It’s has been a while, but I’d like to return to my ongoing devotional overview of 1 Samuel.
The last time we saw the coronation of Saul as Israel’s first monarch. He was a large, imposing man from a well-to-do family of the tribe of Benjamin.
Regrettably, he wasn’t a “man after God’s heart” as we will see. He was also reluctant to take the office to which he was called and anointed. In fact, when we encounter him in chapter 11, he had returned to his house and is seen in the field plowing. He certainly is a picture of a man who didn’t take his calling seriously, at least not yet.
However, God stirs up a national emergency arises that He uses to move Saul to take his throne. He does that with a military threat.
I. The Threat (11:1-3)
The emergency God uses to rouse Saul to action comes from an arrogant, vicious man named Nahash. This is probably not his real name, because Nahash is Hebrew for the word “snake.” He was the king of the Ammonites, who are the descendants of Lot’s incestuous relationship with his second daughter as recorded in Genesis 19.
He is a murderous thuggish character. An extended description is found of him among the Dead Sea Scrolls which says,
“Now Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had been grievously oppressing the Gadites and the Reubenites. He would gouge out the right eye of each of them and would not grant Israel a deliverer. No one was left of the Israelites across the Jordan whose right eye Nahash had not gouged out. But 7,000 men, who had escaped from the Ammonites and entered Jabesh-Gilead.”
Though this paragraph is not found in the Bible, knowing what is recorded about Nahash in 1 Samuel 11, it could be somewhat accurate. Nahash was not only content with conquering cities and people, he humiliated the fighting men by putting out their right eye, thus crippling their ability to fight effectively in a hand-to-hand battle.
Nahash besieges Jabesh-Gilead, a town about 20 miles east of the Sea of Galilee. Whether or not it was to ferret out those 7,000 military escapees is uncertain. We do know he was a powerful enough threat to the town that the leaders agreed to make a “covenant” with him.
This was a serious breach on the part of the leaders, for they were in covenant with only one person, God Almighty. Nahash agreed to spare their city and make a “covenant” with them if they allowed him to gouge out their right eye. This not only served to instill fear and humiliation toward them as a people, but all of Israel as a nation.
Nahash is so certain the Israelites could do nothing to stop him, he further agreed to hold off for one week so they could “send messengers” to help them. If no one came to their rescue, they would agree with his terms.
II. The Plea (11:4-7)
The elders went to the new king of Israel, Saul. They find him plowing in a field. To put it bluntly, he doesn’t come across as a “king like all the other nations” who would go out and fight their battles.
In spite of that, the Spirit of God comes upon Saul. In essence, a theocratic anointing that stirs up not only the leader, but the people to follow him. Five other men besides Saul are said to have had this experience in Scripture, Otheniel, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, and David. The anointing isn’t salvific, but it does give exceptional ability to lead.
Saul cuts up a yoke of oxen and has messengers immediately take the portions throughout the tribal territories. It was a message that basically said, “If you don’t respond to Saul and Samuel’s request, I’m going to make all your oxen like these oxen.” And the Bible says the “fear of the Lord” fell on the people.
III. The Rescue (11:8-11)
The oxen message worked: 300,000 men of the 11 tribes responded, 30,000 from Judah. They gathered at Bezek, which is about 12 miles west of Jabesh-Gilead.
Upon hearing the news, the town was glad. The men of Jabesh-Gilead told Nahash that tomorrow they would come out to him, so they lured him into a false confidence that he had won another victory. Saul divided his army into three companies. The next day, thinking that he was going to gouge out the eyes of his enemies, Nahash was instead attacked and his people were killed and scattered by Israel.
IV. The Confirmation (11:12-15)
All the people were greatly encouraged by Saul’s leadership. He had actually arisen to the occasion and led the people against a major military threat. God of course was the instigator that was moving Saul to fulfill his duties, but none the less, the people rallied behind Saul. They even wanted to execute the men who cursed him at the end of chapter 10, but Saul spared them and Samuel led the people in worship to God.