A. Saul’s victory.
1. (1-2) Nahash the Ammonite gives an ultimatum to an Israelite city.
Then Nahash the Ammonite came up and encamped against Jabesh Gilead; and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a covenant with us, and we will serve you.” And Nahash the Ammonite answered them, “On this condition I will make a covenant with you, that I may put out all your right eyes, and bring reproach on all Israel.”
a. Encamped against Jabesh Gilead: Nahash the Ammonite has surrounded this Israelite city, and simply by doing so, he has made his demands clear. They must either surrender, or be conquered.
i. Why did the Ammonites attack Jabesh? “Probably to revenge and to recover their former great loss by Jephthah, Judges 11:33. Jabesh-gilead was beyond Jordan, and near the Ammonites, who dwelt in part of Arabia.” (Poole)
b. Make a covenant with us, and we will serve you: The men of Jabesh Gilead feel this is their only hope of survival. Either they surrender to Nahash (we will serve you) under agreed upon terms (make a covenant with us), or they will simply be killed and looted.
i. It might seem to us that the men of Jabesh Gilead are cowards, and unwilling to fight against this enemy. But the odds were great against them, and the expected to simply be taxed by Nahash. It was if they were being mugged, and they had the opportunity to negotiate with the mugger, and strike a deal with the mugger they could live with.
ii. At the same time, where was their trust in God? Yes, they were in what seemed to be in an impossible place, but that is where the power of God can shine the brightest. “Instead of humbling themselves before God and confessing the sins that had brought them into trouble, they put God altogether aside, and basely offered to become the servants of the Ammonites . . . We see here the sad effect of sin and careless living in lowering men’s spirits, sapping courage, and discouraging noble effort. Oh, it is pitiable to see men tamely submitting to a vile master! Yet how often is the sight repeated! How often to men virtually say to the devil, ‘Make a covenant with us, and we will serve thee’!” (Balike)
c. That I may put out your right eyes: When the men of Jabesh Gilead as Nahash for a covenant, he agrees to settle peacefully with them - if all the men of the city will have their right eyes gouged out. Certainly, Nahash meant business!
i. Why did Nahash make this demand? Of all the things he could have demanded, why does he want to put out your right eyes? First, it was to glorify himself by humiliating the men of this city, and all of Israel. Half-blinding the men of this city would bring reproach on all Israel by making Israel look weak and unable to prevent such an atrocity. Second, it was to make the men of Jabesh Gilead unable to fight effectively in battle. In hand-to-hand combat, and man with one eye has less depth perception, and is at a disadvantage to a man with two eyes.
ii. “He who opposes his shield to the enemy with his left hand, thereby hides his left eye, and looks at his enemy with his right eye; he therefore who plucks out that right eye makes men useless in war.” (Theodoret, cited in Clarke)
d. We can see in this account a similarity between Satan, our spiritual enemy, and Nahash, the enemy of Israel.
i. Satan attacks us, but cannot do anything against us without our agreement. He asks for, and requires our surrender.
ii. Satan wants us to serve him, and will attempt to intimidate us into giving in to him.
iii. Satan wants to humiliate us, and exalt himself over us. Through humiliating one saint, Satan wants to bring reproach on all God’s people.
iv. Satan wants to take away our ability to effectively fight against him.
v. Satan wants to blind us, and if he cannot blind us completely, he will blind us partially.
vi. The name Nahash means serpent or snake!
2. (3) The answer of the elders of Jabesh Gilead.
Then the elders of Jabesh said to him, “Hold off for seven days, that we may send messengers to all the territory of Israel. And then, if there is no one to save us, we will come out to you.”
a. Hold off for seven days . . . if there is no one to save us, we will come out to you: The men of Jabesh Gilead are in a difficult spot. They are horrified at the demand of Nahash, but they also know they have no other choice. If there is no one to save them, Nahash can do to them as he pleases, and losing an eye seems better to them than losing their lives.
b. Was there no one to save them? The men of Jabesh didn’t know for certain. But they did know there was no hope in and of themselves, that they had to have a savior.
i. In one way, the men of Jabesh Gilead were in a good place, because they absolutely knew two things. They knew their need to be saved, and they knew they could not save themselves. Many today - even in the church - don’t know what the men of Jabesh Gilead knew. Many today don’t really know their need to be saved, rescued from the righteous judgment of God against them and their sin. And many today don’t really know they can not save themselves. They still think in their hearts that they can do it!
ii. In another way, the men of Jabesh Gilead were in a bad place. They knew their need of a savior, and they knew they could not save themselves. Yet, they did not know if there was anyone to save them. We can know. We can know what John said in 1 John 4:14: And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.
c. Why did Nahash let the messengers go? It seems strange that the allowed them to leave, and to see if Israel could muster up the troops to come and defeat him. But Nahash had two reasons. First, he was confident of Israel’s disunity, and figured they would be unable to find anyone to save them. Second, by allowing the messengers to go through all Israel, he was making his name big and his reputation fearsome throughout the whole nation.
3. (4-5) Saul hears of the plight of Jabesh Gilead.
So the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and told the news in the hearing of the people. And all the people lifted up their voices and wept. Now there was Saul, coming behind the herd from the field; and Saul said, “What troubles the people, that they weep?” And they told him the words of the men of Jabesh.
a. So the messengers came: As the messengers spread out over all Israel, they came to Gibeah, Saul’s home city. Upon hearing of the plight of Jabesh Gilead, all the people lifted up their voices and wept. This was exactly the reaction Nahash was hoping for!
b. Coming behind the herd from the field: See the humility of the king of Israel! Saul had already been anointed and recognized as king over Israel, yet in a sense there was nothing for him to do. He really didn’t know where to begin when it came to setting up a royal court and a bureaucracy, and Israel never had one before. So, he just went back home, got to work in the field, and figured God would tell him what to do when the time was right!
i. Saul was wise in going back to the farm. He knew it was the Lord’s job to raise him up as king over the nation, and he knew the Lord would do it in the right way at the right time. He didn’t have to promote himself, or scheme on his own behalf. The Lord would do it.
ii. In this, Saul is a good example of Jesus, the King of Kings. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and here Saul is simply serving, not being served.
c. They told him the words of the men of Jabesh: This also shows there was no established system of government in Israel. Otherwise, the king would have been the first to know of the threat against Jabesh, instead of hearing the news second or third hand.
4. (6-8) Zealous for Israel’s cause, Saul angrily gathers an army.
Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard this news, and his anger was greatly aroused. So he took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hands of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to battle, so it shall be done to his oxen.” And the fear of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out with one consent. When he numbered them in Bezek, the children of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand.
a. Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul: It was time for Saul to act, and God was with Saul. The Spirit of God came upon Saul, but it did not come to entertain him or to thrill him. It came to equip him for service, so that he could do something for the Lord.
i. This is always God’s pattern. He doesn’t want us to seek the Spirit selfishly, but to be empowered to be used by Him to touch others. Jesus told His disciples before He ascended into heaven: But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). The power was given and received to do something for the Lord!
b. And his anger was greatly aroused: This was a good anger, and Spirit-led anger within Saul. The Bible says we can be angry, and do not sin (Ephesians 4:26), but most of our anger is selfish. Here, Saul’s anger is not out of a personal sense of hurt or offense, but out of a righteous concern for the cause of the Lord among His people.
c. So he took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces: In doing this, Saul was delivering a clear threat to the people of Israel. The manner of the threat seems more from the Mafia than from the people of God, but Saul wanted it clear that failure to step up and defend the cause of God at this time would be sin, and it would be punished as sin.
i. “In some such way, as Sir Walter Scott tells us, the old Highland chieftain used to summon the clans for war by the mission of the fiery cross. Killing an animal, kindling a fire, the cross was burnt in the flames, which were quenched in blood, and was sent throughout the land, and every man who saw it was bound to hasten in the field.” (Meyer)
ii. When the cause is right and the need desperate, it is wrong to do nothing. Doing nothing in such cases is sin, and when it comes to the sin of doing nothing, be sure your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:23).
d. Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to the battle: “Saul’s inclusion of Samuel implies that he expects the prophet to accompany him into battle in view of the fact that Saul is responding to the Spirit of God.” (Baldwin)
e. And the fear of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out with one consent: Saul’s bloody threat worked. When those hunks of ox-flesh came special delivery, all Israel knew there was a leader in Israel who meant business. They knew the Lord was calling them to do something about the crisis of Jabesh Gilead.
5. (9-11) The defeat of Nahash the Ammonite.
And they said to the messengers who came, “Thus you shall say to the men of Jabesh Gilead: ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have help.’” Then the messengers came and reported it to the men of Jabesh, and they were glad. Therefore the men of Jabesh said, “Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you may do with us whatever seems good to you.” So it was, on the next day, that Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch, and killed Ammonites until the heat of the day. And it happened that those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.
a. The messengers came and reported it to the men of Jabesh, and they were glad: Certainly they were glad! Before, they did not know if there was anyone to save them. Now they know they have someone to save them! Knowing we have a savior should make us glad.
b. Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you may do with us whatever seems good to you: Here, the men of Jabesh Gilead are deceiving Nahash. They are speaking as if they will surrender to Nahash, so his army will be unprepared for battle.
i. Of course, one might say they really didn’t lie. After all, the next day they would indeed come out to Nahash, and he could do to them whatever seems good. It is just that what Nahash though was good might change when he was being attacked by Saul’s army of 330,000 men of Israel.
ii. “The message contained a clever ambiguity, while giving the impression that surrender was intended.” (Baldwin)
c. Saul put the men into three companies: Saul appears to be a man of good military strategy. He thought out the attack before the battle started.
d. Killed Ammonites until the heat of the day . . . no two of them were left together: Through Saul’s action, and by God’s blessing, the victory was total. Nahash and his army were utterly routed, and the city of Jabesh Gilead was saved.
B. Saul’s coronation.
1. (12-13) Saul shows mercy to his former opponents.
Then the people said to Samuel, “Who is he who said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring the men, that we may put them to death.” But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has accomplished salvation in Israel.”
a. Who is he who said, “Shall Saul reign over us?” At this moment of great victory, the supporters of Saul want to expose and kill those who were hesitant to support him as king (as described in 1 Samuel 10:27).
b. Not a man shall be put to death this day: Saul wisely knew this was no time to take revenge on his opponents. Satan, having failed in the attack through Nahash, was now trying to attack Israel - even in victory - by dividing the nation against each other. Satan will attack us anyway he can, and often use times of victory to attack.
c. Today the Lord has accomplished salvation in Israel: In 1 Samuel 11:3, the men of Jabesh Gilead wondered if there was one to save us. Saul was the man the Lord raised up to bring the victory, yet Saul himself knew that the Lord has accomplished salvation in Israel. It was the Lord who did the saving, and Saul was humble enough to know it. At this moment of victory, it would have been all the more tempting to take the credit for himself.
i. The phrase the Lord has accomplished salvation in Israel points us to Jesus, because His name means the Lord is salvation. Whenever salvation is accomplished, it is through Jesus!
2. (14-15) Saul is accepted as king by the entire nation.
Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and renew the kingdom there.” So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they made sacrifices of peace offerings before the Lord, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.
a. Samuel said to the people: Samuel, as well as anyone, knew that the people were not entirely behind Saul when he was proclaimed as king in Gilgal (1 Samuel 10:24, 27). So Samuel wisely sees this time of victory as a strategic opportunity to renew the kingdom at Gilgal.
i. Saul had to prove himself before many would accept that he was the king. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is one thing for a person to be “anointed” or “appointed,” but the evidence must be in the doing. It was understandable for some to say, “Let’s see what kind of man this Saul is,” but once it was demonstrated (as it was in this chapter) it would have been wrong for them to fail to support Saul. “Unwittingly, the Ammonites provided just the opportunity Saul needed to take an initiative, and to prove himself as well to Israel at large that he could ‘save’ his people from oppressors.” (Baldwin)
b. They made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal: It wasn’t that Saul was not king before this. He was anointed as king by Samuel (1 Samuel 10:1) and recognized by king by much of the nation of Israel (1 Samuel 10:24). Yet, there was a sense in which Saul was not king until virtually all the nation recognized him as king, and here that recognition is given.
i. “Jesus is our King. The Father hath anointed Him, and set Him on his holy hill; and we have gladly assented to the appointment, and made Him King. But sometimes our sense of loyalty and devotion wanes. Insensibly we drift from our strenuous endeavour to act always as his devoted subjects. Therefore we need, from time to time, to renew the kingdom, and reverently make Him King before the Lord . . . There is a sense in which we can consecrate ourselves only once; but we can renew our vows often.” (Meyer)
c. There Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly: They did indeed! After all, now they felt they had a king, and a good king. It is a great blessing to be under a great, victorious king!
i. Saul won the battle that day, but it was more than one battle he won. This chapter records Saul’s inward and outward battles. The outward victory was obvious, but inwardly, Saul fought the strong and subtle temptations to pride, insecurity, and revenge. He won the battle against pride, insecurity, and revenge on this day, and he also won the outward battle. But would he continue to? Only as he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord, and walking in the Spirit, under the leadership of the King of Kings over Israel.
ii. “Thus far Saul acted well, and the kingdom seemed to be confirmed in his hand; but soon through impudence he lost it.” (Clarke) “O Saul, Saul, how well for thee it would have been hadst thou maintained this spirit! For then God would not have had to reject thee from being king.” (Blaikie)
© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission