1 Samuel 11 Commentary: Saul Rallies Israel

1 Samuel 11 Commentary

1 Samuel 11 begins with the town of Jabesh-gilead under siege by Nahash the Ammonite, setting the stage for a crucial test of leadership for Israel’s newly anointed king, Saul.

Fear and courage clash as the fate of Jabesh-gilead hangs in the balance.

Saul, inspired by a divine spirit, rises to the occasion, rallying the Israelite tribes to come to the town’s aid. His actions not only lead to a notable military victory but also affirm his role as king, solidifying his standing among the people and marking a pivotal point in the establishment of Israel’s monarchy.

1 Samuel 11:1-3, The Siege of Jabesh-gilead by the Ammonites

1 Samuel 11 opens with Nahash the Ammonite’s siege on Jabesh-gilead, initiating a tense standoff.

Amidst this siege, the Ammonites’ present a harrowing condition for peace: demands of a gruesome mutilation of the right eye for every Israelite man. This was not just a tactic for victory, but a strategy to inflict lasting shame and disablement.

But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel.”

1 Samuel 11:2, ESV

Nahash’s cruel proposition underscores the severity of the situation. It’s a tactic designed to demoralize and subjugate, making the Israelites perpetual symbols of defeat and humiliation.

Facing such a horrifying proposition, the elders’ plea for a seven-day respite to seek assistance from their brethren across Israel, reflecting both desperation and a sliver of hope. This moment is crucial; it’s not only about Jabesh-gilead’s survival but also about the solidarity of the Israelite tribes in the face of external aggression.

1 Samuel 11:4-7, Saul’s Response and Call to Arms

Saul’s entry into the narrative marks a turning point. His visceral reaction upon hearing the messengers’ plight is a testament to the transformative power of the Spirit of God.

And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of the messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!” Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one man.

1 Samuel 11:6-7, ESV

Saul’s drastic action, cutting the oxen and sending the pieces throughout Israel, serves as a vivid call to arms. This act, reminiscent of ancient covenant rituals, signals the urgency and the collective responsibility of the tribes to come to Jabesh-gilead’s aid.

The people’s unanimous response, rallying around Saul, showcases a newfound unity and the emergence of Saul not just as a leader but as a king ordained by both divine will and popular acclaim.

1 Samuel 11:8-11, Israel’s Victory over the Ammonites

The gathering of Israel’s forces is a display of unity and strength.

Saul devises a strategy to attack at dawn in three separate companies, a showing that is both wise and daring.

And the next day Saul put the people in three companies. And they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. And those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

1 Samuel 11:11, ESV

The surprise attack results in a comprehensive victory over the Ammonites, shattering Nahash’s forces and lifting the siege on Jabesh-gilead. This military success not only secures Jabesh-gilead’s safety but also cements Saul’s reputation as a capable leader and warrior.

1 Samuel 11:12-15, Saul is Confirmed as King

The aftermath of the battle sees a shift from military action to political consolidation. The people’s desire to punish dissenters is met with Saul’s magnanimous decision to forgo vengeance, highlighting his kingly virtues.

But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.”

1 Samuel 11:13, ESV

Saul’s refusal to exact revenge on this day of victory underscores his wisdom and foresight. By attributing the victory to God, he not only demonstrates humility but also reinforces the theocratic foundation of Israel’s kingship.

The renewal ceremony at Gilgal, with Saul’s kingship confirmed amidst communal celebration, signifies a new chapter for Israel. This event is not merely a political affirmation but a covenantal renewal, binding the king and his people in a shared destiny under divine providence.

So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed peace offerings before the Lord, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.

1 Samuel 11:15, ESV

The rejoicing at Gilgal reflects the collective relief and unity following the victory. It’s a moment of national solidarity, with the people coming together under Saul’s leadership, reaffirming their allegiance to God and their king.