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First Samuel - Chapter 11
Proposal of Nahash, vs. 1-3
At some time soon after the anointing of Saul as king over Israel the Ammonites, who lived east of the two and a half tribes across the Jordan, invaded the tribe of Gad, or Gilead as it was being called. These people had been enemies of Israel before. They were descendants of Lot by his younger daughter (Genesis 19:30-38). They had been decisively beaten by Israel during the days of the judges, when they had invaded the land. It was then that Jephthah was raised up to lead Israel, and under his judgeship they were totally vanquished (Judges, chap. 11). Now they were back, threatening the eastern tribes again, and this time there was no Jephthah to come to their rescue.
Nahash was the king of the Ammonites. His name means "serpent," and some have found significance in this. His siege of Jabesh and evil proposal have been made analogous to the attacks of Satan and his maiming influence on those who do not resist him. Yet, Nahash was a kind of sporting fellow. When the Israelites offered to become subservient to him he agreed only upon their subjection to have the right eye of all the men of Jabesh punched out. It would be a reproach to Israel, for it would say that they were still disunited, lacking concern for one another, so that a whole city’s men were made one eyed because their brethren would not help them.
The Jabeshites agreed to his proposal if Nahash would allow them seven days in which to seek help, and if unsuccessful, they would submit to this cruelty. Nahash sportingly agreed, for if, as he probably thought likely, no Israelite help was forthcoming it would make the reproach even more shameful.
Soul Delivers Jabesh, vs. 4-11
One wonders whether the men of Jabesh-gilead had much confidence in receiving help from the Israelites. Their history was bound up with one of the early tragedies, the time when they had failed to join the rest of Israel in the war against Benjamin. The Israelites had put their city to the sword, saving only the virgins for wives for the surviving men of the decimated tribe of Benjamin (Judges 21:8-14). On the other hand the messengers may have had a special appeal for Benjamin, because more than half the Benjamites were maternally related to the Jabeshites through those virgins of the times of the judges. Here is where they might expect to find the greatest sympathy, and so it seems to have been correct.
It is interesting to note that King Saul had reverted to his rural life of a herdman and farmer. He was coming out of the field when he heard the loud laments of the people in Gibeah. Upon inquiring he learned about the sadistic proposal of Nahash, the Ammonite king. There was not much time to get ready to relieve the city, so Saul used a severe threat to coerce the Israelites to gather for war against the Ammonites. He slew an ox and sent pieces of it into every tribe of Israel, with the threat that such would be done to the oxen of any who did not respond to the call. Saul also very shrewdly included Samuel in his plans, for he knew that a large number of people in Israel still looked upon the old prophet as their leader and judge.
The Spirit of the Lord moved on Saul at this time to enter upon an engagement which would solidify his position as king with the people. God also caused fear of Him to come upon the Israelites so that they answered Saul’s challenge in great numbers. When Saul mustered them at Bezek, in the tribe of western Manasseh, across the Jordan valley from Jabesh-gilead on the eastern side, there were 300,000 meri of Israel and 30,000 men of Judah. Note that the tribe of Judah is already being singled out as a special one of the tribes of Israel.
Saul’s message to the men of Jabesh was that by the time the sun became hot on the following day there would be relief for them. The men were very understandably happy to hear this news. However, they made as though they were resigned to their fate, probably to throw the enemy off guard. They sent out word to Nahash that the next day they would come out and he could do to them as he wished.
Saul divided his men into three companies and evidently made an all night march. They were on the scene long before the sun got hot, arriving during the last watch of the night. The slaughter of the Ammonites was so great and complete that by the time mid-morning arrived they were totally defeated. The Ammonites were so scattered that two of them could not be found together. So Saul’s heroic act saved Jabesh-gilead.
To complete the analogy noted above, note that: 1) when men call for help, God has deliverance for them, and it can be had before the sun gets hot, or early in the day of life; 2) the Lord is on hand early to utterly rout the Devil from his intended prey; 3) the victory of the saved is complete through the salvation of Christ.
Said Acclaimed, vs. 12-15
The defeat of the Ammonites at Jabesh-gilead turned out to be a watershed in the reign of Saul. A lagging kingdom was renewed and the citizens became much more enthusiastically responsive. From all these things one might gather that, though the clamor for a king had been widespread and vociferous, it was far from unanimous. Saul had returned to his pastoral pursuits, with no indications, other than a small following, to assert his position as king.
Now all that was changed, and he had become suddenly immensely popular. His loyal followers wanted to execute those who had resisted him, and tried to involve Samuel in the move. But Saul showed the mark of a real man in refusing to allow any reprisal in his behalf. Indeed, Samuel himself again proposed the gathering to Gilgal to renew the kingdom, to give Saul a new -beginning. And so they met at Gilgal, and there made sacrifices of peace offerings to the Lord and anointed Saul once more to rule over Israel. This time it succeeded, and Saul appears to be convinced at last that. he can rule the people. All of the people rejoiced greatly in this turn of events. Saul here appears at his greatest, and nearer to the will of God, than at any other time of his career. He even acknowledged the Lord’s hand in the victory (verse 13).
This short chapter contains several good lessons: 1) God’s people, out of His will, will be assaulted by Satan, who will maim and cripple their testimony if they do not seek the Lord again; 2) others of God’s people should always stand ready to go to the aid of those who are weak; 3) God will always deliver those who call on Him before they are utterly cast down; 4) though the opportunity may arise it is never right for God’s people to take vengeance against those who have wronged them.
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Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 11". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany