Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 1 Samuel 31:1
Mount Gilboa rises 1627 feet (496 m) above the Jezreel Valley. Jezreel was the site of numerous battles in Scripture and there is at least one more in its future.
In the last battle of King Saul’s long career as a warrior, Israel faced its longtime enemy, the Philistines. A few chapters earlier we see that the enemy was camped at Shunem (28:4) home of the widow Elijah will encounter several hundred years later. Shunem was in the heart of Israel and the Philistine army had been able to make its way there unchallenged.
While a long character study of Saul would be insightful, it is beyond the scope of this post. The bottom line is Saul had rejected God’s commands for most of his reign. Now in this critical moment, God did not hear Saul’s prayers for courage, for comfort, for deliverance from his enemies. Saul consulted with the witch at Endor whose dire predictions proved accurate.
So what happened at Gilboa?
Reckoning – Saul’s years of disobedience resulted in God rejecting him as king. Saul’s relentless fixation on David caused him to ignore the real threat to his kingdom. Now a huge Philistine army camped in the middle of his country. All the poor decisions he had that seemingly had no consequences manifested themselves on that mountain in that battle. His army fled, his sons were killed, and eventually Saul lost his own life. If we choose to live in rebellion, disobedience or even disregard toward God, we will face a reckoning as well.
Desperation – Saul was terrified. Frantic. Shaking with fear. Out of that fear, he did something desperate (and foolish). He left the camp and traveled seventeen miles, exposing himself to the Philistines and breaking the clear law of God to consult with a witch about the coming battle. Fear drives us to desperate, foolish things, too. Sometimes it prompts to look for help and advice from sources that are counter to God.
Defeat – It was no great surprise that the armies of Israel were routed that day. There was no confession and consecration. There was no reliance on God and His power. They fought the battle on their own merits, in their own strength and the results speak for themselves. It is also important to note that Israel placed its trust in a leader who had chosen to ignore the counsel of God. They paid a heavy price for that decision. We too, will fight battles in our own strength or follow bad leaders and end up suffering the consequences.
Mountains are usually associated with great things, with victories and with revelations. We’ll even look at a few more like that, but the lesson of Gilboa is that when the self overshadows God, bad things happen and in the case of this battle, others suffer along with us.
What didn’t happen at Gilboa was perhaps more significant than what did. Saul never recognized what was actually going on, that he was reaping the harvest of his rejection of God. He also never repented. Up until the very end, he tried to do things his own way. May we help redeem Saul’s story by learning from him.
Next week: Carmel