1 Samuel 11
In this chapter we have the first-fruits of Saul's government, in the
glorious rescue of Jabesh-Gilead out of the hands of the Ammonites. Let
not Israel thence infer that therefore they did well to ask a king (God
could and would have saved them without one); but let them admire God's
goodness, that he did not reject them when they rejected him, and
acknowledge his wisdom in the choice of the person whom, if he did not
find fit, yet he made fit, for the great trust he called him to, and
enabled, in some measure, to merit the crown by his public services,
before it was fixed on his head by the public approbation. Here is,
I. The great extremity to which the city of Jabesh-Gilead, on the
other side of Jordan, was reduced by the Ammonites,
1 Samuel 11:1-3.
II. Saul's great readiness to come to their relief, whereby he
1 Samuel 11:4-10.
III. The good success of his attempt, by which God signalized him,
1 Samuel 11:11.
IV. Saul's tenderness, notwithstanding this, towards those that had
1 Samuel 11:12,13.
V. The public confirmation and recognition of his election to the
1 Samuel 11:14,15.
|Extremity of Jabesh-Gilead.
||B. C. 1069.|
1 Then Nahash the Ammonite came up, and encamped against
Jabesh-gilead: and all the men of Jabesh said unto Nahash, Make a
covenant with us, and we will serve thee.
2 And Nahash the Ammonite answered them, On this condition
will I make a covenant with you, that I may thrust out all your
right eyes, and lay it for a reproach upon all Israel.
3 And the elders of Jabesh said unto him, Give us seven days'
respite, that we may send messengers unto all the coasts of
Israel: and then, if there be no man to save us, we will come
out to thee.
4 Then came the messengers to Gibeah of Saul, and told the
tidings in the ears of the people: and all the people lifted up
their voices, and wept.
The Ammonites were bad neighbours to those tribes of Israel that lay
next them, though descendants from just Lot, and, for that reason,
dealt civilly with by Israel. See
Jephthah, in his time, had humbled them, but now the sin of Israel had
put them into a capacity to make head again, and avenge that quarrel.
The city of Jabesh-Gilead had been, some ages ago, destroyed by
Israel's sword of justice, for not appearing against the wickedness of
and now being replenished again, probably by the posterity of those
that then escaped the sword, it is in danger of being destroyed by the
Ammonites, as if some bad fate attended the place. Nahash, king of
(1 Chronicles 19:1)
laid siege to it. Now here,
I. The besieged beat a parley
(1 Samuel 11:1):
"Make a covenant with us, and we will surrender upon terms, and
serve thee." They had lost the virtue of Israelites, else they
would not have thus lost the valour of Israelites, nor tamely yielded
to serve an Ammonite, without one bold struggle for themselves. Had
they not broken their covenant with God, and forsaken his service, they
needed not thus to have courted a covenant with a Gentile nation, and
offered themselves to serve them.
II. The besiegers offer them base and barbarous conditions; they will
spare their lives, and take them to be their servants, upon condition
that they shall put out their right eyes,
1 Samuel 11:2.
The Gileadites were content to part with their liberty and estates for
the ransom of their blood; and, had the Ammonites taken them at their
word, the matter would have been so settled immediately, and the
Gileadites would not have sent out for relief. But their abject
concessions make the Ammonites more insolent in their demands, and they
cannot be content to have them for their servants, but,
1. They must torment them, and put them to pain, exquisite pain, for so
the thrusting out of an eye would do.
2. They must disable them for war, and render them incapable, though
not of labour (that would have been a loss to their lords), yet of
bearing arms; for in those times they fought with shields in their left
hands, which covered their left eye, so that a soldier without his
right eye was in effect blind.
3. They must put a reproach upon all Israel, as weak and
cowardly, that would suffer the inhabitants of one of their chief
cities to be thus miserably used, and not offer to rescue them.
III. The besieged desire, and obtain, seven days' time to consider of
1 Samuel 11:3.
If Nahash had not granted them this respite, we may suppose the horror
of the proposal would have made them desperate, and they would rather
have died with their swords in their hands than have surrendered to
such merciless enemies: therefore Nahash, not imagining it possible
that, in so short a time, they should have relief, and being very
secure of the advantages he thought he had against them, in a bravado
gave them seven days, that the reproach upon Israel, for not rescuing
them, might be the greater, and his triumphs the more illustrious. But
there was a providence in it, that his security might be his
infatuation and ruin.
IV. Notice is sent of this to Gibeah. They said they would send
messengers to all the coasts of Israel
(1 Samuel 11:3),
which made Nahash the more secure, for that, he thought, would be a
work of time, and none would be forward to appear if they had not one
common head; and perhaps Nahash had not yet heard of the new-elected
king. But the messengers, either of their own accord or by order from
their masters, went straight to Gibeah, and, not finding Saul within,
told their news to the people, who fell a weeping upon hearing it,
1 Samuel 11:4.
They would sooner lament their brethren's misery and danger than think
of helping them, shed their tears for them than shed their blood. They
wept, as despairing to help the men of Jabesh-Gilead, and fearing lest,
if that frontier-city should be lost, the enemy would penetrate into
the very bowels of their country, which now appeared in great
|The Distress of Jabesh-Gilead; Saul Succours Jabesh-Gilead.
||B. C. 1069.|
5 And, behold, Saul came after the herd out of the field; and
Saul said, What aileth the people that they weep? And they told
him the tidings of the men of Jabesh.
6 And the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard those
tidings, and his anger was kindled greatly.
7 And he took a yoke of oxen, and hewed them in pieces, and
sent them throughout all the coasts of Israel by the hands of
messengers, saying, Whosoever cometh not forth after Saul and
after Samuel, so shall it be done unto his oxen. And the fear of
the LORD fell on the people, and they came out with one consent.
8 And when he numbered them in Bezek, the children of Israel
were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty
9 And they said unto the messengers that came, Thus shall ye
say unto the men of Jabesh-gilead, To morrow, by that time the
sun be hot, ye shall have help. And the messengers came and
shewed it to the men of Jabesh; and they were glad.
10 Therefore the men of Jabesh said, To morrow we will come out
unto you, and ye shall do with us all that seemeth good unto you.
11 And it was so on the morrow, that Saul put the people in
three companies; and they came into the midst of the host in the
morning watch, and slew the Ammonites until the heat of the day:
and it came to pass, that they which remained were scattered, so
that two of them were not left together.
What is here related turns very much to the honour of Saul, and shows
the happy fruits of that other spirit with which he was endued. Observe
I. His humility. Though he was anointed king, and accepted by his
people, yet he did not think it below him to know the state of his own
flocks, but went himself to see them, and came in the evening, with his
servants, after the herd out of the field,
1 Samuel 11:5.
This was an evidence that he was not puffed up with his advancement, as
those are most apt to be that are raised from a mean estate. Providence
had not yet found him business as a king; he left all to Samuel; and
therefore, rather than be idle, he would, for the present, apply
himself to his country business again. Though the sons of Belial would,
perhaps, despise him the more for it, such as were virtuous and wise,
and loved business themselves, would think never the worse of him. He
had no revenues settled upon him for the support of his dignity, and he
was desirous not to be burdensome to the people, for which reason, like
Paul, he worked with his hands; for, if he neglect his domestic
affairs, how must he maintain himself and his family? Solomon gives it
as a reason why men should look well to their herds because the
crown doth not endure to every generation,
Saul's did not; he must therefore provide something surer.
II. His concern for his neighbours. When he perceived them in tears, he
asked, "What ails the people that they weep? Let me know, that,
if it be a grievance which can be redressed, I may help them, and that,
if not, I may weep with them." Good magistrates are in pain if their
subjects are in tears.
III. His zeal for the safety and honour of Israel. When he heard of the
insolence of the Ammonites, and the distress of a city, a mother in
Israel, the Spirit of God came upon him, and put great thoughts
into his mind, and his anger was kindled greatly,
1 Samuel 11:6.
He was angry at the insolence of the Ammonites, angry at the mean and
sneaking spirit of the men of Jabesh-Gilead, angry that they had not
sent him notice sooner of the Ammonites' descent and the extremity they
were likely to be reduced to. He was angry to see his neighbours
weeping, when it was fitter for them to be preparing for war. It was a
brave and generous fire that was now kindled in the breast of Saul, and
such as became his high station.
IV. The authority and power he exerted upon this important occasion. He
soon let Israel know that, though he had retired to his privacy, he had
a care for the public, and knew how to command men into the field, as
well as how to drive cattle out of the field,
1 Samuel 11:5,7.
He sent a summons to all the coasts of Israel, to show the extent of
his power beyond his own tribe, even to all the tribes, and ordered all
the military men forthwith to appear in arms at a general rendezvous in
1. His modesty, in joining Samuel in commission with himself. He would
not execute the office of a king without a due regard to that of a
2. His mildness in the penalty threatened against those that should
disobey his orders. He hews a yoke of oxen in pieces, and sends the
pieces to the several cities of Israel, threatening, with respect to
him who should decline the public service, not, "Thus shall it be done
to him," but, "Thus shall it be done to his oxen." God
had threatened it as a great judgment
Thy ox shall be slain before thy eyes, and thou shalt not eat
thereof. It was necessary that the command should be enforced with
some penalty, but this was not nearly so severe as that which was
affixed to a similar order by the whole congregation,
Saul wished to show that his government was more gentle than that which
they had been under. The effect of this summons was that the militia,
or trained bands, of the nation, came out as one man, and the
reason given is, because the fear of the Lord fell upon them.
Saul did not affect to make them fear him, but they were influenced to
observe his orders by the fear of God and a regard to him who had made
Saul their king and them members one of another. Note, Religion and
the fear of God will make men good subjects, good soldiers, and good
friends to the public interests of the country. Those that fear God
will make conscience of their duty to all men, particularly to their
V. His prudent proceedings in this great affair,
1 Samuel 11:8.
He numbered those that came in to him, that he might know his own
strength, and how to distribute his forces in the best manner their
numbers would allow. It is the honour of princes to know the number of
their men, but it is the honour of the King of kings that there is
not any number of his armies,
In this muster, it seems, Judah, though numbered by itself, made no
great figure; for, as it was one tribe of twelve, so it was but an
eleventh part of the whole number, 30,330, though the rendezvous was at
Bezek, in that tribe. They wanted the numbers, or the courage, or the
zeal for which that tribe used to be famous; so low was it, just before
the sceptre was brought into it in David.
VI. His faith and confidence, and (grounded thereon) his courage and
resolution, in this enterprise. It should seem that those very
messengers who brought the tidings from Jabesh-Gilead Saul sent into
the country to raise the militia, who would be sure to be faithful and
careful in their own business, and them he now sends back to their
distressed countrymen, with this assurance (in which, it is probable,
Samuel encouraged him): "To-morrow, by such an hour, before the
enemy can pretend that the seven days have expired, you shall have
1 Samuel 11:9.
Be you ready to do your part, and we will not fail to do ours. Do you
sally out upon the besiegers, while we surround them." Saul knew he had
a just cause, a clear call, and God on his side, and therefore doubted
not of success. This was good news to the besieged Gileadites, whose
right eyes had wept themselves dry for their calamities, and now began
to fail with looking for relief and to ache in expectation of the doom
of the ensuing day, when they must look their last; the greater the
exigence the more welcome the deliverance. When they heard it they
were glad, relying on the assurances that were sent to them. And they
sent into the enemies' camp
(1 Samuel 11:10)
to tell them that next day they would be ready to meet them, which the
enemies understood as an intimation that they despaired of relief, and
so were made the more secure by it. If they took not care, by sending
out scouts, to rectify their own mistake, they must thank themselves if
they were surprised: the besieged were under no obligation to give them
notice of the help they were assured of.
VII. His industry and close application to this business. If he had
been bred up to war from his youth, and had led regiments as often as
he had followed droves, he could not have gone about an affair of this
nature more dexterously nor more diligently. When the Spirit of the
Lord comes upon men it will make them expert even without experience. A
vast army (especially in comparison with the present usage) Saul had
now at his foot, and a long march before him, nearly sixty miles, and
over Jordan too. No cavalry in his army, but all infantry, which he
divides into three battalions,
1 Samuel 11:11.
1. With what incredible swiftness he flew to the enemy. In a day and a
night he came to the place of action, where his own fate, and that of
Israel, must be determined. He had passed his word, and would not break
it; nay, he was better than his word, for he promised help next day,
by that time the sun was hot
(1 Samuel 11:9),
but brought it before day, in the morning-watch,
1 Samuel 11:11.
Whom God helps he helps right early,
2. With what incredible bravery he flew upon the enemy. Betimes in the
morning, when they lay dreaming of the triumphs they expected that day
over the miserable inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead, before they were aware
he was in the midst of their host; and his men, being marched against
them in three columns, surrounded them on every side, so that they
could have neither heart nor time to make head against them.
Lastly, To complete his honour, God crowned all these virtues
with success. Jabesh-Gilead was rescued, and the Ammonites were totally
routed; he had now the day before him to complete his victory in, and
so complete a victory it was that those who remained, after a great
slaughter, were scattered so that two of them were not left
together to encourage or help one another,
1 Samuel 11:11.
We may suppose that Saul was the more vigorous in this matter,
1. Because there was some alliance between the tribe of Benjamin and
the city of Jabesh-Gilead. That city had declined joining with the rest
of the Israelites to destroy Gibeah, which was then punished as their
crime, but perhaps was now remembered as their kindness, when Saul of
Gibeah came with so much readiness and resolution to relieve
Jabesh-Gilead. Yet that was not all; two-thirds of the Benjamites that
then remained were provided with wives from that city
so that most of the mothers of Benjamin were daughters of
Jabesh-Gilead, for which city Saul, being a Benjamite, had therefore a
particular kindness; and we find they returned his kindness,
1 Samuel 31:11,12.
2. Because it was the Ammonites' invasion that induced the people to
desire a king (so Samuel says,
so that if he had not done his part, in this expedition, he would have
disappointed their expectations, and for ever forfeited their
|Sacrifices Offered to God.
||B. C. 1069.|
12 And the people said unto Samuel, Who is he that said,
Shall Saul reign over us? bring the men, that we may put them to
13 And Saul said, There shall not a man be put to death this
day: for to day the LORD hath wrought salvation in Israel.
14 Then said Samuel to the people, Come, and let us go to
Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there.
15 And all the people went to Gilgal; and there they made Saul
king before the LORD in Gilgal; and there they sacrificed
sacrifices of peace offerings before the LORD; and there Saul and
all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.
We have here the improvement of the glorious victory which Saul had
obtained, not the improvement of it abroad, though we take it for
granted that the men of Jabesh-Gilead, having so narrowly saved their
right eyes, would with them now discern the opportunity they had of
avenging themselves upon these cruel enemies and disabling them from
ever straitening them in like manner again; now shall they be avenged
on the Ammonites for their right eyes condemned, as Samson on the
Philistines for his two eyes put out,
But the account here given is of the improvement of this victory at
I. The people took this occasion to show their jealousy for the honour
of Saul, and their resentment of the indignities done him. Samuel, it
seems, was present, if not in the action (it was too far for him to
march) yet to meet them when they returned victorious; and to him, as
judge, the motion was made (for they knew Saul would not be judge in
his own cause) that the sons of Belial that would not have him to reign
over them should be brought forth and slain,
1 Samuel 11:12.
Saul's good fortune (as foolish men commonly call it) went further with
them to confirm his title than either his choice by lot or Samuel's
anointing him. They had not courage thus to move for the prosecution of
those that opposed him when he himself looked mean, but, now that his
victory made him look great, nothing would serve but they must be put
II. Saul took this occasion to give further proofs of his clemency,
for, without waiting for Samuel's answer, he himself quashed the motion
(1 Samuel 11:13):
There shall not a man be put to death this day, no, not those
men, those bad men, that had abused him, and therein reflected on God
1. Because it was a day of joy and triumph: "To day the Lord has
wrought salvation in Israel; and, since God has been so good to us
all, let us not be harsh one to another. Now that God has made the
heart of Israel in general so glad, let not us make sad the hearts of
any particular Israelites."
2. Because he hoped they were by this day's work brought to a better
temper, were now convinced that this man, under God, could save them,
now honoured him whom before they had despised; and, if they are but
reclaimed, he is secured from receiving any disturbance by them, and
therefore his point is gained. If an enemy be made a friend, that will
be more to our advantage than to have him slain. And all good princes
consider that their power is for edification, not for destruction.
III. Samuel took this occasion to call the people together before
the Lord in Gilgal,
1 Samuel 11:14,15.
1. That they might publicly give God thanks for their late victory.
There they rejoiced greatly, and, that God might have the praise
of that which they had the comfort of, they sacrificed to him,
as the giver of all their successes, sacrifices of
2. That they might confirm Saul in the government, more solemnly than
had been yet done, that he might not retire again to his obscurity.
Samuel would have the kingdom renewed; he would renew his resignation,
and the people should renew their approbation, and so in concurrence
with, or rather in attendance upon, the divine nomination, they made
Saul king, making it their own act and deed to submit to him.