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Brigham Young University

Israels Changing Army from Saul to Solomon

History 391 R Section 01

November 27, 2000

Scott Smith

Throughout the Old Testament Israels wars were regarded by its people as holy wars, and the principle texts available to us regarding ancient Israel and their wars are religious in nature. We will concern ourselves principally with the non-sacred aspects of Israels war machine; in particular, on the transition period in Israelite history, when the judges were replaced by a monarchy. The political changes from a system of judges to a monarchy are important from a military standpoint, for the military institutions of a people change rapidly because they are affected by every change in the type of government, by the varying requirements of policy, by the enemies they may have to face, and, of course, by progress in the development of armaments. Samuel, the Israelite prophet before King Sauls reign, spoke to the Israelite people, describing what would happen if they chose a king to rule over them. Samuel said, He [the king] will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to . . . make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And that our king. . . go out before us, and fight our battles.1 The foundation of Israels standardized and professional army began under her kings, the first of whom was Saul, appointed in 1095 B.C. Saul unified the tribes in a call to arms against the Ammonites, and he gained the throne following the victory. He was someone who would lead [Israel] forth and fight its battles.2 King Saul took strong and valiant men into his service;3 thus, he created the base of a standing army by picking 3,000 men to permanently serve with him. These men included Israelites and foreigners. Saul used his household troops against

The Holy Bible, King James Version (United States of America; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1996), I Sam. 8:11,12, 20. 2 1 Sam. 8:20. 3 I Sam. 14:52.

the Philistines in the battle of Michmash4, which victory allowed Israel to establish a unified kingdom. The unification was invaluable, for a military and economic alliance among the tribes was the only way that Israel could stay strong against her enemies. The mercenary corps was also used by Saul in the pursuit of David,5 but the professional army remained small in Sauls reign because his kingdom was poor and could not financially support a large professional army. The professional army didnt become strong until David reigned and continued with Sauls military reforms, developing them to a greater extent than had King Saul. Davids military reforms were one of his major achievements during his early reign. He developed a sophisticated military machine compatible with national resources that enabled him to carry out all subsequent martial activities with complete success.6 The Davidic and Solomonic reforms created a new model of military organization that was followed with little variation for years after their reigns. This organization formed the basis of the armed forces under the divided monarchy, when Israel and Judah formed separate kingdoms. David continued to develop a corps of mercenaries, which were somewhat like a royal guard. David himself had been a mercenary as well as a military leader in Sauls army before the two had a falling out. During Davids military and mercenary experience he learned the tactics that helped him fight in the hilly country controlled by his kingdom. His mercenary corps were comprised of Cherethites from Crete, Pelethites--Philistines or some other Aegean group, and a group of about 600 from Gath in Philistia 7 These mercenaries were led by Benaiah.8
4 5

I Sam. 18:27, 30; 23:27. I Sam. 23:25. 6 Chaim Harzon, Mordechai Gichon, Battles of the Bible (Mechaniscsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997), 109. 7 2 Sam. 8:18; 15:18; 20:7,23.

King David put his mercenaries to work capturing Jerusalem and warring against the Philistines.9 Davids men won the battles. The army in Davidic times was divided into three groups. The first group contained Davids old cronies from his mercenary days, the second was the mercenaries he hired. These two formed the elite corps. The third group was the Israelite people themselves. The mercenary warriors added a nucleus of well trained fighters to the Israelite army, yet the greatest force, in terms of numbers, remained in the national army, called the army of the people, shortened to all the people. Until the beginning of the monarchy, Israel had continued the tradition of military organization it began in the wilderness as nomadic tribes. There was no distinction between the people and the army in nomadic life, for all able-bodied males fought. The military units were based on those of society, the twelve tribes, excluding that of Levi, which concerned itself in religious matters. The army was organized into units of 1,000 and 100 men when the entire people took up arms. Each unit was led by a captain such as we see when Jesse commanded his young son David to go to his brothers who fought in Sauls army against the Philistines. Jesse told David also to bring ten cheeses to his brothers captain, referring to him as captain of their [the brothers] thousand.10 Captains were also kept over groups of one hundred11 and to command the mercenary troops in groups of hundreds.12 The standardization and professionalization of Israels army created the necessity of a permanent officer corps who were themselves trained in the arts of war. They in turn were responsible to train the soldiers and organize the forces under the kings command. Thus, a military bureaucracy and independent cast of warriors was created:

8 9

2 Sam. 8:18. 2 Sam. 5:6, 21; 21:15. 10 I Sam. 17:18. 11 I Sam. 22:7. 12 2 Kings. 11:4.

What is new in the monarchy is the royal appointment of professional soldier officers and the introduction of a military gradation in rank. See the traditions of the three and the thirty of Davids army commanders (2 Sam. 23), the commanders of thousands and of hundreds (2 Sam. 18:1 f.), the 3,300 officers of Solomons corve (1 Kings 5:27-30) or the 550 commanders of 1 Kings 9:23. However the numbers be explained, whether historically or by literary criticism, it is clear that the officers are professionals; no longer are they folk leaders at the head of their fellow villagers or clansmen.13

The voluntary militia of the people and the professional army fought under separate command. This separation brought a crisis to the people, for all Israel, i.e. the army of the people, had always claimed victory under the divine hand of their god Yahweh. Following the rise of the professional army, the monarchy began to depend upon its force and skill in battle, shifting the credit of victory from Yahweh to the professional army. Thus we see a secularization of Israels battles under the monarchy and a schism between the militia and the professional branches of the army. This division is particularly apparent in the battle over the Ammonite city, Rabbah. David remained in Jerusalem, sending Joab in command of his servants and all Israel to destroy the people of Ammon and the city of Rabbah. The city was put under siege, then Joab sent a note to David, asking him to come and take the city himself with the army of the people. Joab fought the decisive battle with the professionals, yet he was careful that the city was taken by David and the militia (all the people).14 Another transition in Israels military organization, emphasizing the standing army, occurred with King Davids census of all the people.15 Israel had been prohibited by Yahweh to


George E. Mendenhall, The Census Lists of Numbers 1 and 26,Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXVII (1958), 57, as cited in Millard C. Lind, Yahweh Is a Warrior: The Theology of Warfare in Ancient Israel (Scottdale: Herald, 1980), 203. 14 Millard C. Lind, Yahweh Is a Warrior: The Theology of Warfare in Ancient Israel (Scottdale: Herald, 1980), 118. See also 2 Sam. 11:1; 12: 26-31. 15 2 Sam. 24.

make a census of the people or to number them for military purposes; thus Davids census was the first of its kind among his people. The intent of this census was to incorporate the levies into the royal army officered by royal appointees about whose competence and loyalty the king would have no doubts. In contrast, the old folk militia was not reliable, since they would not answer a call to arms issued by an unpopular king, or for a war they felt to be unnecessary.16 Davids census recorded eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword in Israel and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.17 This gives an aggregate count of 1,300,000 men of war. Some historians, however, question these numbers and explain that exaggerated numbers have crept into the older narratives.18 The quote above regarding the militia and professional soldiers also makes reference to a strategic difference between the army of all the people and that of the professional soldiers. Other states such as Assyria already found that the militia was not too dependable and might decide to go home if kept in the field too long, for the militia was comprised of the farmers and laborers. These people must return to their farms and shops, so that they didnt run fallow and bankrupt. The professional army, in contrast, provided a constantly armed force, ready for action on a short notice, and at the direct disposal of the king. The mercenaries loyalties were to the king, who employed them. If the king lost the battle or his throne, the mercenaries also lost their employer. The change in government--from a system of judges to a monarchy--combined with the military transition in altering the purposes for which Israel went out to battle. The greatest

George E. Mendenhall, The Census Lists of Numbers 1 and 26,Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXVII (1958), 58, as cited in Millard C. Lind, Yahweh Is a Warrior: The Theology of Warfare in Ancient Israel (Scottdale: Herald, 1980), 118. See also I Kings 12:21-24. 17 2 Sam. 24:9. 18 Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961), 216.

change in military philosophy occurred with the change in kings, from Saul to David. Under the prophet Josue wars were fought under divine mandate to secure a land of inheritance for the tribes of Israel. In the time of the Judges a defensive policy began. We read of Sauls military activity in I Sam 14:47-48. When Saul had taken the kingship over all Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the children of Ammon, and against Edom, and against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines: and withersoever he turned himself he vexed them. And he gathered an host, and smote the Amalekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of them that spoiled them. The language suggests that Sauls purposes were defensive, to protect against foreign threats of plunder and invasion.19 David adopted a more aggressive policy. The language of 2 Samuel 8 describing Davids military activity is very different from that of 1 Samuel 14: 47-48. David began with invasions into the hill country of the Philistines and the taking of Jerusalem. The description found in 2 Samuel 8 shows that David went beyond the typical expulsion of conquered enemies. He smote the Philistines, and subdued them: and David took Metheg-ammah out of the hand of the Philistines.20 This implies the subjugation of a people. David invaded Moab, Syria of Damascus, the cities of Hadadezer, the children of the Philistines, Ammon, Amalek, and Edom. Further reading from the same chapter describes the spoils taken by David, and gifts offered him by the subjugated peoples. Some of these gifts David offered to his god. The people of Damascus and of Edom were made Davids servants. Davids grand strategy was clearly more

offensive and subjugating than that of pre-Davidic Israel.


T. R. Hobbs, A Time For War: A Study of Warfare in the Old Testament (Wilminton, DE: Michael Glazier, 1989), 147. 20 2 Sam. 8:1.

Davids army had formal divisions within the arms of service. Soldiers were organized under different commands, according to their training and skills. These groups allowed for specialization in training. Davids conscript army was an infantry force; however, the specialization allowed the making of tactical formations according to the needs of the mission. It was necessary for all armies to have a variety of armaments, for each armament had strengths to be exploited and weaknesses that were covered by the other arms within battlefield force. Solomons army furthered the use of combined arms, including the use of infantry, chariotry, and cavalry together (Israel had no naval tradition or sea faring knowledge). To increase the advantages of combined arms, the army was divided into three or four groups. The strength of the standard Israelite combat force could be 600, divisible by 3, giving 200; or by 4 giving 150, then subdivided by one-hundred, fifty, and ten. This division assured staged and mutually supporting attacks. The division of forces allowed flexibility on the battlefield. The victorious force could exploit successes, routing the enemy. Or defeat could be averted by being able to shift troops to weakened areas, holding back a part for employment on just these occasions. Reenforcement groups filled needs quickly. Israels army built upon the natural tribal strengths in arms specialization. The tribe of Benjamin specialized in bows, and could use both the right hand and the left in hurling stones and shooting arrows out of a bow.21 The Gadites could handle shield and buckler. . . and were as swift as the roes upon the mountains.22 The children of Judah bore shield and spear23 The Zebulunites and those from Manasseh were expert in war, with all instruments of war24 The children of Issachar were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to
21 22

I Chron. 12:2. Ibid., v.8. 23 Ibid., v.24. 24 Ibid., v.33, 37.

do.25 This seems to imply an ability to spy and perform reconnaissance duties. The men of Naphtali were excellent with shield and spear26 Sometimes opposing forces decided the outcome of the battle through a fight between champions instead of a battle with all the troops. The classic example of this is the duel between David and Goliath, in which the Philistines were defeated by one well placed shot from a sling. More ancient examples of this type of combat come from an Egyptian story about Sinuhet, which fought as a champion amongst the Canaanite semi-nomads. Another Old Testament example of single combat-champion fighting again involves David. His partisans battled against those of Saul. David and Saul were hostile, one to the other. Joab proposed that they decide the issue by a fight of twelve picked men from either side. All twenty-four died, and a sore battle ensued in which Davids men beat Abner--a partisan of Saul--and the men of Israel.27

We mentioned the chariot as part of Israels combined arms. We will now undertake a study of the introduction of chariots into the Israelite army, as well as the use of other weapons within the armed forces. With the introduction of the chariot by the Indo-Europeans, who built the state of Mitanni in Northern Mesopotamia, the other city states necessarily developed the technology too. Mitanni chariots were copied by the Hittites, Mosopotamians, Egyptians and Syria-Palestinians, including the new Aramean states. Thus, all of Israels hostile neighbors fought with maryannu, charioteers, and Israel found itself at a severe disadvantage in conquering and maintaining control of arable plains land, for these were the preferred territory of chariots.
25 26

Ibid., v.32. I Chron. 12:24. 27 2 Sam. 2:12-17.


Chariotry in Israel began with King David, who started the chariot forces with the capture of horses and chariots. He took one-hundred chariots from the defeated king of Zobah, and refrained from houghing enough of the captured horses for one-hundred chariots. That was probably about two-hundred horses--two per chariot.28 However, there is no record of Davids army actually using chariots in battle, and it appears that the force was kept small during Davids reign. This is probably due to several factors: Israel had no natives experienced in chariot warfare, chariot making and upkeep, or horse breeding. The forces size increased under Solomon. He developed his main offensive arm in the form of chariots, supported by runners when infantry action was needed. The number of his chariots reached a thousand and four hundred, with twelve thousand horsemen.29 Solomon saw the chariots value as a military weapon,30 realizing that the best defensive strategy wasnt to make stationary a majority of ones forces, creating a rigid, continuous line of fortifications and obstacles--as the Great Wall of China or Frances Maginot Line. The best strategy for Saul was to create a flexible, and strong, yet highly maneuverable offensive arm that could attack invaders from one or more strategically placed bases. Solomon placed the chariots in strategic positions in fortified towns to maintain territorial gains.31 These towns included Jerusalem, Gezer, Hazor and Megiddo. Chariots required long and complex training, workshops, stores, barracks, training
28 29

2 Sam. 8:4. I Kings 10:26. 30 R. K. Harrison, A History Of Old Testament Times (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1957), 155. See also 1 Kings 10:26-29. 31 Chaim Harzon, Mordechai Gichon, Battles of the Bible (Mechaniscsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997), 119.


facilities, and veterinary services. All these come under the heading of store and chariot cities mentioned in 1 Kings 9:15-19.

We will now undertake a study of the other armaments used in Israels army. Let us return to the time of Israels first king, Saul. The Philistines disarmed the Israelites at the beginning of Sauls reign, at the battle of Mikmas. The Philistines controlled Israels metallurgy, prohibiting them from producing steel. Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears: But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock.32 Israel, thus, became dependant on their enemy for good metals. Under such conditions, Israel was depleted of quality weapons for war. Neither did the land controlled by Israel contain significant deposits of ore. The fact that sources of raw metal were rare in Palestine may help to explain the high value placed on bronze as a prize of war.33 Only Saul and Jonathan had a sword or a spear when the army went out to face the Philistines at Michmash.34 Sauls spear became the symbol of his royal rank, and his shield is mentioned in Davids elegy of Saul.35 The inception of a standardized army required the equipping of that army with effective and specialized weapons. With the defeat of the Philistines by David, control of metallurgy, and thus the weapons industry grew, and was controlled by the king. Israels

32 33

1 Sam. 13:19-20. 2 Sam 8:8. 34 I Sam. 13:19-23. 35 I Sam. 18:11; 19:9; 22:6; 26:7,16, 22; 2 Sam.1:6, 21.


victory over the Philistines, and the standardized army of the monarchy made so that weapons became much more numerous in Israel.36 The weapons used by Israel can be divided into two categories: hand-held weapons and projectile weapons. Hand-held weapons were used as a secondary weapon when the battle became close combat. These include the dagger, and its longer version, the sword, as well as spears, maces and axes. Israel tended to use the slashing sword (sickle or cutlass style) In the Bible, enemies are generally referred to as being slain with the edge of the sword.37 Archeology confirms this preference; few rapiers have been discovered in the Iron Age in Israel; however, slashing swords of many kinds have been found.38 In graphic presentation, literature and archaeology the spear is a most common weapon.39 It was a weapon for hand-to-hand fighting, and measured to be about the height of an average man. A metal head was attached to the wood shaft by a pin or socket. Maces and axes were used in very close situations. The ax was good for penetrating helmets, crushing skulls and penetrating shoulders. The ax is not mentioned as a weapon in war in Old Testament and may not have been as highly used a weapon in Israel as it was in Egypt. The mace also saw limited use in Israel. It was used to smash heads, but it wasnt as effective when enemy used helmets. For this fact it had limited use in battle.

T. R. Hobbs, A Time For War: A Study of Warfare in the Old Testament (Wilminton, DE: Michael Glazier, 1989), 111. 37 For examples see Gen. 34:26; Exod. 17:13; Num 21:24; Josh. 11:12. 38 T. R. Hobbs, A Time For War: A Study of Warfare in the Old Testament (Wilminton, DE: Michael Glazier, 1989), 113. 39 Ibid., 116.


Projectile weapons were used first as the battle unfolded. They include the javelin, bow and arrow, and the sling. There is no record of an archer corps in ancient Israels army as there were in contemporaneous armies such as those of Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt, but the bow and arrow are mentioned enough in the Old Testament text as valuable for their power and effectiveness. The Benjamites were armed with bows; it was their speciality.40 The Reubenites, Gadites, and some of the Manassites mentioned in 1 Chron. 5:18 were also skilled in archery, suggesting some formation in the Israelite army of archers. In the relief of the capture of Lakish by Sennacherib Israelite archers are shown firing with bow and arrow from the ramparts against the Assyrians besiegers.41 Judging by the numbers of archers present in the Lachish relief, the number of times the bow and the arrow are referred to in the Old Testament and the large numbers of arrow heads unearthed by archaeologists, the bow was a very common weapon.42 The bow probably came into general use in Israel when the chariot force was introduced, for the chariot tactics cut out hand-to-hand fighting and demanded the use of long-range weapons.43 The infantry would have been provided with bows as a result of this change, in imitation, no doubt, of the pattern set by the Assyrian infantry. 44 The use of bow and chariot indicates that the chariot was used as a moveable, mounted firing platform from which the bow was shot.
40 41

1 Chron. 12:2. D. Ussishkin, The Conquest of Lachish by Sennacherib (Tel Aviv: Institute of Archaeology, 1982)., as seen in Chaim Harzon, Mordechai Gichon, Battles of the Bible (Mechaniscsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997), 212-213. 42 T. R. Hobbs, A Time For War: A Study of Warfare in the Old Testament (Wilminton, DE: Michael Glazier, 1989), 123. 43 I Sam. 31:3 compared with 2 Sam. 1:6; I Kings. 22:32-34; 2 Kings 9:24. 44 Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961), 243.


The sling was a simple, primitive weapon used by shepherds, but it was also a weapon of war. Benjamins men were especially skilled in use of the sling.45 The average slingstone was approximately six centimeters in diameter, just a little smaller than a tennis ball. Its range was between eighty and one-hundred meters. It was deadly effective and was the most cost efficient and easiest weapon to make in Old Testament times, which would seem to allure the Israelites, especially in the pre and early-monarchy days. A well known example of the use of slings in combat is the fight between two champions: David and Goliath. This put a fully armed warrior against an unarmed shepherd boy. Hand-to-hand combat would have favored the larger, shielded, and closecombat-armed Goliath. He was not allowed to use his advantages, as David exploited his range and maneuverability. Davids accuracy with the sling spelled defeat for his enemy. The well placed shot stunned Goliath, providing David with time to close in and decapitate Goliath with a sword. This demonstrates the style of fight which favored the slings use. The stunned or incapacitated enemy could be approached and finished off by other weapons. The slings effectiveness and accuracy are also implied in the battle relief of the siege of Lachish by Sennacherib,46 for in battle order, the slingers stood behind the archers, presumably a testimony to their greater accuracy.47 Also, the sling was used to hurl rocks high up and come landing down on the ramparts of the enemy.

Many forces affected Israel during the transition period from the system of judges to the reign of the first three kings. Near the end of the reign of the judges, the Philistine
45 46

Jg. 20:16; 1 Chron. 12:2. D. Ussishkin, The Conquest of Lachish by Sennacherib (Tel Aviv: Institute of Archaeology, 1982)., as seen in Chaim Harzon, Mordechai Gichon, Battles of the Bible (Mechaniscsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997), 212-213. 47 See Judges 20:16.


army was well equipped, using iron swords and body armor. Israels neighbors adopted the Mitanni chariot technology, which allowed them to control the valleys and sown lands. These nations also formed mercenary and professional army corps, well trained in the arts of war and willing to fight for their employers. The Israelites were still only loosely bound together in their tribal confederations and all they could think of was how they feared the Philistines. They wanted a strong, powerful military leader to help them in battle. A king, they believed, would protect them and their property against the enemy. The people answered the external forces of change by demanding a king. The change to a king and the peoples fear against the enemy provided the necessary stimuli to transform Israels military. The greatest changes occurred during the reign of the first three kings, Saul, David and Solomon. Saul unified Israel under one common rule, so that the united confederation was strong enough to defeat the Philistines. Israel began

forming a mercenary corps under Saul, and continued it under David. David also began a more aggressive foreign policy, conquering and subjugating surrounding city states. His land gains facilitated the growth of the professional army with the monetary gains from tribute and trade. But Davids acquisitions of land also forced the army to remain strong in order to maintain Israels gains. Thus David, and his successor Solomon, built chariot corps. Chariots were necessary for Israel to defend its gains in the sown areas, and to have strong offensive capabilities. The prophet Samuel correctly prophesied to his people about the effects of kingly rule. The kings took the peoples sons, and appointed the sons for themselves, for their chariots, and to be their horsemen and to fight as chariots runners. The kings also appointed for themselves captains over thousands, and captains over fifties, and set them to make instruments of war. The kings went out before the people and fought their battles.48

I Sam. 8:11,12,20.


Works Cited Primary Sources: Ussishkin, D. The Conquest of Lachish by Sennacherib. Tel Aviv: Institute of Archaeology, 1982., as seen in Harzon, Chaim, Gichon, Mordechai. Battles of the Bible. Mechaniscsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997. The Holy Bible, King James Version. United States of America; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1996. Secondary Sources: de Vaux, Roland. Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961. Harrison, R. K. A History Of Old Testament Times. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1957. Harzon, Chaim, Gichon, Mordechai. Battles of the Bible. Mechaniscsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997. Hobbs, T. R. A Time For War: A Study of Warfare in the Old Testament. Wilminton, DE: Michael Glazier, 1989. Lind, Millard C. Yahweh Is a Warrior: The Theology of Warfare in Ancient Israel. Scottdale: Herald, 1980.

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