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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 11

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-3


1 Samuel 11:1. “Nahash.” He was king of the children of Ammon, as appears from 1 Samuel 12:12; 2 Samuel 10:1-2; 2 Samuel 17:27. He seems to have been connected with the family of David, since Abigail, David’s sister, was the daughter (perhaps meaning grand-daughter), of Nahash (2 Samuel 17:25; 1 Chronicles 2:16-17), and perhaps, in consequence of this connection, was very friendly to David. Even after the destructive war with his son Harun, in which Uriah fell, and when David was in flight and banishment, we find another son of Nahash, Shobi, showing him marked kindness, (Biblical Dictionary.) “According to 1 Samuel 12:12, the threatening war with the Ammonites was the immediate occasion of the demand for a king. Naturally therefore, Nahash, having before made his preparations, entered the Israelitish territory soon after the king was chosen and confirmed.” (Erdmann.) “Jabesh-Gilead.” According to Josephus, this city was the capital of Gilead, and was probably on the site of the present ruins of El-Deir, on the south side of the Wady Jabis, not far to the north of Helaweh, near the ancient road that leads to Beisan. The Ammonites had long claimed the right to the possession of Gilead, and had been subdued by Jephthah.

1 Samuel 11:2. “On this condition,” etc. “The left eye would be covered with the shield in battle: the right eye was needed for aiming the spear; they would therefore be no better than blind if they lost their right eye.” (Wordsworth,) “Lay it for a reproach,” etc. “He sought to avenge upon the people of Israel the shame of the defeat which Jephthah had inflicted on the Ammonites.” (Kiel.)

1 Samuel 11:3. “If there is no one who saves us.” “The assumption of this as possible, and the fact that they sent to every region of Israel, shows that in this transition-period from the Judges to the King-dom, in spite of what Samuel had done to inspire unity of action, the old division of powers in tribal isolation and the consequent weakness against enemies still continued. (Erdmann.)



I. Times of weakness are times of undesired visitation, When a man is commercially weak, and when he has least desire to see the face of those who will add to his embarrassments, then is the time when they are most certain to visit him. A visit from his creditors would not affright him if he had wherewith to meet their demands, but the very fact that his resources are inadequate makes them more likely to visit him. Especially if he has a creditor who is unkindly disposed towards him, that creditor’s visit will be most undesired; but a visit from him may be most certainly looked for. So there are times when the soul is depressed—when many things seem to combine to make a man morally weak, and that is the time when he may most certainly expect a visit from his great spiritual adversary. The tempter, by bringing up all his forces to assault the soul at such a time, reveals his watchful subtlety and his power to measure the resources of the human soul. In times of mental weakness from weakness of body, or from especially harassing circumstances, we feel least of all to desire to have to do battle with a strong temptation; yet then is the time when it is almost certain to assault us. The devil came to Christ when He was physically weak from forty days’ fasting, and when, without doubt, His human soul was depressed in consequence (Matthew 4:2). And again, when He hung upon the cross in great pain of body and sorrow of soul, he tempted Him through his emissaries with the taunt, “He saved others, Himself He cannot save; if Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Mark 15:30). The geographical position of Jabesh-Gilead made its inhabitants at all times less able to defend themselves from the common national enemies than the people on the other side of Jordan. Being so far from the centre of government, they were at all times peculiarly exposed to danger. They do not appear at this time to have taken part in the national movement towards unity which had drawn together and strengthened the great mass of the Israelitish nation, and they were consequently much less able to defend themselves than most of their fellow-countrymen. As a natural consequence, their enemies chose this time to invade them and to insult them. At a time when, by reason of their tribal isolation as well as their defenceless geographical position, they had most to dread from a visit of the Ammonites, at this time the visit was made.

II. Times of weakness subject men to the insolence of their enemies. A consciousness that we are strong, either physically or in our circumstances, has a wonderful tendency to make men treat us civilly. A consciousness that we are spiritually strong will tend to make our spiritual and invisible enemies less daring in their assaults. A pugilist, in the presence of one who is his equal in strength and stature, restrains his natural insolence. If he meets a man who is bigger and stronger than himself, he becomes quite deferential. But bring him face to face with a man of half his own size and strength, and he will probably insult him. And so it is with the strength and weakness of social position. The wise man says that “the rich man’s wealth is his strong city” (Proverbs 10:15), and in this he often shelters himself as in a fortress, and shoots forth arrows of scornful contempt and insolence upon those who are socially dependent upon him, and who are consequently too weak to retaliate. And what is true in relation to individuals is true also of nations. The strong nations of the earth are, alas! often found insolently regardless of the rights of those who are too weak to defend their own liberties. Nahash would not have confronted the men of Jabesh-Gilead with so insolent an air, and proposed to them terms so humiliating, if they had not been in his eyes in so defenceless a condition.

III. Times of visitation from insolent enemies should drive us to the strong for help. It was wise of the men of Gilead not to attempt to meet their enemies in their own strength. It is most unwise of men to be too proud to acknowledge their own weakness. While it is unmanly to be always depending upon others for help—while a man is bound to exert himself to the utmost to free himself from difficulties—a refusal to seek help from a stronger fellow-creature is sometimes sinful. God has ordained that the strength of some should supplement the weakness of others, and the inequality of men in this respect is intended to bind them to each other. When, therefore, a man in distress from which he cannot extricate himself, chooses ruin rather than the aid of a stronger arm than his own, he refuses to fall in with a Divine ordination. And this truth can be extended to the help which can come only from an arm which is stronger than the arm of flesh. Times of especial trial and temptation should make men feel their dependence upon Omnipotent strength, and if they do not drive them to seek help from the strong God, they fail to fulfil the design of Him who either sent them for that purpose, or permitted them to happen that He might be glorified in delivering those who call upon Him in distress.


1 Samuel 11:2. In spiritual things this is precisely what is done by the Bishop of Rome. He is a “Nahash the Ammonite” in the Catholic Church of Christ. He requires of all Christians to make a surrender of their reason, conscience, and their will (which belong to their Master, Christ) as the price of communion with himself. If we are willing to allow him to “thrust out our right eyes,” then he will allow us to communicate with himself, but not otherwise.—Wordsworth.

Verses 4-15


1 Samuel 11:4. “Told the tidings in the ears of the people.” Either they were not aware of the election of Saul, as Keil supposes, or they did not approve of his appointment, or he was not in Gibeah and did not return from his ordinary occupation until the message had been delivered.

1 Samuel 11:5. “What aileth the people?” Even the men of Gibeah did not apply to Saul, which seems to show that he was not held in much esteem in his native city.

1 Samuel 11:6. “And the Spirit of God.” This time the Spirit of God came upon him, as upon the Judges before him, as a Spirit of supernatural energy and power—compare Judges 3:10; Judges 5:31; Judges 11:29, etc.—(Biblical Dictionary).

1 Samuel 11:7. “And he took a yoke of oxen,” etc. “This was a symbolical action, which struck the mind more than words could have done” (Clericus), and “was suited to the character and habits of an agricultural and pastoral people.” (Jamieson.) “After Samuel.” “The introduction of Samuel’s name is a proof that Saul, even as king, still recognised the authority which Samuel possessed in Israel as prophet of Jehovah.” (Kiel.) “And the fear of the Lord fell,” etc. “Jehovah is not equivalent to Elohim, nor is the fear of Jehovah in the sense of fear of His punishment, but a fear inspired by Jehovah.” (Kiel.) “The Spirit of the Lord, which impelled Saul to this noble and vigorous action, so strangely contrasted with his former quiet life behind the plough, laid hold at the same time on the whole nation, so that it was suddenly lifted up, as it were involuntarily, in the uniting and strengthening power of this Spirit from above, to a new life before God (in His fear) and within itself (in unity and union) against the enemies of the theocracy.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 11:8. “Bezek.” “In the tribe of Issachar, in the plain of Jezreel, not far from Bethshean, at about as great an elevation as Jabesh, according to Eusebius (Onomasticon) seventeen Roman miles north of Nablous, on the road to Scythopolis.” (Erdmann.) “The children of Israel,” etc. “This separate mention of Israel and Judah smacks of the times that followed the division of the Israelites into two kingdoms.” (Clericus.) “The numbers will not appear too large if we bear in mind that the allusion is not to a regular army, but that Saul had summoned all the people to a general levy.” (Keil.) “That the large and powerful tribe of Judah has the relatively small number (30,000) of warriors over against the 300,000 of Israel, is due to the fact that a large part of its territory was in the possession of the Philistines, as to whose further advance more care had to be taken, now that the north-eastern frontier of the country was threatened by the Ammonites.” (Erdmann.)

1 Samuel 11:11. “On the morrow,” etc. “Crossing the Jordan—probably by the upper ford opposite Wady Jabis, which comes down from the east into the Jordan opposite Beisan—in the evening, Saul marched his army, all night according to Josephus, thirty furlongs.” (Jamieson.) “Into the midst of the host.” “Of the Ammonites who had gone forth to meet the sally of the men of Jabesh, and found themselves between them and Saul’s companies.” (Wordsworth.) “They which remained were scattered.” Josephus adds that they made a great slaughter—Nahash being amongst the number of the slain—and pursued the fugitives in a complete rout across the desert.” (Jamieson.)

1 Samuel 11:12. “And the people said unto Samuel.” “To whom they still looked as their ruler, and whose presence is mentioned to show Saul’s moderation and clemency at this time; for it was not Samuel but Saul who interfered to rescue those who had despised him.” (Wordsworth.)

1 Samuel 11:13. “And Saul said.” “An evidence that Saul was beginning to gain confidence under the influence of the Spirit of God.” (Biblical Commentary.)

1 Samuel 11:14. “Gilgal.” Doubtless the Gilgal mentioned in chapter 1 Samuel 10:1. Most commentators think it was the one in the Jordan valley. See notes on chapter 1 Samuel 7:16. “A very appropriate place, formerly the camp of Joshua (Joshua 5:9; Joshua 6:10), and connected with those glorious victories which God had wrought by his hand when He first settled Israel in Canaan.” (Wordsworth.)

1 Samuel 11:15. “And there they made Saul king before the Lord.” “These words mean nothing more than the solemn announcement and presentation of Saul before the nation as divinely appointed king in consequence of the divine legitimation given by his brilliant exploit against the Ammonites. The ‘before the Lord’ indicates the essential difference between this act, and the proclamation and homage at Mizpah, marking the religious act of installation sealed with a solemn offering, by which Saul was formerly and solemnly consecrated to his office by the invisible God-king.” (Erdmann.) “The late period at which the regal form of government was established in Israel is an evidence of the Divine origin of the law, which in a certain degree provides for it, and restrains it. It was not unproductive of advantage to the permanent interests of religion that this great change was delayed by Providence until the Mosaic law had subsisted long enough to prove that its first establishment had not originated in any human policy, and that its subsequent support was independent of any human power.” (Graves.)



I. Men need an occasion to reveal their qualifications for special and important service. Much power lies hidden in the world, because it has never met with an occasion to call it out—because it has never been brought into contact with the combination of circumstances needed to make it manifest. The power by which men send their thoughts round the world by the telegraph wire, or make their words audible at a distance by means of the telephone, has been in the world ever since its creation, but it has only been made manifest in modern times, because men have only lately learned how to give it an occasion to reveal its mighty and wonderful capabilities. If one saw an acorn or a corn-seed for the first time, and was ignorant of the process of germination, he would not dream of the wondrous capabilities which lay hidden within them. And if they were always kept above the ground or planted in an unsuitable soil, or if the rain and sun never reached them, the hidden power within them would remain hidden for ever. And so it is with the mental and spiritual capabilities of men. They may be there, but they need an occasion to call them forth. A soldier may be possessed of courage enough to head a forlorn hope, or of endurance enough to sustain a long-continued siege, but if his lot is cast in a time of peace, his capabilities in this direction will never be known even to himself. There are to-day many members of the Church militant who are as courageous and faithful as the martyrs of the fifteenth century—many good soldiers of Jesus Christ who would prove themselves as valiant for the truth as those who have sealed it with their blood in bygone ages. But the spiritual power within them is hidden even from themselves, because the occasion to reveal it is wanting. It is evident that at this period of Saul’s history the people of Israel were ignorant of his mental ability—they did not think he possessed the courage and the tact necessary to lead them to battle and to victory, but the attack of the Ammonite host furnished the needed occasion for the revelation of what was in him.

II. When God has called a man to any special work, he need not seek the occasion, because the occasion will seek him. When a vessel has been built for the ocean it will be certain to find an occasion to show what it is made of—the elements will seek it out and test the strength of its timbers and its power to weather the storm. Every wave that lashes its sides will furnish an occasion for it to prove what it can do. So when God has destined a man to any special service in the world, there is no need for that man to go out of his way to find an occasion to reveal what is in him. He who called him to the work will likewise give him the opportunity to reveal what he is fit for. Saul had been anointed to the kingship of Israel by the prophet of God, and his appointment had been ratified by lot, which was also an expression of the Divine will. He could, therefore, have felt no doubt in the matter. But he did not seek an occasion of displaying his fitness for the post of honour and responsibility to which he had been called, but returned to the occupation of his early life apparently in the belief that the occasion would not be wanting in which he might prove his ability to fulfil the duties of his new position. And the occasion sought him when the men of Gibeah told him the tidings brought by the messengers of Jabesh. So if any man feels that God has called him to any special work in the world, he need not seek an occasion to prove his fitness for it, for if there has been the call, He who called him will not let the occasion be wanting. If he gives himself up to Divine guidance, and faithfully discharges the duty which comes next to hand, God will take care of the rest. Paul doubtless knew that God had chosen him to bear his name “before kings” (Acts 9:15), but he did not go out of his way to find an occasion to do it. He who had destined him to the service provided the opportunity for him (Acts 26:2; 2 Timothy 4:16).

III. The action of one man is needed to make many men one in action. Men must have leaders—they must have some one around whom they can rally as a centre of unity if they are to band together to do anything in the world. And when one man of energy and ability concentrates all his own powers to a certain end, other men of less energy and ability will concentrate around him, and their united efforts will become a mighty power. The people of Israel at this time do not appear to have been unwilling to help their brethren of Gilead, but they did nothing but weep until Saul took the initiative and called upon them to follow him. When Saul’s spirit was stirred within him by the Spirit of God to summon all Israel into the field, the fear of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out “as one man” (see marginal rendering). Granted that there was a supernatural influence at work here, is not the Spirit of God behind all such great movements when their aim is the freedom of the human race or of any part of it? And does not God always move the mass to united action by first moving the heart of one man to take bold and decisive action? The decisive action of Luther at Worms was the fruit of the movement of the Spirit of God upon his soul, and it was the means of inciting the Protestant princes of Germany to united action in the defence of religious liberty.

IV. A conquest of personal enemies by forgiveness is more honourable to a man than a conquest of national enemies by the sword. One of Saul’s successors has left it upon record that “he who ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city” (Proverbs 16:32); and it is so because the first victory is more difficult to win, and is far more complete and lasting than the second. There are many men who are physically courageous with a kind of animal courage, who would not miss an opportunity to avenge a personal insult if the occasion offered—it is harder to overcome malice in the heart than an enemy on the field. But he who can do the first overcomes his enemy far more completely, for in the latter case it is only the body of the enemy which is overpowered by superior physical strength, and he will be ever on the watch to renew the attack. But to overcome a man by forgiveness takes the man’s heart captive, and, by turning him into a friend, makes it certain that the conquest is a lasting one. Saul showed his fitness to be a king by his brilliant victory over the Ammonites, but he showed it more by his victory over himself when he said, concerning his former personal enemies, “There shall not a man be put to death this day.”


1 Samuel 11:6. Without this zeal no anointed one may be found. For this word will always hold good: “Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord slothfully,” (or negligently) (Jeremiah 48:10). But in truth zeal alone is not the right ornament of the warriors of Christ. Prove thy zeal, whether it is not perhaps mixed with flesh and blood, or even proceeds altogether from this fountain, and know that zeal for the Lord’s cause should not flow from mere excitability, from a momentary ebullition of natural compassion, or from being overcome by human displeasure and anger. Not the strange fire which the sons of Aaron took, but the fire from the holy altar, the Spirit of God—let us learn it from Saul!—must overmaster, inflame, inspire us.—Disselhoff.

1 Samuel 11:7. There are two sorts of fear. One is a selfish, reward-seeking fear. In this we are caring for ourselves, and that is properly human fear. But there is also a fear of the Lord, the fear that one has for His sake alone, when one fears lest the Lord has been grieved through our own sins, or those of others, or lest we or others should not have sufficiently glorified Him in ourselves.—Berlenberger Bible.

1 Samuel 11:9. Bold assurance of faith, which in a great undertaking, anticipates its success as an accomplished fact.—Lange’s Commentary.

1 Samuel 11:13. The victory over the foe is to Saul nothing but a saving act of God Himself. He regards himself as simply the instrument of God. This is the ground for the rejection of the demand; none should die that day. Thereby he gained a victory

(1) over himself—he restrains himself in the exercise of a right;
(2) over the anger of those who demanded that justice should be executed;
(3) over his former opponents;
(4) over the whole people, who must have been carried along by him in the path of noble moral conduct, and lifted above themselves to the height on which he stood.—Lange’s Commentary.

As in God, so in His deputies, mercy and justice should be inseparable; wheresoever these two go asunder, government follows them into distraction and ends in ruin. If it had been a wrong offered to Samuel, the forbearance of the revenge had not been so commendable, although on the day of so happy a deliverance perhaps it had not been unseasonable; a man hath reason to be most bold with himself; it is no praise of mercy, since it is a fault of justice to remit another man’s satisfaction; his own he may.—Bp. Hall.

1 Samuel 11:15. How many instructive memorials of God’s power and love to His people might suggest themselves to Saul at Gilgal (see Critical Notes). How many pledges and earnests to himself if he imitated Joshua in faith and obedience to God, especially at Gilgal!—Wordsworth.

How absurdly are our judgments led away by merely outward circumstances. Saul was not less the King of Israel, when following his herds at Gibeah, than when returning from the conquest of the Ammonites. His title rested on the Divine appointment, and was not more sacred because surrounded by the lustre of a victory; yet it appeared so in the eyes of the Israelites.—Lindsay.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 11". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/1-samuel-11.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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