Matthew Poole's Commentary
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.Nahash besiegeth them of Jabesh-gilead; offereth them a reproachful condition; they have seven days granted them to consult and seek relief; they send messengers to Saul, 1 Samuel 11:1-5. He is provoked; sends messengers to all the Israelites to come in to their help; they come to the number of three hundred and thirty thousand men, 1 Samuel 11:6-8. He sends word to the besieged, who deceive Nahash; who with his army is slain, 1 Samuel 11:9-11. The people are ready to slay Saul’s enemies; in which he opposeth them: he is invested in the kingdom at Gilgal, 1 Samuel 11:12-15.
Then, i.e. about that time; this particle being used in some latitude, as is frequent; for that this happened before, and was the occasion of their desire of a king, may seem from 1 Samuel 12:12; although it is possible that Nahash’s preparation, and declared intention of warring against them, might cause that desire, and that Nahash did not actually come against them (which is here related) till their king was chosen.
Nahash the Ammonite; either the same with him, 2 Samuel 10:2, or his father and predecessor.
Came up to war, probably to revenge and to recover their former great loss by Jephthah, Judges 11:33. Jabesh-gilead was beyond Jordan, and near the Ammonites, who dwelt in part of Arabia.
Make a covenant with us, to wit, upon good conditions, so as we shall enjoy our religion and properties.
We will serve thee; in other things we will be thy subjects and tributaries. The occasion of this offer was, that they saw no likelihood of relief from their brethren the Israelites in Canaan, who were remote from them, and then weak and divided, and scarce able to defend themselves from the Philistines.
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.That I may thrust out all your right eyes; partly for a reproach, as it here follows; and partly to disable them from managing offensive weapons in battle; for their left eye served only or chiefly for defence, being covered by those large shields which then they used, and held in their left hand. He leaves them one eye, that they might be fit to serve him in any mean and base office.
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.Give us seven days’ respite; which it is very probable, and Josephus and others affirm, that Nahash granted, out of a foolish self-confidence, and contempt of the broken condition of the Israelites, which he thought utterly unable to give them any relief; at least, in so short a time.
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.Then came the messengers to Gibeah of Saul; partly, because it was not far from them; and partly, because it belonged to the Benjamites, who had a special obligation to take more care of that place, from whence they had their wives, Judges 21:10, &c.; and partly, because Saul, their new-chosen king, was there.
The people lifted up their voices, and wept, both in compassion towards them, and for fear of themselves, lest it should shortly be their own lot.
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.Saul came after the herd out of the field; for being only anointed king, and not publicly inaugurated, nor owned, nor presented by the generality of the people, nor having yet had opportunity of doing any thing worthy of his place, he thought fit to forbear all royal state, and to retire to his former private and country life, which, howsoever despised in these latter, vain, ambitious, and slothful ages of the world, was anciently in great esteem among the Greeks and Romans, whose princes and generals did frequently exercise themselves in it; though some conceive that he now lived in some state, and that he had been in the fields only to recreate himself, and that his coming after the herd was but accidental, and is mentioned only to usher in what follows of the yoke of oxen.
And the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard those tidings, and his anger was kindled greatly.The Spirit of God came upon Saul, inspiring him suddenly with more than ordinary courage, and zeal, and resolution, to engage himself and the people for their rescue. Compare Judges 3:10 6:34 11:29.
His anger was kindled greatly against Nahash, for so insolent and barbarous a proposition.
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.Sent them throughout all the coasts of Israel; wisely considering, that the sight of men’s eyes do much more affect their hearts than what they only hear with their ears. He joins Samuel with himself, both because he was present with him, as appears from 1 Samuel 11:12, and that hereby he might gain the more authority to his command, and strike the greater terror into all despisers of it.
The fear of the Lord; either,
1. A great fear; great things being oft thus expressed; as cedars of God, mountains of God, &c. Or,
2. A fear sent upon them by God, as Genesis 35:5, that they should not dare to deny their help.
And when he numbered them in Bezek, the children of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand.This great terror drew so many forth; which is not so strange to him that knows what none deny, that the land of Canaan contained vast numbers of people in a little compass.
The men of Judah are numbered apart to their honour, to show how readily they, to whom the kingdom was promised, Genesis 49:10, submitted to their king, though of another and far meaner tribe; and how willing they were to hazard themselves for their brethren’s rescue, although they might have excused themselves from the necessity of defending their own country from their dangerous neighbours the Philistines.
And they said unto the messengers that came, Thus shall ye say unto the men of Jabeshgilead, 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.To-morrow, to wit, the day after your departure hence, or return home; for it seems probable that some few days had been spent in the gathering and disposing of the forces, and bringing them towards those parts.
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.They did and might reasonably and justly understand their own condition before proposed, 1 Samuel 11:3, if none came to save them; which they were not now obliged to repeat, although they conjectured that their enemies would understand it absolutely, whose error therein they were no more obliged to correct, than to prevent their destruction. Nor did they tell any lie herein, but only concealed part of their intentions, to render their enemy more secure and fit for ruin; which kind of stratagems are usual, and allowed by all persons.
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.Into three companies; that so invading them on several sides with a great force, he might both strike them with the greater terror, and prevent their escape.
In the morning watch; having marched all the day and night before it.
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.Shall Saul reign over us? they did not say so in terms, a we may see, 1 Samuel 10:27, but this was the design and consequence of their speech, as they rightly construe it.
That we may put them to death; which till this time they were not able to do, because that infection was then almost universal.
And Saul said, There shall not a man be put to death this day: for to day the LORD hath wrought salvation in Israel.I will not destroy any of those whom God hath so graciously preserved; nor sully the mirth of this glorious and comfortable day with the slaughter of any of my subjects; and therefore I freely forgive them. Wherein Saul showed his policy as well as his clemency, this being the most likely way to gain his enemies, and secure his friends, and stablish his throne in the hearts of his people.
Then said Samuel to the people, Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there.Then; whilst the people were together by Jabesh-gilead, wherein Samuel’s great prudence and fidelity to Saul is evident. He suspended the confirmation to Saul at first, whilst the generality of the people were disaffected and discontented at the meanness of his person; and now when he had given such eminent proof of his princely virtues, and when the people’s hearts were unanimously and eagerly set upon him, he takes this as the fittest season for that work.
Let us go to Gilgal: this place he chose, both because it was near, and, to most of them, in the way to their homes; and because thither the Israelites on this side, and beyond Jordan, might more easily resort; and because it was famous for public conventions there kept, and particularly for the covenant there renewed by Joshua between God and the people.
Renew the kingdom there, i.e. confirm our former choice, to prevent all such seditious expressions and actions as we had experience of at the former election.
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.They made Saul king, i.e. they recognized him, or owned and accepted him for their king by consent; for, to speak properly, Saul was not made or constituted king by the people, but by the Lord’s immediate act: see 1 Samuel 8:9 10:1.
Before the Lord; who was there present in a special manner; both because the people of the Lord were there assembled, and because there was an altar, as the following sacrifices show. The same phrase is used 1 Samuel 10:17 14:18.
They sacrificed sacrifices of peace-offerings; partly to praise God for so glorious a victory, and for the firm settlement of the distracted kingdom; and partly to implore the presence and assistance of God to the king and kingdom, in all their affairs and exigencies.