Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned for forty-two years.
Saul selected three thousand special troops from the army of Israel and sent the rest of the men home. He took two thousand of the chosen men with him to Micmash and the hill country of Bethel. The other thousand went with Saul's son Jonathan to Gibeah in the land of Benjamin.
Soon after this, Jonathan attacked and defeated the garrison of Philistines at Geba. The news spread quickly among the Philistines that Israel was in revolt, so Saul sounded the call to arms throughout Israel.
He announced that the Philistine garrison at Geba had been destroyed, and he warned the people that the Philistines now hated the Israelites more than ever. So the entire Israelite army mobilized again and met Saul at Gilgal.
The Philistines mustered a mighty army of three thousand chariots, six thousand horsemen, and as many warriors as the grains of sand along the seashore! They camped at Micmash east of Beth-aven.
When the men of Israel saw the vast number of enemy troops, they lost their nerve entirely and tried to hide in caves, holes, rocks, tombs, and cisterns.
Some of them crossed the Jordan River and escaped into the land of Gad and Gilead. Meanwhile, Saul stayed at Gilgal, and his men were trembling with fear.
Saul waited there seven days for Samuel, as Samuel had instructed him earlier, but Samuel still didn't come. Saul realized that his troops were rapidly slipping away.
So he demanded, "Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!" And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself.
Just as Saul was finishing with the burnt offering, Samuel arrived. Saul went out to meet and welcome him,
but Samuel said, "What is this you have done?"Saul replied, "I saw my men scattering from me, and you didn't arrive when you said you would, and the Philistines are at Micmash ready for battle.
So I said, 'The Philistines are ready to march against us, and I haven't even asked for the LORD's help!' So I felt obliged to offer the burnt offering myself before you came."
"How foolish!" Samuel exclaimed. "You have disobeyed the command of the LORD your God. Had you obeyed, the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.
But now your dynasty must end, for the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart. The LORD has already chosen him to be king over his people, for you have not obeyed the LORD's command."
Samuel then left Gilgal and went on his way, but the rest of the troops went with Saul to meet the army. They went up from Gilgal to Gibeah in the land of Benjamin. When Saul counted the men who were still with him, he found only six hundred left!
Saul and Jonathan and the troops with them were staying at Geba, near Gibeah, in the land of Benjamin. The Philistines set up their camp at Micmash.
Three raiding parties soon left the camp of the Philistines. One went north toward Ophrah in the land of Shual,
another went west to Beth-horon, and the third moved toward the border above the valley of Zeboim near the wilderness.
There were no blacksmiths in the land of Israel in those days. The Philistines wouldn't allow them for fear they would make swords and spears for the Hebrews.
So whenever the Israelites needed to sharpen their plowshares, picks, axes, or sickles, they had to take them to a Philistine blacksmith.
(The schedule of charges was as follows: a quarter of an ounce of silver for sharpening a plowshare or a pick, and an eighth of an ounce for sharpening an ax, a sickle, or an ox goad.)
So none of the people of Israel had a sword or spear, except for Saul and Jonathan.
The pass at Micmash had meanwhile been secured by a contingent of the Philistine army.
One day Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, "Come on, let's go over to where the Philistines have their outpost." But Jonathan did not tell his father what he was doing.
Meanwhile, Saul and his six hundred men were camped on the outskirts of Gibeah, around the pomegranate tree at Migron.
(Among Saul's men was Ahijah the priest, who was wearing the linen ephod. Ahijah was the son of Ahitub, Ichabod's brother. Ahitub was the son of Phinehas and the grandson of Eli, the priest of the LORD who had served at Shiloh.) No one realized that Jonathan had left the Israelite camp.
To reach the Philistine outpost, Jonathan had to go down between two rocky cliffs that were called Bozez and Seneh.
The cliff on the north was in front of Micmash, and the one on the south was in front of Geba.
"Let's go across to see those pagans," Jonathan said to his armor bearer. "Perhaps the LORD will help us, for nothing can hinder the LORD. He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few!"
"Do what you think is best," the youth replied. "I'm with you completely, whatever you decide."
"All right then," Jonathan told him. "We will cross over and let them see us.
If they say to us, 'Stay where you are or we'll kill you,' then we will stop and not go up to them.
But if they say, 'Come on up and fight,' then we will go up. That will be the LORD's sign that he will help us defeat them."
When the Philistines saw them coming, they shouted, "Look! The Hebrews are crawling out of their holes!"
Then they shouted to Jonathan, "Come on up here, and we'll teach you a lesson!" "Come on, climb right behind me," Jonathan said to his armor bearer, "for the LORD will help us defeat them!"
So they climbed up using both hands and feet, and the Philistines fell back as Jonathan and his armor bearer killed them right and left.
They killed about twenty men in all, and their bodies were scattered over about half an acre.
Suddenly, panic broke out in the Philistine army, both in the camp and in the field, including even the outposts and raiding parties. And just then an earthquake struck, and everyone was terrified.
Saul's lookouts in Gibeah saw a strange sight -- the vast army of Philistines began to melt away in every direction.
"Find out who isn't here," Saul ordered. And when they checked, they found that Jonathan and his armor bearer were gone.
Then Saul shouted to Ahijah, "Bring the ephod here!" For at that time Ahijah was wearing the ephod in front of the Israelites.
But while Saul was talking to the priest, the shouting and confusion in the Philistine camp grew louder and louder. So Saul said to Ahijah, "Never mind; let's get going!"
Then Saul and his six hundred men rushed out to the battle and found the Philistines killing each other. There was terrible confusion everywhere.
Even the Hebrews who had gone over to the Philistine army revolted and joined in with Saul, Jonathan, and the rest of the Israelites.
Likewise, the men who were hiding in the hills joined the chase when they saw the Philistines running away.
So the LORD saved Israel that day, and the battle continued to rage even out beyond Beth-aven.
Now the men of Israel were worn out that day, because Saul had made them take an oath, saying, "Let a curse fall on anyone who eats before evening -- before I have full revenge on my enemies." So no one ate a thing all day,
even though they found honeycomb on the ground in the forest.
They didn't even touch the honey because they all feared the oath they had taken.
But Jonathan had not heard his father's command, and he dipped a stick into a piece of honeycomb and ate the honey. After he had eaten it, he felt much better.
But one of the men saw him and said, "Your father made the army take a strict oath that anyone who eats food today will be cursed. That is why everyone is weary and faint."
"My father has made trouble for us all!" Jonathan exclaimed. "A command like that only hurts us. See how much better I feel now that I have eaten this little bit of honey.
If the men had been allowed to eat freely from the food they found among our enemies, think how many more we could have killed!"
But hungry as they were, they chased and killed the Philistines all day from Micmash to Aijalon, growing more and more faint.
That evening they flew upon the battle plunder and butchered the sheep, cattle, and calves, but they ate them without draining the blood.
Someone reported to Saul, "Look, the men are sinning against the LORD by eating meat that still has blood in it." "That is very wrong," Saul said. "Find a large stone and roll it over here.
Then go out among the troops and tell them, 'Bring the cattle and sheep here to kill them and drain the blood. Do not sin against the LORD by eating meat with the blood still in it.'" So that night all the troops brought their animals and slaughtered them there.
And Saul built an altar to the LORD, the first one he had ever built.
Then Saul said, "Let's chase the Philistines all night and destroy every last one of them." His men replied, "We'll do whatever you think is best." But the priest said, "Let's ask God first."
So Saul asked God, "Should we go after the Philistines? Will you help us defeat them?" But God made no reply that day.
Then Saul said to the leaders, "Something's wrong! I want all my army commanders to come here. We must find out what sin was committed today.
I vow by the name of the LORD who rescued Israel that the sinner will surely die, even if it is my own son Jonathan!" But no one would tell him what the trouble was.
Then Saul said, "Jonathan and I will stand over here, and all of you stand over there." And the people agreed.
Then Saul prayed, "O LORD, God of Israel, please show us who is guilty and who is innocent. Are Jonathan and I guilty, or is the sin among the others?" And Jonathan and Saul were chosen as the guilty ones, and the people were declared innocent.
Then Saul said, "Now choose between me and Jonathan." And Jonathan was shown to be the guilty one.
"Tell me what you have done," Saul demanded of Jonathan." I tasted a little honey," Jonathan admitted. "It was only a little bit on the end of a stick. Does that deserve death?"
"Yes, Jonathan," Saul said, "you must die! May God strike me dead if you are not executed for this."
But the people broke in and said to Saul, "Should Jonathan, who saved Israel today, die? Far from it! As surely as the LORD lives, not one hair on his head will be touched, for he has been used of God to do a mighty miracle today." So the people rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.
Then Saul called back the army from chasing the Philistines, and the Philistines returned home.
Now when Saul had secured his grasp on Israel's throne, he fought against his enemies in every direction -- against Moab, Ammon, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. And wherever he turned, he was victorious.
He did great deeds and conquered the Amalekites, saving Israel from all those who had plundered them.
Saul's sons included Jonathan, Ishbosheth, and Malkishua. He also had two daughters: Merab, who was older, and Michal.
Saul's wife was Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz. The commander of Saul's army was his cousin Abner, his uncle Ner's son.
Abner's father, Ner, and Saul's father, Kish, were brothers; both were sons of Abiel.
The Israelites fought constantly with the Philistines throughout Saul's lifetime. So whenever Saul saw a young man who was brave and strong, he drafted him into his army.
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved. (New Living Translation - The Bible Online)