In 1 Samuel chapter 4, we read about a terrible defeat that Israel’s army suffered about 80 years earlier. Then, 30,000 men from Israel died in a single day. On that same day, Israel’s chief priest and both his sons also died. We hoped never to read of such a terrible incident again.
Here, just before we finish the Book of 1 Samuel, we read about another terrible battle like that one. On this occasion, there is no record of the number of people who died. Perhaps nobody even tried to count all the dead bodies. Also, King Saul and three of his sons died in the battle.
In both of those battles, the army that won was from Philistia. The result of the first battle was that for about 20 years, Philistia’s army controlled Israel. However, that did not happen after the later battle. Instead, Philistia’s people merely took temporary possession of a few towns on the agricultural land of central Israel.
Nor did Philistia become a strong nation after this battle. It was Israel, under King David, that became the strong nation. In the battles in the Book of 2 Samuel, Philistia does not even seem an especially important enemy for David. There are just a few brief mentions of battles against Philistia (2 Samuel 5:17-25; 2 Samuel 21:15-22; 2 Samuel 23:8-12).
The Bible’s explanation of such events is that, in the end, God rules the world. He allows nations to rule for a temporary period, and then he takes away their power. Only the king whom he has chosen, called the Christ or Messiah, will rule for ever (1 Samuel 2:6-10; Daniel 4:34).
In 1 Samuel chapter 31, God allowed Philistia’s army to defeat Israel as an act of judgement. He was removing the authority from Saul and his wicked government. He was establishing the rule of David, whom he (God) had chosen to be Israel’s king.
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© 2014, Keith Simons.