The Word Made Fresh
1Then Nahash, an Ammonite, came against Jabesh-Gilead. The elders of Jabesh sued for peace, saying, “Do not attack us! We will be your servants.”
2Nahash replied, “I’ll make a treaty with you on one condition: I gouge out your right eyes and put all of Israel to shame.”
3The elders replied, “Give us seven days to petition Israel. If none come to our defense we will surrender.” 4They sent messengers to Gibeah, where Saul lived, and told them what was happening, and the people of Gibeah wept bitterly. 5Saul was just coming in from the field behind his oxen. “What are all of you crying about?” he asked, and they told him the news the messengers from Jabesh had brought.
6Then God’s spirit entered Saul when he heard this news, and he was enraged. 7He butchered a pair of oxen and sent the cuts of meat with messengers throughout Israel with this message: “This is what will happen to the oxen of every man who doesn’t come to fight with Saul and Samuel.” The fear of the LORD came upon the people, and they responded as one. 8When Saul organized them at Bezek there were three hundred thousand from all of Israel in addition to the thirty thousand volunteers from the tribe of Judah. 9They said to the messengers from Jabesh, “Go and tell the people of Jabesh-Gilead that tomorrow by mid-day you will be rescued.”
The people of Jabesh rejoiced when they were told, 10and they sent word to Nahash, saying, “Tomorrow we will surrender to you, and you may do whatever you want with us.”
11Saul divided his men into three armies, and the next morning early they attacked the Ammonites until mid-day. So few of the enemy were left that there were no two of them standing together.
12Then the people said to Samuel, “Who complained that Saul would be put in charge of us? Turn them over to us and we’ll put an end to them!”
13But Saul said, “No! Not one of us is to be executed today, because this is the day the LORD rescued us.”
14Then Samuel said to the people, “Come to Gilgal, and we will renew our allegiance to our king.” 15They all went to Gilgal and honored Saul as their king in the LORD’s presence. Then they made sacrifices of thanksgiving to the LORD, and Saul and the Israelites celebrated and rejoiced.
1-4: This is one of the most curious battle accounts in the Bible. Nahash the Ammonite seeks to expand his territory further westward and besieges Jabesh-Gilead in the hills about 6 miles east of the Jordan. The Ammonites had been defeated during the time of Jephthah (Judges 11) but had begun to encroach on Israelite territory again. The people of Jabesh-Gilead offer to surrender, but Nahash insists that they all have their right eyes gouged out. They ask for a seven-day grace period to look for reinforcements, and he agrees! Having met no resistance thus far, he seems to have become a bit too cocky for his own good.
Now, remember that in the story of the outrage at Gibeah, where the Levite’s concubine was raped and murdered, there was one town that refused to participate in the punishment of Gibeah that followed. That town was Jabesh-Gilead (Judges 19). Now, the people of Jabesh-Gilead are hoping they will find help in Gibeah.
5-11: Messengers arrive at Gibeah, Saul’s home, and tells them the situation. Saul hears about it and immediately takes action. He chops his oxen into pieces (the Levite had cut his concubine into pieces!) and sent the pieces to the other tribes and ordered them to muster for battle, threatening them violence if they refuse. They respond, 330,000 (370,000 in some ancient texts) strong. Saul’s kingship is off to a grand start! The messengers return to Jabesh-Gilead, and the people send word to Nahash that they will surrender the next day. The next day, Saul arrives with his newly conscripted army and routs the Ammonites.
12-13: Remember the “worthless fellows” who refused to acknowledge Saul at Mizpah? (10:27) Once again, Saul lets them off the hook. Not only is Saul victorious in battle, he is magnanimous to his detractors.
14-15: A big victory party is thrown at Gilgal and Saul’s kingship is ratified by all the people.
Saul is off to a good start, but as is the case in many instances, the leader who is successful early on swells with pride and a sense of invulnerability and begins to think and behave too high and mighty, and is threatened by every popular leader that arises during his time. Watch Saul’s deterioration over his career as king of Israel.