The Battle of Elah
1 Samuel 17:1-27
Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and were gathered together at Shochoh, which belongs to Judah…

While the Philistines were posted on the stony hills covered with brushwood which bounded the valley on the south, Saul and his army were posted on a similar stony ridge on its northern side. The valley, one of the most fertile in Palestine, was, at the scene of the conflict, about half a mile broad, with a torrent bed in the centre, which had been scooped out by the winter floods. This is apparently the gal or valley referred be in verse third. It is about ten feet deep, and twenty to thirty feet wide, and abounds in water-rounded pebbles. Major Conder declares it to be impassable, except at certain places, thus explaining why the two armies faced one another for forty days without coming into actual conflict. Either party was afraid to cross the defile, thereby exposing itself to serious disadvantage; and so they confined themselves to warlike demonstrations. The abject terror of Saul and his mighty men excites within us little or no surprise; but it is otherwise with regard to the brave and lionhearted Jonathan. To encounter Goliath in single combat, was not a more dangerous or formidable undertaking than that which he had once before successfully attempted at Michmash, when he and his armour bearer boldly stormed the garrison of the Philistines, which was but the outpost of an immense army. Why did he not come to the front on this occasion? It might be said that his father would not allow him. And if Jonathan had offered himself as the champion of Israel there can be little doubt that Saul would have been most unwilling to accept him; but there is nothing in the narrative to suggest that Jonathan made such a proposal. The impression made by the narrative is that abject terror reigned throughout the entire army. Neither was it due to any decline in Jonathan's piety and faith. It is gratuitous to suppose that he had become contaminated and lowered in moral tone, by the unbelieving and disobedient spirit of his father. I am inclined to think, from the noble spirit subsequently displayed by Jonathan, that as an individual he was now fitter in every respect, physically, intellectually, morally, and spiritually, for fighting the battles of the Lord, than he was when he wrought his great exploit at Michmash. He still believed, probably with a stronger faith than ever, that the Lord was able to save by many or by few; but he lacked the assurance, which he then had, viz., that the Lord was willing to save through him. Without that conviction he never would have attempted What he did at Michmash. It was only after God had fulfilled the proposed sign that Jonathan said to his armour bearer: "Come up after me, for the Lord hath delivered them into the hand of Israel." But he had not that assurance now. The dark cloud of the Divine rejection, which had fallen upon his father at Gilgal, had encompassed him also, and darkened his spirit with its baleful shadow. It deprived him not, only of the heirship to the kingdom, but also of the golden opportunity of fighting in the name of the Lord of hosts, with the proud giant of Gath. The period during which Goliath was permitted to defy the hosts of Israel was forty days. The frequency with which this period occurs in connection with special incidents in sacred history is remarkable and suggestive. It rained, e.g., forty days at the deluge (Genesis 7:4, 12). Moses on two occasions was forty days with God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:18; Exodus 34:28). The intercession of Moses on behalf of the people to avert from them the Divine wrath, on account of their sin in worshipping the golden calf, lasted forty days (Deuteronomy 9:25). The twelve spies were absent forty days during their inspection of the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:25); and because of the rebellion, caused by their evil report, the children of Israel were doomed to wander in the wilderness forty years, corresponding to the forty days spent in the work of inspection (Numbers 14:34). Elijah went, in the strength of the food which he received from the angel in the wilderness of Beersheba, forty days unto Horeb, the mount of God (1 Kings 19:8). The period of respite which was assigned to Nineveh was forty days, as Jonah was commissioned to preach in its streets: "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed" (John 3:4). The temptation of our Lord in the wilderness lasted forty days (Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2). And the fact that Saul and his army were subjected to the challenge of Goliath for forty days, seems to show that there was a Divine purpose in permitting it to last so long. The forty days seem to suggest the thoroughness or completeness of the trial. The impotence of Saul and his army without God was thereby clearly and conclusively demonstrated. It was only after this humiliating demonstration that the Lord brought into the field His own champion. "Man's extremity is God's opportunity."

(T. Kirk.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle, and were gathered together at Shochoh, which belongeth to Judah, and pitched between Shochoh and Azekah, in Ephesdammim.

WEB: Now the Philistines gathered together their armies to battle; and they were gathered together at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephesdammim.

Israel Smitten with Fear
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