The Ark of the Covenant
According to Ibn ‘Asaker, the Israelites believed their Ark of the Covenant to be very holy and an important symbol of their history. The carried the Ark even in battle and believed that, because of it, Allah would protect them from their enemies. This belief gave them peace of mind and great courage, and their enemies were terrified by it. Their enemies also believed that it was given special power by Allah. Gradually the Israelites started to ignore Allah’s law; evil habits became part of their lives. Allah sent upon them an enemy, the Philistines, who defeated the Israelites, captured their Ark, drove them out of their homes, and took away their children to use or sell as slaves. Their power was broken. They separated from one another and were very disheartened.
Samuel Comes to the Israelites
Then came Prophet Samuel (pbuh) among them to bring some relief. They asked the prophet’s help in appointing a strong leader, a king under whose banner they could unite and fight the Philistines. Prophet Samuel (pbuh), knowing their weakness, told them: “I fear that when the time comes to fight you may refuse.” But they assured him that they had suffered enough insults and were now ready to fight in the way of Allah, even if they lost their lives.
Prophet Samuel prayed to Allah for guidance. Allah revealed to him that He had chosen one, Saul (Talut), to be their king. The prophet wanted to know how to recognize the future king. He was told that Saul would come to him by himself and that they should then hand over the control of kingdom to him, for he would lead them in battle against the Philistines.
Saul is Appointed King – Quranic
Taking Saul by the hand, Samuel led him to the children of Israel, but they insisted on a direct sign from Allah. Prophet Samuel told them to go outside the city to see the sign, which they did.
Almighty Allah revealed:
“Have you not thought about the group of children of Israel after (the time of ) Moses? When
they said to a Prophet of theirs: “Appoint for us a king and we will fight in Allah’s Way.”
He said: “Would you then refrain from fighting, if fighting was prescribed for you?”
They said: “Why should we not fight in Allah’s Way while we have been driven out of our homes
and our children (families have been taken as captives)?”
But when fighting was ordered for them, they turned away, all except a few of them. And Allah is All-Aware of the Zalimeen (polytheists, and wrongdoers).
And their Prophet (Samuel) said to them: “Indeed Allah has appointed Saul as a king over you.”
They said: “How can he be a king over us when we are better fitted than him for the kingdom, and he has not been given enough wealth.”
He said: “Verily, Allah has chosen him above you and has increased him abundantly in knowledge and stature. And Allah grants His Kingdom to whom He wills. And Allah is
All-Sufficient for His creatures’ needs, All-Knower.”
And their Prophet (Samuel) said to them:
“Have you not thought about the group of the Children of Israel after (the time of) MusÂ (Moses)? When they said to a Prophet of theirs, “Appoint for us a king and we will fight in AllÂh’s Way.” He said, “Would you then refrain from fighting, if fighting was prescribed for you?” They said, “Why should we not fight in AllÂh’s Way while we have been driven out of our homes and our children (families have been taken as captives)?” But when fighting was ordered for them, they turned away, all except a few of them. And AllÂh is All-Aware of the ZÂlimÛn (polytheists and wrong-doers).
And their Prophet (Samuel) said to them, “Indeed AllÂh has appointed TalÛt (Saul) as a king over you.” They said, “How can he be a king over us when we are better fitted than him for the kingdom, and he has not been given enough wealth.” He said: “Verily, AllÂh has chosen him above you and has increased him abundantly in knowledge and stature. And AllÂh grants His Kingdom to whom He wills. And AllÂh is All-Sufficient for His creatures’ needs, All-Knower.” And their Prophet (Samuel) said to them: Verily! The sign of His Kingdom is that there shall come to you At-TÂbÛt (a wooden box), wherein is Sakinah (peace and reassurance) from your Lord and a remnant of that which MusÂ (Moses) and HÂrÛn (Aaron) left behind, carried by the angels. Verily, in this is a sign for you if you are indeed believers.” (Ch. 2: 246-250)
Saul Leads an Army
Saul set about organizing his army with strong faith and wisdom. He ordered that only men free from responsibilities should join. Those engaged in building homes, men who were about to be married and those occupied with business should not join.
After establishing a well-trained army, he decided to put them to the test. He told them that along the route they would pass a river where they should drink enough water to quench their thirst but not more than that. To his disappointment, he discovered the majority of them drank more water than they should have. He discharged them for disobedience and kept only the few who had obeyed him, as they were the ones who proved their sincerity. This resulted in a split in the army, but he was not bothered. He believed in quality and not numbers; better a small band of true believers he could rely on than a huge army of unreliable men.
Saul’s Army Sees the Enemy
Saul’s men sighted the enemy on the other side of the river. Their opponents appeared physically strong and were armed with better weapons. They were led by the mighty warrior Goliath (Galut), known for his huge build and brute strength. A great number of Saul’s men ran away on seeing this strong force. The small band that remained was willing to fight, whatever the outcome, for they had heard that there had been many incidents in the past in which Allah had caused a small force to defeat a larger one.