The Price of Oppression
The story of Talut and Jalut took place after the time of Musa AS. During this period, the Israelites had become a stingy and controlling race, oppressing non-Israelites and treating them with injustice and prejudice. Over the years, they had become a bad mannered people who were far away from Allah. They were lovers of the material life, and were not spreading the message of Allah. Therefore, to teach them humility and to remind them to go back to Allah, Allah sent the community a trial by "tasleet": where He permitted one of the worst tyrants of this time, Jalut (Goliath), to oppress them as a sign of torture and humiliation from Allah.
Bani Israel was weakened and exhausted by continual wars, and were repeatedly humiliated and defeated by their powerful enemies. Their trial continued for years, during which time God did not predestine for them to gain victory. Their villages were destroyed, families were cast out of their homes, children and women were kidnapped and their economy was ruined. Even the ark of covenant, the indication of strength and support from Allah, was seized from them, again as a sign of humiliation from Allah.
Eventually, they sought the counsel of their prophet during this time, Samael (Samuel) AS, promising him that they would fight in Allah's way under the leadership of a king appointed by Allah. The prophet prayed to Allah and Allah sent His verdict, to be relayed to Bani Israel. Allah had selected Talut, a humble and kind farmer, principally for his piety, but also for his physical strength, knowledge and wisdom, to be their king, and to lead the army.
Have you not thought about the group of the Children of Israel after (the time of) Musa (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)?" (Qur'an 2:246)
And their Prophet (Samuel ) said to them, "Indeed Allah has appointed Talut (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." (Qur'an 2:247)
Talut did not originate from Bani Israel, and neither did he possess the rank of the elite and rich. He was an average farmer, without money or status, but Allah selected him due to the piety, knowledge and wisdom that Allah had bestowed upon him. With these qualities, Allah chose him as a king and a leader to lead the army, to demonstrate to Bani Israel that Allah can elevate whoever He wants. Such choice had nothing to do with social status or material wealth.
For Bani Israel, this was unacceptable. Like their stubborn predecessors during the time of Musa AS, they immediately rejected Allah's verdict, and as usual, asked for a sign.
When they eventually accepted Allah's decision, Allah gave them the miracle of the ark of the covenant, which had been under the captivity of Jalut for years previously, materialising before them from the sky.
And their Prophet (Samuel ) said to them: Verily! The sign of His Kingdom is that there shall come to you At-Tabut (a wooden box), wherein is Sakinah (peace and reassurance) from your Lord and a remnant of that which Musa (Moses) and Harun (Aaron) left behind, carried by the angels. Verily, in this is a sign for you if you are indeed believers. (Qur'an 2:248)
The Army of Talut
According to some reports Talut recruited approximately 33,000 men from the society of Bani Israel. Jalut's army was 250,000 to 400,000 strong, and was mighty in strength and fully equipped.
Talut's army set out to fight Jalut and his men. It was then that they were given a trial by Allah to test their sincerity. When they arrived at a river, Talut, inspired to do so from Allah, commanded his men to sip not more than one handful of water from it, even though they were extremely thirsty. This did not make sense to the majority of the men, so they disobeyed his orders and drank to their fill.
Then when Talut (Saul) set out with the army, he said: "Verily! Allah will try you by a river. So whoever drinks thereof, he is not of me, and whoever tastes it not, he is of me, except him who takes (thereof) in the hollow of his hand." Yet, they drank thereof, all, except a few of them. (Qur'an 2:249)