Ellen G. White Writings

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The Signs of the Times

August 10, 1882

Victory at Michmash

By Mrs. E. G. White

The energy and military skill displayed by Saul in the victory of Jabesh-gilead were extolled by the whole nation. In their enthusiasm the people forgot that he was but the agent by whom the Lord had wrought for their deliverance. And though at first the king ascribed the glory to God, he afterward took honor to himself. When first called to the throne, he was humble and self-distrustful; but success made him self-confident, and ere long he was guilty of presumption and sacrilege, in offering the unbidden sacrifice at Gilgal.

The same blind self-confidence led him to reject Samuel's message of reproof. Saul acknowledged Samuel to be a prophet sent from God. Hence he should have accepted the reproof, even though he could not himself see that he had sinned. Such a course, showing a willingness to be set right, would have gone far to re-instate him in the favor of God. But Saul endeavored to vindicate his own course, and blamed the prophet, instead of condemning himself.

There are today many who pursue a similar course. Like Saul, they are blinded to their errors. When the Lord seeks to correct them, they receive reproof as insult, and find fault with the one who brings the divine message.

Had Saul been willing to see and confess his error, this bitter experience would have proved a safeguard for the future. He would afterward have avoided the mistakes which called forth divine reproof. But feeling that he was unjustly condemned, he would, of course, be likely again to commit the same sin.

The Lord would have his people, under all circumstances, manifest implicit trust in him. Although we cannot always understand the workings of his providence, we should wait with patience and humility until he sees fit to enlighten us. We should beware of taking upon ourselves responsibilities which God has not authorized us to bear. Men frequently have too high an estimate of their own character or abilities. They may feel competent to undertake the most important work, when God sees that they are not prepared to perform aright the smallest and humblest duty.

Saul was in disfavor with God, and yet unwilling to humble his heart in penitence. He desired to devise some plan by which to establish more firmly his royal authority, as well as to revive the courage of the people. What he lacked in real piety, he would endeavor to make up in pretension and display. Saul was familiar with the terrible history of Israel's defeat when the ark of God was brought into the camp by Hophni and Phinehas; and yet, knowing all this, he determined to send for the sacred ark and its attendant priests.

With a spirit of exultation he enters upon the accomplishment of his plans. He hopes to inspire the hearts of Israel with fresh courage, to reassemble his scattered army, and to vanquish the Philistines. He will now dispense with Samuel's presence and support, and thus free himself from the prophet's disagreeable criticisms and severe reproofs. He feels that Samuel does not rightly appreciate the position and authority of a king, and hence does not treat him with proper respect. He expects that Ahiah the priest will be awed by royal dignity, and will readily yield to the king as to a superior.

The Holy Spirit had been granted to Saul to enlighten his understanding and soften his heart. He had received faithful instruction and reproof from the prophet of God. And yet how great his perversity! The history of Israel's first king presents a sad example of the power of early wrong habits. In his youth, Saul did not love and fear God; and that impetuous spirit, not early trained to submission, was ever ready to rebel against divine authority.

The lesson is one which all would do well to ponder. Men cannot for years abuse the noblest powers which God has given them for his service, and then, when they choose to change, find these powers fresh and free for an entirely opposite course. Those who in early life cherish a sacred regard for the authority of God, and who faithfully perform the duties of their position, will be prepared for higher service in after years. If we would conquer in the battle of life, we must take counsel of infinite wisdom, first and last and always.

Saul's efforts to inspire the people with hope and courage proved unavailing. Finding his force reduced to six hundred men, he left Gilgal, and retired to the fortress at Geba, so lately taken from the Philistines. This stronghold was situated on the south side of a deep, rugged valley, or gorge, a few miles north of the site of Jerusalem. On the north side of the same valley, at Michmash, the Philistine force lay encamped, while detachments of troops went out in different directions to ravage the country.

On the one hand was a little company of almost unarmed men, on the other, vast numbers of well-drilled troops, with their thirty thousand chariots of iron. What marvel that the hearts of the men of Israel were filled with fear! God had permitted matters to be thus brought to a crisis, that he might rebuke the perversity of Saul, and teach his people a lesson of humility and faith.

Jonathan, the king's son, a man who feared God, was chosen as the instrument to deliver Israel. Moved by a divine impulse, he proposed to his armor-bearer that they should make a secret attack upon the enemy's camp. “It may be,” he urged, “that the Lord will work for us; for there is no restraint to the Lord to work by many or by few.”

The armor-bearer, a man of faith and prayer, encouraged the design, and together they withdrew from the camp of Israel, secretly, lest their purpose should be opposed as presumptuous. With earnest prayer to the Guide of their fathers, they agreed upon a sign by which they might determine how to proceed. Then passing down into the gorge separating the two armies, and which here stretched out to half a mile in width, they silently threaded their way, under the shadow of the cliff, and partially concealed by the mounds and ridges of the valley. Approaching the Philistine fortress, they were revealed to the view of their enemies, who said tauntingly, “Behold, the Hebrews come forth out of the holes where they have hid themselves,” then challenged them, “Come up, and we will show you a thing,” meaning that they would punish the two Israelites for their daring.

This challenge was the token which Jonathan and his companion had previously agreed to accept as evidence that the Lord would prosper their undertaking. Passing now from the sight of the Philistines, and choosing a secret and difficult path, the warriors made their way to the summit of a cliff before deemed inaccessible, and therefore not very strongly guarded. Thus they penetrated the enemy's camp, and slew the sentinels, who were so overcome by surprise and fear as to offer no resistance.

The whole army was seized with consternation, which was increased by an earthquake miraculously occurring at the same time. The Philistines imagined that a vast army was upon them, and in their confusion they began to slay one another.

Soon the noise of the battle was heard in the camp of Israel. Upon inquiry it was found that none were absent but Jonathan and his armor-bearer. Saul at first desired to consult the Lord as to whether an attack should be made upon the Philistines; but the confusion among them evidently increasing, his impatient spirit could not brook delay. Marshaling his little force, he advanced against the enemy. The Hebrews who had deserted to the Philistines, now joined their fellow country-men; great numbers also came out of their lurking-places, and as the Philistines fled, discomfited, Saul's army committed terrible havoc upon the fugitives.

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