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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 11


SECTION 1. The Birth, Rise, Prophetic Ministry And Judgeship of Samuel (1-12).

This first section of the book covers the life of Samuel from his birth to the setting up of Saul as king in response to the people’s request. The first three chapters deal with the birth and spiritual growth of Samuel. This is then followed in chapter 4 by the Philistine invasion in which the Ark of YHWH of hosts is lost to Israel, something which takes place while Samuel is still a youth. That loss indicates YHWH’s demonstration of the fact that He no longer sees Himself as king over an Israel that has forsaken Him. However, He then goes on to demonstrate His authority over the gods of the Philistines by bringing disaster on them, so that His Ark is restored to Israel by the Philistines, who also pay Him generous tribute. The Ark is then placed with due honour (after a previous unfortunate incident) in the house of Abinadab where it will remain for many years. It is a recognised symbol that YHWH is still present as King over His people, and will therefore, once they turn back to Him, act on their behalf through His appointed deliverers.

This will firstly be through Samuel in this section, then through Saul before he is finally rejected, in the next section, and then through the young David in the final section, until he is outlawed and then exiled as a result of Saul’s activities. As a result of his exile there will be a lull, and the Philistines triumph. But in the second part of the book David will become the Spirit inspired king, the Philistines will be defeated, and then the Ark will be restored for public worship, having been ‘purified’ by its period spent in the house of Abinadab. The Kingship of YHWH has triumphed.

C). The Judgeship of Samuel At The End Of Which The People Seek And Are Granted A Human King (7:15-12:25).

In this subsection from 7:15-12:25 the writer describes the desire of the people for a king and the way in which that king is appointed. Such an appointment would inevitably be a tricky one in Israel, for Israel was comprised of a number of semi-independent tribes, each of which was jealous for its own position, with Judah and Ephraim, the two largest, being especially protective about their rights. And yet someone had to be found who once appointed would have the support of them all. Furthermore, on top of this, Samuel would want to ensure that whoever was appointed was YHWH’s choice.

Samuel clearly recognised the dangers and therefore waited on YHWH’s guidance, and it is the reconciling of these different problems that explains the slow process towards the appointment of the king, a process which in fact went as follows:

1). Samuel waits and prays for YHWH to indicate the right man for the position. When YHWH brings that man to him he must have been relieved to discover that the man was a Benjaminite. They were only a small tribe (which would serve to prevent tribal jealousy among the larger tribes) and were famed for their warlike ability. So he first interviews him, and then secretly anoints him with oil as YHWH’s chosen appointee. The man’s name is Saul. This satisfies Samuel that he has found the right man (1 Samuel 9:1 to 1 Samuel 10:1).

2). He subsequently arranges for Saul to prophesy among the prophets indicating both to him and to others his suitability as a man of God, and that he is acceptable YHWH. This will serve to satisfy the righteous in Israel, and the prophets themselves, who seemingly had an important part to play in the running of affairs. They too are now satisfied that this is their man (1 Samuel 10:5-13).

3). The next step is to have him accepted in the eyes of popular opinion. So Samuel arranges for the assembly of the tribes of Israel to be called together and in view of the fact that there was no precedent for choosing a king, choice is then made by sacred lot in the sight of all. As expected by Samuel the lot falls on Saul. This method of choice by sacred lot was an accepted one in Israel and was seen as revealing the mind of YHWH. We can compare its use under different circumstances in Joshua 7:16-18. In view of the fact that the choice by sacred lot was seen as publicly revealing the mind of YHWH, was carried out before their eyes, and was accepted as a standard way of making such decisions in Israel, it would be enough to satisfy the people that Saul was their man. Thus this would satisfy the common people (1 Samuel 10:17-24).

However, there was inevitably some dissension, from some ‘worthless men’ who did not see how this upstart from a small tribe could ‘save Israel’. Nevertheless the vast majority were with Saul, and preparations would begin for having him officially enthroned and acclaimed in accordance with practise elsewhere.

4). Meanwhile an Ammonite invasion across the Jordan in Transjordan provides an opportunity for Saul to prove his suitability by gaining a victory over the invading Ammonites. This quells the dissension and makes him acceptable to all (1 Samuel 11:1-13).

5). Having been fully established as the right candidate Saul is then acclaimed as king at Gilgal before YHWH (1 Samuel 11:14-15).

6). Samuel resigns his judgeship and YHWH expresses His anger at the people’s decision with a storm at harvest time (1 Samuel 12:1-25).

By these means the acceptability of Saul as king was established, both among the prophets and throughout all the tribes. This would ensure that there would only be minimal dissension in the future, because Saul was now seen as ‘YHWH’s anointed’. All recognised that Samuel had selected him, that YHWH was pleased with him, that the lot had confirmed his acceptability to God, that he had proved himself a suitable war-leader (a most necessary qualification in those days), and that he had been finally and officially crowned and acclaimed.

The whole subsection may be analysed as follows:

a Samuel judges Israel faithfully and well (1 Samuel 7:15-17).

b Samuel’s sons prove unworthy and the people call for a King (1 Samuel 8:1-6).

c The manner of the King that they will receive (1 Samuel 8:7-22).

d Saul is brought to Samuel by God and is revealed and greeted by him as the new king (1 Samuel 9:1-21).

e Saul is feasted and then secretly anointed, and learns that the asses have been found (1 Samuel 9:22 to 1 Samuel 10:2).

f The signs of Saul’s acceptance and his coming enduing with the Spirit of YHWH (1 Samuel 10:3-7).

g Saul is to go to Gilgal and wait seven days for Samuel to come in order to offer offerings and sacrifices and to show him what he is to do (1 Samuel 10:8).

f The promised signs are fulfilled and the Spirit of YHWH comes on Saul (1 Samuel 10:9-13).

e Saul returns to his uncle and informs him that Samuel had told him that the asses had been found, but maintains the secret of the kingship (10:14-16).

d Saul is brought before the people, revealed as their king by lot and greeted by them as the king (1 Samuel 10:17-24).

c Samuel records ‘the manner of the kingship’ and writes it in a book (1 Samuel 10:25-27).

b YHWH delivers His people from the Ammonites through Saul and the kingship is finally confirmed at Gilgal (1 Samuel 11:1-15).

a Samuel hands back the judgeship to the people and charges the people to be faithful to YHWH (1 Samuel 12:1-25).

Verses 12-15

All Opposition To Saul’s Kingship Now Having Been Put To Shame, Saul Is Officially Crowned as King of Israel (1 Samuel 11:12-15 ).

The returning Saul arrived back in triumph and the vast majority of the people acknowledged that he had proved himself and determined to deal with the murmurers against him (1 Samuel 10:27) by putting them to death. This was the recognised way of dealing with obdurate opponents to a regime. But to his credit Saul would have none of it. Then with his position established Saul was officially confirmed as king at Gilgal.

1 Samuel 11:12

And the people said to Samuel, “Who is he who said, Shall Saul reign over us? Bring the men, that we may put them to death.”’

The exuberant returning troops would now look on Saul with a new light. It was one thing to have a war-leader appointed by lot, it was quite another when you have followed him into battle and been hugely victorious. None of them doubted him now. Thus they approached Samuel who would have been awaiting their return and called for all who opposed Saul to be put to death. In view of the fact that it was expected that they would have brought presents to the new king they were possibly mainly older men who through tribal loyalty could not bear the thought of being ruled over by a Benjaminite.

1 Samuel 11:13

And Saul said, “There shall not a man be put to death this day, for today YHWH has wrought deliverance in Israel.”

To his great credit Saul stepped in and forbade it. This was not a a day for slaying Israelites, it was a day for rejoicing, for on this day YHWH had wrought deliverance for Israel. We should note in view of what follows that in these early days Saul was revealed as someone totally worthy of the kingship. The initial choice was shown to be a good one.

1 Samuel 11:14

Then said Samuel to the people, “Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingship there.” ’

Meanwhile Samuel saw the opportunity to finally seal the kingship question. With all the tribes gathered together (probably moreso than at Mizpah earlier in the nature of the circumstances of a general levy), and with them all in agreement, he suggested that all repair to the Sanctuary at Gilgal in order to renew the kingship. Some see this as indicating the renewal of the Kingship of YHWH, others see it as referring to the finalisation of Saul’s coronation. Both may be included for it is then said that Saul was ‘made king before YHWH’.

1 Samuel 11:15

And all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before YHWH in Gilgal, and there they offered sacrifices of peace-offerings before YHWH, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.’

It is interesting that no mention is made of Samuel being at Gilgal with the people, nor of him offering a burnt-offering, or indeed any offering (contrast 1 Samuel 7:6-9), nor of him being involved in the ceremony. (LXX in fact recognises this and amends the text). It seems inconceivable if Samuel was there initially that there was no burnt-offering, and that if he was there his part in the ceremony was not described. It is true that at some stage he must have arrived, but it may well be that he waited seven days, as he had previously said to Saul (1 Samuel 10:8), in order to avoid being directly involved in the ‘renewal of the kingship’. It is quite possible that he felt that he had already done his part in authenticating Saul and now wanted to leave it to the people (he was not very enamoured of the kingship anyway), only arriving in order to finalise the situation. The writer may well have expected us to remember 10:8 and see his words in that light.

Thus it is very possible that Samuel was not present at the celebrations and merely appeared at the end in order to finalise things with his farewell speech as Judge of Israel. He may well genuinely have felt that his time for acting as Judge had passed and that the renewal of Saul’s confirmation as king was best left out of his own hands and in the hands of ‘all the people” and of the priests at Gilgal. This would explain why he deliberately delayed until the seventh day, at which point he would arrive to give Saul his final instructions from his standpoint as a prophet (1 Samuel 10:8) and make his final farewell speech as Judge. This would indicate that he was acknowledging publicly that his time for interfering in the question of rule over Israel had passed and that now it was between Saul and the people. We must remember that being an old man it would take him some time to get to Gilgal, and the people in their enthusiasm would not necessarily have waited for him, which would explain why no burnt-offering is mentioned, simply because one was not offered until he did finally arrive.

The making of Saul as king ‘before YHWH’ again suggests that Gilgal was being seen as the Central Sanctuary, and the offering of sacrifices of peace-offerings in celebration and thanksgiving for their victory would be by the priests at Gilgal. It was a time of festival and rejoicing, but not one of the regular festivals. Once Samuel arrived he would no doubt take it on himself as the adopted son of Eli to offer burnt-offerings, an important type of dedicatory offering not mentioned above, but described in 10:8 and therefore assumed here on that basis. There appears at this stage still to have been no acceptable candidate for the High Priesthood. Such a candidate will appear in 1 Samuel 14:3.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 11". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.