THE GOLDEN CENTURY
In the excited crowds leaving Mizpeh after the anointing of Saul, there was tremendous relief that Israel had at last a visible champion against the ever-encroaching Philistines. There was considerable worldly rejoicing also at the prospect of royal pageantry to vie with the envied city-kings of Canaan, and there was glowing admiration of the tall, good looking young king, although some scoffed at the thought of an untested leader.
The Prophet Samuel watched the celebration with a heavy heart. Israel had embarked on the most glamorous period of her history but had turned her back on the protection of her God. Only the very wise could see the pitfalls that worldly pomp and power would strew in her path.
The glory of the new kingdom was not to be reached in a day. The basically democratic Israelites had no equipment for royalty, no palace, no chariots, no standing army to do the king's bidding. Samuel sent Saul with a small band of loyal men back to his accustomed chores on his father's farm.
However the new king's exalted office was soon to claim him. About eighty kilometers northward and east of Jordan a vicious group of Ammonites laid siege to the Israelite city of Jabesh-Gilead, and the desperate city chieftains sent an urgent cry for help to Saul.
It would take more than a call to arms to handle this emergency! Saul took his yoke of oxen, cut them to pieces and sent those pieces throughout the land by messengers proclaiming,
Whosoever cometh not forth after Saul and after Samuel, so
shall it be done unto his oxen. (I Samuel 11:7)
The men of Israel rushed to their king's call. Backed by this mighty army, using the old Israelite tactics of moving swiftly while the enemy slept, Saul sped to Jabesh-Gilead and soundly defeated the Ammonite forces.
Saul had proved himself a worthy leader. In a great surge of triumph, the warriors gathered in Gilgal for sacrifices and peace offerings to the Lord, and to reaffirm Saul's anointing. After the festivities Samuel called the people together, and from the days
of Jacob to the present victory he rehearsed the goodness of God to his people. Then he pronounced the warning which he so deeply felt was needed:
If ye will fear the Lord, and serve Him, and obey his voice,
...then shall both ye and also the king that reigneth over you
continue following the Lord: But if ye shall do wickedly, ye shall
be consumed, both ye and your king. (I Samuel 12:14,25)
To prove that the warning was divinely authentic Samuel prayed for thunder and rain, and the storm which ensued brought fear of the Lord and of Samuel to the hearts of the Israelites.
The people prepared a house for their king in Gibeah, about six kilometers north of Jebus-Salem which was still in Jebusite hands. More fort than palace, the new building, though large, was simply constructed of stone, the walls nearly two and a half meters thick with stone stairs to the upper floor. The royal establishment was supported by gifts, as was the still primitive army.
The sophisticated Philistines had long used iron implements for farming and for war but they had shrewdly prevented the setting up of forges in the hills and prices were exorbitant on the coast to any Israelite whose rare iron axe or plowshare might need repairs. Among Israel's warriors only Saul and his son Jonathan had swords and spears of iron to match those of the Philistines.