OLD TESTAMENT ESSAYS
The Military Achievements of Saul
and David and How They Contributed
Towards Establishing a State in Israel
(11 May 1983)
by Christopher C. Warren, M.A.(Oxon)
By the time Saul had been anointed king, Israel had still not taken the lands of inheritance given her by Yahweh. The kingdom suffered from three main military threats:
Saul controlled most of the hill country and the Gilleadite territory across the Jordan. His first campaign was against the Ammonites who had crossed the border from the east and were beseiging Jabesh-gilead (Map 1, #1). This victory not only secured Israel's eastern frontier for a while but established Saul's reputation as a valiant warror-king. It also had the effect of welding the 12 tribes togetrher into a single military and political entity, something which had not happened since the days of Moses and Joshua. Saul next turned his attention to the west and the ever increasing Philistine menace. Though he inflicted several defeats against Philistia he never managed to break its power; at the very best he was able to keep the Philistines at bay (Map 1, #2). The next most famous of these Philistine wars took place at Michmash where Saul not only won a great victory (tahnks to the bravado of his son Jonathan) but comitted religious sacrilege in offering a sacrifice that was the sole right of of the Levitical Priests and the High Priest, Samuel. From this point on Saul began to decline in fortune though he was successful in defeating the Amalekites near Ziklag (Map 1, #3). and won a victory against the Philistines at Socoh, thanls to David's heroism against Goliath. Wars against the Philistines continued throughout Saul's reign, culminating in a terrible Israelite defeat at Mount Gilboa (Map 1, #4). As a result, Israelite territory was cut in two and most of its strongholds occupied by Philistine soldiers. Thus in many ways the military situation in Israel was far worse at Saul's death that it had been when he first assumed the title of king. The reason: murder (Ahimelech and the priests of Nob), jealosy (against David), and disobedience to Yahweh (at Michmash and for breaking herem in the war against the Amalekites).Yet notwithstanding this the tribes had been united, providing them with the motivation and experience to reunite later under King David.
- 1. The Philistines to the West;
- 2. The Amalekites to the south; and
- 3. The Ammonites to the east.
During much of Saul's reign David had been an outlaw fighting a guerilla war against Philistia and Amalek. Upon being anointed King of Judah, David found the nation under virtual Philistine occupation. As the leader of only one of the 12 Israelite tribes centred at Hebron, David was not considered a threat by the Philistines and it is likely he paid tribute. Indeed, he had even won over the confidence of one of the Philistine kings, Achish, and had been given the small town of Ziklag. From there he had attacked many of Israel's enemies (the Geshurites, Girzites, Amalekites, etc.) without the knowledge of Achish. After a brief civil war with the northern tribes under King Ishbosheth, David was anointed king over the whole of Israel, and proceeded to attack Jebus (Jerusalem) and make it his capital. This precipitated a new Philistine war and new victories to David. After a series of successful wars against Moab, Ammon, Edom and Aram (see Map 2) David was able to establish a small Israelite Empire on the traditional crossroads between Egypt and Mesopotamia. A brief rebellion by his son Adsalom threatened to destroy the empire for a while but this was successfully put down by David's military commander Joab. By the time David died Israel's borders stretched from the River of Egypt in the south to the Euphrates River in the north.
Without a doubt David was the chief architecht of the Israelite State though he woukd not have been able to do it without ruthless and dedicated military commanders like Joab who more than once saved the kingdom from collapse. At best Saul kept back enemies who were about to overwhelm Israel altogether...permanently. Though leaving Israel under military occupation by a foreign power at his death, it still existed as a nation. So both Saul and David contributed to the establishment of the Israeliote State though David's impact was naturally far greater.
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Updated on 6 August 2009
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