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The Battle For The Smelter

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The battle of Michmash, between the Israelite and Philistine armies, is recorded in 1 Samuel 14. The two opposing armies were not matched in strength. The Philistines were much stronger.

Despite being the weaker of the two forces, the Israelites were keen to capture Michmash from the Philistines – as there was a smelter located there.

Smelters were highly strategic assets at this time of Israel’s history. The presence of a smelter at Michmash is not commonly known. However several clues hidden in the Hebrew text of the Bible indicate its presence.

In this episode we examine the battle and look at the significance of the geography of the battleground. We also examine the Hebrew text. By doing so we discover how Jonathan’s approach to the battle differed significantly to his father’s. We can then apply this understanding to our world today… as the same patterns visible in the Battle of Michmash are visible in our society today.

 The battle for the smelter is recorded in 1 Samuel 14. It took place at Michmash between the Philistine and the Israelite armies.

The two armies were camped on opposite sides of the great Suweinit Canyon, separated by a deep ravine with steep rock cliffs on either side. 

On the one side, standing on the cliff called Bozez, and protecting Michmash, was a Philistine outpost. Whilst Jonathan and his armour bearer stood on the other side, on top of the cliff called Seneh.

The two sides were so close together that they could call out to each other and be easily heard, yet neither could reach the other without descending hand and foot into the deep ravine and climbing steeply up the other side.

The Israelites were keen to capture Michmash as there was a smelter located there. This fact is not commonly known, however there are several clues hidden in the text to indicate its presence.

The missing Hebrew word

In 1 Samuel 14 verse 5 the Hebrew מָצוּק (māsûq) is used in association with the cliff on which the Philistines stood. This is a word which is difficult to translate and so most English versions of the Bible leave it untranslated.

Scholars have identified that מָצוּק (māsûq) comes from the root צוק (swq) which has two forms, one of these forms describes the exertion of pressure upon something, whilst the second form means to pour out or melt.

This describes the function of a smelter, which applies heat and pressure to an ore to create a metal.

Smelters allow you to produce weapons, and the more weapons you have the greater power you wield. The smelter can be said to represents man’s strength – as it is by a show of force that man thinks he can achieve peace by subduing all his enemies.

The missing blacksmiths

Smelters were significant assets. We know that at this time of Israel’s history they possessed little to no weapons, as there were no blacksmiths in the land. This indicates that there were no smelters under Israelite control.

The Israelites needed to go to the Philistines to sharpen their tools. It was by their control over the smelting technology that the Philistines were able to subdue the Israelites.

No peace despite winning the battle

One can understand why Saul would want to take this Philistine garrison and the smelter that went with it. Saul was a great warrior king. He relied heavily on the strength of his own hand. 

Even though Saul won the battle for Michmash and gained direct access to a smelter it did not give him the peace that he desired, as there was continual war between the Israelites and the Philistines all his days.

Does this pattern sound familiar?  In our modern-day there is also a continual increase in defence spending… our smelters are really popping… yet our world seems to be descending into more and more unrest.

So how can we overcome this, how can we enter into a true state of peace? The key to answering this question is to look at how Jonathan approached the battle, and how his approach differed to that taken by his father Saul.

In what spirit did Jonathan initiate the battle?

Jonathan and his armour bearer initiated the action. They had separated themselves from Saul’s camp, and were only lightly armed, yet Jonathan’s war cry was “there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few”,  his trust was in the LORD.

Approaching the canyon the meaning of the two cliff faces, Seneh and Bozez, would not have been lost on Jonathan.

Seneh means “thorny”. This cliff face is in the shade most of the day and is a dark, coal colour. On the opposite side of the canyon is the shining Bozez. It catches the sun most of the day, and the upper layers of limestone brightly reflect its light.

One could say that Jonathan and his armour bearer engaged the Philistines in the spirit of Passover – descending with the crown of thorns and rising with the light of resurrection.

This dramatic landscape can still be seen today, and anyone who has contemplated this scene can not help but be struck by the faith and courage, as well as the physical condition of Jonathan and his armour bearer.

How Saul’s rash oath prevented victory

As Jonathan engages the Philistines in battle, Saul hears the commotion and decides to spring into action. As the Philistines flee from Jonathan, Saul gathers his men and pursue the fleeing Philistines, but not before he proclaims an oath that no man should eat anything until the evening.   

As the battle intensifies the men grow weak. Jonathan, not having heard his father’s oath, found some honey in the wood and ate it. In doing so his eyes were enlightened, he was revived.

Honey in the Bible represents the Word of God, it is what enlightens and revives.

After having eaten of the honey, and hearing of his father’s oath, Jonathan’s response gives us a further insight into his faith.

Jonathan said:

“[By making this oath] My father hath troubled the land… how much more, if haply the people had eaten freely… had there not been now a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?”

1 Samuel 14:29-30

I believe this statement lays bare the motivation Jonathan had for initiating the attack on the Philistines in the first place. Unlike his father Saul, he was not interested in gaining the smelter to strengthen his own hand.

Rather he wanted to demonstrate, that through trusting in the power of God and His Word, the whole concept that the smelter represents, the strength of man, could be overcome so that full and lasting peace could ensue.

In contrast to Jonathan, Saul approached the battle from a position of reliance on his own strength, preventing the people from eating and strengthening themselves by the power of God. Saul may have won the battle, but he didn’t win the war – there was conflict between the Philistines and Israelites all his days.

Overcoming the smelter and a lasting peace

It is only when the source of unrest is consumed that true peace can reign on the earth. It is only the light of God’s Word that can consume the darkness.

2020 has been a year of unrest around the world. It is interesting to see that our western nations, representing the modern-day House of Israel, are still repeating the same pattern that Saul displayed all those years ago.

As our world was gripped by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic one of the first actions undertaken by our leaders was to close churches and places of worship. Just as Saul did not allow his men to eat, so we too have been hampered from eating the Word of God – the very source of enlightenment and revival.

In Australia, our Evangelical Prime Minister has announced that the pathway out of the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will not be lead by prayer and a reliance on the strength and power of our Almighty God, but by a $270 billion program to boost our national defence capability.

Whilst in the United States the powerful image of Rosie the Riveter has been used to instil hope and action.  

And the result? We don’t see the spreading of a lasting peace. Instead, our streets are filled with violence, with the police and military being deployed in an attempt to retain law and order.

I don’t want to say these things so that we get discouraged, but rather that we recognise that the accounts written in the Bible are blueprints that are relevant to us today.  

As we see the patterns we can ask of God in His great mercy to turn us again to Him so that He may not only heal our own brokenness but that we become the conduit of true peace to all nations of the world.