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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

1 Samuel 11

Verses 1-15

CONFIRMATION OF SAUL IN THE KINGDOM (1Sa 11:1-15; 1 Samuel 12:1-25.).



1 Samuel 11:1, 1 Samuel 11:2.

Nahash the Ammonite. The same name is found in 2 Samuel 10:2 as that of the father of Hanun, who treated David's ambassadors so shamefully, and probably they mean the same person. He is there said to have shown kindness to David; and as we read in 2 Samuel 17:25 that Abigal (so the Hebrew, not Abigail as the A.V; who was David's wife), Amasa's mother, was the daughter of Nahash, and as Abigal was the sister or half-sister of Zeruiah, David's aunt, there seems to have been some relationship between them. The Ammonites were old enemies of the Israelites, alleging that Israel had taken possession of territory east of the Jordan which rightfully belonged to them (Judges 11:13); but after their defeat by Jephthah their power was so broken that they allowed a century to elapse before they ventured again to assert their claim. Nahash, apparently after other invasions (1 Samuel 12:12), now attacks Jabesh-Gilead, a city in the half-tribe of Manasseh, which had been cruelly treated by the Israelites (Judges 21:10), but apparently had risen again from its ruins. Its inhabitants were willing humbly to submit to Ammonite rule; but Nahash will grant them no other terms than that they should let him thrust out—Hebrew, bore through—all their right eyes, not from any special spite against them, but as an insult to all Israel. No better proof could be given of the disorganisation of the nation than that a petty despot should venture to show his contempt for it in so offensive a way.

1 Samuel 11:3

The elders who govern the town know nothing of a king having been appointed, nor do they send to Samuel to ask him, as the judge, to protect them; but they request a seven days' respite, that they may send messengers unto all the coasts of Israel, and Nahash, feeling sure that no combined action would be the result, grants their request, that so Israel far and wide might know of his triumph.

1 Samuel 11:4, 1 Samuel 11:5

Among other places the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, where they make no appeal to him, but tell their sad tidings in the ears of all the people. Powerless to help, they can only weep; but in the midst of their lamentation Saul came after the herd (Hebrew, following the oxen) out of the field. Saul was not driving a herd of cattle home, but had been ploughing, and, labour being over, was returning with the team of oxen.

1 Samuel 11:6

And the Spirit of God came upon Saul. Rather, descended mightily upon Saul (see 1 Samuel 10:6). No miraculous influence is here meant; far more full of meaning and piety is the lesson so constantly taught in the Book of Judges, that all mighty and noble acts are from God (Judges 3:10; Judges 6:34; Judges 11:29; Judges 13:25; Judges 14:6; Judges 15:14, etc.). Even the heathen saw in enthusiasm something Divine, for it means the having God within. The energy with which Saul acted was strictly natural, but yet as truly Divine; and it is a sign of the irreligion of modern days that it can see and hear of great and heroic achievements and assign no part in them to God. In the days of Samuel and the judges the whole glory of such acts was ascribed to God. But equally now, whenever men are moved to noble acts, it is "the breath of God" that descends upon them and inspires them.

1 Samuel 11:7

Acting then with Divine enthusiasm, Saul cut into pieces a yoke of oxen, and sent them throughout all the coasts of Israel by the hands of messengers. For a similar act see Judges 19:29. Probably Saul cut the oxen into twelve pieces, and sent one to each tribe, with the threat that in case of disobedience their oxen would be similarly treated. The threat was moderate in that it did not touch their persons, but severe as regards their property, the labouring ox being man's faithful friend and servant. It is important also to notice that Saul speaks not only in his own name, but also in that of Samuel. It was as the man chosen of Jehovah to be king by the voice of his prophet that he acted, and so as one possessed of legitimate authority; and it seems also that Samuel went with him in person to the war (Judges 19:12). And the result answered to the energy with which Saul acted, for the fear of Jehovah—or, rather, "a terror from Jehovah"—fell on the people, and they came out with one consent, or, as it is rendered far more correctly and forcibly in the margin, "as one man." United by the kingly power, it was a nation that rose to defend one of its injured members.

1 Samuel 11:8

He numbered them in Bezek. This place was in the tribe of Issachar, and must be distinguished from that mentioned in Judges 1:3, Judges 1:4, which was in Judah, and too remote from the scene of operations. And here Saul appears as the commander-in-chief; for the numbering included the forming of battalions, arranged in thousands, hundreds, and fifties, and the setting officers over them. These, naturally, were the chief men in each district. The result would be that, coming to Bezek, the appointed rendezvous, a disorderly multitude, they would leave it as an army arranged in order, and Saul, in the many difficulties that would arise, would have his first opportunity of showing his powers of command. Children of Israel,… men of Judah—the distinction which ended in the disruption of the nation. Judah, too, with its 30,000 men, is but poorly represented, nor is it a sufficient explanation of the small number who came that the tribe had enough to do at home in making head against the Philistines. As a matter of fact, Judah always stood apart until there was a king who belonged to itself. Then, in David's time, it first took an active interest in the national welfare, and it was its vast power and numbers which made him so powerful. Had it been so nearly overpowered by the Philistines, it could not so suddenly have sprung forth with a might which made it well nigh a match for all the rest.

1 Samuel 11:9

Tomorrow, by that time the sun be hot. As Bezek is about twenty miles distant from Jabesh-Gilead, Saul would probably march most of the way that evening, and then, halting for food and sleep, would continue his advance early the next morning.

1 Samuel 11:10

Tomorrow we will come out unto you. This was apparently intended to throw the Ammonites off their guard, as they would suppose that the men of Jabesh-Gilead had given up all hopes of deliverance.

1 Samuel 11:11

They came.; in the morning watch. By a forced march Saul came upon the unsuspecting Ammonites just before daybreak, when sleep is deepest; and as his host was unwieldy, he arranged it in three divisions, assigning to each a different route, that they might not impede one another on the way, and might also cut off the retreat of the enemy. As the fighting went on for five or six hours, until the heat of the day, the Ammonites must at first have made some resistance; but when all three divisions of Saul's army had come up, they were so utterly routed that "no two of them were left together."

1 Samuel 11:12, 1 Samuel 11:13

The people said unto Samuel. Even after this glorious victory the people turn to Samuel, and doubtless his presence and influence had had great weight in gaining obedience to Saul's command (1 Samuel 11:7). They now, with the old tumultuous violence, demand' that those who had opposed Saul's election should be put to death. Probably the ringleaders of Saul's opponents were some of the ciders disappointed at not being chosen themselves (see on 1 Samuel 10:27). But Saul displays, first, the kingly virtue of clemency, saying, There shall not a man be put to death this day—a decision politic as well as generous, for bloodshed would have led only to future feuds; and, secondly, piety, in so humbly ascribing to Jehovah the salvation that had been wrought in Israel.

SAUL SOLEMNLY CONSECRATED AS KING (1 Samuel 11:14, 1 Samuel 11:15).

1 Samuel 11:14

Let us go to Gilgal. The famous sanctuary (1 Samuel 7:16) of that name, situated lower down, in the Jordan valley, near Jericho. It was not far from Jabesh-Gilead, and naturally the victorious host would move from the field of battle to the nearest religious spot to consecrate their king.

1 Samuel 11:15

They made Saul king. This is not to be interpreted, with the Septuagint, of a second anointing of Saul, but of his confirmation in the kingdom by the unanimous voice of the nation, whereas the first election of him at Mizpah had met with opposition. Before Jehovah. I.e. with religious ceremonies conducted by Samuel and the high priest. The difference between Saul's election at Mizpah and the confirmation of it at Gilgal is much the same as between the first proclamation or' a king and his coronation. The latter is the nation's acknowledgment of his sovereignty, and the solemn consecration of him to his high office. Peace offerings were tokens of joy and gratitude, and were followed by a feast. At this there was great rejoicing, because the king whom they had desired had so quickly proved himself worthy to be their head.


1 Samuel 11:1-3

The relative power of evil and, good.

The facts are—

1. The Ammonites, in pursuit of the enterprise previously arranged for (see 1 Samuel 12:12; cf. 1 Samuel 8:5), threaten Jabesh-Gilead.

2. The inhabitants in terror seek to make a covenant with their enemy.

3. This being insolently refused, a respite of seven days is granted, during which external aid is to be sought. The narrative is evidently designed to trace the circumstances under which the discontent and base insinuations of "men of Belial" (1 Samuel 10:27) were practically shown to be baseless. This was a war of revenge undertaken by the strong against the weak, and the facts as a whole set forth three important truths of general interest.

I. EVIL IS STRONG RELATIVELY TO THE FAITHFULNESS OR UNFAITHFULNESS OF GOD'S PEOPLE. Ammon was Israel's ancestral foe (Deuteronomy 23:4; Judges 11:4). The prosperity of one seemed incompatible with that of the other. When, under the inspiring leadership of Jephthah, the Ammonites were utterly smitten, their strength was brought down to its proper proportions. Had Israel continued faithful in the improvement of privileges enjoyed as the chosen race, their moral and political strength would have proportionately advanced in harmony with the promises given through Moses (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). The relative position of the representatives of good and evil had entirely changed when Nahash in pride of strength threatened Jabesh-Gilead. Even the partial reformation effected through Samuel had not yet placed Israel beyond the fear of well organised foes. God's people are strong when holy, true, and diligent in use of the advantages of their position. The truth thus taught is exemplified in Church history, in modern society, in private and domestic life.

1. Church history testifies that the energy of evil and its range have been proportionate to the faithfulness of the Church to its lofty mission as conserver of God's truth and witness for Christ among men. The Ammonites have multiplied, become insolent, and have awakened fear only when the Christian Israel have lost their first love and failed to keep their solemn vows.

2. Modern society feels that the growth of evil is another form of weakened spiritual grace. There may be, in the unseen sphere of spiritual "principalities and powers," seasons when energetic spontaneous exertions are made to overcome the influence of the gospel. But to speak of the portentous growth of spiritual ignorance, disregard of religion, infidelity, and open vice, especially in large centres of population, is but another way of saying that the professed followers of Christ have not been as earnest and united in effort as he would have them to be. It is in the nature of light to get rid of darkness, of salt to remove corruption. The grave problem of the age may require many elements—social, sanitary, educational, political—for its solution, but men feel that the chief requirement is higher spiritual power in Christians.

3. In private and domestic life the power of evil depends on personal fidelity to what God has given and imposed. The remnants of sin in our nature lose force in so far as we faithfully seek cleansing by the indwelling of the Spirit, and keep a strong hand on the first uprising of unholiness. The force of external temptation diminishes in so far as our cultured holiness of disposition furnishes it with no affinity within. And as domestic life is but the first social form of the life cultured in private, its spiritual evils become formidable or feeble in so far as the soul is true to its God.

II. DANGERS IMPENDING FROM THE GROWTH OF EVIL MAY INDUCE RECOURSE TO THE TRUE SOURCE OF DELIVERANCE. The dangers threatening Jabesh-Gilead sprang from the action of a spiritual law. Israel never had been in real peril during any seasons of obedience to God. In the present instance the danger, which was brought on by a train of sad defections in years gone by, was very real, and became so pressing that, in utter desperation, the people turn their thoughts towards the king. The miseries consequent on past sins aroused a cry for the lawful deliverer. This was one of the results of the partial reformation. Much is gained when men are impelled to have recourse to the agencies and sources of power which God has specifically ordained for their help. There are illustrations of this in life.

1. The soul is often driven, in desperation, to Christ for help. Men do awake to the fact that destruction awaits them. The jailor's cry to the Apostle Paul has been repeated by thousands. Sin and judgment are terrible realities. But often men, when oppressed with fear of coming doom, endeavour to find relief by various expedients. At last, half in despair and half in hope, they turn to him who is the Anointed One to secure redemption to Israel.

2. In the spiritual conflict a sense of need impels to a use of Divine aids. Some men, trusting too freely to merely human wisdom, find that disaster comes in the Christian conflict. Principles become gradually weaker, and there is a risk of a loss of place in the commonwealth of Israel; but after a bitter experience they remember and recognise the means of defence and freedom. Weary, sad, conscious of inability to cope with the foe, they seek closer fellowship with Christ, and a more earnest use of the sword of the Spirit.

3. The modern Church is driven by the sheer magnitude of social dangers to have recourse more fully to the radical cure of all ills—the gospel. Thoughtful Christians see that no mere social reforms and sanitary arrangements, or scientific discoveries, will avail to arrest the real dangers of human nature. The evil is great, the risks desperate; the full gospel, presented with all the energy and self-denial and love which the Christian spirit can call forth, is the only means of spiritual deliverance. The material and social will follow. Whatever others may do, the Church must betake herself with apostolic zeal to the ancient lines of action.

III. EVENTS IN THE NATURAL ORDER OF PROVIDENCE AFFORD OPPORTUNITY FOR THE VINDICATION OF GOD'S SERVANTS. It is instructive to notice how long lines of intricate events, and working out collateral purposes, converge in securing for the anointed king an opportunity of answering by deeds the aspersions and insinuations of disaffected men. The growth of Ammon's power for evil consequent on Israel's religious defection, and the gradual reformation that had for some years been progressing in Israel,—these with all their subsidiary events,—created occasion for an appeal to Saul. He "held his peace" when "men of Belial" reviled, but Providence was working in his behalf. There are "wheels within wheels." The same order is ever going on. The Saviour's earthly life and subsequent resurrection is a case in point. Righteous men, whose motives have been misinterpreted and characters maligned, have committed themselves in silence to God, and he has brought forth their "righteousness as the light," and their "judgment as the noonday." And, also, all events are converging to the vindication of Christ's claim to be King of kings and Lord of lords.

General considerations:

1. What may be the special causes of the relative progress of irreligion in different localities?

2. To what extent the prevalence of irreligion and of influences adverse to the gospel are traceable to the unfaithfulness of the Church in generations gone by, and how best to counteract the effect of such historic unfaithfulness on the public mind.

3. In how many ways do professing Christians sometimes endeavour to compromise with their natural enemy?

4. What opportunites does Providence naturally open for the vindication of our personal claim to be true servants of Christ?

1 Samuel 11:4-11

The perfecting gift.

The facts are—

1. The message brought to Gibeah throws the inhabitants into grief and consternation.

2. Saul, on hearing the tidings, is aroused by the Spirit of God to summon the nation to follow him and Samuel.

3. The people responding to the call, help is assured to the men of Jabesh.

4. The result is the utter defeat of the Ammonites. The effect of the appeal of the men of Jabesh on the people of Gibeah, on Saul, and subsequently on the conflict with the foe, brings out three truths of wider range than the particular instance recorded.

I. AN IMPERFECT APPRECIATION OF THE RESOURCES PLACED WITHIN THEIR REACH ACCOUNTS FOR SOME OF THE TROUBLES OF MEN. "The people lifted up their voices and wept." Their hearts sank within them; the boding ruin of Jabesh was the precursor of their own. This conduct was the effect of a non-appreciation of the position they then held under the care of God. Had they duly considered the significance of the return of the ark, the value of the reformation already inaugurated, and the lessons of history (Judges 7:7), they must have seen that an appeal to their God-approved king, in humble dependence on God, would have in some way saved their brethren of Jabesh. Men in all ages have lost much good and brought on much misery by not adequately considering the resources put within their power.

1. The earth, air, and sea have been for ages full of God s hid treasures for the use of man; there lie powers to heal, to accomplish work, to promote the material and domestic good of all. Neglect or forgetfulness of their presence for generations deprived men of physical blessings now enjoyed by rich and poor. Doubtless other resources are close at hand, if only we duly appreciated them, and sought them in the right way.

2. In the human constitution there are valuable powers which, in numberless instances, are not duly considered and developed. Faculties lie dormant which might contribute to the wealth, culture, and comfort of the possessor and society. The material and intellectual loss to the world of undeveloped powers is enormous. The occasional results of education only reveal the extent of our deprivation of possible good.

3. In the Christian there are gifts of the Spirit not sufficiently stirred up. In the ordinary gifts of the Spirit there is generally a reserve of power in excess of the exertion put forth. In maintaining the conflict with sin and in doing deeds of love more might be accomplished by a proper estimate and use of what already dwells in the renewed soul.

4. In the reserved power of God, dependent for its exercise on the prayer of faith, there is a vast store of blessing not often touched. The Divine energy has not all been expended. Largely, in connection with the progress of Christ's kingdom, it is dependent for its outflow on the effectual fervent prayers of his servants. We are to prove him, whether he will not open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing.

5. In the provision for the renewal and forgiveness of the most guilty there is a resource not always appreciated. Many men continue to carry their guilt and yield to the impulses of a depraved nature because they forget or do not duly consider WHO stands by them mighty to save. Did they but truly "know the gift of God, and who it is" that speaks to them of salvation, they would not go hither and thither, sad, and weary, and tearful, but would ask of him, and he would give them "living water."

II. THERE IS A PERFECTING GIFT FROM GOD REQUISITE TO DEVELOP AND TURN TO BEST ACCOUNT MUCH ELSE BESTOWED BY GOD. Saul was already a powerful man, chosen by the nation, and recognised by God as king. He was endowed with prerogative and latent capabilities. The tidings which caused wailing among the men of Gibeah because of their non-appreciation of their true position were the occasion of a remarkable display of courage and energy on the part of Saul, and that because "the Spirit of God" came upon him. Whatever the precise nature of this higher gift, its practical effect was to draw out all that was in the man and the king, and to enable the powers already bestowed to act for the benefit of Israel. It perfected all else done for Saul. There is a relation of dependence in the blessings God bestows on us. Some come to full development only when allied with another, which, therefore, may be called a higher good. The physical energy for defeat of Ammon lay in Israel. The gift of Saul turned it all into victory. The same relation is seen amongst us; e.g. material wealth is a boon not to be despised, often the gift of God; but for its full development and enjoyment it needs another gift—health of body and generosity of spirit. Great mental abilities are of God; the additional gift of a devout, lowly spirit insures their most perfect use. Home adorned and enriched by all that wealth, art, and domestic affection can contribute is a precious blessing; yet its joys are more full and varied, its affections more pure, and its sorrows more endurable, when the higher blessing of personal religion is supreme there. The external privileges of religion, free use of the word of God, instruction and care of pious parents, associations of the sanctuary, entreaties of pastors and friends, are among the greatest mercies enjoyed by men; yet even these are raised to their highest value only when the Holy Spirit comes down, like "upper and nether springs" to water the "south land."

III. GOD SOMETIMES EFFECTS HIS PURPOSES AMONG MEN BY INDIRECT ACTION UPON THEM. In the accomplishment of Divine purposes, in the physical, mental, or spiritual spheres, a variety of combinations are often requisite. To the deliverance of Jabesh-Gilead it was needful to arouse the people as well as the king. It was by the tremendous energy of the king, aroused by the direct action of the Spirit of God, that their instant cooperation was secured. The law of indirect action widely prevails. That the Eternal is in direct, constant, energetic contact with each being is certain. He "upholds all things by the word of his power." Yet, if language may be so used to indicate a mystery, the import of his energy on men is not always immediate. The energy of one spirit acting on another is, so to speak, a refraction of a force originally in God, and coloured by the character of the medium through which it passes. There are many illustrations of the general truth of indirect action.

1. In the sphere of mind much is accomplished by powerful intellects affecting a few with their ideas and feelings, who, being more in contact with the masses, give forth the truth or the emotion tinged by their own peculiarities.

2. In the sphere of spirit, religiously considered, a large proportion of what we call influence is of this character. Not only do superior Christians act on a wide area by means of the few who come under their personal attention, but much of the action of God on the world is through his people. His light is not seen by many except mediately in the beautiful lives of the holy. His love acts on the hard heart of man through the compassion he directly produces in the followers of Christ. Men see by holy deeds and spiritual achievements that "God is with" his people, and are thus influenced by God to submit to his blessed sway.

General lessons:

1. It behoves every one to search and see what talents, and means of becoming holy, and of advancing Christ's kingdom, lie unused.

2. It should be a matter of serious inquiry how much of our wailing and fear are the result of a guilty forgetfulness or distrust of God's readiness to bless our endeavours.

3. If we are in possession of valuable blessings, and they do not yield all the joy and satisfaction reasonably to be looked for, we should find out what is that higher gift not yet sought from God.

4. The Church and the Christian have need to inquire how much of the non-success of endeavour is due to lack of receptivity for the highest gift of all, the rich outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

5. Every one should so live as to be a fit and perfect vehicle for the transmission of the healing, saving power of God on mankind.

1 Samuel 11:12-15

The concurrence of human and Divine action.

The facts are—

1. On the completion of the victory over the Ammonites, the supporters of Saul desire the punishment by death of the "men of Belial" who had reviled him.

2. Saul, recognising the merciful help of God, refuses to mar the joy of victory by personal retaliation.

3. At the invitation of Samuel the people assembled in Gilgal for the recognition of Saul as victorious king, coupled with thanksgiving to God. To an ordinary observer looking on the conflict between Israel and Ammon, it would seem to be simply a struggle of men with men. The preceding verses (6-11) show that an element more than human entered into the conflict, and Saul gratefully refers to this in saying', "Today the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel." The subsequent celebration of worship by Samuel was a recognition of the same fact.

I. It is THE CONCURRENCE OF GOD'S ACTION WITH THAT OF MAN WHICH BRINGS ABOUT RESULTS OF A JOYOUS CHARACTER. The personal will and muscular and mental energy of Saul, aided by the cooperating powers of the people, led to the defeat of the Ammonites. That was the visible human element. But these powers were set at work and sustained by the action directly on the nature of Saul by the Spirit of God (1 Samuel 11:6), and indirectly through the awe inspired thereby on the minds and bodies of the people. The issue, therefore, is to be ascribed to concurrent action of the human and Divine, the latter partly direct and partly indirect. In a general way it may be said that all effects realised by man are by this concurrence of action. For even when they exercise their power of willing and devising in a wrong direction, it is only possible in consequence of the energy of God sustaining those powers of volition and thought. But the more specific sense in which the concurrence is true may be seen by taking instances.

1. In the realisation of Messianic purposes. The appearance of Christ on earth was the result of a long double line of action. The descendants of Abraham freely cherished the hope of Messiah, and by effort of their own will they contributed, as described in the Old Testament, the human line of action towards this issue. But all this time, and along with all these acts, the Spirit of God was at work, making them willing to be a separate people, controlling events to secure their isolation, inspiring their prophets with rapt vision of the future, and at last coming on the one honoured among women for the perfecting of all that had been hoped and laboured for (Luke 1:27-35).

2. In the production of the Bible. In revelation, as a whole, we have a long train of human events intertwined with a successive manifestation of the Divine will. The Bible is the record of the combination. This holy Book itself is what it is, in its historical portions, because human hands gathered out the selected facts in pursuance of a principle given of God. Moreover, the devout exercises of human spirits in such portions as the Psalms were free, yet concurrent with a Divine influence in their initiation; and as also in the selection of them subsequently for the benefit of mankind.

3. In the victories achieved by Christianity. The victories of Christianity have come about by the free effort of individual minds combining under forms of Church organisation. Men have spoken, written, entreated, sympathised, prayed. Some critics ascribe all success in heathen lands to sheer force of superior intelligence and moral influence; and in civilised lands to what of moral excellence there may be in connection with a great superstition, enforced as this is by a zeal that takes captive the uncritical. But the solution is that God is a coworker with the Church. The human and Divine action are concurrent, the one being the vehicle through which the other operates.

4. In the sanctification of the soul. The work to be done before the human soul can rise to the highest form of life is enormous. Few men consider what is involved in "entering into the kingdom of heaven" even on earth. To rise to the life of the "kingdom" means work, conflict, suppression, elevation, excision, nurture, self-denial, aspiration, ambition, persistence within a sphere into which only the eye of God can penetrate. Yet all the expenditure of energy the greatest mind can command is of itself inadequate. We are conquerors and "more than conquerors through Christ," who helpeth us. He "worketh within us to will and to do." In this subtle concurrence of the Divine and human the highest form of life is realised for the "whole body, soul, and spirit."

II. It is BEFITTING TO SEIZE OCCASION FOR RECOGNISING GOD'S CONCURRENT ACTION WITH US IN BRINGING GOOD ISSUES TO PASS. It was fit that Saul should publicly recognise the hand of God in his first victory. The spontaneity of the act, and the magnanimous spirit that would not mar the joy of the victory by personal retaliation on his despisers, indicate that at this period of his history he possessed some excellent moral qualities, which certainly were strengthened by this public expression of them. Samuel's participation in the common joy was also proof of the good feelings of Saul.

1. It is good to pause in life's struggles and consider gratefully our personal indebtedness to God s power working with us. There are dangers in activity. Absorption in the outgoing of our own energy may unconsciously induce the belief that by "our own arm" have we gotten the victory. Occasional reflection of the need and fact of the Power that "worketh all in all," with deeper dependence on God, awaken gratitude, give tone to our own exertions, and sustain hope of final triumph.

2. It is good in families to seize opportunities for recognising God's help. The parent whose business has prospered, whose children are being happily settled in life, whose home has been kept free from great calamities, or who has come out of severe trials with honour, will do well to remember who giveth power to be rich, ordereth right paths, sheltereth from "the destruction that wasteth at noonday," and raiseth the needy from the dust, and not be ashamed to let his household know how much he owes to God. Such conduct will bear blessed fruit.

3. It is good for nations to recognise God in signal deliverances. God works with and forevery nation that loves and seeks righteousness. National homage is as proper as individual worship. Thanksgiving services are of Scriptural authority. The precedents are numerous in the Old Testament. It is no doubt owing solely to the fact that Christianity had not permeated nations as a whole, when the New Testament was written, that no precedents are found in its records. Yet the Church as such held special services for prayer and thanksgiving (Acts 4:23-33). Those who contend that vigorous human action is the true and only form of homage to God overlook the fact that there is in good results more than human action, and that positive acts of worship, in recognition of dependence and in expression of gratitude, not only pay honour to whom honour is due, but exercise a beneficial reflex influence on the worshippers. Such acts quicken the public conscience, raise thought to a higher level, nourish the religious feeling, offer excellent occasions and topics for instruction, strengthen the national sentiment, awaken the kindly interest of class for class, call forth the more generous and restrain the harsher impulses of life.

General lessons:

1. It should be a question with individuals and nations as to whether they in their aims and spirit fulfil the conditions on which alone the concurrent action of God can proceed.

2. Much of the non-success of effort may arise from an insufficient recognition of God as a coworker with us.

3. Things and private persons rise in honour and influence as they display a generous magnanimity.

4. The joy of great salvation should be undiminished by the intrusion of any bitter human feeling.


1 Samuel 11:1-15. (GIBEAH, BEZEK, JABESH.)

Saul's first victory.

Although Saul had been privately anointed and publicly chosen king, he did not immediately assume royal state. Guided, doubtless, by the counsel of Samuel, and perceiving from the disaffection of certain men (1 Samuel 10:27) that the nation was not yet quite prepared for the change, he did not deem it prudent to do so. Returning to his former mode of life at Gibeah (1 Samuel 11:5), he awaited some further indication of his call to be "captain over the Lord's inheritance." "Nothing but true, royal action for the welfare of the state, alike bravely undertaken and firmly carried out at the right moment, could win for him that real deference, that joyful, voluntary cooperation for state purposes from all his subjects, without which his sovereignty must ever remain most feeble and equivocal" (Ewald). It was not long ("a month," LXX.) before the opportunity for such action occurred. He proved himself equal to the occasion, and his patience was justified and rewarded. His position as a military leader was fully vindicated by the result, and his sovereignty was heartily recognised by all the people. This is the chief historical significance of his warlike enterprise or campaign against the Ammonites for the relief of Jabesh-Gilead. Observe that it was—

I. UNDERTAKEN IN A RIGHTEOUS CAUSE (1 Samuel 11:1-4). If ever war is justifiable (and it seems impossible that it should be altogether avoided), it is when undertaken, as in this case—

1. To repel hostile aggression. The Ammonites were old enemies (Deuteronomy 2:19; Deuteronomy 23:3, Deuteronomy 23:4; Judges 3:13; Judges 10:7; Judges 11:5). They were a nomadic, predatory, cruel, and idolatrous people. For some time Nahash, animated by the desire of war and conquest, "the malady of princes," had assumed a threatening attitude (1 Samuel 12:12), and now laid siege to the capital of Gilead, a part of the Israelitish territory belonging to the half-tribe of Manasseh, beyond the Jordan. His aggression was—

(1) Without adequate ground. He probably revived a claim previously asserted and refuted (Judges 11:12-15). But men readily find pretexts for a course to which they are disposed. "From whence come wars?" (James 4:1).

(2) Revengeful. He wished to avenge the defeat long before inflicted by Jephthah. Hatred between nations tends to perpetuate itself, and to become intensified; and successes in war often sow "dragon's teeth" that produce a subsequent harvest of strife and misery.

(3) Proud, boastful, and cruel (verse 2).

2. To aid imperilled brethren. Between the people of Jabesh and the Benjamites, especially, there was an intimate connection (Judges 21:12-14). Their condition was now degraded, fearful, wretched; and although it was due to their want of patriotism, faith, and courage, yet it did not deprive them of a claim upon the sympathy of their brethren, but was a powerful appeal to their compassion. The appeal of the poor, the oppressed, the slave cannot be unheeded without sin (Proverbs 24:11, Proverbs 24:12).

3. To avert a common danger. The siege of Jabesh was evidently intended as the first step in an attack upon all Israel. The distress of the people of Gibeah arose not merely from sympathy with their brethren, but also from fear for themselves, and a sense of helplessness against so powerful an adversary. Saul's enterprise was thus one of self-defence.

4. To maintain the Divine hour. The Ammonites worshipped Moloch (Molech, or Milcom), "the abomination of the children of Ammon" (1 Kings 11:7), and sought his honour in opposition to that of Jehovah. It was a part of the calling of Israel to extirpate idolatry, and it was commanded them concerning the Ammonites, "Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days forever" (Deuteronomy 23:6). In their wars with the heathen they acted under a Divine commission. The religious wars which have been waged under the Christian dispensation have sometimes been undertaken from lofty motives, but they have not had the same justification, and the honour of God ought to be sought by other and more effectual means.

II. WAGED WITH HOLY ENTHUSIASM (verses 5-11). Enthusiasm—God in us. It was—

1. Inspired by the Divine Spirit. On returning from the field, and learning the cause of the people's distress, "the Spirit of God came upon Saul, and.his anger was kindled greatly." There is an anger which is not sinful (Mark 3:5; Ephesians 4:26). The feeling of resentment is a weapon put into our hands by God against injury, injustice, and cruelty of every kind.

(1) The anger of Saul was incited by the same spirit as previously constrained him to utter Divine praises.

(2) It was a feeling of wrath and burning zeal against wrong.

(3) It was directed towards the welfare of his people and the honour of God.

(4) It qualified him for a great enterprise; led him to assume the leadership of the nation to which he had been appointed, and to summon the tribes to rally around him. The gifts of the Spirit of God are various, and adapted to the requirements of the age.

2. Shared in by all the people.

(1) "The fear of Jehovah fell on the people," i.e. a fear inspired by him. "In Saul's energetic appeal the people discerned the power of Jehovah, which inspired them with fear and impelled them to immediate obedience" (Keil). That power is able to fill a whole nation, as well as an individual, with new emotions and impulses.

(2) Under its influence "they came out as one man" (with one consent).

(3) Mustered under the leadership of Saul in Bezek, near to Bethshan. A common danger often draws men into closer union and cooperation than peace and prosperity.

3. Expressed in a confident assurance of help. "Tomorrow, by the time the sun be hot, ye shall have help" (verse 9). Faith looks upon that which is believed as if it were already an accomplished fact.

4. Manifested in energetic action. His promise was not in words merely, but was followed up by deeds (verse 11). "It was night when Saul and the armed multitude which followed him broke up from Bezek. Little did he know how well the brave men of Jabesh would requite the service (1 Samuel 31:8-13). Strange that Saul's first march should have been by night from Bethshan to Jabesh, the same route by which at the last they carried his dead body at night" (Edersheim).


1. The defeat of the enemy—sudden, unexpected, and complete. "Two of them were not left together," and their king, Nahash, was slain (Josephus). "Those that walk in pride he is able to abase" (Daniel 4:37).

2. The deliverance of the oppressed, who were not afterwards wanting in gratitude or courage.

3. The cessation of disaffection (verses 12, 13).

4. The united and joyful devotion of all Israel (verses 14, 15).


1. We have other enemies to encounter than those of flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12).

2. We must contend against them not simply for our own safety, but for the good of our fellow men.

3. It is only by the help of the Lord that we can prevail.—D.

1 Samuel 11:12, 1 Samuel 11:13

Generosity toward enemies.

Some men are subject to noble impulses, under which they rise to a higher level of thought and feeling than that which they ordinarily occupy. The difference is sometimes so great that they do not seem to be the same persons. But the change is transient, and they speedily relapse into their former state. Their character is one of varying, wayward, and uncertain moods rather than high, steadfast, and consistent principle. Such a man was Saul. The impulse under which he spared his enemies after his victory over the Ammonites displayed extraordinary magnanimity. The act is the noblest recorded of him, and stands out in strong relief against the dark background of his subsequent career. "Saul herein showeth his piety, humanity, wisdom. Hitherto he declareth himself an innocent man and a good prince; but afterward he forgot his own rule, when he would have killed Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:45). This mutability in Saul and changeable nature, in falling from clemency to cruelty, from piety to profanity, from a good governor to become a tyrant, doth show that these virtues were not thoroughly grounded in him, but only superficially infused" (Wallet). Let us regard him as a pattern of a principle which ought always to be exhibited. His generosity toward his enemies was shown—


1. The recollection of their past conduct towards himself (1 Samuel 10:27). He could not altogether forget it, and when he was disposed to put it away from his thoughts, he was reminded of it by others. Nothing is more provocative of wrath than brooding over the wrongs that have been received. On the other hand, the surest way to forgive is to forget.

2. The feeling of natural resentment toward them. "Revenge is sweet," say men who are not restrained by Divine wisdom and grace; and they are especially apt to say it when they have the power to avenge themselves, and when they persuade themselves that justice and prudence require that the wrong should not go unpunished. They do require it, doubtless, in some eases; but how large a place does the desire of gratifying personal animosity hold in most instances in which men seek to inflict punishment on others. "Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work" (Proverbs 24:29; Proverbs 20:22).

3. The urgency of others. Men are only too prone to indulge wrath without such an incitement, but they are often led by it to go beyond their own judgment and feeling, and he who, like Saul, overcomes it gains a double victory. "Thereby he gained another victory—

(1) over himself—he restrains himself in the exercise of a right;

(2) over the anger of those who demanded that justice be executed;

(3) over his former opponents, who now clearly see that which, under the influence of haughty contempt, they had doubted; and

(4) over the whole people, who must have been carried along by him in the path of noble moral conduct, and lifted above themselves to the height on which he stood" (Erdmann).

II. IN A ROYAL MANNER. "There shall not a man be put to death this day."

1. Promptly. If he had waited till the morrow his purpose might have changed. When a generous emotion fills the heart it should be at once translated into word and deed. First thoughts in things moral, unlike first thoughts in things intellectual, are always best. Hesitation and delay dim their brightness and weaken their power.

2. Decisively. Saul spoke like a king. He refused to stain his laurels with blood. And whilst he resolved not to punish his enemies, he declared his determination that none other should punish them. "Where the word of a king is there is power."

3. Completely. "Not a man." Not a single example was to be made, but his clemency was to extend to all. In the same royal manner we may and ought to show mercy. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

III. FROM A PROPER MOTIVE. "For today the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel." "Not only signifying that the public rejoicing should not be interrupted, but reminding them of the clemency of God, and urging that since Jehovah had shown such clemency upon that day, that he had overlooked their sins and given them a glorious victory, it was only right that they should follow his example and forgive their neighbours' sins without bloodshed" (Seb. Schmid). Saul showed—

1. Regard for the transcendent excellence of mercy. Nothing is more beautiful or more pleasing to God, and its exercise is necessary that we may obtain mercy (Matthew 6:15). He is "merciful and gracious." "Mercy rejoiceth against judgment." (Proverbs 25:21; Romans 12:19, Romans 12:20; James 2:13.)

"It becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the heart of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself,
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice" ('Merchant of Venice').

To return good for good and evil for evil is natural, to return evil for good is devilish, but to return good for evil is Divine.

2. Gratitude for the abounding goodness of God. His hand was fully recognised in recent victory and deliverance. His kindness to us should constrain us to be kind to others, and his forgiveness is shown to have been experienced only when it leads us to forgive (Matthew 18:35).

3. Desire for the welfare of men. "The Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel," to whom these "worthless men" belonged. Even such men are objects of his forbearance and benevolence. "He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good" (Matthew 5:45). He does them good, and thereby seeks to subdue their hostility toward himself (Ezekiel 33:11). We ought to exhibit the same spirit, and by doing so we shall promote the general peace and happiness. "Be ye therefore merciful, even as your Father also is merciful" (Luke 6:36).—D.


1 Samuel 11:11-13

Saul at his best.

Self-control, promptitude, courage, capacity, ascription of praise to God, forbearance towards men, these are all exhibited by the young king. Alas, that from such heights he fell!

I. SELF-CONTROL. Though hailed as king at Mizpah, Saul was in no haste to assume regal state. He resumed his country life at Gibeah, waiting till the Lord should call him forth in some emergency to take command of the army of Israel. In this he followed the example of the judges, who, so to speak, won their spurs before they wore them—first wrought some deliverance for their country, and then assumed the government.

II. PROMPTITUDE. News of the doom which threatened the town of Jabesh reached Saul as he returned home from the field, following his oxen with a farmer's slow and heavy step. In a moment he was another man, no more a seeker of asses, or a follower of oxen; but a leader of men, prompt and resolute. And such energy did he show that in a few days he had rallied a large army to his standard.

III. COURAGE AND CAPACITY. Saul had no time to train or discipline his forces, but he managed to gain an advantage for them. He lulled the enemy to security, and then, surprising their camp by night, fell on them with impetuous fury. So completely were they dispersed that, as the graphic historian says, "two of them were not left together."

IV. ASCRIPTION OF PRAISE TO GOD. After the victory Saul showed no disposition to vain boasting. Nothing could be better than his Te Deum laudamus—"Today Jehovah hath wrought salvation in Israel."

V. FORBEARANCE TOWARDS MEN. Saul was urged by the exultant people to put to death those who had opposed his elevation; but he would not have the lustre of his victory darkened by such a deed of vengeance, and, not only ruling his own spirit well, but checking the intolerance of others, he said, "There shall not a man be put to death this day."

Yet from this moral elevation Saul miserably fell. He who seemed to be the rising hope of Israel became one of the most hapless and tragical personages in all his nation's history. He who showed at first patience and self-control became a restless, jealous king. His great fault was wilfulness, leading to the most foolish impatience, and wretched envy. He who executed his first military exploit so skilfully, and with such complete success, became notorious for his failures. And, at last, he who had shown such fearless readiness to set upon the Ammonites was afraid to encounter the Philistines (1 Samuel 28:5). Not that his natural courage had died out of him, but the sustaining faith in God was gone. "God is departed from me, and answereth me no more." He who was so averse to shed the blood of disaffected subjects shed the blood of many faithful men, as of the priests of the Lord, and hurled the javelin from his own hand again and again at the worthiest of all his subjects, hating him without a cause.

1. The true character of a man will show itself. No veil will cover it; no prudential consideration can bind it. Sooner or later it will have its way.

2. The higher the promise of virtue, the greater the momentum of him who falls from his integrity, the farther he goes into evil.

3. The path of the wilful and proud is one of waning light and thickening darkness; but "the path of the just is as the shining light, which shines more and more until the perfect day."—F.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 11". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.