New European Commentary

 

About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan


Deeper Commentary

1Sa 11:1 Then Nahash the Ammonite came up and encamped against Jabesh Gilead, and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, Make a treaty with us and we will serve you-
Nahash is the Hebrew word for serpent. Although God foreknew Saul's ultimate failure, he was set up as the potential Messianic seed who could crush the serpent; see on 1 Sam. 13:13. He failed to realize his potential, and was confirmed in that by the evil spirit from Yahweh which later afflicted him. For the significance of Jabesh, see on :9.


1Sa 11:2 Nahash the Ammonite said to them, On this condition I will make it with you, that each of you has his right eye put out, bringing disgrace on all Israel-
Saul's work was to remove the disgrace or "reproach" from Israel. When Goliath reproached Israel, it was Saul, Israel's tallest man, who was potentially empowered to fight him and remove the reproach. But he failed to do so, and when David did (1 Sam. 17:26 s.w.), Saul fell into a complex of spiritual jealousy. See another example of this in :13. To put out the right eye was a living shame; perhaps the right eye was chosen because it was perceived as the eye most used in one to one combat. The relevance to the exiles is that very often, the word for "reproach" is used of their situation. Yahweh was powerful to remove this from them- if they accepted His leadership and didn't hanker for the immediate restoration of the kingly line as a condition for their return.

1Sa 11:3 The elders of Jabesh said to him, Give us seven days so that we can send messengers to all the borders of Israel, and then, if there is no one to save us, we will come out to you-
We wonder why Nahash agreed to this. His pride was apparently such that he considered that even if this were to be done, he would still win. It was again a case of pride going before a fall. Given the size of the land, it would have taken seven days to inform all Israel and get a response. See on 1 Sam. 14:10. 

1Sa 11:4 Then the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and reported these words to the people, and they all wept aloud-
The messengers went throughout Israel, just as messengers had recently gone throughout Israel inviting them to the gathering at Mizpah regarding having a king. And there was apparently no response. They were all therefore psychologically set up to hope that the promised new king would actually bring the charismatic deliverance they expected of a king. This setting up of expectation was all from God. He really wanted to arrange things so that Saul had the support and respect of all Israel. Saul's ultimate failure was therefore all the more culpable, because he had been set up for success- as is everyone called by God.


1Sa 11:5 Just then Saul came, following the oxen out of the field, and he said, What is wrong with the people that they weep? They told him what the men of Jabesh had said-
I pondered on 1 Sam. 10:16 why he didn't immediately tell others of his calling to be king, especially given the amazing signs and wonders he had experienced in the wake of the statement about him becoming king. Indeed, he had been anointed to be king. His silence could have been bashful humility, or it could have been a lack of faith in running with the possibilities now opened up to him. The fact Saul does nothing until he is now called by the Ammonite crisis could indicate his passivity to his calling. See on 1 Sam. 10:21. 

The Lord Jesus called men, arresting them with His radical call in the very midst of daily life, just when they were throwing a net into the sea, at the most utterly inconvenient moment, even the most humanly inappropriate moment- such as being on the way to your father’s funeral. The Son of God was actually acting as His Father had done. Gideon was called whilst in the middle of threshing wheat in a time of famine (Jud. 6:1), Saul whilst he was out looking for lost cattle (1 Sam. 9:10) and again now whilst he was coming home from ploughing [following the oxen] one evening; David whilst he was looking after the sheep; Samuel whilst he was asleep; Amos whilst he was leading the flocks to water (Am. 7:14); and see too 1 Kings 11:29; 19:16; 2 Kings 9:1-13,18. In other words, the call of God comes to us right in the midst of ordinary, mundane life. Of this there can be no doubt. And the Lord Jesus called men in just the same way.

1Sa 11:6 The Spirit of God came mightily on Saul when he heard those words, and his anger was kindled greatly-
This seems another example of the Spirit of God touching his heart, giving him feelings, initiatives and ideas; all part of the Spirit of God touching his heart or mind (see on 1 Sam. 10:6,9,26). And the Spirit can work likewise today if we are open to receive it. 

1Sa 11:7 He took a yoke of oxen, cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, Whoever doesn’t come forth after Saul and after Samuel, this is what shall be done to his oxen-
See on 1 Sam. 14:28,31. This is similar to what was done to call Israel to action against Gibeah and Benjamin (Jud. 19:29,30), and Jabesh were the ones who singularly refused to participate and respond. I suggest on :9 that Saul was seeking to show grace to them. Samuel was clearly identified with Saul and was effectively the joint leader at this point. He fades from view as Saul becomes more confident, and pride took over within him.

The dread of Yahweh fell on the people, and they came out as one man-
This continues the theme of the Spirit of God being at work on human hearts, giving not only individuals but a whole people the required psychological attitudes and dispositions.

1Sa 11:8 Saul numbered them in Bezek and there were three hundred thousand men of Israel and thirty thousand of Judah-
As often noted, "thousand" doesn't mean necessarily a literal 1000, but can refer to families or military regiments. The size of Judah, a tenth of the entire community, is roughly appropriate to the twelve tribe nation. Bezek is about 20 miles from Jabesh.

1Sa 11:9 They said to the messengers who came, Thus you shall tell the men of Jabesh Gilead: ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have deliverance’. The messengers came and told the men of Jabesh, and they were glad-
Jabesh was the town who had refused to help the rest of Israel in the war against Gibeah and Benjamin in Judges 19-21. That Saul should now help them was therefore an act of grace; although it could be read as him rewarding them for not turning against his tribe, the Benjamites (1 Sam. 9:1). But the fact the other tribes came to support Saul in saving Jabesh would indicate that he was spearheading a movement of grace. He did indeed begin well. See on :7.

1Sa 11:10 Therefore the men of Jabesh said to the Ammonites, Tomorrow we will come out to you and you can do to us what seems good to you-
The implication was that they had not had any offer of help and therefore the Ammonites in the pride were off guard (see on :3).  

1Sa 11:11 The next day Saul put the people into three companies, and they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch and slaughtered the Ammonites until the heat of the day. Those who remained were scattered, so that no two of them were left together-
They had marched 20 miles overnight from Bezek, and were exhausted- and then entered battle at dawn. The victory was clearly a case of God empowering the weak. By splitting the people into three groups, Saul was trying to imitate Gideon (see too 1 Sam. 13:2), and likewise when he prohibited the men to eat anything while they were pursuing the Philistines (1 Sam. 11:11 = Jud. 7:16; 1 Sam. 13:5 = Jud. 7:12; 1 Sam. 14:24,28,31 = Jud. 8:4,5). And yet it was Gideon who refused the request of Israel to make him king; Saul's modelling upon Gideon was only superficial.

1Sa 11:12 The people said to Samuel, Who was it who said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’. Bring those men out so that we can put them to death!-
Saul was set up by God to fulfil all the hopes and expectations of Israel about a human king. See on :4. The desire to kill fellow Israelites reflects the degree of cult following which Israel felt towards Saul. They failed to perceive that it was Samuel and God who had effectively challenged whether Saul should reign over them. 

1Sa 11:13 But Saul said, No-one is to be put to death today, for today Yahweh has worked deliverance in Israel-
And the principle holds true. If we are in awe at the great deliverance Yahweh has worked in His Son, there should be maximum forgiveness and no judgment of our brethren. See on 1 Sam. 14:45. As noted on :2, there is another connection with the conflict with Goliath. Yahweh again "worked deliverance in Israel" (s.w. 1 Sam. 19:5); but it was through David. It could have been through Saul, through whom He worked such deliverance at the start of his reign (s.w. 1 Sam. 11:13). It was because David had the faith and humility to do what Saul potentially could have done, that Saul fell into a complex of spiritual jealousy against David.   

David many years later copies Saul's spirit here in 1 Sam. 30:23; and we see his humility in being willing to credit Saul with something good, and even being willing to learn from a man who hated him and later went wrong before God.

1Sa 11:14 Then Samuel said to the people, Come, let us go to Gilgal and reaffirm the kingship there-
This was all part of God psychologically setting up Saul to be a successful king. The introduction of him to Israel as their king was at a time when God had made him fulfil all their secular desires for a king. He was riding a surge of mass support. His failure was thereby the more culpable.

Israel had been given a chance to reject the kingship of Saul. But they had insisted upon it, and so they were reaffirmed in their choice. Despite setting Saul up for success, God gave them a king in His wrath (Hos. 13:11) knowing how things would turn out and their motives in asking for a king, and this seems to be the reference of Hos 9:15: "All their wickedness is in Gilgal; for there I hated them". The mention of Gilgal is difficult because we are unaware that there was any more idolatry there than elsewhere. But probably the reference is to the way that Israel's demand for a human king at Gilgal was the epitome of their unfaithfulness to Yahweh; they thereby rejected Him as their king, master and husband; see on Hos. 10:3. They of course claimed to still have Him as their king, just as Gomer protested she was still Hosea's wife whilst having affairs with others. As Hosea went through flashes of hatred against Gomer, so did God. But His hatred was for a moment, because Hosea's prophecies go on to declare His undying love for His people. We see here how answered prayer isn't necessarily an indication that we are pleasing to God, just as unanswered prayer is no indication of His displeasure. For He answered their prayer, giving them exactly the kind of king they desired- "in His wrath".

1Sa 11:15 All the people went to Gilgal and there they made Saul king before Yahweh in Gilgal, and there they offered sacrifices of peace offerings before Yahweh, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly
-

The fact we have peace with God must inevitably produce joy, not necessarily arms round the neck and grinning from ear to ear, but the real spiritual joy of being at one with God. 1 Sam. 11:13- 15 recounts the offering of the peace offering to commemorate God's salvation of Israel, and their renewal of their covenant with Him. We should be able to say, at any given point in time, that we are confident that if Christ comes now, we will be saved. And in our times the breaking of bread meeting is an equivalent for the peace offering.

We note however that they offered peace offerings and rejoiced- despite having rejected Yahweh as their king, and His giving them a king in His anger (Hos. 10:13). This was not necessarily to say that they didn't have peace and fellowship with God. It simply reflects the complex standing of sinful, weak man before God when He has made major concessions to human weakness, and they have been made use of.