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.
Verses 1, 2. - Nahash the Ammonite. The same name is found in 2 Samuel 10:2 as that of the father of Hanun, who treated David's ambassadors so shamefully, and probably they mean the same person. He is there said to have shown kindness to David; and as we read in 2 Samuel 17:25 that Abigal (so the Hebrew, not Abigail as the A.V., who was David's wife), Amasa's mother, was the daughter of Nahash, and as Abigal was the sister or half-sister of Zeruiah, David's aunt, there seems to have been some relationship between them. The Ammonites were old enemies of the Israelites, alleging that Israel had taken possession of territory east of the Jordan which rightfully belonged to them (Judges 11:13); but after their defeat by Jephthah their power was so broken that they allowed a century to elapse before they ventured again to assert their claim. Nahash, apparently after other invasions (1 Samuel 12:12), now attacks Jabesh-Gilead, a city in the half-tribe of Manasseh, which had been cruelly treated by the Israelites (Judges 21:10), but apparently had risen again from its ruins. Its inhabitants were willing humbly to submit to Ammonite rule; but Nahash will grant them no other terms than that they should let him thrust out - Hebrew, bore through - all their right eyes, not from any special spite against them, but as an insult to all Israel. No better proof could be given of the disorganisation of the nation than that a petty despot should venture to show his contempt for it in so offensive a way.
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.
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.
Verse 3. - The elders who govern the town know nothing of a king having been appointed, nor do they send to Samuel to ask him, as the judge, to protect them; but they request a seven days' respite, that they may send messengers unto all the coasts of Israel, and Nahash, feeling sure that no combined action would be the result, grants their request, that so Israel far and wide might know of his triumph.
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.
Verses 4, 5. - Among other places the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, where they make no appeal to him, but tell their sad tidings in the ears of all the people. Powerless to help, they can only weep; but in the midst of their lamentation Saul came after the herd (Hebrew, following the oxen) out of the field. Saul was not driving a herd of cattle home, but had been ploughing, and, labour being over, was returning with the team of oxen.
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.
Verse 6. - And the Spirit of God came upon Saul. Rather, descended mightily upon Saul (see 1 Samuel 10:6). No miraculous influence is here meant; far more full of meaning and piety is the lesson so constantly taught in the Book of Judges, that all mighty and noble acts are from God (Judges 3:10; Judges 6:34; Judges 11:29; Judges 13:25; Judges 14:6; Judges 15:14, etc.). Even the heathen saw in enthusiasm something Divine, for it means the having God within. The energy with which Saul acted was strictly natural, but yet as truly Divine; and it is a sign of the irreligion of modern days that it can see and hear of great and heroic achievements and assign no part in them to God. In the days of Samuel and the judges the whole glory of such acts was ascribed to God. But equally now, whenever men are moved to noble acts, it is "the breath of God" that descends upon them and inspires them.
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.
Verse 7. - Acting then with Divine enthusiasm, Saul cut into pieces a yoke of oxen, and sent them throughout all the coasts of Israel by the hands of messengers. For a similar act see Judges 19:29. Probably Saul cut the oxen into twelve pieces, and sent one to each tribe, with the threat that in case of disobedience their oxen would be similarly treated. The threat was moderate in that it did not touch their persons, but severe as regards their property, the labouring ox being man's faithful friend and servant. It is important also to notice that Saul speaks not only in his own name, but also in that of Samuel. It was as the man chosen of Jehovah to be king by the voice of his prophet that he acted, and so as one possessed of legitimate authority; and it seems also that Samuel went with him in person to the war (ver. 12). And the result answered to the energy with which Saul acted, for the fear of Jehovah - or, rather, "a terror from Jehovah" - fell on the people, and they came out with one consent, or, as it is rendered far more correctly and forcibly in the margin, "as one man." United by the kingly power, it was a nation that rose to defend one of its injured members.
And when he numbered them in Bezek, the children of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand.
Verse 8. - He numbered them in Bezek. This place was in the tribe of Issachar, and must be distinguished from that mentioned in Judges 1:3, 4, which was in Judah, and too remote from the scene of operations. And here Saul appears as the commander-in-chief; for the numbering included the forming of battalions, arranged in thousands, hundreds, and fifties, and the setting officers over them. These, naturally, were the chief men in each district. The result would be that, coming to Bezek, the appointed rendezvous, a disorderly multitude, they would leave it as an army arranged in order, and Saul, in the many difficulties that would arise, would have his first opportunity of showing his powers of command. Children of Israel,... men of Judah - the distinction which ended in the disruption of the nation. Judah, too, with its 30,000 men, is but poorly represented, nor is it a sufficient explanation of the small number who came that the tribe had enough to do at home in making head against the Philistines. As a matter of fact, Judah always stood apart until there was a king who belonged to itself. Then, in David's time, it first took an active interest in the national welfare, and it was its vast power and numbers which made him so powerful. Had it been so nearly overpowered by the Philistines, it could not so suddenly have sprung forth with a might which made it well nigh a match for all the rest.
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.
Verse 9. - Tomorrow, by that time the sun be hot. As Bezek is about twenty miles distant from Jabesh-Gilead, Saul would probably march most of the way that evening, and then, halting for food and sleep, would continue his advance early the next morning.
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.
Verse 10. - Tomorrow we will come out unto you. This was apparently intended to throw the Ammonites off their guard, as they would suppose that the men of Jabesh-Gilead had given up all hopes of deliverance.
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.
Verse 11. - They came.., in the morning watch. By a forced march Saul came upon the unsuspecting Ammonites just before daybreak, when sleep is deepest; and as his host was unwieldy, he arranged it in three divisions, assigning to each a different route, that they might not impede one another on the way, and might also cut off the retreat of the enemy. As the fighting went on for five or six hours, until the heat of the day, the Ammonites must at first have made some resistance; but when all three divisions of Saul's army had come up, they were so utterly routed that "no two of them were left together."
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.
Verses 12, 13. - The people said unto Samuel. Even after this glorious victory the people turn to Samuel, and doubtless his presence and influence had had great weight in gaining obedience to Saul's command (ver. 7). They now, with the old tumultuous violence, demand' that those who had opposed Saul's election should be put to death. Probably the ringleaders of Saul's opponents were some of the ciders disappointed at not being chosen themselves (see on 1 Samuel 10:27). But Saul displays, first, the kingly virtue of clemency, saying, There shall not a man be put to death this day - a decision politic as well as generous, for bloodshed would have led only to future feuds; and, secondly, piety, in so humbly ascribing to Jehovah the salvation that had been wrought in Israel. SAUL SOLEMNLY CONSECRATED AS KING (vers. 14, 15).
And Saul said, There shall not a man be put to death this day: for to day the LORD hath wrought salvation in Israel.
Then said Samuel to the people, Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there.
Verse 14. - Let us go to Gilgal. The famous sanctuary (1 Samuel 7:16) of that name, situated lower down, in the Jordan valley, near Jericho. It was not far from Jabesh-Gilead, and naturally the victorious host would move from the field of battle to the nearest religious spot to consecrate their king.
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.
Verse 15. - They made Saul king. This is not to be interpreted, with the Septuagint, of a second anointing of Saul, but of his confirmation in the kingdom by the unanimous voice of the nation, whereas the first election of him at Mizpah had met with opposition. Before Jehovah. I.e. with religious ceremonies conducted by Samuel and the high priest. The difference between Saul's election at Mizpah and the confirmation of it at Gilgal is much the same as between the first proclamation or' a king and his coronation. The latter is the nation's acknowledgment of his sovereignty, and the solemn consecration of him to his high office. Peace offerings were tokens of joy and gratitude, and were followed by a feast. At this there was great rejoicing, because the king whom they had desired had so quickly proved himself worthy to be their head.