to strengthen their
own collection of gods. But we must remember, that with Jehovah the
situation was quite different. It was not that He was too weak to prevent
them from taking the Ark. The truth is, He allowed the Ark to be taken.
Look at Psalm 78:56-64 where the psalmist is recalling historically the
events which occurred in First Samuel:
Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his
testimonies: but turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers:
they were turned aside like a deceitful bow. For they provoked
him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy
with their graven images. When God heard this, he was wroth,
and greatly abhorred Israel. So that he forsook the tabernacle of
Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men; And delivered his
strength [that is, His Ark] into captivity, and his glory into the
enemy’s hand. He gave his people over also unto the sword, and
was wroth with his inheritance. The fire consumed their young
men; and their maidens were not given to marriage. their priests
[Hohni and Phineas] fell by the sword, and their widows made no
The psalmist records the event and tells us that God chose to
deliver up His strength to the Philistines because His people had forsaken Him.
Death of Eli The battle at Aphek took place twenty miles west of Shiloh, and it would have spread out as the armies engaged one another and small pockets of troops encountered each other in the plains and in the hills. First Samuel 4:12 says, “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. “ This was not from the battle, but from his mourning the death of so many Israelites. He had rent his clothes and thrown dust on his head as he came to report to Eli who was sitting on a stone beside the road. But the inhabitants of the city heard the news first, then Eli heard the crying of widows and relatives and inquired what had happened. Verse 17 says:
The messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines,
and here hath been also a great slaughter among the people,
and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark
of God is taken.
Eli’s mind must have flashed back fifteen years when the un-named
prophet had predicted this day and the boy Samuel confirmed
it. When he heard the report, he fell backward off the stone and broke
his neck, because he was old and heavy. Eli was ninety-eight years old when he fell backward and died.
At the same time, the wife of Phinehas was about to give birth.
When she heard that her husband and her father-in-law were dead,
and that the Ark was captured, she went into labor. Although she died
giving birth, she lived long enough to name her son Ichabod which
means, “The glory of the Lord has departed from Israel. “ Her last words
were, “The glory is departed from Israel, for the ark of God is taken.
Adventures of the Ark Chapter 5 tells how the Ark of God was taken from the battle site over to Ashdod, which was one of the five Philistine cities by the
Mediterranean seacoast. In true henotheistic fashion, they set up the
Ark in the house of their god Dagon. To them, the Ark was the God of
the Israelites and they would worship it also along with their fish-headed god Dagon.
But God demonstrated very dramatically that He was not just
another idol. When the Philistines entered their temple the next
morning, they found that Dagon had fallen on his face. They set him
up, but the next morning he had fallen on his face again. This time his
head and the palms of his hands were cut off. The fish head idol was
humiliated and mutilated in its own temple. Following that, the hand of
the Lord was heavy against the Philistines. He ravaged and smote them and Ashdod and its territories, until finally they took counsel and said (vs. 11): Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go again to his own place, that it slay us not, and our people.
Chapter 6 describes the various activities that surrounded the return
of the Ark to the Israelites. The Philistine priests devised a unique plan. They were superstitious people by nature, but they were not ignorant people.
Notice in verses 5 and 6 how they demonstrated a knowledge of the history of Israel, and a knowledge of theology as well. In effect they said, “Give glory to the God of Israel and He will ease His hand from you. Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? “ So, based on their limited knowledge of theology and the history of Israel, they devised a plan to send the Ark back to Israel. God allowed them to use their cart to demonstrate that He had surrendered His power to the Philistines by His own choice, and now He had chosen to remove it from their presence. The cattle went lowing up the hill as they pulled the Ark of God back to the
Battle of Mizpeh Chapter 7 records, as we noted earlier, that men of Kirjath -jearim took the Ark of God. Later, they placed it in a wooded area near their homes and twenty years passed.
During those twenty years, from 1075 to 1055 B.C., Samuel had been
active, revitalizing the people, renewing the national zeal, and preparing them spiritually to go out against the Philistines once again. Verse 4 records that they removed the Baahm and began to serve God alone. Because they did, God gave them a great victory over the Philistines. This victory, known as the Battle of Mizpeh, brought to an end the occupation that began con-currently with the announcement of the birth of Samson.
Demand for a King Following the great historic battle when the Israelites regained military supremacy over the Philistines, the inhabitants of Israel began to look around at the other nations. Simultaneously, we learn that even though Samuel was a godly man, his sons were ungodly. Verse 3 says they “turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.”
Samuel cannot be held totally accountable for the fact that his
sons were ungodly. It just might have been that he found himself so
busy with his circuit, which revolved around Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpeh, from his dwelling place in Ramah, that he did not spend the time with his sons that he should have. However, this is speculation. What we do know is that because of the reputation of his sons and because Israel began to look around at other nations, they decided that they were weary of their Theocratic government. They wanted a king like the nations round about them.
Their demand for a king broke the heart of Samuel. They said to
him (vs. 5): “Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now
make us a king to judge us like all the nations. “ The key to their demand
was “like all the nations.” They wanted to be like everybody else. God
had determined back during the wilderness wanderings, and emphasized it in the book of Deuteronomy, that they were not to be like the
other nations. But God comforted Samuel saying (vs. 7): “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
Although God provided for the time when the Theocracy would
become a monarchy, the Israelites were not willing to wait for His pro-gram and timing. In their haste to be like the nations around them, they insisted too early that they be given a king. And because they insisted, God granted their request. But God is never taken by surprise. Back in Deuteronomy 17, in the year 1406 B.C., He detailed the provisions for a king, and in doing so, used the language that Israel would use three and one-half centuries later in making their demand. Verses 14 and 15 give God’s earlier provision.
When thou art come unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth
thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I
will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me;
Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy
God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king
over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not
God had laid down rules and regulations in anticipation of the
time when the people would ask for a king. The rules continue in verses 16 and 17:
But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people
to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses:
forasmuch as the Lord hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth
return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives
to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he
greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
Since they wanted a king like the other nations, God said, “I will
give you a king. I will give you a king who looks like a king.” Remember, we discovered in the book of Judges that the one who looks Eke the ideal leader may not necessarily be so. But God was going to give them a man who met their own criteria, recognizing that they did not want a spiritual man. They wanted one who could boost their personal glory. As First Samuel 8:20 said: “That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.”
XXIII INSTITUTION OF THE MONARCHY
FIRST SAMUEL The Character of the Monarchy When the people demanded a king, Samuel gave them solemn warning regarding what they could expect. He said: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots,
and to be his horsemen; ... And he will appoint him captains over
thousands, and captains over fifties; . . . and to reap his harvest... And
he will take your daughters to be ... cooks, and to be bakers. And he will
take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive yards, even the best
of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take your menservants,
and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and
your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your
sheep: and ye shall be his servants. (I Sam. 8:11-17)
In spite of this solemn warning, the people cried even louder for a
king (vs. 19), saying, “Nay, but we will have a king over us.“ So the Lord
said unto Samuel (vs. 22), “Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king.” With the establishment of the monarchy, a totally new system
developed in Israel. First, there was dynastic succession. Prior to this, God raised up judges whenever Israel was ready for a deliverer. Under the monarchy, the crown would pass from father to son to grandson. Each reigning monarch expected to have a descendent in perpetuity on the throne.
Second, there was centralization of power as indicated in the words
of Samuel. The king would do what he wanted, when he wanted, and
would have the military power to back up his decisions.
Third, a privileged class would develop, somewhat like the caste
system in India. They included both peasants who tithed the land, and merchants in the cities. There would also be the courtiers, relatives, and friends of the king. These people would have special privileges and the king would look to them for counsel.
Periods of the Monarchy The monarchy was the most important period in Israel’s history. It began with the crowning of Saul in 1050 B.C. He reigned forty years, then David reigned for forty years, and I Kings 11:42 records, “And the time that Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel was forty years. “ These 120 years constitute the era of the united monarchy. It was the only time in Israel’s history when all twelve tribes were united. The united monarchy came to an end in 931 B.C.
In that year the kingdom divided. Jeroboam became king over the
northern ten tribes. Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, reigned over Ben-jamin and Judah in the south. This period of divided monarchy lasted
for 209 years, from 931 to 722 B.C., when the Assyrians invaded and
dispersed the northern ten tribes.
From 722 until 586 B.C., was the era of Judah alone as a monarchy.
The Babylonian Captivity began in 586 B.C. King Zedekiah was the last human monarch ever to sit on the throne of Israel or Judah.
The balance of Old Testament history covers the Babylonian Captivity, the return from captivity, and the brief period known as the post-exilic community.
Saul Becomes King The children of Israel wanted a monarch like those of the other nations. In response to their demand, God granted
them the most obvious man available. Saul is introduced in
First Samuel 9, as a “choice and handsome” man. Not only was he the
most handsome man in Israel, he was the tallest. From his shoulders up he towered above the people, Humanly speaking, he was an ideal choice for king. When dressed in his kingly garments, he must have been a striking figure. This was the kind of person the children of Israel wanted to lead them into battle, to fight for them, and to judge them as they “went out and came in.”
God’s sovereign choice The sovereignty of God is evident in the selection of Saul, as recorded in chapters 9 and 10. In 9:16, God said to Samuel, “Tomorrow about this time I will send thee a man. “ When Samuel met Saul, he was amazed at his selection. Saul asked in verse 21:
Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and
my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin?
wherefore then speakest thou so to me?
Please observe that this was a wise move politically. If someone
been chosen from the tribe of Judah, jealousy would have occurred.
Instead, the most handsome and tallest man was chosen from the smallest tribe. Who could say anything but good?
In chapter 10, God confirmed His selection to Saul through the
instruction of Samuel. Samuel anointed him as ruler (10:1), then set up some criteria to give him confidence (vss. 3-6).
Thou shalt come to the plain of Tabor, and there shall meet thee
three men, one carrying three kids, and another carrying three loaves
of bread, and another carrying a bottle of wine: And they will
salute thee, and give thee two loaves of bread, which thou shalt
receive of their hands. After that ... when thou art come thither to
the city, that thou shalt meet a company of prophets ... and they
shall prophesy: And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and
thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another
Notice how God made the situation so complex that there was no
way it could have been mere coincidence. Saul was told in advance
whom he would meet and where; where they were coming from and
going; what they were carrying, what they said and did. When Saul
saw “all those signs came to pass that day, “ he would know that God had
to be sovereignty directing them. Saul would never have reason to turn
his back on God, nor to doubt he was the chosen ruler over God’s
It would not have been a good move politically to leave the people
out of the selection process. Samuel called them together at Mizpeh
(10:17) and began the approved and accepted elimination process. The
tribe of Benjamin was first taken, then the family of Matri, and finally
Saul, the son of Kish. In other nations, either the people would set up a
popular hero, or a member of the warrior class would make himself
king. But Israel was still a Theocracy. The people saw God’s sovereign
hand in the selection of their king, as He, through Samuel the prophet,
made His choice clear.
During the ceremony, the people looked for Saul and could not find him. This is an indication that as a young man, Saul was shy and lacked self-confidence. Although tall and handsome, he was not yet fully aware of his capabilities, or of the reality of having been made king over God’s heritage. When they found him hiding among the baggage, they lifted him up (vs. 24) and shouted, “Long live the king.”
Confrontation at Jabesh-Gilead Verse 26 says that Saul went to his house at Gibeah. Archaeologists have discovered what they believe to be the house of Saul. It was not a palace but a rustic fort. The first monarch of Israel was more of a tribal chieftain than a king who dressed in silk and costly garments.
No sooner was Saul chosen than an opportunity came to prove himself. Chapter 11 begins with the invasion by Nahash the Ammonite against the inhabitants of the city of Jabesh-Gilead. The city was on the east side of the Jordan and its inhabitants were probably caught by surprise and barely had time to close their gates when the armies of Nahash laid siege against them. Not having had time to gather provisions and water to withstand a long siege, they sent a messenger under a white flag and said to Nahash, “Make a covenant with us, and we will serve you.” Nahash replied, “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.”
Naturally, the inhabitants did not look happily on that, so (vs. 3)
they asked for a seven day period of grace to think it over. They would
send messengers throughout Israel and if no one came to save them,
they would surrender.
No job description for a king had been written at that time, and Saul was plowing his field when he received the message from Jabesh-Gilead. Verses 6 and 7 record his response. And the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard those tidings, and his anger was kindled greatly. 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 accord.
In those early days of his reign, Saul was a humble man. By linking
Samuel’s name with his own, he united the political and religious
aspects of the kingdom.
The fighting men of Israel were numbered in Bezek, across the
Jordan river from Jabesh-Gilead. Here we see the first hint of the later
division, because the sons of Israel were 300,000 and the men of Judah
30,000. They informed the besieged city that by the time the sun was
hot, they would have deliverance. Needless to say, the inhabitants were
glad to hear this promise from their new king.
The men of Jabesh-Gilead then said to Nahash (vs. 10), “Tomorrow we
will come out unto you, and ye shall do with us all that seemeth good unto you.“
But they knew that by tomorrow, their new king, with his armies, would
be in hot pursuit of the Ammonites. Verse 11 says they struck down the
Ammonites until the heat of the day.
Israel was proud of the first success of their new king and new regime
and exclaimed to Samuel, “Who is he that said, Shall Saul reign over us?”
They were referring to the sons of Behal described in 10:27. But Saul replied, “There shall not a man be put to death this day; for today the Lord hath wrought
salvation in Israel” (vs.13). He was still humble and gave glory to God as he
contemplated the fruits of victory from his first military encounter.