1 Samuel 11:1-15
Then Nahash the Ammonite came up, and encamped against Jabeshgilead: and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, Make a covenant with us…
Although Saul had been privately anointed and publicly chosen king, he did not immediately assume royal state. Guided, doubtless, by the counsel of Samuel, and perceiving from the disaffection of certain men (1 Samuel 10:27) that the nation was not yet quite prepared for the change, he did not deem it prudent to do so. Returning to his former mode of life at Gibeah (ver. 5), he awaited some further indication of his call to be "captain over the Lord's inheritance." "Nothing but true, royal action for the welfare of the state, alike bravely undertaken and firmly carried out at the right moment, could win for him that real deference, that joyful, voluntary cooperation for state purposes from all his subjects, without which his sovereignty must ever remain most feeble and equivocal" (Ewald). It was not long ("a month," LXX.) before the opportunity for such action occurred. He proved himself equal to the occasion, and his patience was justified and rewarded. His position as a military leader was fully vindicated by the result, and his sovereignty was heartily recognised by all the people. This is the chief historical significance of his warlike enterprise or campaign against the Ammonites for the relief of Jabesh-Gilead. Observe that it was -
I. UNDERTAKEN IN A RIGHTEOUS CAUSE (vers. 1-4). If ever war is justifiable (and it seems impossible that it should be altogether avoided), it is when undertaken, as in this case -
1. To repel hostile aggression. The Ammonites were old enemies (Deuteronomy 2:19; Deuteronomy 23:3, 4; Judges 3:13; Judges 10:7; Judges 11:5). They were a nomadic, predatory, cruel, and idolatrous people. For some time Nahash, animated by the desire of war and conquest, "the malady of princes," had assumed a threatening attitude (1 Samuel 12:12), and now laid siege to the capital of Gilead, a part of the Israelitish territory belonging to the half-tribe of Manasseh, beyond the Jordan. His aggression was -
(1) Without adequate ground. He probably revived a claim previously asserted and refuted (Judges 11:12-15). But men readily find pretexts for a course to which they are disposed. "From whence come wars?" (James 4:1).
(2) Revengeful. He wished to avenge the defeat long before inflicted by Jephthah. Hatred between nations tends to perpetuate itself, and to become intensified; and successes in war often sow "dragon's teeth" that produce a subsequent harvest of strife and misery.
(3) Proud, boastful, and cruel (ver. 2).
2. To aid imperilled brethren. Between the people of Jabesh and the Benjamites, especially, there was an intimate connection (Judges 21:12-14). Their condition was now degraded, fearful, wretched; and although it was due to their want of patriotism, faith, and courage, yet it did not deprive them of a claim upon the sympathy of their brethren, but was a powerful appeal to their compassion. The appeal of the poor, the oppressed, the slave cannot be unheeded without sin (Proverbs 24:11, 12).
3. To avert a common danger. The siege of Jabesh was evidently intended as the first step in an attack upon all Israel. The distress of the people of Gibeah arose not merely from sympathy with their brethren, but also from fear for themselves, and a sense of helplessness against so powerful an adversary. Saul's enterprise was thus one of self-defence.
4. To maintain the Divine hour. The Ammonites worshipped Moloch (Molech, or Milcom), "the abomination of the children of Ammon" (1 Kings 11:7), and sought his honour in opposition to that of Jehovah. It was a part of the calling of Israel to extirpate idolatry, and it was commanded them concerning the Ammonites, "Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days forever" (Deuteronomy 23:6). In their wars with the heathen they acted under a Divine commission. The religious wars which have been waged under the Christian dispensation have sometimes been undertaken from lofty motives, but they have not had the same justification, and the honour of God ought to be sought by other and more effectual means.
II. WAGED WITH HOLY ENTHUSIASM (vers. 5-11). Enthusiasm - God in us. It was -
1. Inspired by the Divine Spirit. On returning from the field, and learning the cause of the people's distress, "the Spirit of God came upon Saul, and.his anger was kindled greatly." There is an anger which is not sinful (Mark 3:5; Ephesians 4:26). The feeling of resentment is a weapon put into our hands by God against injury, injustice, and cruelty of every kind.
(1) The anger of Saul was incited by the same spirit as previously constrained him to utter Divine praises.
(2) It was a feeling of wrath and burning zeal against wrong.
(3) It was directed towards the welfare of his people and the honour of God.
(4) It qualified him for a great enterprise; led him to assume the leadership of the nation to which he had been appointed, and to summon the tribes to rally around him. The gifts of the Spirit of God are various, and adapted to the requirements of the age.
2. Shared in by all the people.
(1) "The fear of Jehovah fell on the people," i.e. a fear inspired by him. "In Saul's energetic appeal the people discerned the power of Jehovah, which inspired them with fear and impelled them to immediate obedience" (Keil). That power is able to fill a whole nation, as well as an individual, with new emotions and impulses.
(2) Under its influence "they came out as one man" (with one consent).
(3) Mustered under the leadership of Saul in Bezek, near to Bethshan. A common danger often draws men into closer union and cooperation than peace and prosperity.
3. Expressed in a confident assurance of help. "Tomorrow, by the time the sun be hot, ye shall have help" (ver. 9). Faith looks upon that which is believed as if it were already an accomplished fact.
4. Manifested in energetic action. His promise was not in words merely, but was followed up by deeds (ver. 11). "It was night when Saul and the armed multitude which followed him broke up from Bezek. Little did he know how well the brave men of Jabesh would requite the service (1 Samuel 31:8-13). Strange that Saul's first march should have been by night from Bethshan to Jabesh, the same route by which at the last they carried his dead body at night" (Edersheim).
III. ATTENDED WITH EXTRAORDINARY SUCCESS.
1. The defeat of the enemy - sudden, unexpected, and complete. "Two of them were not left together," and their king, Nahash, was slain (Josephus). "Those that walk in pride he is able to abase" (Daniel 4:37).
2. The deliverance of the oppressed, who were not afterwards wanting in gratitude or courage.
3. The cessation of disaffection (vers. 12, 13).
4. The united and joyful devotion of all Israel (vers. 14, 15). Observe -
1. We have other enemies to encounter than those of flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12).
2. We must contend against them not simply for our own safety, but for the good of our fellow men.
3. It is only by the help of the Lord that we can prevail. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.