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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

1 Samuel 11

Verses 1-4

The People Are Afraid of Nahash

The first enemy Saul faces is not the Philistines, but the Ammonite Nahash. Nahash means ‘snake’. David will have to do with the son of Nahash (1 Chronicles 19:1-Numbers :). The threat that Nahash made audible is one of the reasons why the people wanted a king (1 Samuel 12:12).

Nahash besieges Gilead. Gilead is not in the promised land, but at the wilderness side of Jordan. This is the area that is first threatened if hostile forces want to invade the land. The men of Jabesh propose the enemy to make a covenant with each other. In return, they must submit to the enemy. There is no thought of a call to God. So much the inhabitants of the city are alienated from God.

Nahash wants to go along with this proposal, but he comes up with an idea. He imposes a condition, which will further humiliate the people. His condition to gouge out the right eye will eliminate the people, because then they can no longer shoot with the bow. Nahash, however, is not just talking about a reproach for Jabesh alone, but about the reproach it brings to “all Israel”.

The snake has more awareness of the unity of God’s people than the inhabitants of Jabesh. In Judges 21 Jabesh wanted to be neutral (Judges 21:8-1 Samuel :). As long as it concerns others, one does not care about it and wants to remain neutral. With this reproach on Jabesh the whole people will be affected, there will be a reproach on all Israel. This answer of Nahash is perhaps meant as revenge on Israel for the shame of the defeat Jephthah inflicted on the Ammonites (Judges 11:32-Micah :).

Under this threat Jabesh sees, now it concerns himself, the unity of God’s people and seeks his support in it. The elders of Jabesh ask for a postponement and indicate the reason of it. They want to send out a call for help to Israel. When others needed the help of Jabesh, Jabesh did not help. Now that they are in need themselves, they want others to help them.

Nahash, convinced of his own strength and the weakness of Israel, gives Jabesh occasion to call on others to help. Israel must have been very weak that Nahash can act so self-assured. It also seems that Israel did not have any central authority at that time. We can also conclude that neither Nahash nor the people of Jabesh heard of Saul’s election as king. This becomes even clearer when the messengers arrive in 1 Samuel 11:4 in the Gibea of Saul and present their case to the people, without directly appealing to Saul.

In their mission to gain support in their defense against Nahash, the messengers also come to Gibea, where here the name of Saul is linked to. When Gibea hears of their situation, they weep about it. Their weeping is not of sadness, by which they turn to God, but of cowardice, because they are afraid of the enemy. It seems that they too know nothing about Saul, anointed king. At least they do not ask if Saul wants to come.

Verses 5-11

Saul Strikes Down Ammon

Saul is still the farmer’s son. He comes from the field when he hears of the humiliation and threat. His reaction belongs to the beginning of his life as anointed king that we can consider the best part of his kingship. The Spirit of God seizes him. His indignation is great, but human anger also seems to play a role, perhaps out of anger at Jabesh’ cowardice.

To make Israel ready for action, he sets a terrifying example. The words he speaks here are characteristic. He speaks not of a coming out behind the LORD, but only of a coming up behind him and Samuel. It is also remarkable that he calls himself first and therefore takes the first place. He does not ask if Samuel agrees. Samuel himself has never claimed a place next to the king. Despite all these negative features, God uses it anyway. He lets fall His dread upon the people.

The turnout is enormous. If God acts, something amazing can happen. No man will have stayed at home. Although Israel is still a whole, here the Spirit already points to a distinction between Israel and Judah. After the encouraging turnout, the messengers of Jabesh are promised salvation. When they come home with this message, there is joy in Jabesh, but towards Nahash they persevere in their hypocrisy.

The trip from Bezek probably started the night before. When they have reached Jabesh at the dawn of the morning, Saul divides the people into three armies. This has proved to be a tried and tested strategy with Gideon (Judges 7:16; Judges 7:20-Song of Solomon :). Saul and his men have a great victory because the LORD is acting here. There are no two enemies together, which means that the enemy is completely powerless. It is the proof for Saul that the LORD is with him.

The victory of the king over the flesh over the flesh can be compared to the orthodox doctrine that keeps the wrong doctrine out of the door. Or also with certain forms of legalism that keep worldly influences out of the door, while there is no life out of God. 1 Samuel 15 shows that Saul has learned nothing from this victory.

Verses 12-13

The Victory Is From the LORD

In the intoxication of the victory, the people want to slaughter their own people as well, so enthusiastic they are through the victory under the leadership of Saul. They turn to Samuel, with whom they acknowledge him as their leader.

In the sincerity that a natural person also can have, Saul keeps the people from their intention. It is to his credit that he gives the LORD the honor of victory. To all these things a natural man can come, while his heart is still far from God.

Verses 14-15

Samuel Renews the Kingdom

Samuel makes use of the cheering mood among the people. He judges that this is the time to renew the kingship. For this he wants to go to Gilgal, the place where the circumcision the “reproach of Egypt” was “rolled away” by the LORD of his people (Joshua 5:9). “Gilgal” means “rolled away”. “So the name of that place is called Gilgal” (Joshua 5:9). When the land was possessed, the people returned there after every battle. Spiritually it represents the place where the judgment of the flesh is accomplished (Colossians 2:11).

After the circumcision in Gilgal Joshua learned Who the real Leader of the people is (Joshua 5:13-Ezra :). By understanding what happened in Gilgal, Saul too would have to learn that God is the real King and that he, Saul, is it for God and not in the place of God. Seven times in these two verses Gilgal is mentioned, either by name, or by the reference “there” by which Gilgal is meant.

The people offer sacrifices of peace offerings. This is the second time Saul has taken part in a peace offering. Earlier he participated with Samuel (1 Samuel 9:24). The great joy of Saul and all the men of Israel is the joy in the LORD for the victory He has given. Saul will also have thanked the LORD for it.

People can thank God, even without new life. In a way it is the thanksgiving of the Pharisee. If a man has not yet learned that nothing good dwells in him, that is in his flesh, he can rejoice in God, while he will be without Him forever.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 Samuel 11". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-samuel-11.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.