1 Samuel
1-4 The People Are Afraid of Nahash 5-11 Saul Strikes down Ammon 12-13 The Victory Is from the LORD 14-15 Samuel Renews the Kingdom
The People Are Afraid of Nahash

1Now Nahash the Ammonite came up and besieged Jabesh-gilead; and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a covenant with us and we will serve you.” 2But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “I will make [it] with you on this condition, that I will gouge out the right eye of every one of you, thus I will make it a reproach on all Israel.” 3The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Let us alone for seven days, that we may send messengers throughout the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to deliver us, we will come out to you.” 4Then the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and spoke these words in the hearing of the people, and all the people lifted up their voices and wept.

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 (1Chr 19:1-41Now it came about after this, that Nahash the king of the sons of Ammon died, and his son became king in his place.2Then David said, “I will show kindness to Hanun the son of Nahash, because his father showed kindness to me.” So David sent messengers to console him concerning his father. And David’s servants came into the land of the sons of Ammon to Hanun to console him.3But the princes of the sons of Ammon said to Hanun, “Do you think that David is honoring your father, in that he has sent comforters to you? Have not his servants come to you to search and to overthrow and to spy out the land?”4So Hanun took David’s servants and shaved them and cut off their garments in the middle as far as their hips, and sent them away.). The threat that Nahash made audible is one of the reasons why the people wanted a king (1Sam 12:1212When you saw that Nahash the king of the sons of Ammon came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ although the LORD your God [was] your king.).

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 (Jdg 21:8-98And they said, “What one is there of the tribes of Israel who did not come up to the LORD at Mizpah?” And behold, no one had come to the camp from Jabesh-gilead to the assembly.9For when the people were numbered, behold, not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead was there.). 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 (Jdg 11:32-3332So Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD gave them into his hand.33He struck them with a very great slaughter from Aroer to the entrance of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the sons of Ammon were subdued before the sons of Israel.).

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 didn’t 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 verse 44Then the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and spoke these words in the hearing of the people, and all the people lifted up their voices and wept. 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 don’t ask if Saul wants to come.

Saul Strikes down Ammon

5Now behold, Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen, and he said, “What is [the matter] with the people that they weep?” So they related to him the words of the men of Jabesh. 6Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul mightily when he heard these words, and he became very angry. 7He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces, and sent [them] throughout the territory of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen.” Then the dread of the LORD fell on the people, and they came out as one man. 8He numbered them in Bezek; and the sons of Israel were 300,000, and the men of Judah 30,000. 9They said to the messengers who had come, “Thus you shall say to the men of Jabesh-gilead, ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you will have deliverance.’” So the messengers went and told the men of Jabesh; and they were glad. 10Then the men of Jabesh said, “Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you.” 11The next morning Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp at the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

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 doesn’t 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 (Jdg 7:16,20-2216He divided the 300 men into three companies, and he put trumpets and empty pitchers into the hands of all of them, with torches inside the pitchers.20When the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers, they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing, and cried, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!”21Each stood in his place around the camp; and all the army ran, crying out as they fled.22When they blew 300 trumpets, the LORD set the sword of one against another even throughout the whole army; and the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the edge of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath.). 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.

The Victory Is from the LORD

12Then the people said to Samuel, “Who is he that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring the men, that we may put them to death.” 13But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the LORD has accomplished deliverance in Israel.”

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.

Samuel Renews the Kingdom

14Then Samuel said to the people, “Come and let us go to Gilgal and renew the kingdom there.” 15So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal. There they also offered sacrifices of peace offerings before the LORD; and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.

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 by the circumcision the “reproach of Egypt” was “rolled away” by the LORD of his people (Jos 5:9a9Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.). “Gilgal” means “rolled away”. “So the name of that place is called Gilgal” (Jos 5:9b9Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.). 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 (Col 2:1111and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;).

After the circumcision in Gilgal Joshua learned Who the real Leader of the people is (Jos 5:13-1513Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?”14He said, “No; rather I indeed come now [as] captain of the host of the LORD.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?”15The captain of the LORD’s host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.). 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 (1Sam 9:2424Then the cook took up the leg with what was on it and set [it] before Saul. And [Samuel] said, “Here is what has been reserved! Set [it] before you [and] eat, because it has been kept for you until the appointed time, since I said I have invited the people.” So Saul ate with Samuel that day.). 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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