British infantry on the march, Palestine (credit: Imperial War Museum. © IWM (Q 24374))
How the Bible Influenced a WW1 Victory
And the Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude. They came up and encamped in Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven. – 1 Samuel 13:5 (ESV)
The Bible has greatly influenced our world, sometimes in surprising ways, such as a WWI victory gained. On November 11th, 2018, many countries around the world celebrated the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which ended the long and brutal fighting between the Allies and Germany in World War. In America, it is has grown into Veterans Day, which honors the nation’s veterans from all its wars. It is a time to remember history and reflect on its lessons; including the special circumstances surrounding Major Vivian Gilbert and the British forces under General Allenby. A specific passage in the Bible would help lead his men to victory, sparing them from the daunting task of storming the enemy directly into their line of fire.
During WWI, a group of British troops arriving in Palestine (today, the nation of Israel) purchased Bibles; not necessarily for purposes of prayer. Instead, they were used to study the geography. The soldiers saw them as great geographical resources to maneuver about the land. This would prove to be very beneficial to success in battle and a WWI victory using the Bible.
Generations have applied the wisdom from many accounts in the Bible to their own lives. However, many have questioned whether the settings and history found in biblical accounts can be trusted evidence and are grounded in the real world. What follows is a brief review of the passage and an example of how relying on the trustworthiness of this account enabled the British forces to conquer the area that was a stronghold for the Ottoman Turks by mimicking a battle plan as told in the Book of 1 Samuel.
Biblical Battle plans: WWI Victory Gained Using Bible
The Philistines were camped in the deep valley west of Jericho, around the town of Michmash. When Israel’s King Saul with his army saw their great numbers, they knew they were in trouble. Impatient for the prophet Samuel to arrive to make an offering and pray, many Israelites scatter and hide in caves.
In desperation, Saul takes it upon himself to offer what was for him an unauthorized sacrifice. When Samuel does finally arrive, he predicts that the kingdom will be torn in half and given to another man. After Samuel departs, Saul sees that only six hundred people remained with him. The Philistines, however, had assembled thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen and troops (1 Samuel 13:5).
Within the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistine garrison, there was a rocky crag on the one side and a rocky crag on the other side. The name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. The one crag rose on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba. Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” – 1 Samuel 14:4-6 (ESV)
The biblical account tells us that Jonathan (Saul’s son) decides to do something daring. He climbs with his armor bearer amongst the steep cliffs and craggy rocks (called “Seneh and Bozez”), rather than going around. When a squad of enemy lookouts saw them, the Philistines called for them to come up.
Then Jonathan said, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we will show ourselves to them. If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for the LORD has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.” – 1 Samuel 14:8-10 (ESV)
Jonathan seeing this as a sign that the Lord was with them, went up and overthrew the Philistines, throwing their army into panic and confusion, ultimately giving the Israelites the victory.
Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, and his armor-bearer after him. And they fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer killed them after him. And that first strike, which Jonathan and his armor-bearer made, killed about twenty men within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land. And there was a panic in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and even the raiders trembled, the earth quaked, and it became a very great panic. – 1 Samuel 14:13-15 (ESV)
History Repeats Itself
Fast forward to General Allenby’s troops in 1918, towards the end of the First World War – The British planned an attack in an area known as Michmash. The Turks were entrenched in the same valley that the Philistines had been 3,000 years earlier.
One of the British majors, Vivian Gilbert, thought the name Michmash sounded familiar. Searching passages in one of the recently purchased Bibles, he found it and reported to his commanding officer.
An excerpt from the historical account in The Romance of the Last Crusade (pages 185-6) tells us:
“And the major read on how Jonathan went through the pass, or passage of Mickmash, between Bozez and Seneh, and climbed the hill dragging his armour-bearer with him until they came to a place high up, about “a half acre of land, which a yoke of oxen might plow”; and the Philistines who were sleeping awoke, thought they were surrounded by the armies of Saul and fled in disorder, and “the multitudes melted away.” Saul then attacked with his whole army. It was a great victory for him; his first against the Philistines, and “so the Lord saved Israel that day, and the battle passed
over into Beth Aven.”
The brigade major thought to himself: “This pass, these rocky headlands and flat piece of ground are probably still here; very little has changed in Palestine throughout the centuries,” and he awoke the brigadier. Together they read the story over again. The the general sent out scouts, who came back and reported finding the pass, thinly held by the Turks, with rocky crags on either side–obviously Bozez and Seneh; whilst in the distance, high up in Mickmash the moonlight was shining on a flat piece of ground just big enough for a team to plough.
The general decided then and there to change the plan of attack, and instead of the whole brigade, one infantry company alone advanced at dead of night along the pass of Mickmash. A few Turks met were silently dealt with. We passed between Bozez and Seneh, climbed the hillside and, just before dawn, found ourselves on the flat piece of ground. The Turks who were sleeping awoke, thought they were surrounded by the armies of Allenby and fled in disorder.
We killed or captured every Turk that night in Mickmash; so that, after thousands of years, the tactics of Saul and Jonathan were repeated with success by a British force.
British WW1 Victory over Turks
If Major Gilbert had not recalled the biblical text, the battle may have ended quite differently.
There is a common saying that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It usually refers to avoiding bad decisions that are a result of ignoring the past. However, the same can be said for repeating successes. Learn from the wisdom of history, so that good outcomes are replicated.
The British army was able to study the terrain and the description in the Bible to know that this Michmash they were about to descend on was the same as the one described in 1 Samuel. The accounts in the Bible are rooted in reality.
What is so notable is that these soldiers put so much trust in the details of a 3,000-year-old narrative. It appears their trust was well placed. – Keep Thinking.