Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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.Ch. 1 Samuel 11:1-11. Saul’s victory over the Ammonites
1. Then] Simply And. There is nothing in the Hebrew text to mark whether the interval was long or short. The Sept. however omits the words “But he held his peace” at the close of ch. 10, and begins this chapter “And it came to pass after about a month that Nahash, &c.” This rendering represents a very slight variation in the consonants of the Hebrew text, and possibly preserves the original reading. At any rate we may gather from ch. 1 Samuel 12:12 that an Ammonite attack was threatened before Saul’s election, and probably the actual invasion took place not long after.
Nahash] The king of the Ammonites (ch. 1 Samuel 12:12). This Nahash can hardly have been the Nahash who “shewed kindness to David” during his wanderings (2 Samuel 10:2), but probably his father or grandfather. According to Josephus he was slain in the battle.
the Ammonite] South and East of the Israelite settlements on the Eastern side of the Jordan dwelt the powerful tribes of the Ammonites and Moabites. The limits of their respective territories cannot be exactly defined, but the Ammonites appear to have lived north and the Moabites south of the Arnon. The Ammonites were a fierce marauding tribe: the Moabites a settled and civilised nation. United by the tie of common descent from Lot, they were generally in alliance against Israel. Twice during the period of the Judges they “oppressed Israel” (Jdg 3:12-14; Jdg 10:11), and even crossed the Jordan and occupied Jericho (1 Samuel 3:13, 1 Samuel 10:9). After their defeat by Jephthah, the Ammonites are not mentioned until the present occasion. During the early part of David’s reign they were on friendly terms with him, but the studied insult offered by Hanun to his ambassadors (2 Samuel 10:1 ff.) led to a war which resulted in the capture of their metropolis Rabbah (2 Samuel 12:26). In the reign of Jehoshaphat they once more invaded Judah in conjunction with the Moabites (2 Chronicles 20), but were signally defeated, and became tributary to Uzziah and Jotham (2 Chronicles 26:8; 2 Chronicles 27:5). Even after the Return their old hostility survived (Nehemiah 4:7-8). Judas Maccabaeus found them “a mighty power,” and “fought many battles with them until at length they were discomfited before him” (1Ma 5:6-7).
Jabesh-Gilead] i.e. Jabesh in Gilead, the extensive district lying immediately E. of the Jordan between Bashan on the N. and Moab and Ammon on the S. and S. E. To the southern portion of this district the Ammonites laid claim (Jdg 11:13). A terrible vengeance had been executed on Jabesh for its neglect to join the levy of Israel in the war against Benjamin (Jdg 21:8 ff.), but from this blow it had recovered, and Nahash now attacked it as the capital of Gilead, and the key to the possession of the country. The name of Jabesh still survives in the Wady Yâbis, which runs down into the Jordan valley a few miles below Beth-shan. It is a lovely valley, full of straggling old olives, patches of barley, and rich pasture. Tristram’s Land of Israel, p. 556.
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.2. that I may thrust out all your right eyes] Such barbarities are not unknown in the East even now. Vambéry describes the blinding of prisoners as a regular practice at Khiva. Travels in Central Asia, p. 138. The savage character of the Ammonites is attested by Amos 1:13. The loss of the right eye was intended to disable them for war, the left eye being covered by the shield, as the amputation of his thumbs and great toes (Jdg 1:7-8) was designed to incapacitate a man for the use of the bow and destroy his swiftness of foot.
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.3. the elders of Jabesh] See note on ch. 1 Samuel 8:4, and cp. Jdg 11:5 ff.
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.4. lift up their voices and wept] Oriental nations naturally display their feelings in tears accompanied by loud wailings. Cp. ch. 1 Samuel 30:4; Genesis 27:38; Jdg 2:4; Jdg 21:2, &c. Achilles, Patroclus and other Homeric heroes shed tears in a way which western nations account utterly unmanly.
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.5. after the herd] After the oxen, as in 1 Samuel 11:7. The king elect had returned to his farm work till occasion should call him to higher duties. So Cincinnatus was following the plough, when the messengers of the senate came to offer him the dictatorship (Livy III. 26).
And the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard those tidings, and his anger was kindled greatly.6. the spirit of God came upon Saul] The Heb. for “came upon” describes a sudden and pervading impulse. (Sept. ἐφήλατο: Vulg. insilivit.) A supernatural accession of physical and mental vigour roused his dormant energies into action, and enabled him to meet the crisis promptly.
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.7. he took a yoke of oxen] Those doubtless with which he had just been ploughing (1 Samuel 11:5).
and sent them] ‘Them,’ i.e. the pieces, is rightly supplied. Symbolical acts are often more eloquent than any words. Cp. Jdg 19:29; 1 Kings 11:30; 1 Kings 22:11; 2 Kings 13:18. We may compare the Fiery Cross which used to be sent round as the signal for the gathering of the Highland clans in Scotland. It was “scathed with flame,” and “quenched in blood” as an emblem of the fire and sword awaiting all who should neglect its summons. See The Lady of the Lake, Canto III., Stanzas 8–11.
by the hands of messengers] By the hand of the Messengers, viz. those who had come from Jabesh.
after Saul and after Samuel] Saul strengthens himself in his new office by an appeal to the time-honoured name and prophetic authority of Samuel.
the fear of the Lord &c.] Awe inspired by Jehovah supported the authority of His King and His Prophet; the people left their homes and came out to the rendezvous as one man.
And when he numbered them in Bezek, the children of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand.8. in Bezek] Probably to be identified with Ibzîk, about half way between Shechem and Beth-shan, and 7 miles W. of the Jordan. It was within a day’s march of Jabesh.
three hundred thousand, &c.] The numbers seem large, but not too large for a general levy of the nation. Cp. Jdg 20:2. The separate numbering of Israel and Judah has been taken to mark the date of the book as posterior to the Division of the Kingdom. It may however be only an indication of a tendency on the part of Judah to isolation which was confirmed by the separation in the early part of David’s reign, and prepared the way for the Disruption.
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.9. ye shall have help] Or, deliverance. The same word is translated “salvation” in 1 Samuel 11:13, and the cognate verb “save” in 1 Samuel 11:3.
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.10. the men of Jabesh said] To Nahash, in order to lull him into careless security, by leading him to suppose that their efforts to get help had failed.
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.11. in three companies] In order to make a simultaneous attack upon the Ammonite camp on three sides at once. Compare Gideon’s stratagem, Jdg 7:16 ff.
in the morning watch] The Jews anciently divided the night into three watches, each watch representing the time for which sentinels remained on duty. The first watch or “beginning of the watches” (Lamentations 2:19) lasted from sunset until 10 p.m.: the “middle watch” (Jdg 7:19) from 10 p.m. till 2 a.m.: the “morning watch” from 2 a.m. till sunrise. The division of the night into four watches referred to in the N. T. (Matthew 14:25; Mark 13:35; Acts 12:4) was of Roman origin.
they which remained were scattered] Jabesh was rescued from destruction, and its inhabitants long remembered the debt of gratitude which they owed to Saul. It was the men of Jabesh who at peril of their lives recovered the bodies of Saul and Jonathan from Philistine insults, and gave them honourable burial (ch. 1 Samuel 31:11-13): it was Gilead which was the chief centre and stay of the waning fortunes of Saul’s house during the early part of the reign of David (2 Samuel 2:8-9 ff.).
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.
And Saul said, There shall not a man be put to death this day: for to day the LORD hath wrought salvation in Israel.12–15. Confirmation of Saul as King
13. There shall not a man be put to death this day] The execution even of malcontents would have clouded the general rejoicing: and Saul’s best hope of uniting the kingdom under his rule lay in a policy of conciliation. Cp. 1 Samuel 10:27; 2 Samuel 19:22.
salvation] Deliverance. See note on 1 Samuel 11:9.
Then said Samuel to the people, Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there.14. Then said Samuel] From this verse to 1 Samuel 12:22 is the Haphtarah or lesson from the Prophets appointed to be read in the Synagogue in conjunction with the history of Korah (Numbers 16).
to Gilgal] See note on 1 Samuel 7:16.
renew the kingdom] Which had been founded in the national assembly at Mizpah (1 Samuel 10:25).
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.15. there they made Saul king] The choice of Saul as king, privately made by God through Samuel, and publicly confirmed by the election at Mizpah, had received an unmistakable ratification in his victory over Nahash. His detractors were silenced, and the unanimous consent of the people accepted him. The assembly now held after the general levy for the war was probably larger and more representative of the whole nation than the previous one at Mizpah.
The Sept. has, “and Samuel anointed Saul there to be king,” which may possibly be the original reading. A public anointing would be natural, for that recorded in ch. 1 Samuel 10:1 was strictly private, and the use of the title “the Lord’s anointed” in ch. 1 Samuel 12:3 gains point if the ceremony had just been performed. That it might be repeated we know from the case of David, who was thrice anointed.
sacrifices of peace-offerings] Thank-offerings to Jehovah for the deliverance he had wrought, and for the establishment of the kingdom.