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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for 1 Samuel 11

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Saul’s Victory at Jabesh Gilead

A. Saul’s victory.

1. (1Sa 11:1-2) Nahash the Ammonite gives an ultimatum to an Israelite city.

Then Nahash the Ammonite came up and encamped against Jabesh Gilead; and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a covenant with us, and we will serve you.” And Nahash the Ammonite answered them, “On this condition I will make a covenant with you, that I may put out all your right eyes, and bring reproach on all Israel.”

a. Encamped against Jabesh Gilead: The Ammonite enemy surrounded this Israelite city, and simply by doing so he made his demands clear. They must either surrender or be conquered.

b. Make a covenant with us, and we will serve you: The men of Jabesh Gilead felt this was their only hope of survival. Either they must surrender to Nahash (we will serve you) under agreed upon terms (make a covenant with us), or they will simply be killed and plundered.

i. “Instead of humbling themselves before God and confessing the sins that had brought them into trouble, they put God altogether aside, and basely offered to become the servants of the Ammonites... We see here the sad effect of sin and careless living in lowering men’s spirits, sapping courage, and discouraging noble effort. Oh, it is pitiable to see men tamely submitting to a vile master! Yet how often is the sight repeated! How often to men virtually say to the devil, ‘Make a covenant with us, and we will serve thee’!” (Balike)

c. That I may put out your right eyes: When the men of Jabesh Gilead asked Nahash for a covenant, he agreed to settle peacefully with them – if all the men of the city had their right eyes gouged out. Certainly, Nahash was a serious man.

i. Nahash made this demand for many reasons. First, it was to glorify himself by humiliating the men of this city and all of Israel. Half-blinding the men of this city would bring reproach on all Israel by making Israel look weak and unable to prevent such an atrocity. Second, it would make the men of Jabesh Gilead unable to fight effectively in battle. In hand-to-hand combat the man with one eye has less depth perception and is at a disadvantage to a man with two eyes.

ii. “He who opposes his shield to the enemy with his left hand, thereby hides his left eye, and looks at his enemy with his right eye; he therefore who plucks out that right eye makes men useless in war.” (Theodoret, cited in Clarke)

iii. We can see in this account a similarity between Satan, our spiritual enemy, and Nahash, the enemy of Israel.

· Satan attacks us but cannot do anything against us without our agreement. He asks for, and requires our surrender
· Satan wants us to serve him and will attempt to intimidate us into giving in to him
· Satan wants to humiliate us and exalt himself over us. Through humiliating one saint, Satan wants to bring reproach on all God’s people
· Satan wants to take away our ability to effectively fight against him
· Satan wants to blind us and if he cannot blind us completely, he will blind us partially
· The name Nahash means serpent or snake

2. (1Sa 11:3) The elders of Jabesh Gilead answer Nahash.

Then the elders of Jabesh said to him, “Hold off for seven days, that we may send messengers to all the territory of Israel. And then, if there is no one to save us, we will come out to you.”

a. Hold off for seven days... if there is no one to save us, we will come out to you: The men of Jabesh Gilead were in a difficult spot. They were horrified at the demand of Nahash but they also knew they had no other choice. If there is no one to save them Nahash could do to them as he pleased, and losing an eye seemed better to them than losing their lives.

b. If there is no one to save us: Was there no one to save them? The men of Jabesh didn’t know for certain. But they knew there was no hope in and of themselves. They knew that they must have a savior.

c. That we may send messengers: Nahash let the messengers go for two reasons. First he was confident of Israel’s disunity and figured they couldn’t find anyone to save them. Second, by allowing the messengers to go through all Israel he made his name big and his reputation feared throughout the whole nation.

3. (1Sa 11:4-5) Saul hears of the plight of Jabesh Gilead.

So the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and told the news in the hearing of the people. And all the people lifted up their voices and wept. Now there was Saul, coming behind the herd from the field; and Saul said, “What troubles the people, that they weep?” And they told him the words of the men of Jabesh.

a. So the messengers came: As the messengers spread out over all Israel, they came to Gibeah, Saul’s home city. Upon hearing of the plight of Jabesh Gilead, all the people lifted up their voices and wept. This was exactly the reaction Nahash hoped for.

b. Coming behind the herd from the field: This is the humility of the king of Israel. Saul was already anointed and recognized as king, yet in a sense there was nothing for him to do. He really didn’t know where to begin when it came to setting up a royal court and a bureaucracy and Israel never had one before. So, he just went back home, went to work in the field and figured God would tell him what to do when the time was right.

i. Saul was wise in going back to the farm. He knew it was the Lord’s job to raise him up as king over the nation, and he knew the Lord would do it in the right way at the right time. He didn’t have to promote himself, or scheme on his own behalf. The Lord would do it.

c. They told him the words of the men of Jabesh: This also shows there was no established system of government in Israel. Otherwise, the king would be the first to know of the threat against Jabesh instead of hearing the news second or third hand.

4. (1Sa 11:6-8) Zealous for Israel’s cause, Saul angrily gathers an army.

Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard this news, and his anger was greatly aroused. So he took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hands of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to battle, so it shall be done to his oxen.” And the fear of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out with one consent. When he numbered them in Bezek, the children of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand.

a. Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul: It was time for Saul to act and God was with him. The Spirit of God came upon Saul but it did not come to entertain him or to thrill him. It came to equip him for service so that he could do something for the Lord.

i. This is always God’s pattern. He doesn’t want us to seek the Spirit selfishly, but to be empowered and used by Him to touch others.

b. And his anger was greatly aroused: This was good and Spirit-led anger within Saul. The Bible says we can be angry, and do not sin (Ephesians 4:26), but most of our anger is selfish. Saul’s anger was not out of a personal sense of hurt or offense, but out of a righteous concern for the cause of the Lord among His people.

c. So he took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces: In doing this, Saul delivered a clear threat to the people of Israel. The manner of the threat seemed more from the Mafia than from the people of God, but Saul wanted it clear that failure to step up and defend the cause of God at this time was sin and it would be punished as sin.

i. When the cause is right and the need desperate, it is wrong to do nothing. Doing nothing in such cases is sin, and when it comes to the sin of doing nothing, be sure your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:23).

d. Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to the battle: “Saul’s inclusion of Samuel implies that he expects the prophet to accompany him into battle in view of the fact that Saul is responding to the Spirit of God.” (Baldwin)

e. And the fear of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out with one consent: Saul’s bloody threat worked. When those hunks of ox-flesh came special delivery, all Israel knew there was a leader in Israel who was serious. They knew the Lord called them to do something about the crisis at Jabesh Gilead.

5. (1Sa 11:9-11) The defeat of Nahash the Ammonite.

And they said to the messengers who came, “Thus you shall say to the men of Jabesh Gilead: ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have help.’ ” Then the messengers came and reported it to the men of Jabesh, and they were glad. Therefore the men of Jabesh said, “Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you may do with us whatever seems good to you.” So it was, on the next day, that Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch, and killed Ammonites until the heat of the day. And it happened that those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

a. The messengers came and reported it to the men of Jabesh, and they were glad: Before they did not know if there was anyone to save them. Now they knew they had someone to save them. Knowing we have a savior should make us glad.

b. Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you may do with us whatever seems good to you: Here they deceived Nahash. They spoke as if they would surrender to Nahash, so that his army would be unprepared for battle.

i. “The message contained a clever ambiguity, while giving the impression that surrender was intended.” (Baldwin)

c. Saul put the men into three companies: Saul was a man of good military strategy. He thought out the attack before the battle started.

d. Killed Ammonites until the heat of the day... no two of them were left together: Through Saul’s action and by God’s blessing the victory was total. Nahash and his army were utterly routed, and the city of Jabesh Gilead was saved.

B. Saul’s coronation.

1. (1Sa 11:12-13) Saul shows mercy to his former opponents.

Then 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.” But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has accomplished salvation in Israel.”

a. Who is he who said, “Shall Saul reign over us?” At this moment of great victory, the supporters of Saul wanted to expose and kill those who didn’t support him as king before (as described in 1 Samuel 10:27).

b. Not a man shall be put to death this day: Saul wisely knew this was no time to take revenge on his opponents. Satan, having failed in the attack through Nahash now tried to attack Israel – even in victory – by dividing the nation against each other. Satan will attack us anyway he can, and he often uses times of victory to attack.

c. Today the Lord has accomplished salvation in Israel: In 1 Samuel 11:3, the men of Jabesh Gilead wondered if there was one to save us. Saul was the man the Lord raised up to bring the victory, yet Saul himself knew that the Lord has accomplished salvation in Israel. It was the Lord who did the saving and Saul was humble enough to know it. At this moment of victory, it was all the more tempting to take the credit for himself.

2. (1Sa 11:14-15) Saul is accepted as king by the entire nation.

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

a. Samuel said to the people: As well as anyone, Samuel knew that the people were not entirely behind Saul when he was proclaimed as king in Gilgal (1 Samuel 10:24, 27). So Samuel wisely sees this time of victory as a strategic opportunity to renew the kingdom at Gilgal.

i. Saul had to prove himself before many would accept his reign as king. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is one thing for a person to be “anointed” or “appointed,” but the evidence must be in the doing. It was understandable for some to say, “Let’s see what kind of man this Saul is.” But once it was demonstrated (as it was in this chapter) it would have been wrong for them to fail to support Saul. “Unwittingly, the Ammonites provided just the opportunity Saul needed to take an initiative, and to prove himself as well to Israel at large that he could ‘save’ his people from oppressors.” (Baldwin)

b. They made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal: It wasn’t that Saul was not king before this. He was anointed as king by Samuel (1 Samuel 10:1) and recognized by king by much of the nation of Israel (1 Samuel 10:24). Yet there was a sense in which Saul was not king until virtually all the nation recognized him as king, and here that recognition was given.

i. “Jesus is our King. The Father hath anointed Him, and set Him on his holy hill; and we have gladly assented to the appointment, and made Him King. But sometimes our sense of loyalty and devotion wanes. Insensibly we drift from our strenuous endeavour to act always as his devoted subjects. Therefore we need, from time to time, to renew the kingdom, and reverently make Him King before the Lord... There is a sense in which we can consecrate ourselves only once; but we can renew our vows often.” (Meyer)

c. There Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly: They certainly did. After all, now they felt they had a king, and a good king. It is a great blessing to be under a great, victorious king.

i. Saul won the battle that day, but it was more than one battle he won. This chapter records Saul’s inward and outward battles. The outward victory was obvious, but inwardly Saul defeated the strong and subtle temptations to pride, insecurity, and revenge. But he must continue to fight and win the inward battle, and he could only do so as he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord and walking in the Spirit, under the leadership of the King of Kings over Israel.

ii. “O Saul, Saul, how well for thee it would have been hadst thou maintained this spirit! For then God would not have had to reject thee from being king.” (Blaikie)

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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