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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
1 Samuel 11

 

 

Verse 1

1. Nahash the Ammonite — From 1 Samuel 12:12, we learn that he was king of the children of Ammon, and also that a knowledge of his warlike intentions was one reason of Israel’s urgent request for a king to fight their battles for them. For the origin of the Ammonites see Genesis 19:38; and for their subsequent history, Judges 11:4-33.

Jabesh-gilead — Gilead was the mountainous tract east of the Jordan bounded on the north by Bashan and on the south by the land of the Ammonites. Of this district Jabesh was the chief city, and is first mentioned Judges 21:8, in connexion with the vengeance wrought on its inhabitants for not participating in the tribal war against Benjamin. It was situated on the Wady Yabes, some six or eight miles east of the Jordan.

The inhabitants must have been at this time in a very defenceless condition, as is manifest from their desire to make a covenant with the invaders.


Verses 1-11

SAUL’S VICTORY OVER THE AMMONITES, 1 Samuel 11:1-11.

The fact that Saul was permitted to return again to private life after all Israel’s clamour for a king, and notwithstanding the enthusiasm that prevailed at his election at Mizpeh, shows that there was considerable disaffection and disappointment among the people over his appointment. The salutations of royalty that at first greeted him on that proud occasion soon died away. There was, probably, a feeling that he was too obscure a person, and of insufficient age and experience, to be suddenly advanced to the head of the nation. But we must not judge the tastes and ideas of that more simple age altogether by the standard of our own times. In the old Roman Republic it is said that Cincinnatus was called from the plough to lead the army against the enemy, and, after having conquered, and having held the dictatorship only sixteen days, he returned to his farm again. It was no easy matter to establish a monarchy over a people that had never hitherto been subject to a human king; and, to do it successfully, it was necessary that he who was to be ruler should signalize his martial prowess and heroic daring by going out before the people and fighting for them victorious battles against their enemies. An attempt of the Ammonites to avenge themselves of the defeat they had suffered at the hands of Jephthah (Judges 11:33) gave to the regal Saul an opportunity to secure for himself a more worthy recognition.


Verse 2

2. Thrust out all your right eyes — This would incapacitate them for war, because the shield was carried on the left arm, and would thus partially be in the way of the left eye; but this loss of one eye would not render them unfit for other service, and the conqueror might still use them as slaves.

A reproach upon all Israel — Because they were unable to defend a part of their nation from such a barbarous treatment; and also to remind Israel that the Ammonites still claimed, as they did in the days of Jephthah, that a part of their land had been unjustly taken from them. Judges 11:13.


Verse 3

3. Give us seven days’ respite — Literally, Let us alone seven days. They deemed this a sufficient length of time to ascertain whether help could be obtained for them beyond the Jordan. But why, it may be asked, would Nahash, who could dictate such barbarous terms of surrender, allow the defenceless town such an opportunity to strengthen itself? He probably supposed that the tribes on the west of the Jordan were in no condition to render Jabesh any considerable aid, and that it would add all the more to Israel’s reproach to have it said that the inhabitants of Jabesh implored their aid in vain. Josephus tells us that the besieged had already sought in vain for aid from the tribes on the east of the Jordan, and this fact may have made Nahash feel all the more secure. Then, perhaps, he was not just at that time in a condition to take the city easily, in case the besieged should offer a fierce resistance; nor must we forget that Jehovah designed, by this war with the Ammonites, to magnify Saul in the eyes of Israel.


Verse 4

4. Messengers to Gibeah — Gibeah was nearly sixty miles southwest of Jabesh, and it would have taken a day and a night for the messengers to reach it. But why were these messengers sent to Gibeah? We most naturally suppose that the elders of Jabesh knew that Saul had very recently been elected king, and therefore dispatched their messengers to his place of residence. When they arrived at Gibeah they found no regal court, and no king, for Saul was away in the field attending to the cattle. What then could they do but utter the tidings in the ears of the people? All the people… wept — For they saw no prospect of saving their brethren from this cruel infliction, and their nation from foul reproach.


Verse 6

6. The Spirit of God came upon Saul — As it came on the ancient judges. See the marginal references. As the judges of former times had undertaken their great exploits by special inspiration from the Almighty, so also Saul. When he departed from Samuel, that prophet told him after certain signs came to pass to follow the openings of Providence, (see note on 1 Samuel 10:7,) and here was presented a manifest occasion for him to rise in the dignity of his power and his royal office, and call the nation to arms.

His anger was kindled greatly — At the thought that the children of Ammon would dare threaten Israel with such barbarity.


Verse 7

7. Took… oxen, and hewed them in pieces — Lucian says that among the ancient Scythians, when any great injury called for punishment, an individual who was deeply interested in the matter cut an ox in pieces and sent it round, whereupon all who would help avenge the wrong that had been done took a piece, and swore by it to do his utmost to punish the offender. The import of this symbolical act the words of the messengers explained. It was the king’s prerogative to call the people out to battle; this act showed that he was terribly in earnest. Saul’s conduct could not but remind the people of the similar act of the Levite of Mount Ephraim, (Judges 19:29,) and also of the bitter vengeance wrought on the inhabitants of this same Jabesh-Gilead for their refusal to respond to that call. Judges 21:10.

After Saul and after Samuel — He adds the name of Samuel to his own in order to strengthen the authority and influence of his command.

Fear of the Lord fell — A fear inspired by Jehovah. The people were made to feel that a most important movement for the honour of all Israel was at hand.


Verse 8

8. Bezek — At this place Judah had defeated Adoni-bezek. Judges 1:4. When Saul issued his call to all the tribes he probably designated this place as the rendezvous, where every warrior must report himself without the least delay. No traveller has yet satisfactorily identified Bezek with any modern site. From the next verse we infer that it was within a day’s journey of Jabesh, and therefore a very proper place to muster the army into battle array.

Israel… three hundred thousand… Judah thirty thousand — This distinction between Judah and Israel is considered by many as clear evidence that this narrative was written after the division of the nation into two kingdoms; but it may also indicate that long before that division was completed there were growing rivalries and jealousies that silently prepared the way for it, so that in Saul’s time Judah and Israel began to reckon themselves apart, as if they were two different states. Compare 2 Samuel 2:10; 2 Samuel 19:41; 2 Samuel 20:1-2. Three hundred thousand men was indeed a vast army, but there is no sufficient reason to believe that the number is exaggerated. At the time of the march through the desert all that were able to go forth to war in Israel were six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty, (Numbers 1:46,) and it would have been exceedingly strange if now, from all the coasts of Israel, the call of Saul had brought together less than half that number.


Verse 9

9. They said unto the messengers that came — These messengers were the ones that came from Jabesh to Gibeah. They had repaired to Bezek to wait to see the result of Saul’s call for the people to assemble there.

Tomorrow, by that time the sun be hot — That is, about noon.

Whether this “morrow” was the last day of the seven granted by Nahash to the elders of Jabesh cannot be certainly decided by any thing here recorded. But on the supposition that it was, the question has been raised: Was a period of seven days sufficient time for all these things to be done? It would require at least a day for the messengers to reach Gibeah, and it would seem at first sight that a week would be barely sufficient to notify the tribes, much less to get together an army of three hundred and thirty thousand men in readiness for battle. Indeed, with our modern ideas and methods of raising and marshalling an army, it would be utterly impossible for the most experienced general to get together, without any previous arrangement, so large an army in so short a time. But we must divest our minds of our modern notions of warfare, and remember that in ancient Israel every able-bodied man was made familiar from his childhood with the implements of war. A bow, a sword or a spear, and a shield, or simply a sling, were the weapons most commonly used. From 1 Samuel 13:22, it appears that swords and spears were scarce among the people, but at such a time the sling was probably regarded as a much more serviceable weapon. Compare the feat of David, 1 Samuel 17:49, and the statement of Judges 20:16, that the little tribe of Benjamin had seven hundred chosen men, each of whom could sling stones at a hair-breadth and not miss. Accordingly, when summoned out to battle, every man would provide his own weapons and his own food, and hasten at once to the place of rendezvous. No great length of time would be necessary, under such circumstances, for the mustering of an army. A man notified in the morning, might equip himself and travel forty or fifty miles before night, and in circumstances of great peril he would probably travel in the night time also. Joshua 10:9. Then we must not imagine that the roads of Palestine were, at that time, in the ruined and neglected state in which the modern traveller finds them: nor should we obscure the subject by the supposition that the summons of Saul was carried through the coasts of Israel by a few slow-footed travellers. Doubtless every town had one or more swift-footed runners, who, like Asahel, (2 Samuel 2:18,) were as light of foot as the wild roe; and as the tidings reached one town, swift messengers would fly forth in different directions; and the alarm might spread still more rapidly by the erection of ensigns on the tops of the high hills. Such tidings, of course, would spread by night as well as by day, and thirty or forty hours would be sufficient to send the call of the king through all the coasts of Israel. Saul probably sent forth ten swift runners, (for it is hardly likely that the tribes on the east of the Jordan were summoned,) each bearing a piece of the slaughtered oxen to the chief city of each tribe; and from such central city of every tribe the call rapidly flew to all the surrounding country. Attention to all these circumstances will show that a vast army might, without great difficulty, be mustered in a few days.


Verse 10

10. To-morrow we will come out unto you — By this guileful message they sought to make the enemy feel all the more secure and confident of success, and thus subject them to a more humiliating defeat.


Verse 11

11. Saul put the people in three companies — Perhaps about one hundred and ten thousand in each company. But we need not suppose that the whole three hundred and thirty thousand were at one time engaged in the fight.

In the morning watch — Between three and six o’clock in the morning. So Saul had evidently marched from Bezek during the night.

Two of them were not left together — Their army was utterly demoralized and scattered.


Verse 12

12. Bring the men, that we may put them to death — The reference is to the outspoken disloyalty that showed itself at Mizpeh. 1 Samuel 10:27. But the new king’s magnanimity and piety forbade the shedding of Israelitish blood on that day of victory.


Verses 12-15

THE REACTION IN FAVOUR OF SAUL, AND RENEWAL OF THE KINGDOM AT GILGAL, 1 Samuel 11:12-15.

The aged Samuel, whose name had gone forth with Saul’s call to arms, (1 Samuel 11:7,) was with the army at the time of Saul’s triumph over the Ammonites, and when he saw the mighty host all flushed with the glory of their triumph, and all with one accord extolling Saul, he deemed it a most appropriate time to establish the new king in all the powers and prerogatives of the government, and secure for him national recognition.


Verse 14

14. Let us go to Gilgal — The ancient sacred camping ground of Israel, where, after the long exile in the wilderness, the reproach of Egypt was rolled away. Compare Joshua 5:2-9, notes. Appropriately now, after long years of varied fortune, may the nation assemble, in the persons of its warriors, on that hallowed spot, and there recognise their new leader, who has shown himself to be another conqueror of Israel’s foes.

Renew the kingdom there — At Mizpeh he had only been designated as the chosen of the Lord, but not formally recognised as king, or set apart by solemn ceremonies as the Lord’s anointed. Such more solemn and impressive inauguration was reserved for this occasion, when, as Israel’s honoured and victorious chieftain, no envious tongue would dare malign him.


Verse 15

15. There they made Saul king before the Lord — Whether Samuel anointed him again on this occasion we are not told, but it is certain that by some formal ceremony he was set apart and recognised as king. Samuel’s speaking of him as Jehovah’s anointed (1 Samuel 12:3) makes it probable that the public anointing was done at this time. One prominent ceremony of the occasion was the sacrifices of peace offerings. In these the worshipper himself received the greater part of the animal slain, and with it held a feast of thanksgiving; an appropriate service for that proud occasion, when all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 11:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/1-samuel-11.html. 1874-1909.

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Sunday, December 15th, 2019
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