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The Summoning of the People
v. 1. Then Nahash, the Ammonite, the king of the children of Ammon living in the territory east of Jordan, came up, undertook a campaign of war, very likely with the object of avenging his people for the defeat administered to them by Jephthah, Judges 11:32, and encamped against Jabesh-gilead, in the valley east of Jordan, about halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea; and all the men of Jabesh, who were apparently suffering with the same lack of courage which caused their fathers to stay away from the campaign against Benjamin, Judges 21:8-9, said unto Nahash, Make a covenant with us, and we will serve thee. They wanted to have some reasonable conditions under which they could become tributaries to the Ammonites. This answer is characteristic of Israel's weakness, of the utter lack of a conscious and permanent union between the various tribes. It was a very loose confederacy indeed where such conditions were possible.
v. 2. And Nahash, the Ammonite, with the arrogant cruelty which was characteristic of heathen conquerors, answered them, On this condition will I make a covenant with you, for this price he was willing to accept their complete submission, that I may thrust out all your right eyes and lay it for a reproach upon all Israel, to revenge the disgrace which Jephthah had brought upon the Ammonites and to give the entire nation a sample of the treatment awaiting all its members as soon as Nahash should have gained the supremacy.
v. 3. And the elders of Jabesh said unto him, Give us seven days' respite, so much time of grace he should mercifully grant them, that we may send messengers unto all the coasts of Israel, throughout the boundaries, that is, the territory, of the tribes; and then, if there be no man to save us, we will come out to thee, forced to submit to his inhuman condition.
v. 4. Then came the messengers to Gibeah of Saul, the residence of the elected king, who, however, at the time of their arrival, was not in the city, and told the tidings in the ears of the people, Saul's fellow-citizens; and all the people lifted up their voices and wept, in helpless sorrow over the fate which seemed to be threatening the people of Jabesh.
v. 5. And, behold, Saul came after the herd out of the field, driving home the yoke of oxen with which he had been engaged on his farm during the day; and Saul said, What aileth the people that they weep? And they told him the tidings of the men of Jabesh.
v. 6. And the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard those tidings, as upon the Judges in the preceding period of Israel's history, and his anger was kindled greatly, it flared up in mighty wrath at the reproach inflicted by the enemy of his people.
v. 7. And he took a yoke of oxen, and hewed them in pieces, according to the manner in which sacrificial animals were dissected, and sent them throughout all the coasts of Israel by the hands of messengers, to every tribe, as in Judges 19:29. saying, Whosoever cometh not forth after Saul and after Samuel, due honor thus being given to the authority of Samuel, so shall it be done unto his oxen. This punishment Saul could threaten in the exercise of his judicial power, as a function of his royal office. And the fear of the Lord fell on the people, namely, a dread lest they should offend God by refusing to obey the command of the king and of the prophet; and they came out with one consent, as one single man, in perfect unity of thought and action.
v. 8. And when he, Saul, numbered them in Bezek, in the Plain of Jezreel, not far from the best northern ford over the Jordan, the children of Israel were three hundred thousand, that is, the northern tribes, which afterward formed a nation for themselves, and the men of Judah thirty thousand. A holy courage and zeal which knows no fear should be found in all those whom the Lord has called to be the leaders and pastors of His people.
The Utter Overthrow of the Ammonites
v. 9. And they, the men representing the army of Israel, said unto the messengers that came, Thus shall ye say unto the men of Jabesh-gilead, Tomorrow, by that time the sun be hot, before noon, ye shall have help, in being delivered from the power of their arrogant enemies. And the messengers came and showed it to the men of Jabesh, gave them the joyful information; and they were glad.
v. 10. Therefore the men of Jabesh said, employing a stratagem which was to make the Ammonites overconfident, Tomorrow we will come out unto you, and ye shall do with us all that seemeth good unto you, for this sounded as though they would surrender themselves unconditionally, not having been able to interest the rest of Israel.
v. 11. And it was so on the morrow that Saul put the people in three companies, three attacking divisions; and they came into the midst of the host in the morning watch, between three o'clock and dawn, when the night is darkest, and slew the Ammonites, who were caught and overpowered by surprise, until the heat of the day; and it came to pass that they which remained were scattered, so that two of them were not left together. It was an utter rout, a complete overthrow of the invading army.
v. 12. And the people said unto Samuel, when they had returned from their pursuit of the scattered enemies and were once more encamped, Who is he that said, Shall Saul reign over us? Bring the men that we may put them to death. By virtue of his prophetic power, Samuel was to name the children of Belial, 1 Samuel 10:27, who had sneered at Saul. The people were so enthusiastic over the victory gained under the leadership of Saul that they were ready to deal very summarily with men whom they regarded as traitors.
v. 13. And Saul said, There shall not a man be put to death this day; for today the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel. This was not only tactful and magnanimous, but showed true piety of heart, which would not permit the sacred joy of the day of victory to be marred by bloodshed, since the victory of the foe was for him nothing but a saving act of God Himself. It was an utterance of royal generosity toward his personal enemies, whose hearts he wanted to win; it was a victory over himself.
v. 14. Then said Samuel to the people, Come and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there, by a solemn confirmation and open acknowledgment of the election as it took place in Mizpeh.
v. 15. And all the people went to Gilgal; and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal, the entire nation, as one man, rendering him the homage which made him ruler over Israel in fact as well as in name; and there they sacrificed sacrifices of peace-offerings, with which were connected joyful sacrificial meals, before the Lord; and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly. So both the happy relation between the covenant God and Israel and the union of the tribes, welded together to form a perfect unit, was here celebrated. For a Christian it is self-evident that for everything which he has managed to perform by the strength and power of God he gives all honor to Jehovah alone.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 11". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany