1 Samuel 11
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1 Samuel 11:1-15. (GIBEAH, BEZEK, JABESH.)
Although Saul had been privately anointed and publicly chosen king, he did not immediately assume royal state. Guided, doubtless, by the counsel of Samuel, and perceiving from the disaffection of certain men (1 Samuel 10:27) that the nation was not yet quite prepared for the change, he did not deem it prudent to do so. Returning to his former mode of life at Gibeah (ver. 5), he awaited some further indication of his call to be "captain over the Lord's inheritance." "Nothing but true, royal action for the welfare of the state, alike bravely undertaken and firmly carried out at the right moment, could win for him that real deference, that joyful, voluntary cooperation for state purposes from all his subjects, without which his sovereignty must ever remain most feeble and equivocal" (Ewald). It was not long ("a month," LXX.) before the opportunity for such action occurred. He proved himself equal to the occasion, and his patience was justified and rewarded. His position as a military leader was fully vindicated by the result, and his sovereignty was heartily recognised by all the people. This is the chief historical significance of his warlike enterprise or campaign against the Ammonites for the relief of Jabesh-Gilead. Observe that it was -

I. UNDERTAKEN IN A RIGHTEOUS CAUSE (vers. 1-4). If ever war is justifiable (and it seems impossible that it should be altogether avoided), it is when undertaken, as in this case -

1. To repel hostile aggression. The Ammonites were old enemies (Deuteronomy 2:19; Deuteronomy 23:3, 4; Judges 3:13; Judges 10:7; Judges 11:5). They were a nomadic, predatory, cruel, and idolatrous people. For some time Nahash, animated by the desire of war and conquest, "the malady of princes," had assumed a threatening attitude (1 Samuel 12:12), and now laid siege to the capital of Gilead, a part of the Israelitish territory belonging to the half-tribe of Manasseh, beyond the Jordan. His aggression was -

(1) Without adequate ground. He probably revived a claim previously asserted and refuted (Judges 11:12-15). But men readily find pretexts for a course to which they are disposed. "From whence come wars?" (James 4:1).

(2) Revengeful. He wished to avenge the defeat long before inflicted by Jephthah. Hatred between nations tends to perpetuate itself, and to become intensified; and successes in war often sow "dragon's teeth" that produce a subsequent harvest of strife and misery.

(3) Proud, boastful, and cruel (ver. 2).

2. To aid imperilled brethren. Between the people of Jabesh and the Benjamites, especially, there was an intimate connection (Judges 21:12-14). Their condition was now degraded, fearful, wretched; and although it was due to their want of patriotism, faith, and courage, yet it did not deprive them of a claim upon the sympathy of their brethren, but was a powerful appeal to their compassion. The appeal of the poor, the oppressed, the slave cannot be unheeded without sin (Proverbs 24:11, 12).

3. To avert a common danger. The siege of Jabesh was evidently intended as the first step in an attack upon all Israel. The distress of the people of Gibeah arose not merely from sympathy with their brethren, but also from fear for themselves, and a sense of helplessness against so powerful an adversary. Saul's enterprise was thus one of self-defence.

4. To maintain the Divine hour. The Ammonites worshipped Moloch (Molech, or Milcom), "the abomination of the children of Ammon" (1 Kings 11:7), and sought his honour in opposition to that of Jehovah. It was a part of the calling of Israel to extirpate idolatry, and it was commanded them concerning the Ammonites, "Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days forever" (Deuteronomy 23:6). In their wars with the heathen they acted under a Divine commission. The religious wars which have been waged under the Christian dispensation have sometimes been undertaken from lofty motives, but they have not had the same justification, and the honour of God ought to be sought by other and more effectual means.

II. WAGED WITH HOLY ENTHUSIASM (vers. 5-11). Enthusiasm - God in us. It was -

1. Inspired by the Divine Spirit. On returning from the field, and learning the cause of the people's distress, "the Spirit of God came upon Saul, and.his anger was kindled greatly." There is an anger which is not sinful (Mark 3:5; Ephesians 4:26). The feeling of resentment is a weapon put into our hands by God against injury, injustice, and cruelty of every kind.

(1) The anger of Saul was incited by the same spirit as previously constrained him to utter Divine praises.

(2) It was a feeling of wrath and burning zeal against wrong.

(3) It was directed towards the welfare of his people and the honour of God.

(4) It qualified him for a great enterprise; led him to assume the leadership of the nation to which he had been appointed, and to summon the tribes to rally around him. The gifts of the Spirit of God are various, and adapted to the requirements of the age.

2. Shared in by all the people.

(1) "The fear of Jehovah fell on the people," i.e. a fear inspired by him. "In Saul's energetic appeal the people discerned the power of Jehovah, which inspired them with fear and impelled them to immediate obedience" (Keil). That power is able to fill a whole nation, as well as an individual, with new emotions and impulses.

(2) Under its influence "they came out as one man" (with one consent).

(3) Mustered under the leadership of Saul in Bezek, near to Bethshan. A common danger often draws men into closer union and cooperation than peace and prosperity.

3. Expressed in a confident assurance of help. "Tomorrow, by the time the sun be hot, ye shall have help" (ver. 9). Faith looks upon that which is believed as if it were already an accomplished fact.

4. Manifested in energetic action. His promise was not in words merely, but was followed up by deeds (ver. 11). "It was night when Saul and the armed multitude which followed him broke up from Bezek. Little did he know how well the brave men of Jabesh would requite the service (1 Samuel 31:8-13). Strange that Saul's first march should have been by night from Bethshan to Jabesh, the same route by which at the last they carried his dead body at night" (Edersheim).


1. The defeat of the enemy - sudden, unexpected, and complete. "Two of them were not left together," and their king, Nahash, was slain (Josephus). "Those that walk in pride he is able to abase" (Daniel 4:37).

2. The deliverance of the oppressed, who were not afterwards wanting in gratitude or courage.

3. The cessation of disaffection (vers. 12, 13).

4. The united and joyful devotion of all Israel (vers. 14, 15). Observe -

1. We have other enemies to encounter than those of flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12).

2. We must contend against them not simply for our own safety, but for the good of our fellow men.

3. It is only by the help of the Lord that we can prevail. - D.

Self-control, promptitude, courage, capacity, ascription of praise to God, forbearance towards men, these are all exhibited by the young king. Alas, that from such heights he fell!

I. SELF-CONTROL. Though hailed as king at Mizpah, Saul was in no haste to assume regal state. He resumed his country life at Gibeah, waiting till the Lord should call him forth in some emergency to take command of the army of Israel. In this he followed the example of the judges, who, so to speak, won their spurs before they wore them - first wrought some deliverance for their country, and then assumed the government.

II. PROMPTITUDE. News of the doom which threatened the town of Jabesh reached Saul as he returned home from the field, following his oxen with a farmer's slow and heavy step. In a moment he was another man, no more a seeker of asses, or a follower of oxen; but a leader of men, prompt and resolute. And such energy did he show that in a few days he had rallied a large army to his standard.

III. COURAGE AND CAPACITY. Saul had no time to train or discipline his forces, but he managed to gain an advantage for them. He lulled the enemy to security, and then, surprising their camp by night, fell on them with impetuous fury. So completely were they dispersed that, as the graphic historian says, "two of them were not left together."

IV. ASCRIPTION OF PRAISE TO GOD. After the victory Saul showed no disposition to vain boasting. Nothing could be better than his Te Deum laudamus - "Today Jehovah hath wrought salvation in Israel."

V. FORBEARANCE TOWARDS MEN. Saul was urged by the exultant people to put to death those who had opposed his elevation; but he would not have the lustre of his victory darkened by such a deed of vengeance, and, not only ruling his own spirit well, but checking the intolerance of others, he said, "There shall not a man be put to death this day." Yet from this moral elevation Saul miserably fell. He who seemed to be the rising hope of Israel became one of the most hapless and tragical personages in all his nation's history. He who showed at first patience and self-control became a restless, jealous king. His great fault was wilfulness, leading to the most foolish impatience, and wretched envy. He who executed his first military exploit so skilfully, and with such complete success, became notorious for his failures. And, at last, he who had shown such fearless readiness to set upon the Ammonites was afraid to encounter the Philistines (1 Samuel 28:5). Not that his natural courage had died out of him, but the sustaining faith in God was gone. "God is departed from me, and answereth me no more." He who was so averse to shed the blood of disaffected subjects shed the blood of many faithful men, as of the priests of the Lord, and hurled the javelin from his own hand again and again at the worthiest of all his subjects, hating him without a cause.

1. The true character of a man will show itself. No veil will cover it; no prudential consideration can bind it. Sooner or later it will have its way.

2. The higher the promise of virtue, the greater the momentum of him who falls from his integrity, the farther he goes into evil.

3. The path of the wilful and proud is one of waning light and thickening darkness; but "the path of the just is as the shining light, which shines more and more until the perfect day." - F.

Some men are subject to noble impulses, under which they rise to a higher level of thought and feeling than that which they ordinarily occupy. The difference is sometimes so great that they do not seem to be the same persons. But the change is transient, and they speedily relapse into their former state. Their character is one of varying, wayward, and uncertain moods rather than high, steadfast, and consistent principle. Such a man was Saul. The impulse under which he spared his enemies after his victory over the Ammonites (probably due, as other impulses were, to the influence of Samuel, who may have accompanied him to the battle - vers. 7, 12) displayed extraordinary magnanimity. The act is the noblest recorded of him, and stands out in strong relief against the dark background of his subsequent career. "Saul herein showeth his piety, humanity, wisdom. Hitherto he declareth himself an innocent man and a good prince; but afterward he forgot his own rule, when he would have killed Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:45). This mutability in Saul and changeable nature, in falling from clemency to cruelty, from piety to profanity, from a good governor to become a tyrant, doth show that these virtues were not thoroughly grounded in him, but only superficially infused" (Wallet). Let us regard him as a pattern of a principle which ought always to be exhibited. His generosity toward his enemies was shown -


1. The recollection of their past conduct towards himself (1 Samuel 10:27). He could not altogether forget it, and when he was disposed to put it away from his thoughts, he was reminded of it by others. Nothing is more provocative of wrath than brooding over the wrongs that have been received. On the other hand, the surest way to forgive is to forget.

2. The feeling of natural resentment toward them. "Revenge is sweet," say men who are not restrained by Divine wisdom and grace; and they are especially apt to say it when they have the power to avenge themselves, and when they persuade themselves that justice and prudence require that the wrong should not go unpunished. They do require it, doubtless, in some eases; but how large a place does the desire of gratifying personal animosity hold in most instances in which men seek to inflict punishment on others. "Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work" (Proverbs 24:29; Proverbs 20:22).

3. The urgency of others. Men are only too prone to indulge wrath without such an incitement, but they are often led by it to go beyond their own judgment and feeling, and he who, like Saul, overcomes it gains a double victory. "Thereby he gained another victory -

(1) over himself - he restrains himself in the exercise of a right;

(2) over the anger of those who demanded that justice be executed;

(3) over his former opponents, who now clearly see that which, under the influence of haughty contempt, they had doubted; and

(4) over the whole people, who must have been carried along by him in the path of noble moral conduct, and lifted above themselves to the height on which he stood" (Erdmann).

II. IN A ROYAL MANNER. "There shall not a man be put to death this day."

1. Promptly. If he had waited till the morrow his purpose might have changed. When a generous emotion fills the heart it should be at once translated into word and deed. First thoughts in things moral, unlike first thoughts in things intellectual, are always best. Hesitation and delay dim their brightness and weaken their power.

2. Decisively. Saul spoke like a king. He refused to stain his laurels with blood. And whilst he resolved not to punish his enemies, he declared his determination that none other should punish them. "Where the word of a king is there is power."

3. Completely. "Not a man." Not a single example was to be made, but his clemency was to extend to all. In the same royal manner we may and ought to show mercy. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

III. FROM A PROPER MOTIVE. "For today the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel." "Not only signifying that the public rejoicing should not be interrupted, but reminding them of the clemency of God, and urging that since Jehovah had shown such clemency upon that day, that he had overlooked their sins and given them a glorious victory, it was only right that they should follow his example and forgive their neighbours' sins without bloodshed" (Seb. Schmid). Saul showed -

1. Regard for the transcendent excellence of mercy. Nothing is more beautiful or more pleasing to God, and its exercise is necessary that we may obtain mercy (Matthew 6:15). He is "merciful and gracious." "Mercy rejoiceth against judgment." (Proverbs 25:21; Romans 12:19, 20; James 2:13.)

"It becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the heart of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself,
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice"

(Merchant of Venice') To return good for good and evil for evil is natural, to return evil for good is devilish, but to return good for evil is Divine.

2. Gratitude for the abounding goodness of God. His hand was fully recognised in recent victory and deliverance. His kindness to us should constrain us to be kind to others, and his forgiveness is shown to have been experienced only when it leads us to forgive (Matthew 18:35).

3. Desire for the welfare of men. "The Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel," to whom these "worthless men" belonged. Even such men are objects of his forbearance and benevolence. "He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good" (Matthew 5:45). He does them good, and thereby seeks to subdue their hostility toward himself (Ezekiel 33:11). We ought to exhibit the same spirit, and by doing so we shall promote the general peace and happiness. "Be ye therefore merciful, even as your Father also is merciful" (Luke 6:36). - D.

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