“Saul and the men of Israel were gathered…”
I Samuel 17 is recording a war between the Philistine peoples of the southwestern coastal plain of Canaan and the Israelites who occupied the interior of Canaan between the coastal plain and the Jordan River valley. Conservative Biblical scholars use the approximate timeline below for Israel’s history in Canaan before I Samuel 17:
- 1446 BC – Exodus from Egypt by Israel led by Moses
- 1406 BC – Crossing of Jordan River and conquest of Canaan begins under Joshua
- 1396 BC – End of Book of Joshua
- 1396-1050 BC – Death of Joshua and Period of the Book of Judges
- 1050 BC – Saul crowned King of Israel by Samuel
- 1024 BC – 27th year of Saul’s reign; Israel’s army faces the Philistines at the Elah Valley
(It is an interesting and complex study to put together a definitive timeline for this period. I’ve enjoyed www.thesacredcalendar.com on the Conquest of Canaan, “Archeology’s Lost Conquest” at www.answersingenesis.com, and the chronological timeline of David’s interaction with Saul at www.biblia.com in trying to figure these dates out.)
It’s important to know that Joshua’s conquest had failed to capture the lands occupied by the Philistines. This is noted in Joshua 13:1-2. Part of that territory was apportioned to the Tribe of Judah, but they could not conquer the Philistines (Judges 1:18-19); the Tribe of Dan who received the remainder of the Philistine territory also failed to take it (Judges 1:34), and eventually abandoned their allotted tribal land altogether and moved to the far northern part of Canaan (Judges 18). (See a good map of this at www.bible.ca.)
Israel was afflicted numerous times by the nations around them during the roughly 350 years of the Judges. This came about as a result of their own unfaithfulness and idolatry combined with attacks from those they had failed to subdue or destroy during and after the Conquest. By the days of Samuel almost all the nations surrounding them had their own kings and armies. Plus they had recently suffered two painful defeats at the hands of the Philistines (I Samuel 4). Later, it took God’s direct intervention to prevent another catastrophe at their hands (I Samuel 7). Not trusting Jehovah’s watchful care over them, and seeing that Samuel was growing old, they demanded a king like the other nations. Saul, son of Kish, from the Tribe of Benjamin was chosen, and the Lord directed Samuel to anoint him as king.
By I Samuel 17, Saul had reigned about 27 years. He has been often at war against the nations on every side (I Samuel 11; 14:47-48) including the Philistines (I Samuel 14:1-23). I Samuel 14:52 even says, “All the days of Saul there was bitter war with the Philistines….”
Our image comes from The Art Bible, published in 1896 and made available in the article on the “Philistines” at www.wikipedia.org.