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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 11

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-4


The first phase of Saul’s rise to the kingship was his anointing by Samuel (1 Samuel 10:1), which was a secret to the general public and even to members of Saul’s family. The second phase was his choice by the casting of lots at Mizpah, which was generally known throughout Israel, but not known universally in Israel and not even accepted by all the people. On this account, Samuel sent everyone to his own home, and Israel waited for further developments which came almost at once. The final phase of Saul’s ascending the throne of Israel is dramatically presented in this short chapter.


“Then Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh-gilead; and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a treaty with us and we will serve you.” But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus put disgrace upon all Israel.” The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days respite that we may send messengers through all the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves up to you.” When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, they reported the matter in the ears of the people; and all the people wept aloud.”

“Nahash the Ammonite” Lockyer identified two Biblical characters of this name: (1) the evil marauder here and (2) “The father of Shobi (2 Samuel 10:2; 1 Chronicles 19:1-2) who is spoken of as a friend of David at a later time.”(F1) The same scholar gave the meaning of Nahash as “serpent,” or “oracle.”

Payne wrote that, “The narrator here suddenly switches to a new topic,”(F2) but to this writer it seems mandatory to see only one subject throughout 1 Samuel 8-11, namely, the elevation of Saul to the throne of Israel. Every word of these four chapters is focused on that one event.

H. P. Smith wrote that the author of this chapter seemed to be totally unaware that Saul had been chosen as Israel’s king at Mizpah;(F3) but, as we shall note below, the sacred text flatly denies such an opinion. In fact, Samuel, by sending every one home following the events at Mizpah, actually anticipated something very similar to what is related here (1 Samuel 10:25-26). The failure of Israel unanimously to accept Saul as their king required that God would providentially bring about some further event that would effectively achieve his purpose. That event was the invasion of Nahash, his shameful and insulting treatment of the citizens of Jabesh-gilead, and Saul’s vigorous and successful response to it.

“Jabesh-gilead” This is the town that was destroyed by the Israelites because of their failure to take part in the war against Benjamin (Judges 21:8-15). “It was located nine or ten miles southeast of the ancient town of Bethshan, only two miles east of the Jordan river on the Wadi Yabis, a tributary to the Jordan, and has been identified with the modern Tell Abu Kharaz.”(F4) Saul’s rescue of this town resulted in their lasting affection for him; and when, at the end of Saul’s reign, the Philistines defeated him and brought about his death, and after they cut off his head and hung Saul’s body on the fortress of Bethshan, the citizens of Jabesh-gilead recovered Saul’s body in a daring night long raid and gave his remains an honorable burial (1 Samuel 31:8-13).

“On this condition… that I gouge out all your right eyes” The savage nature of the Ammonites is attested in Amos 1:13, where it is recorded that, “They ripped up the women with child of Gilead.” Josephus gave Nahash’s purpose here in the gouging out of their eyes as that of making them incapable of warfare. The soldiers of that day carried shields which usually covered the left eye, hence, a man with his right eye blinded would be incapable of fighting.(F5) However, our text here indicates that Nahash on this raid was more interested in bringing disgrace and shame upon all Israel. He was no doubt interested also in gaining the territory which the Ammonites had claimed back in the days of Jephthah (Judges 11:4-33).

We reject the emendations which scholars have made to the text here on the basis of what is written in the LXX. As Keil said, “All the ancient versions give the Masoretic Text, not only the Chaldee, Syriac and Arabic, but even Jerome… It is perfectly evident that Nahash began his siege of Jabesh-gilead shortly after the election of Saul as king at Mizpah.”(F6) The only reason for denying this lies in the efforts of critics to establish their theory of “two sources.”

It is surprising that Nahash would have granted the citizens of Jabesh-gilead seven days in which to seek help from their fellow Israelites; but it seems to have occurred to Nahash that, after such an effort, his purpose of disgracing all Israel would be even more effective. Besides, his arrogant over-confidence made him certain that they would be unable to get any relief.

Note that the citizens of the beleaguered Jabesh-gilead knew nothing of Saul’s being made king. This was absolutely in keeping with the detached location of their city, that, in all probability, having been the principal reason that they did not respond in the war against Benjamin. There is nothing abnormal or surprising in their failure to know that Saul was king of Israel.

Verses 5-6


“Now Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen; and Saul said, “What ails the people, that they are weeping”? So they told him the tidings of the men of Jabesh. And the Spirit of God came mightily upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, “Whosoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen.”

The words of these three verses confirm in the most vigorous manner the prior existence of both phase (1) and phase (2) of Saul’s being made king of Israel.

“Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen” He had obeyed Samuel’s command for everyone to go home, and he was coming in from the field where he had been plowing.

“And the Spirit of God came mightily upon Saul” This is a confirmation of phase (1), his anointing by Samuel. This could not have happened otherwise.

“He sent throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of messengers” How could Saul have done this, unless he had been selected king by the casting of lots at Mizpah? No critic has ever dared to answer that question. This could have happened only after Saul had been formally appointed king of Israel at Mizpah. Who were these messengers? They were most certainly from that group mentioned in the previous chapter, “Saul went to his home in Gibeah, and with him went men of valor whose hearts the Lord had touched.” (1 Samuel 10:26).

“Whosoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel” In these words, Saul wisely invoked the authority of the great prophet Samuel in his summons to all Israel. Critics, of course, love to do their act of rewriting the Bible on a verse like this. H. P. Smith rejected the words and after Samuel, “as a later insertion.”(F7) Bennett also called the words, “An addition; Samuel does not appear in this episode.”(F8) This writer is not willing to allow unbelieving critics the honor of re-writing the Bible to suit their theories. Of course, Samuel does appear in this narrative as the authority behind all that Saul was able to do in this episode.

“So shall it be done to his oxen” These are the words of a king, not those of some country bumpkin, who, for the first time, suddenly decided to rescue Israel. Thus, we have a triple confirmation here of both the preceding phases of Saul’s designation as King of Israel. Nothing is any more unreasonable or unintelligent than the critical nonsense about the `early and late sources.’ Again, in the words of Ewald, what we have here is nothing but the simple truth throughout these four chapters, with every single statement in them fitting exactly as in a jig-saw puzzle.

Verses 7-10


“Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one man. When he mustered them at Bezek, the men of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand. And they said to the messengers who had come, “Thus shall you say to the men of Jabesh-gilead: `Tomorrow by the time the sun is hot you shall have deliverance.’“ When the messengers came and told the men of Jabesh, they were glad. Therefore, the men of Jabesh said, “Tomorrow we will give ourselves up to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you.”

“The dread of the Lord fell upon the people” In this action, the direct intervention of God in the affairs of men is no less visible in this phase (3) than it was in the other two phases of Saul’s elevation.

Three hundred thirty thousand (330,000) men was indeed a near-miraculous response. All of these events took place in only about a week’s time, and during that period Saul selected an army, procured weapons for them, organized them and launched the campaign against Nahash. Critics who wish to revise these numbers have nothing of any value whatever with which to replace them!

“Tomorrow by the time the sun is hot” This was only another way of saying, “By noon tomorrow”! The message which the men of Jabesh gave to Nahash was for the purpose of deceiving him and making him suppose that he would encounter no resistance.

Verse 11


“And on the morrow Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch, and cut down the Ammonites until the heat of the day; and those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.”

This victory was of God Himself, as Saul freely admitted, and it was this victory that constituted the third and final phase of Saul’s rise to the throne.

The deployment of the forces of Israel in three companies was very similar to the actions of Gideon in Judges 7:16 f, as was also their attack in the third watch of the night, i.e., between two o’clock and six o’clock in the morning.

Verses 12-15


“Then the people said to Samuel, “Who is it that 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 wrought deliverance in Israel.” Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom.” So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed peace offerings before the Lord, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.”

The meaning of this paragraph is that, at last, all Israel accepted Saul as king. The Gilgal here is that famous place near Jericho where the ark of the Lord was first placed in Canaan, and where Samuel visited regularly during his judgeship of Israel.

G. B. Caird’s comment on this passage is that:

“The story concludes with the public anointing of Saul, in which Samuel had no part; and we may conclude from this that the idea of making Saul king over all Israel had occurred to someone other than Samuel.”(F9)

This type of comment is not a comment upon the Bible at all, but upon the Septuagint (LXX) and carries no weight whatever. Josephus’ words cannot confirm such a view because he was merely reading the erroneous interpretation which the translators of the Septuagint (LXX) inserted into the true text.

The account which we have before us in the RSV is dependable, and there is not even a hint in this passage of anything resembling “an anointing.” That had already been done and was recorded by the author of this book in 1 Samuel 10:1 ff.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 11". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-samuel-11.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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