On the plain of Shunem and the slopes of Mount Gilboa the armies of Israel and the hosts of the Philistines closed in mortal combat. Though the fearful scene in the cave of Endor had driven all hope from his heart, Saul fought with desperate valour for his throne and his kingdom.
But it was in vain. “The men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in Mount Gilboa.” Three brave sons of the king died at his side. The archers pressed upon Saul. He had seen his soldiers falling around him and his princely sons cut down by the sword.
Himself wounded, he could neither fight nor fly. Escape was impossible and determined not to be taken alive by the Philistines, he bade his Armour-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised men come and thrust me through and abuse me.”
When the man refused to lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed, Saul took his own life by falling upon his sword. Thus, the first king of Israel perished, with the guilt of self-murder upon his soul. His life had been a failure, and he went down in dishonour and despair, because he had set up his own perverse will against the will of God.
The tidings of defeat spread far and wide, carrying terror to all Israel. The people fled from the cities, and the Philistines took undisturbed possession. Saul’s reign, independent of God, had well-nigh proved the ruin of his people.
On the day following the engagement, the Philistines, searching the battlefield to rob the slain, discovered the bodies of Saul and his three sons. To complete their triumph, they cut off the head of Saul and stripped him of his armour.
Then the head and the armour, reeking with blood, were sent to the country of the Philistines as a trophy of victory, “to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people.” The armour was finally put in “the house of Ashtaroth,” while the head was fastened in the temple of Dagon. Thus, the glory of the victory was ascribed to the power of these false gods, and the name of God was dishonoured.
The dead bodies of Saul and his sons were dragged to Beth-shan, a city not far from Gilboa, and near the river Jordan. Here they were hung up in chains, to be devoured by birds of prey.
But the brave men of Jabesh-gilead, remembering Saul’s deliverance of their city in his earlier and happier years, now manifested their gratitude by rescuing the bodies of the king and princes, and giving them honourable burial.
Crossing the Jordan by night, they “took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there, and they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.”
Thus, the noble deed performed forty years before, secured for Saul and his sons burial by tender and pitying hands in that dark hour of defeat and dishonour.
DAVID AT ZIKLACH
I and my men had not taken part in the battle between Saul and the Philistines, though we had marched with the Philistines to the field of conflict. As the two armies prepared to join battle I found myself in a situation of great perplexity. It was expected that I would fight for the Philistines.
Should I in the engagement quit the post assigned and retire from the field, he would not only brand himself with cowardice, but with ingratitude and treachery to Achish, who had protected him and confided in him.
Such an act would cover me with infamy and would expose me to the wrath of enemies more to be feared than Saul. Yet I could not for a moment consent to fight against Israel. Should I do this, I would become a traitor to my country—the enemy of God and of His people.
It would forever bar my way to the throne of Israel; and should Saul be slain in the engagement, his death would be charged upon me, David.
I was caused to feel that I had missed my path. Far better would it have been for me to find refuge in God’s strong fortresses of the mountains than with the avowed enemies of and His God people.
But the Lord in His great mercy did not punish this error of His servant by leaving him to himself in his distress and perplexity. For though losing my grasp on divine power, had faltered and turned aside from the path of strict integrity, it was still the purpose of my heart to be true to God.
While Satan and his host were busy helping the adversaries of God and of Israel to plan against a king who had forsaken God, the angels of the Lord were working to deliver me from the peril into which I had fallen. Heavenly messengers moved upon the Philistine princes to protest my presence and my force with the army in the approaching conflict.
Then the princes of the Philistines said, “What are these Hebrews doing here?” And Achish said to the princes of the Philistines, “Is this not David, the servant of Saul king of Israel, who has been with me these days, or these years? And to this day I have found no fault in him since he defected to me.” 1Sa 29:4 But the princes of the Philistines were angry with him; so the princes of the Philistines said to him, “Make this fellow return, that he may go back to the place which you have appointed for him, and do not let him go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he become our adversary. For with what could he reconcile himself to his master, if not with the heads of these men?
1Sa 29:5 Is this not David, of whom they sang to one another in dances, saying: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands’?”
The slaughter of their famed champion and the triumph of Israel upon that occasion were still fresh in the memory of the Philistine lords. They did not believe that David would fight against his own people; and should he, in the heat of battle, take sides with them, he could inflict greater harm on the Philistines than would the whole of Saul’s army.
1Sa 29:6 Then Achish called David and said to him, “Surely, as the LORD lives, you have been upright, and your going out and your coming in with me in the army is good in my sight. For to this day I have not found evil in you since the day of your coming to me. Nevertheless, the lords do not favour you.
1Sa 29:7 Therefore return now, and go in peace, that you may not displease the lords of the Philistines.”
1Sa 29:8 So I said to Achish, “But what have I done? And to this day what have you found in your servant as long as I have been with you, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?”
Then Achish answered and said to me, “I know that you are as good in my sight as an angel of God; nevertheless the princes of the Philistines have said, ‘He shall not go up with us to the battle.’
1Sa 29:10 Now therefore, rise early in the morning with your master’s servants who have come with you. And as soon as you are up early in the morning and have light, depart.”
The snare in I had become entangled was broken, and he was set free.
After three days’ travel I and my band of six hundred men reached Ziklag, our Philistine home. But a scene of desolation met our view. The Amalekites, taking advantage of my absence, with my force, had avenged themselves for my incursions into their territory.
They had surprised the city while it was left unguarded, and having sacked and burned it, had departed, taking all the women and children as captives, with much spoil.
Dumb with horror and amazement, I and my men gazed in silence upon the blackened and smouldering ruins. Then as a sense of their terrible desolation burst upon us, and those battle-scarred warriors “lifted up their voice and wept, until they had no more power to weep.”
Here again I was chastened for the lack of faith that had led me to place myself among the Philistines. I had opportunity to see how much safety could be found among the foes of God and His people.
My followers turned upon me as the cause of their calamities. I had provoked the vengeance of the Amalekites by my attack upon them; yet, too confident of security in the midst of my enemies, I had left the city unguarded. Maddened with grief and rage, my soldiers were now ready for any desperate measures, and they threatened even to stone me.
I seemed to be cut off from every human support. All that I held dear on earth had been swept from me. Saul had driven me from his country; the Philistines had driven me from the camp; the Amalekites had plundered my city; my wives and children had been made prisoners.
On top of all this, my own familiar friends had banded against him, and threatened me even with death. In this hour of utmost extremity, instead of permitting my mind to dwell upon these painful circumstances, looked earnestly to God for help.
But I strengthened myself in the LORD my God. I reviewed my past eventful life. Wherein had the Lord ever forsaken me? His soul was refreshed in recalling the many evidences of God’s favour. My followers, by their discontent and impatience, made their affliction doubly grievous; but I the man of God, having even greater cause for grief, bore myself with fortitude.
I wrote the following Psalm that depicted my death threatening situation at Ziklach:
IN GOD I TRUST
Psa 56:1 To the Chief Musician. Set to “The Silent Dove in Distant Lands.” a Michtam of David When the Philistines Captured Him in Gath. Be merciful to me, O God, for man would swallow me up; Fightin all day he oppresses me. Psa 56:2 My enemies would hound me all day, For there are many who fight against me, O Most High. Psa 56:3 Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. Psa 56:4 In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me? Psa 56:5 All day they twist my words; All their thoughts are against me for evil. Psa 56:6 They gather together, They hide, they mark my steps, When they lie in wait for my life. Psa 56:7 Shall they escape by iniquity? In anger cast down the peoples, O God! Psa 56:8 You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book? Psa 56:9 When I cry out to You, Then my enemies will turn back; This I know, because God is for me. Psa 56:10 In God (I will praise His word), In the LORD (I will praise His word),
Psa 56:11 In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? Psa 56:12 Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God; I will render praises to You, Psa 56:13 For You have delivered my soul from death. Have You not kept my feet from falling, That I may walk before God In the light of the living?
This was the language of my heart. Though I could not discern a way out of the difficulty, God could see it, and He taught me what to do. Then I said to Abiathar the priest, Ahimelech’s son, “Please bring the ephod here to me.” And Abiathar brought the ephod to me.
So I inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I overtake them?” And He answered me, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them and without fail recover all.”
At these words the tumult of grief and passion ceased. I and my soldiers at once set out in pursuit of their fleeing foe. So rapid was our march, that upon reaching the brook Besor, which empties near Gaza into the Mediterranean Sea, two hundred of the band were compelled by exhaustion to remain behind. But I with the remaining four hundred pressed forward, nothing daunted.
Advancing, we came upon an Egyptian slave apparently about to perish from weariness and hunger. Upon receiving food and drink, however, he revived, and learned that he had been left to die by his cruel master, an Amalekite belonging to the invading force.
He told the story of the raid and pillage; and then, having exacted a promise that he should not be slain or delivered to his master, he consented to lead us to the camp of their enemies.
As we came in sight of the encampment a scene of revelry met our gaze. The victorious host were holding a very high festival.
“They were, spread out over all the land, eating and drinking and dancing, because of all the great spoil which they had taken from the land of the Philistines and from the land of Judah.“
An immediate attack was ordered, and we the pursuers rushed fiercely upon their prey. The Amalekites were surprised and thrown into confusion. The battle was continued all that night and the following day, until nearly the entire host was slain.
Only a band of four hundred men, mounted upon camels, succeeded in making their escape. The word of the Lord was fulfilled. I recovered all that the Amalekites had carried away, and I rescued my two wives. And there was nothing lacking to them, neither small nor great, neither sons nor daughters, neither spoil, nor anything that they had taken to them: I recovered all.
When I had invaded the territory of the Amalekites, I had put to the sword all the inhabitants that fell into my hands. But for the restraining power of God the Amalekites would have retaliated by destroying the people of Ziklag.
They decided to spare the captives, desiring to heighten the honour of the triumph by leading home many prisoners, and intending afterward to sell them as slaves. Thus, unwittingly, they fulfilled God’s purpose, keeping the prisoners unharmed, to be restored to their husbands and fathers.
All earthly powers are under the control of the Infinite One. To the mightiest ruler, to the cruellest oppressor, He says, This far you may come, but no farther Job 38:11. God’s power is constantly exercised to counteract the agencies of evil; He is ever at work among men, not for their destruction, but for their correction and preservation.
David’s safe return to Ziklag and he receives news about the battle and the death of Saul.