1 Samuel 11:1-15 - Saul Has Victory at Jabesh Gilead
Review Chapter 10:22-27
A. The Crisis (v.1-11)
This chapter relates the distress the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead were in on account of the Ammonites, (1Sa 11:1-3) upon which they sent messengers to Saul, whose spirit was immediately stirred up to help them, (1Sa 11:4-6), and prepared for it, and came up soon enough for their relief, and slew their enemies, (1Sa 11:7-11), which gained him much honor and reputation among the people, and occasioned the renewal of the kingdom to him, (1Sa 11:12-15).
1. The Demand From Nahash the Ammonite (v.1-2)
A cruel Ammonite King named Nahash gives an ultimatum. He surrounds the Israelite town of Jabesh-gilead. When the people ask for a peace treaty, he demands they allow him to gouge out the right eye of every citizen!
a) Encamped against Jabesh Gilead (v.1).
(1) Nahash the Ammonite has surrounded this Israelite city, and simply by doing so, he has made his demands clear. They must either surrender, or be conquered.
(a) Why did the Ammonites attack Jabesh? “Probably to revenge and to recover their former great loss by Jephthah, Judges 11:33. Jabesh-gilead was beyond Jordan, and near the Ammonites, who dwelt in part of Arabia.” (Poole)
b) Make a covenant with us and we will serve you (v.1b)
(1) The men of Jabesh Gilead feel this is their only hope of survival. Either they surrender to Nahash (we will serve you) under agreed upon terms (make a covenant with us), or they will simply be killed and looted.
(a) It might seem to us that the men of Jabesh Gilead are cowards, and unwilling to fight against this enemy. But the odds were great against them. It was if they were being mugged, and they had the opportunity to negotiate with the mugger, and strike a deal with the mugger they could live with.
(b) At the same time, where was their trust in God? Yes, they were in what seemed to be in an impossible place, but that is where the power of God can shine the brightest.
c) That I May Put Out Your Right Eyes (v.2)
(1) When the men of Jabesh Gilead as Nahash for a covenant, he agrees to settle peacefully with them - if all the men of the city will have their right eyes gouged out. This guy meant business!
(a) Why did Nahash make this demand? Of all the things he could have demanded, why does he want to put out their right eyes?
(i) First, it was to glorify himself by humiliating the men of this city, and all of Israel. Half-blinding the men of this city would bring reproach on all Israel by making Israel look weak and unable to prevent such an atrocity.
(ii) Second, it was to make the men of Jabesh Gilead unable to fight effectively in battle. In hand-to-hand combat, and man with one eye has less depth perception & peripheral vision, and is at a disadvantage to a man with two eyes, which renders them useless in battle.
(b) “He who opposes his shield to the enemy with his left hand, thereby hides his left eye, and looks at his enemy with his right eye; he therefore who plucks out that right eye makes men useless in war.” (Theodoret, cited in Clarke)
2. The Similarity Between (Satan, Our Spiritual Enemy), and (Nahash, the Enemy Of Israel).
a) Satan attacks us, but cannot do anything against us without our agreement.
(1) He asks for, and requires our surrender (Luke 22:31-34; John 13:38; Matt.26:35).
(2) Peter surrendered by his pride, denying Jesus three times.
b) Satan wants us to serve him, and will attempt to intimidate us into giving in to him.
(1) Matt.4:8-10—whoever you worship, that’s whom you werve.
c) Satan wants to humiliate us, and exalt himself over us.
(1) Through humiliating one saint, Satan wants to bring reproach on all God’s people.
d) Satan Wants To Take Away Our Ability To Effectively Fight Against Him.
(1) Doubt—Satan tries to undermine God’s character and credibility because he wants you to doubt God.
(a) With that strategy he succeeded in plunging the entire human race into sin. The crafty serpent questioned God’s Word, saying to Eve, “Indeed, has God said?” (Gen. 3:1) He then impugned God’s motives by saying that God had a selfish, ulterior motive in forbidding Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (v. 5). He was saying they couldn’t trust God because He might say one thing but mean another. Satan claims to be giving us the straight scoop on life, but in reality it is Satan who is the liar (John 8:44). God has no capacity to lie (Titus 1:2).
(b) Satan wants you to doubt God—to doubt His Word and His power. And we fall into his trap too often. We’re tempted to worry and lose control in a difficult situation because we don’t really believe God can solve our problem. Sometimes we doubt God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness and therefore become burdened by feelings of anxiety and guilt. Some people wonder if God really loves them, especially when bad things happen, such as a spouse leaving or the death of a loved one.
(2) Persecution—Satan uses not only doubt, but also difficulties. He wants to make things hard, not easy, for the Christian. Often he uses persecution as his chief weapon. Multitudes of believers throughout church history were tortured and killed for their faith. Satan uses all forms of persecution to attack Christians.
(3) Self-Sufficiency—Satan wants us to believe we are self-sufficient and therefore urges us to trust in our own resources, rather than God. He used that scheme against David:
Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, “Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me word that I may know their number” (1 Chron. 21:1–2).
(a) David wanted to find out how strong he was, so he had his military advisor count the available soldiers. But God told him that was a terrible sin because his strength did not depend on the number of his troops, but on God.
(b) In Psalm 147:10–11, the psalmist said the Lord “does not delight in the strength of the horse; He does not take pleasure in the legs of a man. The Lord favors those who fear Him, those who wait for His loving-kindness.” David’s falling into Satan’s trap had serious consequences, for God sent judgment and 70,000 in Israel died.
(c) It’s easy for us to place our confidence in the wrong things; “let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls” (1 Cor. 10:12).
(d) Your prayer life can easily become nonexistent and your devotions shallow. The Lord said, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises loving-kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things” (Jer. 9:23–24).
(e) We have seen that Satan tempts us with doubt, difficulties, and self-sufficiency. That might leave you wondering, How am I to deal with Satan’s attacks? How am I to resist all his complex, subtle strategies? The wonderful thing is that all his attacks can be dealt with in one simple way: By putting on the full armor of God (Eph. 6:13). Don’t concentrate on what the devil is doing, but on what you’re to be doing. It doesn’t matter that you know precisely when and how Satan is mapping every subtle scheme. We can’t do that anyway. The only thing that does matter is that you put your armor on. If you do, you will be ready for battle.
(4) Satan wants to blind us, and if he cannot blind us completely, he will blind us partially (2 Cor.4:3-4).
(5) The name Nahash means serpent or snake!
3. The Desperation Of The Elders Of Jabesh (v.3)
a) The men of Jabesh Gilead are in a difficult spot.
(1) If there is no one to save them, Nahash can do to them as he pleases, and losing an eye seems better to them than losing their lives.
(2) Was there no one to save them? The men of Jabesh didn’t know for certain. But they did know there was no hope in and of themselves, that they had to have a savior.
(3) In One Way, These Men Of Jabesh Were In A Good Place, because they absolutely knew two things:
(a) Their Need To Be Saved. Many today - even in the church - don’t really know their need to be saved, rescued from the righteous judgment of God against them and their sin.
Peter said, in the Acts, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”" (Acts 4:12, NASB95)
“Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’" (John 3:7)
(b) They Cannot Save Themselves. Many today don’t really know they cannot save themselves. They still think in their hearts that they can do it!
(4) In Another Way, The Men Of Jabesh Gilead Were In A Bad Place. They knew their need of a savior, and they knew they could not save themselves.
(a) Yet, they did not know if there was anyone to save them (v.3).
(b) We can know. We can know what John said in 1 John 4:14: “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world”.
(5) Why Did Nahash Let The Messengers Go?
(a) He was confident of Israel’s disunity, and figured they would be unable to find anyone to save them.
(b) By allowing the messengers to go through all Israel, he was making his name big and his reputation fearsome throughout the whole nation.
4. Saul Hears The Words of the Men of Jabesh (v.4-5)
Now, upon learning of this, a furious, Spirit Filled Saul sends out a call to arms and gathers an army to fight against Nahash.
a) The messengers came… all the people lifted up their voices and wept (v.4)
(1) This is exactly what Nahash was hoping for.
b) Coming behind the herd from the field (v.5).
(1) Here We See The Humility And Service Of Saul. Saul had already been anointed and recognized as king over Israel, yet there was nothing for him to do.
(2) So, he just went back home, got to work in the field, and figured God would tell him what to do when the time was right!
(a) Saul was wise in going back to the farm. He knew it was the LORD’s job to raise him up as king over the nation, and he knew the LORD would do it in the right way at the right time. He didn’t have to promote himself, or scheme on his own behalf. The LORD would do it.
(b) In this, Saul is a good example of Jesus, the King of Kings. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and here Saul is simply serving, not being served.
5. Saul’s Gathers An Army (v.6-8)
a) Saul needed to act, and the Lord was with him (v.6)
(1) The Spirit of the Lord came to equip Saul for service, and to do something for Him.
(a) This is always God’s pattern. He doesn’t want us to seek the Spirit selfishly, but to be empowered to be used by Him to touch others.
(b) Jesus told His disciples before He ascended into heaven: But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).
(c) The power was given and received to do something for the LORD!
b) Saul’s Anger Was Greatly Aroused (v.6)
(1) This Was A Good Anger, And Spirit-Led Anger Within Saul. The Bible says we can be angry, and do not sin (Ephesians 4:26), but most of our anger is selfish. Here, Saul’s anger is not out of a personal sense of hurt or offense, but out of a righteous concern for the cause of the LORD among His people.
c) The fear of the Lord fell on the people (v.7-8).
(1) Saul’s bloody threat worked. When those hunks of ox-flesh came special delivery, all Israel knew there was a leader in Israel who meant business. They knew the LORD was calling them to do something about the crisis of Jabesh Gilead. 330,000 men total came to fight!
6. The Defeat Of Nahash (v.9-11)
a) The men of Jabesh were glad (v.9)
(1) Before, they did not know if there was anyone to save them. Now they know they have someone to save them! Knowing we have a savior should make us glad!
B. Generosity toward enemies (v.12-15)
1. Saul shows mercy to those who despised him (v.12-13)
a) Who is he who said, “Shall Saul reign over us?”… Not a man shall be put to death this day
(1) At this moment of great victory, the supporters of Saul want to expose and kill those who were hesitant to support him as king (as described in 1 Samuel 10:27).
(2) Saul wisely knew this was no time to take revenge on his opponents. Satan, having failed in the attack through Nahash, was now trying to attack Israel - even in victory - by dividing the nation against each other. Satan will attack us anyway he can, and often use times of victory to attack.
b) The Lord has accomplished salvation in Israel (v.13b)
(1) Saul was the man the LORD raised up to bring the victory, yet Saul himself knew that the LORD has accomplished salvation in Israel. It was the LORD who did the saving, and Saul was humble enough to know it.
(2) At this moment of victory, it would have been all the more tempting to take the credit for himself. This is what Satan wants us to do
Along with power and results in service for Christ comes the temptation of pride. It is often difficult to acknowledge that the results stem from God’s power, not human ingenuity and ability.
Peter wrote of the centrality of humility in 1 Peter 5:5–6:
You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.
James echoed those thoughts in James 4:6, 10: “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble…. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Humility is the supreme spiritual virtue because it gives God His rightful place. Paul’s understanding of the reality of humility is best seen in his words to the Corinthians:
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9–10)
2. The feeling of natural resentment toward them. “Revenge is sweet,” say
men who are not restrained by Divine wisdom and grace; and they are
especially apt to say it when they have the power to avenge themselves,
and when they persuade themselves that justice and prudence require that
the wrong should not go unpunished. They do require it, doubtless, in
some eases; but how large a place does the desire of gratifying personal
animosity hold in most instances in which men seek to inflict punishment
on others. “Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render
to the man according to his work” (<202429>Proverbs 24:29; 20:22).
3. The urgency of others. Men are only too prone to indulge wrath without
such an incitement, but they are often led by it to go beyond their own
judgment and feeling, and he who, like Saul, overcomes it gains a double
victory. “Thereby he gained another victory —
(1) over himself — he restrains himself in the exercise of a right;
(2) over the anger of those who demanded that justice be executed;
(3) over his former opponents, who now clearly see that which, under the
influence of haughty contempt, they had doubted; and
(4) over the whole people, who must have been carried along by him in the
path of noble moral conduct, and lifted above themselves to the height on
which he stood” (Erdmann).
Saul’s Positive Spiritual Qualities
We need not begin with Israel’s demands for a king so they could be “like all the nations” (1 Sam. 8:5). We will begin with Saul himself. Saul began well. During his first two years he is a man of God, humble, zealous for the honor of God and the salvation of His people. First, he is elected by the sovereign choice of God as prince over God’s people (9:15–17; 10:1). From the very beginning he reveals his true humility (9:20–21; 15:17).
Second, Saul is transformed by the Spirit of God. He was made “another man” (10:6). He was given a “new heart” (10:9). The Spirit of God came upon him mightily (10:6,10). He prophesied under the power of God’s Spirit (10:10). All who knew him before his conversion were amazed at his spiritual transformation (10:11–12). Third, he displays an amazing trust in God to glorify him as His appointed king. He refuses to exalt himself (10:15–16,22–24).
Fourth, he reveals his zeal for the name of Yahweh and the salvation of His people in his victory through the power of the Holy Spirit over the Ammonites (11:1–11). Fifth, he refuses to take vengeance upon those who opposed him. He chooses to glorify the Lord instead (11:12–13). Sixth, because of Saul’s exemplary conduct, all Israel reaffirms its covenant with God (11:14–15). Saul brings the whole nation back to God. Here is a king after God’s own heart who will bring nothing but blessings to the people of God, it would seem.
Saul’s Slide to Disobedience
The complex, confusing story of his gradual but persistent, prideful disobedience to God is described in three steps:
The first errant step is found in 1 Samuel 13:9–12. Saul assumes Samuel’s role as God’s priest and prophet. Samuel sees Saul’s action as rebellion against the word of the Lord God. He pronounces judgment upon the nation because of Saul’s disobedience (vv. 13–14).
The second backwards step is revealed in 14:24–46. Here we find an unholy mixture of self-assertion and zeal for God. He reaches the point of willingness to kill his own son, Jonathan, in the name of the Lord. He is an extremist, a religious fanatic.
The third and most serious evidence of a declining spiritual life is disclosed in 15:1–35. Saul’s self-centeredness and pride lead him to rebel openly against the word of the Lord. His confession and repentance are not true brokenness for sin against God. He is rejected by both God and Samuel.
The final evidence of Saul’s pride and rebellion is his growing jealousy of David. He is an egomaniac. He goes into rages. He repeatedly attempts to kill David (18:7–17; 19:1,8–11). Saul’s persistent pride and rebellion against God and His word finally push him across the fine line between the operations of the flesh and the world2 and those of demonic spirits. He becomes demonized.
Up to now his sin has had its origin in the flesh and the world. From now on it will be fully multidimensional, the flesh, the world, and demons (16:14; 18:10–11; 19:9).3
The result? Saul at times becomes irrational in his thinking and conduct (18:10–11). Yet he continues to seek God. He is again filled with the Holy Spirit (19:18–24). Saul’s case is indeed strange. He is filled with the Holy Spirit, “mightily” twice (10:6–13; 11:6). This filling is similar to the New Testament focus on filling as empowerment for service (Acts 2:4f; 4:8,28–31; 9:17–22). He then begins his fall due to pride. The climax is reached with “the Spirit of the Lord” departs from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorizes him (16:14).
Ralph W. Klein marks the difference between the Holy Spirit coming upon Saul repeatedly and the statement concerning David that “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (16:13).4
The “evil spirit from the Lord” also comes and goes (16:14–23; 18:10; 19:9). His departure in one case (16:14–23) was due to David’s musical ministry to Saul on his harp. The result was, “Saul would be refreshed and be well and the evil spirit would depart from him” (16:23).5 This was not always successful, however. In fact in the next two cases David’s presence and music only agitate Saul and probably the evil spirit within him (18:10f; 19:9). The latter has been my experience with evil spirits also.
Yet, with all of this the Holy Spirit again comes upon Saul giving him the ability to prophesy (19:20–24). Again, I repeat, Saul’s is a most unusual case. To go into depth to deal with his complex life would require more pages than I can give in this chapter.
Saul’s demonization seems to move through progressively worsening stages.
Stage one. At the beginning, his demonization is more mild. He has periods of normality. Probably, the purpose of these was to bring him to true repentance (1 Sam. 16:14–23; 1 Tim. 1:20).
Stage two. His demonization becomes very intense. He at times becomes irrational (1 Sam. 18:10a). He is destructive in his interpersonal relationships: first with his own daughters, then he tries to kill Jonathan. Finally, he again seeks to murder Jonathan’s best friend and God’s anointed, David (18:10,11; 19:9–17; 20:30f).
Stage three is revealed in 1 Samuel 28. Without denying his faith in the Lord, Saul slips into occultic, mediumistic practices. He becomes involved with the medium of Endor.
I have seen this occur on many occasions, especially with believers in Africa and Asia. They are Christians. They love the Lord. In a desperate attempt to get power or hidden knowledge, they resort to spirit power practices. Like Saul, they usually end up demonized.
For Saul, this desperate act was precipitated by the death of Samuel and God’s final rejection of Saul as the leader of His people (25:1; 28:6). As the Philistines gather for a final battle with Israel, Saul becomes desperate.
“When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him” (28:6). Showing the paganism which lay under the surface of many believers of his day, he seeks for a medium to bring up the spirit of Samuel. In this case God causes Samuel to appear, even surprising the medium (28:7–12). Samuel rejects Saul’s appeal for help. He reminds him of the occasion of his first major wilful rebellion against the word of God (28:16–18).
Samuel pronounces judgment upon Saul. His life will be taken the next day. Israel will be defeated by the Philistines (v. 19). Saul had sinned unto death (28:19; 31:1–6 see 1 Cor. 5:1–5; 1 Tim. 1:19–20 with 2 Tim. 2:17–18; 1 John 5:16–17; 1 Cor. 11:27–32). Saul dies severely demonized, but maintaining his faith in God to the end. Saul was not an apostate. He did not become a Solomon and serve foreign gods. He was disobedient. He sought hidden knowledge from a medium as tens of thousands of erring believers, including Christian leaders, have done after him. Thus he will be in the kingdom of God. He did not go to hell but into the abode of the righteous dead (28:19).
Using only the biblical text one cannot refute the position I have taken that Saul was a true believer. He fell, as thousands after him have done, through pride. We are reminded again of the four P’s that plague many Christians and especially Christian leaders: power, position, pleasure, and possessions. All are evidences of the sin of pride.
Saul died as a severely demonized believer. Even when he was demonized, the Scripture records that “the Spirit of God came upon him also, so that he went along prophesying continually” (1 Sam. 19:23). He is truly a mystery man.