The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Then Nahash the Ammonite came up, and encamped against Jabeshgilead: and all the men of Jabesh said unto Nahash, Make a covenant with us, and we will serve thee.Practical Royalty
1 Samuel 11
AT this time Saul occupied a somewhat anomalous position. He had been anointed king of Israel, and all the people had shouted and said, "God save the king." It would appear from this as if Saul had really become king of Israel, and in a certain sense that was so; but in the disordered times in which the kingship was proclaimed Saul went home to Gibeah, and continued to discharge his agricultural and social duties. He was, therefore, little more than a king in name. There were certain sons of Belial indeed who despised him, and brought him no presents. They were probably princes and leading men of rival tribes, bitterly displeased because the first king of Israel had been chosen out of the insignificant tribe of Benjamin. Saul had made no great mark in history, so there was nothing so obviously great in his career as to command universal admiration and respect. In the language of modern times, he had yet his spurs to win. It is to his credit, however, that when the worthless men despised him, he had sufficient self-control to hold his peace. Such control is always associated with the highest royalty. The man who can rule his own spirit is better than he who can take a city. Sometimes silence is the last expression of power. In the eleventh chapter circumstances occur which bring Saul into the full exercise of his royal functions. Read:—
"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. 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" (1Samuel 11:1-2).
"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. 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. 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. And the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard those tidings, and his anger was kindled greatly. 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. And when he numbered them in Bezek, the children of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand" (1Samuel 11:3-8).
The spirit of Jabesh was not utterly quenched. The lingering fire that was in the breasts of the elders was blown into a blaze. A marvellous mystery is this, namely, how difficult it is utterly to quench and destroy the spirit of man. Even in the very midnight of despair there flames up unexpected energy. The elders of Jabesh asked for seven days in which to consider the condition which the King of Ammon had proposed. Such respite has been common in all wars claiming to be regulated at all by the spirit of civilisation. At that critical moment the messengers of Jabesh came to Gibeah of Saul. Ancient friendship urged its plea We have seen that Jabesh and Benjamin were always on friendly terms, and now that Jabesh is in extremity it will be for Benjamin to show the reality of the historical friendship.
A very beautiful picture is presented in the fifth verse. Saul was engaged in his usual pursuits. The King of Israel was actually discharging offices with the herd in the field, attending to the wants of his cattle, and otherwise going about his business soberly and quietly. No intimation of unusual circumstances seems to have reached him. Plow unconscious we sometimes are of the circumstances which are nearest to us,—unconscious, that is to say, of their real import and deepest meaning! When we think all is proceeding as usual we may be within touch of some occurrence that will determine all the remaining actions of our life. The commonplace and the marvellous often lie closely together. Why should there be any commonplace in life, in the sense of taking out of existence everything that can stimulate our best nature and build us up in the comfort of an enlarging and assured hope? He who does his plain and simple duty, in the field and in the market-place, is best prepared for any unusual occurrences that may break in upon the monotony of his life. He who is faithful in few things shall be made ruler over many things. There is but a step from the field where the herd gathers and the throne which unites and dignifies a whole nation. The picture, then, is that of a great man attending to simple daily duties, and it will be a sad day for any people who imagine that simple daily duties are not worthy of the dignity even of the greatest man. Saul observed that the people who came near to him were in great distress:—"All the people lifted up their voices, and wept." They were at their wits' end. We shall now see whether it is true that man's extremity is God's opportunity. It is certain that the men of Jabesh can do nothing for themselves, and it is very uncertain to them whether any other man can do much for them. But they went to the greatest man known to them. Society has a right to expect great things from great men. No greater tribute could be paid to Saul than that threatened and despairing men should appeal to him in the time of their agony. The men who shouted, "God save the king," did not pay Saul so fine a tribute as the men who came to him in their extremity and asked for his sympathy and assistance. Really to pray is really to adore. This doctrine is true also in human relations; really to cast oneself upon the resources of a great man is to pay that great man the highest compliment in our power.
No sooner had Saul heard the condition proposed by the King of Ammon than he burned with anger. We can best describe a certain quality of anger by tracing it to the direct action of the Spirit of God. Truly, there is a holy indignation. We are conscious of no moral or mental shock when we read the simple terms that "the Spirit of God came upon Saul;" truly it could be no other Spirit, for depravity had reached its utmost degradation, and the terms proposed were so treasonable to everything human and right that they could only be answered justly and completely by fire directly sent from heaven. The sublime enthusiasm of Saul kindled the faith of the people. A common impression seized them that this was the man for the occasion; so "they came out with one consent." It has been pointed out that the circumstances here recorded suggested to the poet Asaph the splendid image presented in the seventy-eighth Psalm:—"Then the Lord awaked as one out of a sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine." The action of Saul seems to represent the action of the Divine Being. See how one earnest man becomes an army in himself! How true it is that great causes only need great leaders; and how true it is also that great leaders can only be made by the Spirit of God: they are not artificial men; they are not bound by mechanical laws and standards; they seem to be special creations and to be accountable to none but God for the outgoing and expression of their holy inspiration. A modern commentary, referring to this passage, has the following illustrative remarks:—"It was owing to some influence of a similar nature, that with scanty numbers, ill-armed, and ill-trained, the Swiss won for their land centuries of freedom on memorable fields like Laupen and Morat, though the proudest chivalry of Europe was arrayed against them. It was the same spirit which impelled the peace-loving traders of the marshes of Holland to rise as one man, and to drive out for ever from their loved strip of Fenland the hitherto invincible armies of Spain. No oppressor, though backed by the wealth and power of an empire, has ever been able to resist the smallest people in whose heart has burned the flame of the divine fire of the fear of the Lord." All these circumstances would be of little or no concern to us if they did not point to a great spiritual reality. Tremendous foes besiege us on every side. Through mind, body, and estate the great temptations come a hundred strong; yea, a thousand, multiplied by ten, yea, until their number seems to be beyond calculation. What is our defence in such time of assault? It is the fear of the Lord, the Spirit of God, the divine energy. Where the love of God burns in the heart, or where the Spirit of the living God directs the whole energy of the life, a little one shall chase a thousand, and ten thousand shall be put to flight because of the mighty power of the indwelling Spirit. Religious rapture is a necessary element in religious education. We must sometimes become so conscious of the infinite power of God as to lose all consciousness of our own little strength, and go forth to war as if all the battalions of Heaven were placed entirely at our service.
"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. 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. 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" (1Samuel 11:9-11).
The answer returned by Saul was more than equal to the condition proposed by Ammon. A time was fixed for the combat; Saul put the people into three companies, and the attack ended in the utter discomfiture of the Ammonites. God delights in humbling the boastful and vainglorious. "He that exalteth himself shall be abased." Presumption is always self-defeating: it is so in business, in war, in statesmanship, and in every act and department of rational life. "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." The people who yesterday were overborne by dismay are today standing upon the very mountain of victory, and the wind seems to take delight in blowing out the banner of triumph. When will men learn from history that presumption is, to say the least of it, a mistake? "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off." Here again the spiritual interpretation is the great lesson to which we have to take heed. It is infinitely foolish to suppose that we can overcome diabolic assault by our own wisdom or grace. The enemy is mightier than we are, and his heart is full of cruelty. We must advance in the spirit of David, saying, "I come to thee in the name of the living God." Omnipotence can express itself through the humblest medium; so much so that the word of those who are faint in heart shall become a mighty tone, having in it a mystery which cannot but excite the fear and disable the strength of those who oppose the best aspirations of the soul.
Notice that this war was not entered upon without preparation. There was no rush or haste in the matter. Sometimes we proceed most swiftly when we seem to advance most slowly. There should be a time for gathering strength together, measuring the situation in all its dimensions, consulting divine decrees, and putting the soul into right relations with God. After such preparation everything will go rapidly. Every stroke will be a victory. Every arrangement will be a step in advance never to be retraced. There must be no flutter or fear or agitation; otherwise the completeness of our faith will be disturbed: we must be fully and strongly prepared by divine communion, then the shock of war will bring with it nothing but victory to the right. The Church should be continually challenging the foe, not in a spirit of boastfulness, as if by wisdom and learning the kingdom of heaven could be set up; but with faith, sobriety, trust in God, assurance of righteousness; then the result will be the promotion of the dominion of truth.
"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 death" (1Samuel 11:12).
Now Saul is king in very deed. Popular enthusiasm had been so excited that the people wished to slay the men who had put any disloyal question regarding the sovereignty of Saul. They were quite aware that such questioning had been operating in the minds of some part of the nation, indeed they were not afraid to refer to the disloyalty when they themselves were prepared to smite it with a final blow. But here Saul shows himself to be truly royal. The man who held his peace when he was aware of what the children of Belial had said, is the same man who this day declares that not a life shall be cut off. The self-control of Saul is shown clearly in the depth of his religious feeling. Instead of taking credit to himself, and boasting loudly that he was the man who alone was qualified to be captain, he stood back, and as he retired to his proper place he said, This is the Lord's doing, not mine,—"To day the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel" (1Samuel 11:13). So long as Saul keeps in this mood, nothing can disturb the security of his throne. Men whose characters are based on strong religious foundations shall not fear the wind when it blows, or the lightning when it passeth to and fro from the east to the west; they abide under the shadow of the Almighty: and when great distress rages in all directions they are filled with infinite and imperturbable peace. Let us remember this incident; the recollection of it will help us in studies that are yet to follow.
Apart altogether from the history of Saul as an individual, the same great law applies to every department of human life. When a man begins to boast that he has by his own energy made himself rich, he has already opened the window through which his wealth will fly. When a man lifts his arm and boasts what its sinew has done for him, that sinew has already begun to decay. We must live and move and have our being in God. When Herod accepted the worship of the people in the sense in which they conveyed it, as intimating that he was a deity and not a man, a most terrible fate befell him. Our strength is in our humility. Our dignity is in our communion with God. Once allow anything to come between us and the altar, between our strength and the cross from which it is derived, and instantly the vital communication is cut off, we flutter for a moment, and then die in weakness and shame.
"Then said Samuel to the people, Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there. 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" (1Samuel 11:14-15).
A fit ending to a tragical process. Gilgal was a sanctuary. After great doings on the field of battle we must return to the house of prayer, we must, indeed, return to the place where we began. We should enter upon no conflict until after we have been in the sanctuary, and having completed the conflict we should return to the altar. Enter upon nothing that cannot be sanctified at holy places and by holy names There is nothing too insignificant to be associated with the most solemn acts of worship; or if we are conscious of such insignificance, we should not undertake the affairs which admit of its application. At Gilgal the kingdom was renewed, and at Gilgal indeed the kingship of Saul was consummated. There was indeed no fresh anointing of Saul as if to repair some omission of the past; what occurred at Gilgal was a national endorsement of what had been done popularly and partially at Mizpeh. What took place is described as having been accomplished "before the Lord,"—words which imply that the ark was in sight, or that the high-priest took part in the ceremony, having with him the mystic Urim and Thummim.
Thus Saul's private life was ended; henceforth he was the leading figure in the history of his times. Learn the useful lesson that Saul did not thrust himself into prominence, and that even after he was anointed king of Israel he went about his usual avocations until there was something worthy of kingliness to be publicly done. Let us be rebuked in so far as we have supposed that we were released from duty until some great and critical occasion arose. Having obtained our literary prize, let us go home and take up the business of life in a quiet way. Having been greatly honoured of the people, let us not betake ourselves to a life of vanity and frivolity, but go home and discharge the duties of the household with simplicity and fidelity. Do not think that anything which nature or society requires of us is below our dignity because we have achieved this or that popular success. Then when the time of action fully comes, and greater honours still are accorded to us in the sight of all the world, let us hasten to Gilgal, the sanctuary, the chosen place of God's presence, and there thank him that we have escaped the dangers of battle, and entered upon the enjoyments of victory which he himself conferred.
"Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there" (1Samuel 11:14).—Saul was elected at Mizpeh, in a solemn assembly by the determination of the miraculous lot—a method of election not confined to the Hebrews. Previous to that election (1Samuel 10:16) and subsequently, when insulted by the worthless portion of the Israelites, he showed that modesty, humility, and forbearance which seem to have characterised him till corrupted by the possession of power. The person thus set apart to discharge the royal function possessed at least those corporeal advantages which most ancient nations desiderated in their sovereigns. His person was tall and commanding, and he soon showed that his courage was not inferior to his strength (1Samuel 9:2; 1Samuel 10:23). His belonging to Benjamin also, the smallest of the tribes, though of distinguished bravery, prevented the mutual jealousy with which either of the two great tribes, Judah and Ephraim, would have regarded a king chosen from the other; so that his election was received with general rejoicing, and a number of men moved by the authority of Samuel (1Samuel 10:26) even attached themselves to him as a body-guard, or as counsellors and assistants. In the meantime the Ammonites, whose invasion had hastened the appointment of a king, having besieged Jabesh in Gilead, and Nahash their king having proposed insulting conditions to them, the elders of that town, apparently not aware of Saul's election (1Samuel 11:3), sent messengers through the land imploring help. Saul acted with wisdom and promptitude, summoning the people en masse to meet him at Bezek; and having at the head of a vast multitude totally routed the Ammonites (1Samuel 11:11) and obtained a higher glory by exhibiting a new instance of clemency, whether dictated by principle or policy—"Novum imperium inchoantibus utilis clementiæ fama" (Tac. Hist. iv. 63), "For lowliness is young ambition's ladder,"—he and the people betook themselves, under the direction of Samuel, to Gilgal, there with solemn sacrifices to reinstal the victorious leader in his kingdom (1 Samuel 11). Here Saul was publicly anointed, and solemnly installed in the kingdom by Samuel, who took occasion to vindicate the purity of his own administration—which he virtually transferred to Saul—to censure the people for their ingratitude and impiety, and to warn both them and Saul of the danger of disobedience to the commands of Jehovah (1 Samuel 12).
Then said Samuel to the people, Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there."Then said Samuel to the people, Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there."—1Samuel 11:14.
The mind should be fixed upon the possibility of renewal in life.—Life is full of beginnings; that is, full of new chances and new opportunities.—Take, for example, the Sabbath, as opening a new week; the morning, as opening a new day; the birthday, as introducing a new period of time; the new year, as an hour when the old may be forgotten and a deeper order of things may be inaugurated: take youth and manhood, leaving school, entering business, forming associations and companionships:—all these indicate the possibility of reformation, reconstruction, the utterance of larger prayer, and entering into the bondage of Christ, which is the sweetest liberty.—It is beautiful also to notice how at certain places we make certain vows with fitness.—Samuel would have the people go to Gilgal, that the kingdom might be renewed.—It is well to associate given places with the best exercises of the religious life.—This is the birthplace, the place where the word of trust was first spoken, the spot of ground on which the first altar was built, the point in space at which the first great prayer was consciously uttered, the church wherein the deepest religious impressions were made and the holiest relations of life were formed; in going back to such places we revive memories, and rekindle hopes, and awaken inspirations, that may have been suspended.—Blessed are they whose life-road is crowded with places at which holy words were spoken, and sweet realisations of Christ were enjoyed.—We might thus plant the earth like a garden, and make many places not beautiful in themselves supremely beautiful by moral association and spiritual suggestion.—If any man has broken away from the true kingdom, he may even now renew it.—If any man is conscious of unfaithfulness to Christ's sceptre, let him go to some consecrated place and there repent of his sin and renew his fealty.—We need voices such as Samuel's to encourage us in the attempted renewal of all lofty purposes.—People become depressed, they are cast down by reason of the weight of their burdens, they are overcome by a consciousness of their sin and shame, and they have not heart to think of rekindling the fire that has expired:—it is in such periods of depression and gloom that the voices of such men as Samuel come as music from heaven, giving men to feel that even yet they may be recovered of the plague of disloyalty, and even yet may renew associations in which they once delighted.—Whosoever will, let him come.—Preachers of the everlasting kingdom should be the most cheerful of men, full of spiritual animation, characterised by all intellectual and moral vivacity, always alluring men to brighter worlds, and always leading the way.