Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 11

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 6


‘The Spirit of God came upon Saul.’

1 Samuel 11:6

Amid a weeping people the tidings of the fate of Jabesh were told to Saul, who was returning with the oxen from the field. Saul felt the sorrow of it all as much as anybody, but Saul also felt it was no time to weep. The Spirit of the Lord came on him mightily, and roused him to immediate action. Inspired by the courage of their new-found king, the Israelites scattered the Ammonites like leaves before the wind. And the scene closes with a national gathering at Gilgal, where once again the kingship of Saul was ratified, and where with every token of national joy, peace offerings were offered to the Lord.

I. One of the first lessons we should learn here is the way in which our opportunities may reach us.—We read in Roman history that Cato was busy ploughing when he was fetched by the Senate to assume the dictatorship. So here Saul was returning from the field when the tidings of Jabesh-Gilead reached his ear. That was his first great opportunity as king—the hour that was to be determinative of his future—and it met him on one ordinary evening as he was returning from his day’s work in the field. He had not to roam abroad to seek this hour, nor to leave the ordinary routine of duty for it; in the midst of his daily and familiar tasks he was faced by this first crisis of his kingship. It is in the common life of ordinary days that God sends us our most glorious opportunities. It was when Nathanael was under the fig tree that Christ spied him. It was when Matthew was sitting at his desk that Jesus called him. It was when James and John were busy with their nets that they were summoned to be fishers of men. And so it is at home, and in the school, and in the office, or in the field, that we can show that we are kingly—that is, can show that we are Christ’s.

II. Another lesson we are to learn here is that God means us to do at once what must be done.—That was the effect of God’s Spirit upon Saul—he acted whole-heartedly and instantly. The people of Benjamin wept when they heard the tidings, but Saul was roused into immediate action, and there can be no question that this immediate action was the cause of Israel’s magnificent success. The three most important letters in the alphabet, said Sir Walter Scott, are the letters N, O, W. There are few habits more evil than the habit of dawdling and trifling and putting off the time. For not only does that make the task seem harder, till the grasshopper becomes a burden, but there is no joy or zest at all when the thing comes to be done at last. One of the great words in St. Mark’s Gospel is immediately. When there was anything to do, immediately Christ did it, unless He was prompted to delay by love. And no better word than that which St. Mark so used could be found as a motto. The Holy Ghost is saying, ‘ To-day.’ Pleasant things are done with a double blessing when they are done without procrastination. Unpleasant things are robbed of half their weight when they are carried through without delay. Delays are dangerous, the proverb says, and dangerous not only to the task, but to the soul of him who shirks the task.

III. Then lastly, we learn here the importance of using our victories rightly.—It is a noble trait in the character of Saul that he was so forgiving in the hour of victory. The people, mightily moved by their great triumph, were for putting to death those who had flouted Saul; but Saul said, ‘There shall not a man be put to death this day.’ That was a wise as well as a generous use of victory. It prepared the way for a future of peace and union. Had Saul taken swift vengeance on his despisers, it would have led to bitter feuds and bloodshed. But he used his first victory with consummate wisdom, and so has taught us how we should act in ours. For there are perils in victories no less than in defeats, and there are men who have lost because they won. We are all apt, in the first flush of triumphs, to forget ourselves and the things so hardly learned. Therefore is it necessary to cling close to God in the hours when the trees of the forest clap their hands not less than in the seasons when we cry with Jacob, ‘All these things are against me.’


(1) ‘It was a glorious victory, the first one that Saul won, but that act of clemency was its noblest crown. His first exercise of power is to rescue Israel from threatened bondage, and his first opportunity of vengeance he turns into an opportunity of forgiveness. Such is Saul as he first takes into his hands the Jewish sceptre. His after history presents one gathering, thickening mass of error, remorse, jealousy, anger, melancholy, madness, ending all in mournful suicide. But never let us forget how that dark history began, that it is the same Saul that was so dutiful and tender to his father, so modest among his fellows, so generous to his enemies, whose career we are about to trace. Looking at his life in its dark close, we see before us a moral wreck; but it was a noble vessel that went to pieces. But why was the history of that wreck written by the pen of inspiration? And why does that shattered vessel still lie there before us? Why but that He who knows how dangerous an ocean it is that we have to traverse, and how treacherous the coasts along which the voyage lies, would not leave us without all kinds of warning given. And we shall be all the better prepared to take home to our hearts those moral and spiritual warnings that that wreck gives forth, if we carry with us the remembrance of what a goodly, kindly, generous, and noble nature it was of which the shattered relics remain.’

(2) ‘Contemptuous criticism is a challenge to everything that is contemptible in a man. Many a man who can stand fire cannot stand laughter or abuse. But Saul was bigger and more generous. He would not stain the memory of that day with the blood of his countrymen, however little they deserved his clemency. In this he was surely as wise as he was right. When the day was over and the hot passion of revenge had died down, how much greater must their king have seemed to them than if he had yielded to their suggestion.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 11". The Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.