The wars of Saul
The First Book of Samuel gives the account of the rise of Saul to be the first King of Israel. Rather it gives three accounts, in three successive chapters. Saul is described as being from the rebuilt town of Gibeah, a member of the Tribe of Benjamin, anointed by Samuel in the first description. In the second Saul is named King by Samuel at a gathering of the tribes held in Mizpah, an appointment not received happily by several of the tribes. In the third Saul forms and leads an army against the Ammonites to victory, and is proclaimed the King of Israel in the aftermath of this victory. His first act as king was to order the punishment of those who opposed him to receive the crown.
Saul, according to First Samuel, conducted military operations against the Ammonites, Edomites, Moabites, Philistines, and others as King of Israel, achieving victory in each of his campaigns. During his campaign against the Philistines, he forced his troops to fast during the day, rather than allowing them to stop on the march and eat, fearful of allowing the Philistines to gain ground during the march. This weakens his forces and slows them down, but a group of Israelite troops under Jonathan were unaware of the order to fast, and were successful in defeating the Philistines, having eaten honey on the march.
Under the law, Jonathan was liable to be put to death for violating an oath of which he was unaware, but he was spared due to his popularity among the people following his victory. Saul’s authority was further eroded after he was ordered by Samuel to exterminate the Amalekites and “blot out the remembrance of Amelek from under heavenâ¦” Saul killed all of the Amalekites but their king and did not destroy their livestock. Samuel learned of Saul’s failure to obey and informed him that God rejected Saul as king. Samuel killed the Amalekite king himself, after telling Saul that the kingdom would be taken from him.
A new Philistine Army invaded Israel, and Saul and his army met them, with Saul hoping a victory over the Philistines would consolidate his kingdom. When the Philistines challenged a single combat, with Goliath as their champion, Saul summoned the young shepherd David of the House of Judah as the Israelite’s champion. After David slew Goliath his popularity grew to rival that of Saul, despite several victories of the Israelites over the Philistines, victories in which David took part in increasingly important roles. The relationship between the two grew complex and when Saul led yet another army against the Philistines David was not present.
The Philistines and Israelites faced each other at the Battle of Mount Gilboa, before which Saul consulted the Witch of Endor, according to the biblical account, and Saul learned from a channeled Samuel that God had rejected him, and that his prayers went unheard. Samuel told Saul that he would lose the battle and his life. The Israelites were crushed at the battle, and though there are conflicting accounts of Saul’s death as the Israelites fled, he was beheaded by the Philistines and his head, as well as those of his sons, were put on display.