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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 11

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-5

The Ammonite siege of Jabesh-gilead 11:1-5

The Ammonites were Israel’s enemies to the east. They were descendants of Lot whom Jephthah had defeated earlier (Judges 11:12-33). Nahash evidently sought revenge for Jephthah’s victory over his nation. Jabesh-gilead lay a few miles east of the Jordan Valley and about 25 miles south of the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee). Chinnereth is the Hebrew word for "lyre." The lake has the shape of a lyre, which accounts for this name. The men of Jabesh-gilead offered to surrender and serve the Ammonites provided Nahash would make a covenant with them rather than slaughtering them.

Nahash’s purpose to put out the right eye of his enemies was not uncommon in that day. This wound made a conquered nation easier to control, and it testified to the conqueror’s superior power. Specifically it made aiming arrows with the right eye impossible and therefore precluded a military revolt. Perhaps Nahash’s decision to attack Jabesh-gilead was the result of the Israelites breaking a treaty with his nation.

"In the ancient Near East, the physical mutilation, dismemberment, or death of an animal or human victim could be expected as the inevitable penalty for treaty violation." [Note: Youngblood, p. 637.]

Nahash’s willingness to let his enemies appeal for help shows that he had no fear that threatening reinforcements would come. He was sure of his superiority and may even have viewed the delay as an opportunity to ensure victory. At this time Israel lacked a central government, national solidarity, and a standing army. However, Saul was now Israel’s king.

The announcement of the messengers from Jabesh-gilead led the people in Saul’s hometown, as well as elsewhere undoubtedly, to weep. They had again forgotten God’s promises to protect them since they were His people. Their reaction was a result of viewing the situation from the natural perspective only. Contrast the perspective of Caleb and Joshua earlier.

Why was Saul at home farming now that he was Israel’s king? He had not yet received direction from God or Samuel to do anything else, as far as we know. The fact that he, the anointed king, was plowing also shows his humility. Estate owners never worked the land themselves. [Note: Marvin Chaney, "Systemic Study of the Israelite Monarchy," Semeia 37 (1986):61.] Furthermore he was willing to work hard. Thus he was not self-centered at this time (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:5).

Verses 1-11

4. Saul’s effective leadership in battle 11:1-11

Israel’s king not only needed to be an admirable individual in his personal conduct, but he also needed to be an effective military commander. The writer pointed out Saul’s abilities in this area in this chapter. The nation consequently united behind him because of his success. This was the third divine indication that God had chosen Saul to lead Israel following his private anointing and his public choice by lot.

Verses 6-11

Saul’s deliverance of Jabesh-gilead 11:6-11

God’s Spirit came on Saul in the sense that He stirred up his human spirit (cf. 1 Samuel 10:6; 1 Samuel 10:10). Saul’s response to the messengers’ news was appropriate indignation since non-Israelites were attacking God’s covenant people (Genesis 12:3). Saul may have had a personal interest in Jabesh-gilead since some of his ancestors evidently came from there (cf. 1 Samuel 31:11-13). Following the civil war in Israel, during which many Benjamites had died, many of those who remained alive took wives from the women of Jabesh-gilead and the women of Shiloh (Judges 21).

Saul did something drastic to impress the gravity of the Ammonite siege on his fellow Israelites. He followed the example of the Levite whose concubine had died in Saul’s hometown (Judges 19:29-30). Later another plowman, Elisha, would slaughter a pair of oxen and host a meal for his friends as he began his ministry as a prophet (1 Kings 19:21).

"Saul’s slaughter and dissection of his oxen is reminiscent of the Levite’s treatment of his murdered concubine and clearly is designed to connect the commencement of his reign with the historical event which accounts for his Jabesh-Gilead maternal roots." [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, "The Book of Ruth: Narration and Shared Themes," Bibliotheca Sacra 142:566 (April-June 1985):140, n. 13.]

Saul linked himself with Samuel because Samuel was the recognized spiritual leader of the nation. The Israelites probably dreaded both Saul’s threatened reprisals for not responding to his summons and the Ammonite threat.

"In Saul’s energetic appeal the people discerned the power of Jehovah, which inspired them with fear, and impelled them to immediate obedience." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 112.]

The response of the Israelites constituted the greatest show of military strength since Joshua’s day (assuming eleph means "thousand" here). Bezek stood about 16 miles west of Jabesh-gilead on the River Jordan’s western side (cf. Judges 1:4-5). The division of the soldiers into Israelites and Judahites probably reflects the division of the nation that existed when the writer wrote this book. There is no evidence that such a division existed when the event recorded here happened.

The messengers returned to Jabesh-gilead with the promise that their town would be free by noon the next day. The leaders of Jabesh-gilead played with words as they cleverly led the Ammonites into self-confidence, thinking that they would win. The Ammonites had threatened to put out the right eyes of the men of Jabesh-gilead (1 Samuel 11:2). The Jabesh-gileadites now told the Ammonites to do whatever seemed good literally "in their eyes" (cf. 1 Samuel 14:36).

Saul wisely divided his troops into three companies. He attacked the besieging Ammonites early in the morning. The morning watch was the last of three night watches, and it lasted from about 2:00 to 6:00 a.m. These three watches had their origin in Mesopotamia, but all the western Asian nations observed them before the Christian era (cf. Lamentations 2:19; Judges 7:19). The only other place in the Old Testament where this phrase "at the morning watch" occurs in Hebrew is Exodus 14:24. Then God slew the Egyptian soldiers as they pursued the fleeing Israelites through the Red Sea. Perhaps the writer wanted his readers to view this victory as another miraculous deliverance at the beginning of a new phase of Israel’s existence.

The Ammonites did not expect the other Israelites to show so much support for the Jabesh-gileadites. Saul thoroughly surprised and defeated them. [Note: For another interpretation of 11:1-11 that views it as an artificially constructed story, see Diana Edelman, "Saul’s Rescue of Jabesh-Gilead (1 Samuel 11:1-11): Sorting Story from History," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 96:2 (1984):195-209.]

Verses 12-15

Israel’s commitment to Saul 11:12-15

Admirably, Saul sought no personal revenge on those who initially had failed to support him (1 Samuel 10:27; cf. Judges 20:13; Luke 19:27). Furthermore he gave God the glory for his victory (cf. Jonah 2:9; Psalms 20:7; Proverbs 21:31). He was not self-serving at this time.

What Samuel called for was a ceremony to renew the Mosaic Covenant. [Note: Klaus Baltzer, The Covenant Formulary, pp. 66-68; William J. Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation, p. 135; and Lyle M. Eslinger, Kingship of God in Crisis, pp. 37, 383-428.] It was to be similar to those that had taken place in Joshua’s day (Joshua 8, 24), in which the nation would dedicate itself afresh to Yahweh and His Law as a nation (cf. Deuteronomy 29). As mentioned earlier, it is not clear whether Gilgal refers to the Gilgal near Jericho or another Gilgal a few miles north of Bethel. [Note: See my comments on 7:16.] A Gilgal north of Bethel would have been closer since most of the activities recorded in these first chapters of 1 Samuel (at Ramah, Gibeah, Mizpah, etc.) were all on the Benjamin plateau near Bethel. Yet the Gilgal near Jericho was the Israelites’ first camp after they entered the Promised Land, and the place where they first renewed the covenant in the land (Joshua 4-5). For this reason, that site would have stimulated the people’s remembrance of God’s faithfulness to them and His plans for them as a united nation. Hopefully further discoveries will enable us solve the puzzle of which Gilgal this was.

The people now gave united support to Saul as their king at Gilgal. This is the first of three significant meetings of Samuel and Saul at Gilgal. The second was the time Saul failed to wait for the prophet, offered a sacrifice prematurely, and received the prophet’s rebuke (1 Samuel 13:7-14). The third meeting was when God rejected Saul as king for his disobedient pride following his victory over the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:10-26).

Peace offerings expressed thanks to God for His goodness. This offering also emphasized the unity of the participants in the sacrifice (Leviticus 3).

"Saul’s ascent to the throne was now complete, and the ’great celebration’ that accompanied the sacrificial ritual more than matched Israel’s earlier elation upon their receiving the messengers’ report of the imminent doom of the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11:9)." [Note: Youngblood, p. 642.]

In this incident Israel faced a very threatening situation physically and spiritually. The people’s reaction was to weep (1 Samuel 11:4). God went into action because He had made promises to protect His people (cf. Hebrews 13:5-6). He provided deliverance when His people thought there was no hope. The result was that God’s people rededicated themselves to following the Lord faithfully. Their weeping gave way to rejoicing.

In this incident we also see Saul humble and hardworking (1 Samuel 11:5). God’s Spirit empowered him (1 Samuel 11:6), and gave him wisdom (1 Samuel 11:7-8) and victory (1 Samuel 11:11). Saul gave God the glory for his success, and he was merciful and forgiving toward his critics (1 Samuel 11:13). God also gave him favor in the eyes of His people (1 Samuel 11:15; cf. 1 Samuel 2:30; Proverbs 16:7).

Verses 12-25

5. The confirmation of Saul as king 11:12-12:25

This victory helped the Israelites perceive Saul as their king, with the result that they committed themselves to him. Samuel therefore gave the people a solemn charge in view of the change in government.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 11". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/1-samuel-11.html. 2012.
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