Heinrich Graetz.

History of the Jews (Volume 1) online

. (page 8 of 46)
Online LibraryHeinrich GraetzHistory of the Jews (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 46)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

in Gilgal Battle of Michmash Defeat of the Philistines
Severity of Saul Victory over the Ammonites Saul's Election
as King confirmed His Court and Attendants His Officers
and Standing Army Victory over the Amalekites Disputes
between Saul and Samuel Saul's Attacks on the neighbouring
People War with the Gibeonites Place of Worship in Gibeon
War against the Philistines in the Valley of Tamarinths Goliath
and David Meeting of Saul and David Saul's Jealousy turns
into Madness The Persecution of David Saul's last Battle
against the Philistines Defeat and Death.

1067 1055 B. c. E.

THE king who was placed at the head of the people
through their own eager insistence, and with the
unwilling consent of the prophet proved, more
effectually than any objections could do, how little a
monarchical constitution was fitted to realise the
expectations founded on it; for the king, until his
accession a simple and excellent man, with no
thoughts of ambition or arbitrary power, did not
shrink from cruelty and inhumanity in order to
assert his dignity.

By the aid of prophetic guidance, care was taken
that he should not resemble the repulsive prototype
drawn by Samuel, or become so independent as to
place himself above all laws and rules, but that he
should ever remain mindful of his lowly origin.
Samuel did not select a king from the haughty tribe
of Ephraim, lest he should act like Abimelech, who,
in his presumption and ambition, had killed his own
brothers, and laid waste whole districts; but the king
was chosen from the smallest of the tribes, the tribe

CH. vi. SAUL. 83

of Benjamin. His family, that of Matri, was one of
the lowliest in Benjamin. His father, Kish, was not
in any way distinguished ; he was a simple country-
man ; and nothing could be said in his praise, except
that he was an upright man. Saul was chosen
because he was content to work at his plough, and
watch the increase of his father's flocks. He had no
thought beyond the village in which he was born,
and barely an idea that there were human beings to
whom the possession of power was an attraction.
In his shyness he displayed the ways of a true
peasant; these circumstances, and the personal qual-
ities of Saul seemed to be a security against any
presumption or pride on the part of the first king of

The circumstances attending the choice of a king
left a deep and pleasing impression. " See," said
Samuel, " this is the man whom God has chosen as
king; his like is not to be found in all Israel." Most
of the bystanders, carried away by the solemn pro-
ceeding and by Saul's appearance, shouted, " Long
live the king!" Samuel then anointed the newly
elected king with holy oil, by which he was believed
to be rendered inviolable. The elders rejoiced
that their heartfelt wish of having a king to rule
over them was at length realised. They looked
forward to happy days. This choice of a king
was an important epoch in the history of the Jewish
people; it determined their entire future. Yet during
the joyful and solemn proceedings, discord had
already arisen. Some discontented people, prob-
ably Ephraimites, who had hoped to have a king
chosen from their own ranks, loudly expressed their
disappointment. "How can this man help us!"
Whilst all the other elders, according to universal
custom, brought the king gifts of homage, and a few
of the most courageous followed him to Gibeah to
assist him against the enemies of Israel, the malcon-
tents kept apart and refused their allegiance.


Saul's courage, after his elevation to the throne,
must have increased greatly, or he must have felt him-
self guided by God after his unexpected elevation. He
now boldly confronted the task of opposing his mighty
enemies, and of settling the disorganised affairs of
the commonwealth. The position of the people at
his accession was very sad and humiliating, almost
worse than in the days of the Judges. Their arms,
such as bows and arrows, swords, etc., had been
carried off by the victorious Philistines, who left no
smith in the land to make new weapons. The
newly elected king lacked a sword, that symbol of
royalty among all nations and at all times. His
election was probably conducted so secretly that the
Philistines knew nothing of it. The Philistine tax-
gatherers exhausted the strength of the country, and
at the same time repressed every attempt at revolt.
So greatly were the Israelites humbled that some of
them had to accompany the Philistines on expedi-
tions against their own brethren. Nought but a
miraculous event could have saved them, and such
an event was brought about by Saul with his son and

Saul's eldest son, Jonathan, was perhaps worthier
of the kingly dignity than his father. Modest and
unselfish perhaps to a greater extent even than his
father, courageous in the very face of death, he com-
bined with these qualities an almost excessive kind-
liness and gentleness, a feature which endeared
him to all, but which would have been a serious
failing in a ruler who had to display a certain
amount of firmness and severity. Jonathan was,
besides, endowed with an enthusiastic nature which
appealed to every heart. He was truthful, and an
enemy to all deceit ; he uttered his opinions freely,
at the risk of displeasing, or of losing his position
and even his life, all of which qualities made him
a favourite with the people. Abner, the cousin of
Saul, was of an entirely different disposition ; he was


a warrior of unbending firmness, and possessed a
considerable degree of artfulness. To the inexperi-
enced king and the people he, too, rendered important
service in their distress. Surrounded by these and
other faithful adherents of his family, and by the tribe
of Benjamin in general, who were proud to gain
importance through him, Saul set forth on the unequal
contest with the Philistines. Jonathan commenced
hostilities. In the town of Geba, or Gibeah of
Benjamin, lived the Philistine tax-gatherers, sur-
rounded by a host of warriors. Jonathan attacked
this post and killed the garrison. This was the first
declaration of war ; it was made at Saul's command
and with his full approval. The king now ordered
that the trumpet-blast, announcing that the war
with the Philistines had commenced, should sound
throughout the land of Benjamin. Many heard the
news with joy, others with sadness and dismay.

All who had courage assembled in order to
stand by their king, determined to aid him in
casting oft the disgrace of Israel, or to perish in the
attempt. Those who were cowards escaped to the
opposite side of the Jordan, or hid in caverns, in
clefts of the rocks, or in subterranean passages.
A feeling of intense anxiety filled all minds as
to the result of the contest. The meeting-place of
the Israelites was then in Gilofal, the town most


remote from the land of the Philistines. This place
of meeting had been appointed by the prophet
Samuel. He had directed Saul to repair thither,
and stay there seven days to await his arrival and
further instructions. Gilgal probably contained the
choir of musicians and prophets, whose psalms and
songs were to inspire the Israelite warriors with mar-
tial courage and with trust in the deliverance of
their fatherland. Meanwhile the Philistines prepared
themselves for a war of extermination against the
Israelites. The news of Jonathan's attack on their
outposts had exasperated them; they were, how-


ever, more surprised than terrified. How could the
cowardly, weaponless, unarmed Israelites dare to
attack the Philistines, their masters? A numerous
band of warriors, supported by cavalry, passed
through the valleys of the southern mountain-range
of Ephraim, and through the entire breadth of the
land as far as Michmash ; from this camping-place
they spread their marauding bands in three direc-
tions, the most humiliating circumstance being that
many Israelites were compelled to assist the Philistines
in subduing their own tribesmen.

This was a critical time for the people of Israel.
Whilst the Philistines were gradually pushing for-
ward to Michmash, Saul, surrounded by the brave
men of his tribe, awaited in Gilgal the prophet who
was to give the warriors his inspired directions, and
thus endow them with courage. But day after day
passed and Samuel did not appear. Every hour
spent in idleness seemed to destroy the chance of a
successful issue. Saul feared that the enemy would
descend from the mountains into the valley, attack
Gilgal, and destroy or put to flight the small body of
Israelites. Not a few of his soldiers had already
deserted, looking on Samuel's absence as an inaus-
picious omen. Saul, becoming impatient, determined
on the seventh day to attack the enemy on his own
responsibility. According to ancient practice, he made
a sacrifice in order to propitiate the Deity, and to
ensure his success in the battle. Just as he was prepar-
ing the burnt-offering, Samuel suddenly appeared,
and upbraided the king severely for being carried
away by impatience. He resented this error with
great austerity, departed from Gilgal, and left Saul to
his own resources a hard blow for him, as he had
reckoned confidently on the prophet's assistance at
this dangerous juncture. After Samuel had departed
from Gilgal, Saul found it useless to remain there.
He therefore repaired with the remnant of his troops
to Gibeah. On reviewing- his soldiers here, he found


them to amount to not more than six hundred. It
is not surprising that Saul and Jonathan became
dispirited at the sight of this slight force, which was
unarmed and had to fight the well-appointed armies
of the enemy. Saul and Jonathan alone possessed
swords. It was indeed a sad honey-moon for the
young kingdom. The most painful blow for Saul
was that, through Samuel's absence, he was deprived
of the means by which the people might ascertain
the will of God.

Jonathan, however, made a good beginning at
Gibeah, where Saul and his troops lay encamped,
at scarce an hour's distance from Michmash, the site
of the Philistine camp. Between the two armies lay
a valley, but the road which led from one place to the
other was impracticable, the valley being bordered
by steep, almost perpendicular walls of rocks and
precipices, which closed it up on the east till it
became a mere gorge of about ten feet in width.
On the west side, where the valley formed a wide
pass, the Philistines had stationed their outposts.
Thus the Philistines and Israelites could only come
to an encounter in the narrow path. At last Jonathan
determined to ascend the steepest part of the pass,
and, accompanied by his sword-bearer, he climbed,
on hands and teet, up the steep sharp points of the
rock on the side of Michmash. One false step
would have precipitated him into the depth, but
happily he and his man arrived safely at the highest
point. When the Philistines beheld them, they were
not a little surprised that, on this rocky road, a path
had been found to their camp. Deceived by this
ruse, and fearing that other Israelites would follow,
they called out scornfully, " Look at the Hebrews,
they are crawling out of their hiding-places; come
higher up, we wish to become better acquainted
with you." 1 It had been previously agreed between

1 1 Samuel xiv. 12.


Jonathan and his sword-bearer that, should they receive
such a challenge, they would press on and bravely
commence the attack. The Philistines who first
beheld the daring climbers, soon left off scoffing, for
twenty men were killed at the first attack with pieces
of rock and sling-stones. The Benjamites were
very skilful in the use of the sling, and Jonathan and
his sword-bearer advanced further, and continued
hurling masses of rock at the Philistines. Terror-
stricken by this sudden attack from a side where
approach had seemed impossible, they could only
imagine themselves attacked by supernatural beings,
and, seized with fear, they fought each other, or broke
the ranks in the wildest confusion. Saul, who was
watching from a high eminence, no sooner perceived
the enemy beginning to flee than he hurried to the
scene of action, followed by his six hundred warriors,
and completed the defeat of the Philistines. Those
Israelites who had until then been compelled by the
Philistines to fight against their own brethren turned
their arms against their oppressors. Others who had
hidden themselves in the clefts and grottoes of the
mountains of Ephraim took courage, when they
witnessed the flight of the Philistines, and swelled
the ranks of the aggressors. Saul's troops, thus
increased, numbered ten thousand. In every town
of Mount Ephraim through which the Philistines
passed in their flight, they were attacked by the
inhabitants, and cut down one by one. Though tired
and exhausted, Saul's troops pursued the retreating
foe for eight hours.

An occurrence of apparently slight consequence,
but which proved to be of great importance, put a
stop to further pursuit. Saul had impressed on his
soldiers that the destruction of their enemy was not
to be interrupted even for food or refreshment, and
he pronounced a curse on him who should take the
slightest nourishment. Jonathan, who was always
foremost, had heard nothing of this curse. Exhausted


by the long fight and pursuit he could not restrain
himself, and tasted wild honey into which he had
dipped his staff. When his attention was drawn to
his father's peremptory command, he openly avowed
his act. Saul, however, made a serious matter of it,
and determined to condemn Jonathan to death. But
the people protested vehemently. "What!" cried
the warriors, " shall Jonathan, to whom the people
owes its great victory, be killed? No, not a hair of
his head shall be touched." 1 The people offered a
sin-offering for Jonathan, and thus released him from
death. Through this episode, the pursuit of the
Philistines to the west of Ajalon was suspended.
Great was the joy of the Israelites at the victory they
had so unexpectedly obtained. The battle of Mich-
mash fully restored their reputation. They also had
regained their weapons, and felt strong enough to
fight under a king whose firmness of resolve they
had experienced. But Saul returned humbly and
modestly to his dwelling place in Gibeah, and
ploughed, as heretofore, his father's fields. He
was not yet blinded by his new dignity. Mean-
while the hostilities of the Ammonites against the
tribes on the other side of the Jordan had increased.
Nahash, king of the Ammonites, besieged the fort-
ress of Jabesh-Gilead. The inhabitants were unable
to hold out for longr and negotiated with Nahash

o ' o

about a capitulation. He offered a hard, inhuman
condition to the Gileadites of Jabesh. As a disgrace
to Israel, all men should consent to lose their right
eye. What were the Gileadites to do? They treated
for a delay of seven days in order to send messages
to their fellow-tribesmen. When Saul was one day
returning home with his yoke of bullocks from the
field, he met the inhabitants of Gibeah in great
excitement and bathed in tears. Astonished at this,
he asked the cause of their grief, and the messengers

'I Samuel xiv. 45.


from Jabesh-Gilead related what would befall their
town if speedy assistance were not at hand. Incensed
at the disgraceful condition imposed by the king of
the Ammonites, Saul immediately determined to
bring aid to the Gileadites of Jabesh. For the first
time he exercised his royal prerogative by sum-
moning all Israel to take part in the campaign
against the Ammonites.

Samuel supported this summons by declaring that
he too would join in the expedition. By Saul's com-
mand all the warriors assembled at the meeting-place.
The anarchy of the era of the Judges was now at an
end, and a stern will ruled. A large body of Israel-
ites crossed the Jordan ; the Ammonites, attacked on
the south, north, and west, fled in all directions, and
no two of them remained together. The people of
Jabesh were saved, and ever after displayed the
deepest gratitude to Saul and his house for the help
so quickly and energetically rendered to them. On
his recrossing the Jordan, after his second victory
over the enemy, Saul was greeted with tumultuous
joy. Samuel, who was a witness to these expres-
sions of delight, thought it wise to remind the king
and his people that their triumph should not turn into
pride, and that they should not consider the kingly
dignity as an end, but only as a means. He there-
fore summoned a large gathering of the Israelites,
and determined to call the king's and the people's
attention to their duties. Samuel again anointed
Saul as king ; the people renewed their homage, and
made joyful offerings.

In the midst of these rejoicings Samuel delivered
an address, which bears testimony to the powers of
his mind and to his greatness as a prophet.

Saul's two important victories, and the assemblage
at Gilgal, where homage had been rendered to him
by nearly all the tribes, confirmed his power, and
the royal dominion was placed on a permanent
basis. Although Samuel praised and extolled the


days of the Judges, yet the people felt that it could
better appreciate a king than a hero-judge. The
nation willingly exchanged its republican liberty for
the prize of unity and the power obtained thereby.
The kingly estate led to various changes. Saul had
to employ responsible men for the execution of his
commands; he required a number of officers and
servants. Officers of war were appointed to rule
over hundreds and thousands respectively, and coun-
cillors, who were admitted to the king's table. A
special band of men served as runners (razim], an
armed force who became the obedient instruments of
the king's will. These and their chief formed the
king's court. Saul's leader of the guard was named
Doag, an Idumaean by birth. Owing to the pres-
ence of the standing army and attendants, Gibeah,
till then only a small town, now became the capital.
Towards Samuel, Saul at first showed submission.
When the prophet, in the name of God, com-
manded him to declare war to the death with the
Amalekites, Saul immediately made preparations, and
summoned his warriors. The Amalekites were the
implacable and hereditary enemies of the Israelites,
and had displayed the greatest cruelty towards them
during their wanderings in the desert, and on their
entry into the Holy Land. These enemies often
joined other nations in order to crush the Israelites.
The Amalekite king Agag appears to have caused
great trouble to the tribe of Judah in the days of

It was, however, no light task to undertake hostil-
ities against the Amalekites. Agag was considered
a great hero, and inspired all around him with fear;
but although the Amalekites were renowned for their
courage and power, Saul did not hesitate to prepare
for this hazardous campaign. He appears to have
carried on the strife with skill and courage, and to
have drawn the enemy into an ambush, by which he
was enabled to obtain a complete victory. He took


the capital (possibly Kadesh), killed the men, women
and children, and captured the dreaded king Agag.
Only a few of the people who escaped with their
lives took refuge in the great neighbouring desert
which leads to Egypt. The Israelite warriors carried
off rich booty, including flocks of sheep, herds of
cattle, and camels. According to Samuel's com-
mand, this spoil was to be destroyed, so that every
trace of the memory of Amalek might be lost. The
soldiers, however, did not wish this rich spoil to be
given up to destruction. Saul, ordinarily so rigid in
his discipline, permitted the preservation of the booty,
and thus transgressed the prophet's directions. Saul
was very proud of his victory over the dreaded
Amalekites, and he caused the king Agag to be led
in chains as a living sign of triumph. His success
in battle intoxicated him, and caused him to forget
his former humility. On his return he erected a
monument of his victory in the oasis of Carmel.
Meanwhile, Samuel, in a prophetic vision, had learned
that the king had not fulfilled the instructions given
him, and was therefore to be punished.

Samuel had to announce this to the victorious
king; but the task was difficult, and he struggled
and prayed a whole night. At last he determined
to proceed to meet Saul. But hearing on the way
that Saul was so dominated by pride as to cause a
monument to be raised, he turned back and repaired
to Gilgal. When Saul heard of this journey, he fol-
lowed'him thither. The elders of Benjamin and the
neighbouring tribes also proceeded to Gilgal to
salute the victorious king. Here they were wit-
nesses to a strife which foreboded evil times.

As though nothing had occurred, the king met the
prophet with these words, " I have fulfilled God's
commands." On which Samuel sternly replied to
him, " What is the meaning of the bleating of the
sheep which I hear ?" " It was the people," answered
Saul, "who spared the best of the sheep and the


oxen, in order to sacrifice them on the altar at Gilgal."
At these words the prophet Samuel could no longer
repress his anger, and he replied in winged words:
" Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings
and sacrifices, as in obeying His voice? Behold, to
obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken, than the
fat of rams. For the sin of witchcraft comes from
rebellion, and the iniquity of Teraphim from stubborn-
ness. Because thou hast rejected the word of the
Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king."

Saul was so deeply humiliated by these words and
by the stern and austere attitude which the prophet
adopted that he confessed his fault and, in the
effort to prevent him from going away, he seized
Samuel's robe so firmly that it was torn. Samuel
then said, " This is a sign : God will tear thy kingly
dignity from thee and will give it to a better man,
even though Israel be torn asunder in the act." Once
more Saul entreated the prophet. "At least honour
me now before the elders of my tribe and of Israel,
and return with me." 1

In consideration of this entreaty, Samuel accom-
panied him to the altar, where the king humbled
himself before God. Samuel then ordered that the
fettered king Agag should be led forth. The Amale-
kite king exclaimed in his fear, "Oh! how bitter,
how bitter is death!" 1 To this exclamation Samuel
replied, "As thy sword hath made women childless,
so shall thy mother be childless among women," and
Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the king in
Gilgal. 1

After this scene in Gilgal, the king and the
prophet avoided each other. The victory which
Saul obtained over Amalek was a defeat for him
his pride was crushed. The announcement that
God had abandoned him threw a dark shadow
over his soul. His gloom, which later on developed

1 1 Samuel xv. 12 to 33. In the 32d verse read mar mar hammaveth.


into madness, owed its rise to the threatening words
of Samuel, " God will give the kingdom of Israel to
a better man." 1 These terrible words were ever
ringing in Saul's ears. Just as he had at first hesi-
tated to accept the reins of government, so he
was now unwilling to let them pass from his hands.
At the same time he felt himself helpless. What
could he do against the severity of the prophet? In
order to divert himself, he plunged into warfare.
There were many enemies on the borders of Israel
whom he wished to subdue. He also pursued another
course in order to impress the people with a sense of
his importance.

There still lived amongst the Israelites a few
Canaanite families and small clans who had not been
expelled when the country was conquered, and could
not be ejected now. These had led the Israelites to
honour false gods, and to indulge in idolatrous errors.
Saul therefore thought that he would greatly benefit
the nation, and serve the law of Israel, if he removed
these idolatrous neighbours, and everything that was
foreign. Among the strangers who had been suffered
to remain were the men of Gibeon, they having volun-
tarily submitted to the conquering Israelites, Saul
did not respect the oath given to the Gibeonites, but
ordered a wholesale massacre amongst them, from
which but few escaped.

Together with the foreign Canaanite nations he
also persecuted the sorcerers who took part in

Online LibraryHeinrich GraetzHistory of the Jews (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 46)