We left Elijah the gates of King Ahab’s palace at Jezreel, which is within the ancient battleground called Armageddon in the Book of Revelation.
But Ahab has a wife, Queen Jezebel, waiting for him, refreshments, and a warm dry bed.
Elijah has no friends here, especially after the slaughter of the 850 royal priests at Carmel. Wet, muddy, and chilled, Elijah is in no shape for his next confrontation — a battle of wills with Jezebel, the brains behind King Ahab.
The queen is furious–as much with Elijah as with Ahab for letting Elijah get the better of him and her prophets, servants of the Phoenician god Baal-Melqart. She could have sent an underling to assassinate Elijah and dispose of his remains before daylight. Instead, she chooses to torment her victim while she prepares an exquisite public humiliation for him
Jezebel sends a messenger to the bedraggled prophet waiting outside Ahab’s palace: “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like one of them.”
Shivering and feverish, Elijah, knows all about Jezebel’s cruelty and the Phoenician practices of human sacrifice. He runs for his life. His fear drives him south, all the way through Israel and Judah. He does not pause to look behind him until he reaches the Negev — the wilderness south of Beersheba.
Jezebel has won her first battle with Elijah. God has not forsaken him, however. He has rescued runaways before and knows how to make something of them.
Just wait and see!
The prophet Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal and Asherah at Mount Carmel ends below in the Kishon Valley. The Kishon (during the rainy season) flows west below the north face of Mt Carmel and within the plain of Esdraelon, the west sector of the ancient battleground of Armageddon.
While Elijah’s confrontation was not a battle in the military sense, his struggle was a battle against 850 false prophets backed by Israel’s King Ahab and his harpy of a queen, the infamous Jezebel.
The struggle came about after three years of drought and famine, which Ahab blamed on Elijah, who replied that Ahab’s idolatry had brought on the drought; He challenged the king to bring his heathen prophets to Mount Carmel.
1 Kings 18:16-45 tells the story of Elijah’s struggle and how the Lord fought for him. It ends in total victory:
“Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench” (verse 38).
The onlookers, people summoned from all over Israel, fell on their faces at beholding the impotence of the false prophets and cried, “The LORD–he is God! The LORD–he is God” (verse 39). Elijah turned the false prophets over to the onlookers and ordered them to take the impostors and slaughter every one in the Kishon Valley.
The narrative does not pinpoint the location of Elijah’s struggle. However, it was just far enough inland from the Great Sea and the peak of Carmel that intervening trees and elevations to be out of Elijah’s sight at the high point where he went to pray for rain. He had to send his servant seven times for a weather report The seventh time, the servant reported the first signs of a rising storm.
As Elijah’s servant went down to warn Ahab of the coming storm, the wind rose and the sky behind him grew black with clouds. Ahab fled east to Jezreel as a blinding rain broke upon him. The rain and mud mired his chariot and frightened his horses, however, while Elijah outran him all the way, about 16 miles, to Ahab’s country palace in Jezreel, close to the the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite (1 Kings 21).
The biblical narrative does not describe Ahab’s reaction at seeing the prophet waiting for him. God has defeated Ahab’s prophets and humiliated him with a storm that was supposed to be under the control of Baal, lord of storms, and now Elijah has outclassed him. Who knows what excuses Ahab makes to Jezebel? Yet 1 Kings 19 records Jezebel’s anger and its effect on Elijah. But that’s another story about Armageddon for another day.
A magnitude 7.2 tremor devastated the Turkish city of Ercis on October 23, 2011. The casualty figure is approaching 250 souls at this time.
Ercis is located in eastern Turkey in the district of Van and on the northeast shore of Lake Van. The area is part of the mountainous region of Anatolia, now divided between Turkey and Armenia. The region lies within a belt of within a belt of active mountain building and volcanism that extends from the Mediterranean region, through Turkey and southern Asia to the circum-Pacific Ring of Fire. This active belt also links to the active fault system running south through Lebanon and the Jordan rift valley to the Red Sea and the East African rift valleys.
The Ercis Earthquake accompanied movement of the Ercis Fault, which runs roughly ENE-WSW along the northeast shore or Lake Van.
Ercis lies about 110 km (70 miles) southwest of Agri Dagi (39° 42′ 0″ N, 44° 16′ 48″ E), elevation 5,165 meters (16,945 ft), which is the traditional Mount Ararat and the target of several hopeful expeditions to recover remains of the Ark.
Agri Dagi itself is a snow-clad strato-volcano that lost its original summit (around 6,000 meters) in a relatively recent explosive eruption. A blister dome has partially filled the resulting asymmetrical summit crater. This late phase of volcanism ended in 1840.
The identification of the mountains of ‘Ararat (Genesis 8:4) with the ancient mountain kingdom of Urartu (2 Kings 19:37) depends on linguistic evidence of its derivation through Assyrian from the Akkadian Urastu. The Urartians named their home Bianili.
The kingdom of Urartu flourished between about 1200 and 575 BC, and extended at its peak southeast into the Caucasus Mountains and east into Iran. Although hostile to Assyria, Urartians adopted Assyrian cuneiform script.
The historian Philostorgius (ca. 425 AD) receives credit for originally placing Noah’s landing site at Agri Dagri on the basis of his research in Constantinople’s libraries. Turkish authorities recognize a nearby site with a more congenial elevation of about 6,000 feet.
Though Solomon was a man of peace–after taking care to establish his kingdom upon his accession to the throne–he took care to strengthen up his father’s army and to fortify Israel.
He never went to war himself, but contrived to have the Egyptian Pharaoh Siamun seize the Canaanite city of Gezer and bestow it on Solomon as a wedding present. The bride was Siamun’s daughter.Solomon acquired a fabulous harem in the practice of this kind of statecraft.
Solomon established twelve military districts throughout Israel and built garrisons for them at strategic locations (1 Kings 4:19-20). He fortified the cities of Megiddo, Hazor, and Gezer, equipping them with horses, chariots and stables (1 Kings 9:15; 0:26-29). Each location gave charioteers room to maneuver.
Archeological remains at Megiddo and the two other sites include monumental gateways with a common plan — three chambers of massive, well-cut masonry on either side of the entry passage. Casemate walls encircle each city. An ancient form of fortification, casemate walls consist of two thick parallel walls joined at intervals by perpendicular walls. The resulting subdivisions provide space for storage, barracks and stables.
Excavations continue at all three sites and show evidence of repeated repair and rebuilding at later dates, confirming the wisdom of the sites’ selection. The fortifications at Megiddo dominate the Aruna Pass, the main pass from the south through the Carmel range to the plains of Esdraelon and Jezreel, which Revelation combines under the name Armageddon.
While Solomon never went to war himself, his kingdom developed internal stresses that divided it soon after his death. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Saul’s story does not end with his death.
- Abner’s portion of the army escaped intact and kept the Philistines from overrunning Israel. Saul of Gibeah had put steel into the wills of his countrymen as well as into their hands.
- The Philistines could not wipe out the memory of Saul’s courage. Saul’s friends at Jabesh Gilead rose up against the Philistines and rescued the remains of Saul and his three sons from the walls of Beth-shan. They gave the broken bodies burial with full honors at the place of their king’s finest victory, under the tamarisk tree outside Jabesh.
- Saul invested his office with an aura that his successor, David, never ceased to respect during his lifetime. Saul overshadowed David during the early years of his kingship to such an extent that he eventually had the last of Saul’s descendants put to death.
- In spite of being repudiated, Saul expanded Israel’s frontiers and economy by initiating it into the Iron Age.
- Unlike David and Samuel, Saul had decent, capable, loyal sons.
You could say that Saul’s decline and eventual debacle at Mt. Gilboa show that he was no better than numerous dictators of the 20th and 21st centuries who began as nominal reformers and ended up as sociopaths. Yet Saul did not initially seek power. It was thrust upon him by a man who let him down. His career shares many elements of classic and Shakespearean tragedy.
Indeed, the more we examine the biblical account and read between the lines, the more we find that Saul’s story has much in common with Shakespeare’s portrayal of King Richard III of England.
History confirms that Richard III was not the murderous, hunchbacked villain depicted by Shakespeare. I don’t claim that King Saul was an enlightened prince in the mold of England’s legendary King Arthur as portrayed by Sir Arthur Malory, but King David’s biographers had at least as much interest in legitimizing David as Shakespeare had in vindicating Richard III’s usurper.
Examine Saul’s history in 1 Samuel and you will find that it contains elements of the hero’s journey in ancient legends. Unfortunately, his descent into paranoia and his murder of Ahijah and the priests of Nob transformed him into the villain in his own tragedy.
Do recall how Samuel warned Israel at Gilgal:
Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart:
for consider how great things he hath done for you.
But if ye shall still do wickedly, ye shall be consumed,
both ye and your king.
1 Samuel 12:24-25
Saul’s paranoia has nearly finished the process of consuming him. With his visit to the witch of Endor, he has abandoned the last of his principles. Samuel has pronounced God’s sentence of death and destruction — tomorrow — at the hands of the Philistines.
Returning to his camp at the Spring of Harod beside Mt Gilboa, has recovered from his collapse after hearing the dreadful verdict. He still has the power of choice, and he resolves to defy the Philistines, Samuel and God by leading the assault in one last battle. He would rather die in battle than endure the shame he has fought to escape all his life. In his decision, he abandons the tactical intelligence that has served him so well before.
You are there: see for your self:
“Brothers, we have won a score of victories in as many years.” Saul said. “Many of you have fought at my side in every battle since Jabesh Gilead. Our enemies will give Israel no rest until we do our utmost to cast them out of our blessed homeland. Fight with me today and hurl them back into the Great Sea. Israel will bless you in the name of the Lord.”
Saul felt fit and eager as if already flushed with the wine of battle. His men seemed to catch his high spirits. They cheered him and pledged to follow him against any foe on earth. “We bless you in the name of the Lord,” they said to him. They laughed among themselves about the clumsiness of the Philistine chariots, and they vied at heaping scorn on the Philistines’ hired archers.
Saul laughed too, and the unseen voices called him onward. He gripped his spear and raised it aloft, saying under his breath, “Hear me, Samuel, you old deceiver: the lords of the Philistines will join you today.”
Saul and Jonathan led their army out by way of the ravine leading from the spring of Harod into the valley of Jezreel. As they reached the valley, Saul saw thin ground fog covering marshy ground on the valley floor. “See, the mist will hide us from the Philistines for a good distance,” he told Jonathan. “We will thrust at the heart of the Philistine camp on the south slopes of the hill of Moreh before anyone can sound an alarm.” He knew the Philistines, still sodden from their carousing, would panic. They always did.
Saul’s men formed ranks after they reached the valley of Jezreel and were approaching the marshy ground in its center of the valley when they heard the sound of oncoming hooves and wheels. “Here they come,” men shouted. Saul looked to the west and saw a column of chariots racing toward them.
The Philistines were waiting for us on this side of the valley!
“Ambush,” Saul shouted. An inner chill told him this would be his last battle. “Get ready. We’ll have to fight our way back to Gilboa.”
The column of chariots sped up and split to attack each flank of Saul’s army before it could retreat to the rocky slopes and ravines of Mount Gilboa. Each charioteer drove to a point barely out of range of Israelite sling stones before wheeling and turning away. As they turned, a pair of foreign archers shot into the Israelite ranks. The foreigners boasted more powerful bows that outranged Saul’s archers and struck hard and deep. Saul’s slingers never had a chance. His bowmen could not hit the swiftly moving targets while arrows poured into their midst.
The archers felled Israelites with every arrow, and the chariot drivers brought their rain of arrows ever closer. Waiting charioteers followed any Hebrew who broke and ran before he could reach the safety of Mount Gilboa. Those of Saul’s men who had body armor huddled behind massed shields and tried to retreat in good order.
Saul rallied his men without pause or heed for himself. He and Jonathan went through the ranks urging every spearman to shield the bowmen while they aimed at the chariots. The fury of helplessness gripped Saul as his younger sons fell, one by one, but Saul could not spare a moment for grief. Instead, he kept urging his soldiers to close ranks and hold off the chariots with spears and bows while they fought their way toward the cover of the rocks and ravines of Gilboa, leaving the fallen behind.
Saul’s efforts and the good aim of a few bowmen kept the charioteers from overrunning the Hebrews at will. Nevertheless, one charioteer drove in close enough for both archers to aim at Saul, who still loomed head and shoulders above the rest. The chariot crashed and overturned amid the frightful screams of horses but an arrow hit Saul in the side, below his ribs, where his mail-clad jerkin had come loose during the fighting.
Saul knew the arrow had gone too deep to pull out. He broke off the shaft and used his spear to haul himself back to his feet. A breath of wind gripped and chilled his heart. He looked for Jonathan to place him in command, but he could not see his son anywhere. A sharper pang than the arrow in his side shook him with the knowledge his son had fallen to the merciless arrows. Jonathan’s death meant Saul’s kingdom must pass to the son of Jesse.
The chariots bearing the archers fell back to give the Philistine foot soldiers their turn to share in the battle before the full heat of the day. Saul felt the ground tremble beneath their pounding feet as they crossed the valley of Jezreel from Moreh, and the whole valley rang to the cadence of their war song. Vultures and crows cast their night-dark shadows on Saul as they gathered and circled overhead.
Saul gasped to his armor bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through before these uncircumcised dogs take me and torment me to death!” He struggled out of his mail tunic and stood leaning on his spear and waiting.
The youth whimpered in fear.
Saul wedged the hilt of his long Philistine battle sword between two bodies and aimed the upturned blade just below his breastbone.
“Fear not, my son,” he told the armor bearer. “The Philistines will never overcome Israel. There is a more worthy man than I, already anointed. He will come forth from the wilderness to lead Israel.”
Shadows and mists floated before Saul’s eyes, and he recognized them as friends waiting to take him across the sea of darkness to join Samuel in the land of shadows.
I have come to the end of my journey. Nobody thought I would come this far. Who am I to look back now?
The first king of Israel let go of his spear. His legs gave way, and the weight of his body carried the sword blade up and into his heart.
To be continued
“So Sha’ul made request of [the LORD], but [the LORD] did not answer him, either through dreams, or through Urim, or through prophets.
So Sha’ul said to his servants: Seek for me a woman, a possessor of ghosts, that I may go to her, that I may consult (the dead) through her.
His servants said to him: Here, (there is) a woman, a possessor of ghosts, at Ein Dor (Endor).
Sha’ul disguised himself, clothing himself in other garments, and then he went, he and two other men with him, and came to the woman at night.”
– 1 Samuel28:6-8, Everett Fox, Give us a King! (1999)
You are there:
Endor lay empty and silent under a moon in its first quarter. “The villagers have fled from the Philistines,” the guide said. He led Saul and Ribai to a stone hut at the edge of the village, stooped at the doorway, and called in a low voice, “Myannu!”
The medium came outside to greet her visitors. Saul had imagined an aged hag. Instead, he saw a plump woman of middle age, robed in a gown of white linen, jasmine-scented, and adorned with Egyptian jewelry. He saw the dull gleam of a golden circlet on her brow and more on her wrists, all wrought in the form of snakes. He supposed the woman must be a courtesan under the protection of the Philistines at Beth-shan. Achish and his army must have left her alone out of respect for her powers.
She tilted her head but said nothing.
“I seek counsel from the grave. Call up the man I shall name,” Saul commanded the medium. His mouth felt dry and his voice had turned husky.
Myannu’s large slanted eyes opened wider in question. She frowned.
“Surely, sir, you know what Saul has done,” she answered with her hand on her breast. “He has cast out of the land all who speak with the dead and all other workers of hidden arts. Would you have me put to death?”
Seeing through the woman’s pretense of innocence, Saul raised his right hand and pledged, “As the Lord lives, you will not be punished for doing this thing.”
Realizing his oath marked him as a Hebrew, Saul slipped a gold bracelet off his arm before she could say a word and held it out to her with a flourish. Myannu took it without smiling or testing its weight and went back inside her dwelling.
Saul took off his helmet, handed his weapons to Ribai, wiped his brow, and stooped to follow her through the doorway. Ribai ordered their guide to keep watch and entered the house after Saul.
By the flickering light of two oil lamps, Saul saw a thin line of dark hairs on the woman’s upper lip. Her eyes shone green, and shadows marched around the white plastered wall.
The medium motioned with her hand to Saul and Ribai to sit on the packed red earthen floor in front of a charcoal brazier placed on a bronze stand wrought in the form of an open lotus blossom. She placed a round wicker basket in front of the brazier, set its lid aside, and sat cross-legged on a pallet beside the brazier.
“Whom shall I bring up for you?” she asked.
Saul whispered, “Bring up Samuel!”
The medium sprinkled a handful of crushed leaves, little by little, over the glowing coals in the brazier. She sang softly to the tune of a reed pipe playing back in the shadows of the house.
Saul felt stifled by the close air of the hut, and the fumes from the brazier made him light-headed and giddy. A movement in the open basket caught his attention.
The broad head of an unfamiliar snake rose slowly out of the darkness of the basket. Its eyes, glittering hard and spiteful like Cush’s, met the eyes of the medium and she held the snake’s gaze with her stare while the unseen piper played on. The snake rose higher on its coils until a forearm’s length stood clear of the basket, swaying slightly, its tongue flickering.
Still charming the cobra with her gaze, Myannu reached slowly forward with one hand to caress it in the ancient rites of the serpent gods of Canaan.
She stopped her hand short of the reptile and shrieked, “Why have you tricked me? You are Saul!”
Saul shivered. The medium stared transfixed at something Saul could not see. The pipe fell silent, and the cobra sank back into its basket. A smell of earth that had never felt the sun or yielded a crop filled the room.
Saul held back a surge of foreboding. “Have no fear,” he croaked. “What do you see?”
“I see a spirit coming up from the earth!”
“What does he look like?”
“An old man of noble bearing, wrapped in a cloak.”
Saul knelt and bowed his face to the ground.
A voice spoke to him, close and yet hollow and far away, strong but worn out with grief.
“Why have you broken my rest?” called the voice of Samuel.
“I am in sore trouble,” Saul said in a husk of a voice. “The Philistines have come up against me, and God has turned away. He no longer answers me by seers or by dreams. I am begging you to tell me what to do.”
“The Lord has indeed turned away from you. He warned you long ago through me. He has torn the kingdom from your grasp and given it to David. You did not obey the commands of the Lord or fully carry out his sentence of death upon Amalek, so you have come to your doom.”
Saul tried to ask Samuel about the coming battle but could not speak.
“The Lord will give both you and Israel over to the Philistines,” Samuel’s voice said. You and your sons will join me tomorrow when the Lord gives the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”
The voice of Samuel trailed off into silence. The medium shrieked, and Saul felt his body slumping as everything went black.
To be continued
“Now It was in those days that the Philistines gathered their encampments into an army, to wage-battle against Israel. …
And the Philistines gathered and came, encamping at Shunem, and Sha’ul gathered all Israel, encamping at Gilbo’a. When Shaul saw the Philistines’ camp, he became-afraid, and his heart trembled exceedingly.”
– 1 Samuel 28:1, 4-5 (Everett Fox, Give us a King!. New York:Schocken Books, 1999)
Imagine the scene with me:
* * *
Saul beckoned to Jonathan, “Come with me and see the great host before us. It numbers at least twice as many as we faced at Michmash.”
Saul led the way from the ravine that sheltered the spring and up Mount Gilboa by a path hidden from enemy eyes. Nearing the crest, Saul signaled Jonathan to keep low. “Don’t show yourself on the skyline; I don’t want the heathens to know where we are.” The two men crawled over the summit to a point where a bush hid them while they studied the scene in the plain of Jezreel.
Across the valley of Jezreel, beyond a belt of marshy ground, the hill of Moreh lay spread out like a large-limbed ass sprawled on its side with its legs toward Saul and Jonathan, stretching itself on the red earth of a good resting place. A low, flat rise lay tucked between its legs like a heap of fodder. The green, oak-clad cone of Mount Tabor rose behind the hill of Moreh, and the ramparts of Galilee and the mountains of Lebanon filled the distance.
Philistine foot soldiers covered a low spur of the hill of Moreh. The Philistine horses and chariots had camped on the plain of Esdraelon, west of Moreh itself, and more foot soldiers kept marching in.
“What a sight,” Jonathan said in awe. “I see two or three times more men than we faced in the Valley of the Terebinths.”
Saul felt his spirits ebb as he watched and counted the masses. When he could bear no more, the two men went back to their camp.
Saul called his leaders to meet him beside the spring of Harod. He described the scene without trying to hide his gloom. “I counted forty squadrons of five chariots—two hundred chariots. They have seven divisions of about a thousand men each, and more keep coming.”
Save for Jonathan, nobody had anything to say in reply.
“A fight against such huge forces can end in only one way,” Saul said to himself, “no matter what plan of attack or defense I choose.”
Jonathan spoke up tactfully. “Our old friend used to tell us about Gideon ben Joash. He and his three hundreds brought down the Midianites in the flower of their strength, and it all came to pass in this very land.”
“Praise the Lord,” said Ahlai of Jabesh Gilead. “He was a son of Manasseh, like us, O king.”
“What of it?” Saul groaned. He gripped his spear with both hands to hide their shaking “That happened a long time ago. Such things don’t happen in our times.”
“Sir, we have beaten the Philistines many times,” Jonathan reminded Saul and the gathering, “especially at Michmash Pass and the Valley of the Terebinths.”
Saul sat and looked down rather than meet Jonathan’s gaze. “My days are numbered now, and my end is near.”
“Who counts your days, my lord king?” Ahlai asked. “Achish–the base-born son of Maoch or the Lord of Israel?”
“The Lord gave Gideon a plan of battle,” Jonathan said. “Will he not do as much for Israel if we ask him?”
The leaders of the hundreds supported Jonathan, Ribai, and Ahlai with one voice. “Yes, please enquire of the Lord as you did before the battle of Michmash,” they urged Saul. “If the Lord of Battles will only fight once more on the side of Israel, then we must surely prevail. If not, then let every man return to his own house in peace.”
“But we don’t have the golden ephod with the Urim and Thummim,” Saul said.
The reproachful look on Jonathan’s face reminded Saul that everyone knew why they had no priest or ephod.
Jonathan asked again. “Don’t the priests have a way of casting lots before the Lord, Father? Surely we can make an offering and do the same, can we not?”
Saul knew better. “Samuel rebuked me at Michmash for ordering a sacrifice before he came. He could not keep us from winning a victory, but he brought trouble upon me that day.”
“Samuel cannot trouble anyone now,” Abner said.
“Then what is to keep us from asking the Lord?” Jonathan asked. The others murmured in agreement.
Saul shrugged and spread his hands. “Let it be on your own heads,” he warned. He had had enough of such things ever since Samuel had rebuked him. They now seemed like a waste of good cattle and sheep. He asked himself if a dream might tell him more. He had to have an idea of what to do to find a way to live and win the day.
Jonathan and the leaders of the hundreds left to conduct their rites. Saul went to sit by the spring-fed stream and dipped his hand into the water to bathe his brow. A splash of cool water on his face always helped him think. His head hurt and he had not eaten all day.
* * *
(to be continued)
The next recorded battle on the plain known in Revelation as Armageddon was the last battle fought by King Saul against the Philistines.
The Philistines occupied the city of Beth Shan at the east end of the Plain of Jezreel. The location controls passage from the plain across the Jordan and thus affected trade and travel between Egypt, Syria, Phoenicia, and Mesopotamia. How and when they took the city from the Egyptians or Canaanites is anybody’s guess, but perhaps they took it from the Canaanites during the 12th Century BC at a time when Israel’s tribes could not take the city. The Philistines built a chain of at least three forts on a route crossing Benjamite territory. Their occupation followed their defeat of Israel at Aphek, recorded in 1 Samuel 4. Israel, in turn, defeated the Philistines about twenty years later in a battle at Mizpah (1 Samuel 7) but did not dislodge the Philistines from Beth Shan or their outposts in Benjamite territory.
That situation contributed to Israel’s request for a king ( 1 Samuel 8). Samuel, Israel’s prophet and judge who led the Israelites in battle at Mizpah, disagreed but relented when God told him, “Listen to them and give them a king” (1 Samuel 8:22). Samuel delayed acting on the request until Saul came to his home while returning from a fruitless search for his father’s lost donkeys.
Saul knew nothing about Samuel, despite the fact that his home in Gibeah lay only five miles from Samuel’s home at Ramah. The best explanation is that Philistine occupation of Gibeah, confirmed by remains of their fort, had kept Gibeah and Saul isolated from Ramah. Though tall and handsome, someone who could lose a string of expensive donkeys and not track them down in three days seems about as well qualified to lead Israel as Gideon was in his time. Samuel gave Saul the job anyway.
Israel ratified the appointment and Saul went to work despite Samuel’s interference and lack of cooperation. To his credit Saul achieved victories against the Philistines, Ammonites and Amalekites. Running afoul of Samuel, however, led Saul into jealousy, paranoia and isolation after Samuel secretly anointed a successor–David, son of Jesse of Bethlehem.
The Bible does not tell us why the Philistines chose to gather their forces to fight Israel at this particular time and place. Achish, the new leader of their confederacy of five cities, had had time to consolidate his power since Saul’s defeat of his predecessor, Maoch. We may guess he amassed new chariots and introduced new tactics for fighting Israel’s light infantry in the hill country. Above all, he had to protect his trade routes to the east by way of Beth Shan from Israelite raids.
In any case, the Philistines set up camp at Shunem in the neighborhood close to the point where Jabin of Hazor brought his Canaanite forces against Deborah and Barak a few generations earlier. Saul, like previous Israelite armies, camped beside the spring of Harod at Mt. Gilboa.