“Saul’s Great Victory”
The momentous declaration was made – for the first time, the Hebrews were to have a king. Note that even though this was not God’s wish, He nevertheless required the people to obey their new earthly monarch. I believe this was a part of His judgement, a ‘thorn in their side’ as a reminder of the consequences of putting God aside. After all, before this time, the people were free under God. Now they had to obey a human king as well as their heavenly Father. They placed a yoke upon themselves, so perhaps the Lord wanted them never to forget that fact. They wanted an earthly king, and they got one, with all the chains that come attached to earthly power.
The majority of the people accepted Saul as their new king. But, a few refused to have him. These God refers to as the ‘children of Belial’ (10:27). The men of Jabeshgilead appear to have been some of these ‘children of Belial’ for, a short while after the announcement of the new king, they were besieged by Ammonites, led by Nahash. It could be that the men of Jabeshgilead were just afraid of being slaughtered, so they capitulated to the foreigner, rather than send to Saul for help. At any rate, the price for their surrender was high... the blinding of their right eyes!
“Then Nahash the Ammonite came up, and encamped against Abeshgilead: and all the men of Jabesh said unto Nahash, Make a covenant with us, and we will serve thee.”
As we note time and again in scripture, people’s names somehow seem appropriate; the name Nahash means ‘serpent’! His name has its root in divination/fortune-telling/witchcraft, so perhaps his family were involved in this evil activity. This seems likely, because his mother gave him a name based on the practice of witchcraft. Nahash was king of the Ammonites, enemies of the Hebrews.
The Ammonites lived in Ammon, named after their ancestor, e.g. descended from Lot through Ben-Ammi. The root of the name Ammon simply means ‘kinsman’ or ‘nation’.
One purpose was in the mind of Nahash – to kill and take over. So, he ‘came up... against’ Jabeshgilead. This term is used to refer to the coming of an army to fight. Nahash was quite willing to sit it out if necessary, because he encamped, that is, laid siege to the town and waited. He did not have to wait that long, for the scared inhabitants sent a message to Nahash, offering to surrender: ‘Make a covenant with us, and we will serve thee.’
But, Nahash could not be sure of their allegiance, so he placed a nasty condition on the people, and it was to be the price of their (relative) freedom. The uneasy alliance with this foreign power would mean the partial loss of their sight. It is my personal belief that we should never appease an enemy.
(2018 note: Today, the West is being invaded by Muslims, so many that the West will soon disappear. This is because western governments appease Islam and are afraid to oppose it, because of a possible violent backlash. I think I speak as a Christian, when I say LET THEM BE VIOLENT. Then, deal with them as criminals; deport as many as possible, imprison the rest. If it is not done we WILL be overthrown in the most wicked way, forced to live under Islamic sharia and even murdered. It is better to fight such an enemy than to submit to a moon-god). In our day few Christians are realistic in their ideas and responses! They are also ignorant of God’s anger against idolaters who hate both Him and His children.
“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.”
This demand was not just a cruelty – it was filled with powerful social meanings, which would mark the men of Jabesh for ever as cowards and traitors. That is why Nahash referred to it as a ‘reproach upon all Israel’. Much the same as shaving the heads of collaborators of the Germans in the Second World War, Nahash wanted to show the rest of Israel how collaborators are treated, even by the victors. Not only that – the surrender of the men of Jabesh would be taken as the surrender of the whole of Israel! On the matter of Islam; when Muslims take a church and turn it into a mosque, or if they build a mosque, it is a symbol they use to claim that town or city as Islamic, belonging to Allah. In this they are very similar to Roman Catholics. No Christian or church should tolerate this.
There is another factor at play, too. To partially blind the men of Israel was to degrade them socially, for at that time the Hebrews thought of the disabled as being inferior and unworthy. So, that one act would be a huge blow to the men of Jabesh, whose decision would affect the entire nation. Yet another factor is added, too: it was a dishonour for an Hebrew to willingly place himself into slavery, especially to an enemy of God’s people and God Himself.
Putting out their eyes was to be a triumph for the Ammonites. It would isolate the men of Jabeshgilead, marking them out as traitors to all of Israel, making them social outcasts and hated. It was their choice, to die in battle or to surrender the whole nation. To surrender was to place themselves under the rule of a godless and idol-worshipping people, who would expect them to live the same way. Obviously, the glories of earlier days, when Samuel was younger, were gone. No longer did surrounding nations fear the terrible God of the Hebrews and, the Israelites had no stomach for battle any more.
This is a dilemma that affects every one of us today – to live for the Lord can be hard. To live without Him, or to hide our faith, is to take on the persona of the world and to lose our peace and integrity. Not only that, but we also lose the respect and companionship of our fellow Believers, the Church, and the blessings of our Lord. As we are told in the New Testament, it is far better to enter heaven without an eye, or limb, than to never enter heaven at all. So, was surrender the answer to their problems? No, especially not to pagans and false gods.
But, fear can alter a man’s perceptions and responses. None of us can say we would not do the same as the men of Jabesh. It does not matter if we are in a life and death situation, or if work-mates would deride us; each has personal anxiety when declaring faith openly! Thankfully, most of us are not yet in a position where we would feel so threatened that we just give in. If you were to be faced with the threat of death if you did not surrender your faith, what would you do? There have been some quite well-known people who preferred to follow sin than to follow the Lord. The answer is to be immersed in Him by living lives pure and undefiled. The closer we walk with God, the less likely it is that we will wander on to a faithless path.
“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.”
As was the case with the Hebrews (and with each one of us!), these men had forgotten the power and might of their God. They indeed lived up to the meaning of their town’s name – ‘dry’. A mountain town, it did not even rely on its natural fortress. The men simply wanted to give up. How often we do that! We see what we think is a threat, our legs turn to jelly, and we run in fear. Or, we give up. As Christians we are not made to run or to give up, but to hand over the fight to our God. It is He Who will be victorious, not us. We, however, forget this rule of engagement, and try to face the spiritual enemy alone, in our own strength. So, we fail. No matter what the apparent odds in our spiritual lives, God is our champion. Our cleverness will not save us, nor our spiritual cowardice, for cowardice always brings a big penalty.
Notice that the elders, the leaders of Jabesh, sent out word to all of Israel. So-called leaders of the churches today often affect thousands by their spiritual infidelity. When they fall personally, so do many others. The Toronto Blessing is a case in point. Leaders embraced this false heresy and thus affected many thousands, destroying their walk with God. One man who is in the congregation can walk away alone, but a so-called leader drags many after him when he takes his feet from the one true path. (2018 note: The charismatic heresy has grown rapidly to this day).
The leaders of Jabesh sent word to the leaders of the rest of the Hebrews, to see if they also wished to surrender rather than die. The Ammonite condition was attached to their request – lose your right eyes and be subject to us, or you will die. It is apparent that the men of Jabesh did not expect anyone to fight. How low Israel had come within just a few years! Not long before, they had vanquished the Philistines. Now, forgetting their God, they were on the brink of slavery to an ungodly nation. Today, (this study was written on the very first day of the year 2000), supposed church ‘leaders’ convey a similar story to the churches... Christians everywhere are capitulating to Satan, by surrendering their true faith and embracing the charismatic lie. Wave after wave of cultic beliefs are washing our souls and many have already given in.
Even at this darkest hour, God had planned help! Though not God’s wish to have a king over Israel, He had prepared the heart of Saul. It is not our place to give in, but to simply believe and trust in the power of our God. When we forget that, we are easily beaten.
“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.
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.”
The men of Israel did not have a standing army at that time. Each man was a soldier, ready to fight at a moment’s notice. In between wars, they worked for a living. Saul was no exception. When the messengers of Jabesh reached Gibeah, Saul was working with his father’s herd in the fields. He came home after a long day’s hard graft to find everyone crying and wailing. As was custom, they were probably tearing their clothing and throwing ashes upon themselves. What on earth was going on, he asked?
He found the leaders – those who ought to have known better – crying alongside the rest of the population. It must have been a very unsettling sight to behold, as they sobbed out their tale of woe. But, Saul did not falter, and his heart did not fail. Rather, God had other plans...
“And the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard those tidings, and his anger was kindled greatly.”
Saul did not react like the others – instead, he responded actively and without fear. (In his earlier days, Saul was a man of honour and faith). The Holy Spirit was to show Israel that the man given to them by God would be the one to lead them out of their despair. David had a similar stout heart when he beat Goliath.
Saul was enraged by the news of the Ammonite demand. He was not just angry. Are you uncomfortable with that notion? Many Christians, in their effort to toe the ‘party line’ deny anger in their lives, as though they never became angry. They denigrate any Christian who shows anger, saying they ought not display such sin. This is wrong, for God Himself becomes angry, and He calls on us all to be angry at the right time and in the right way. It is an odd thing when Christians are never passionate about their faith and beliefs (which honours the Lord)!
Saul, the future king of Israel, was absolutely incensed that a foreign nation should have the gall to lay siege to one of his own people’s towns. It is possible he was dismayed by his people’s reactions, too, but this is not indicated in the text. What we know, is that Saul’s passionate response carried everyone else with him. That is how a true man of God ought to work! His own beliefs and his own trust in God should ‘rub off’ on others and convey to them the reality of their Christian lives.
It is very easy and common today for the mad rush to work and play to erode the faith of many. We need ministers who are passionate enough to spread an ethos of Biblical urgency and faith. Faith must be a real and active principle in our lives, not just a set of writings we agree to in our encapsulated, formal, reformed way! Sin must make us angry, angry enough to do something about it. Truth must make us want to teach it and live it out daily.
“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.”
Saul, in his anger, hacked two of his own oxen to bits. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine a modern Christian even raising his voice? Where are men of passion? No, they would rather pretend all is well and remain outwardly calm! Such is cowardice. Saul warned all of Israel that if they did not come out and fight, he would personally ensure they lost their wealth, food, and means of tending their fields. He gave them no option.
For many years I have spoken of Christians being warriors. We are not saved to hide in the baggage. We are saved into a vast army. We must stand and be counted and fight when needed to. The need since the latter part of the 1990’s has been acute, continuous and growing, as onslaught after onslaught has attacked the Church (that is, its people, who are the Church). An attack on God’s Church is an attack on Him. That is what we are told in scripture. We have no option but to fight. I have personally been sneered at for upholding this principle. Those who see themselves as Christians distance themselves from one who demands what God demands – that we stand and fight evil. Smelling the odour of blood on people like myself, they turn their backs, rejecting the warnings of the watchmen. But, the Ammonites are at their door! Evil is breathing down their necks!
Are you a follower of the Christ? Well, prove it by fighting with Him. He is our Captain; we sang it as children in Sunday School, but do we really believe it? Then fight with Him. You cannot stand back, cultivating your ‘political correctness’! I get angry when enemies of Christ attack. Do you? If not, why not? Come out with one consent and show your real colours. And expect any true minister of God to become very angry with you if you do not. Support and encouragement have their place, but when a crisis comes there must be only one response – immediate action. Not tears or inward ‘PC’ recriminations. Not anxiety-led cowardice or refusal to act. Not rejection of the watchmen’s calls.
(However, the ‘fear of the LORD’ shown by the people of Israel was engendered by the Holy Spirit. It cannot be worked-up by emotion or thought. When a watchman shouts a warning, the people can ignore it, or respond positively. If the shout is ignored or rejected, it is evidence of the people’s spiritual depravity and the Lord will use that as judgement against them. The watchman’s message, in that case, is a stumbling block to the people, set in place by God).
“And when he numbered them in Bezek, the children of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand.
And they said unto the messengers that came, Thus shall ye say unto the men of Jabeshgilead, Tomorrow, 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.”
Saul, through envoys, mustered the men of Israel and counted how many there were – 300,000 in Bezek and 30,000 of Judah. Bezek (meaning ‘lightning’) was the former home of Adonibezek, Canaanite king of the city before he was killed by the Israelites, and was where the army of Israel, a third of a million men, gathered together before their battle against the Ammonites. The name of the place was almost prophetic, for God’s anger would strike down the Ammonites like lightning, just as he had struck down king Adonibezek and this time Israel had ten times the number of soldiers!
The message was sent to the town of Jabeshgilead – you will get your help by noon tomorrow! We can only imagine the joy that swept through the place that day. A third of a million men to their rescue! Interestingly, though the meaning of ‘hot’ in this text is literal, it has a root meaning of ‘to be afflicted’. Often, in our lives, relief from evil comes when its threat is at its height, pushing us (hopefully) closer to God for His help. Many, though, crumble at just such a point, and so miss the glorious redemption God would have given them if they had just waited in faith.
“Therefore the men of Jabesh said, Tomorrow we will come out unto you, and ye shall do with us all that seemeth good unto you.”
With the sure knowledge that a massive army was on its way, the now ecstatic men of Jabesh sent a message, a ploy, to the besieging Ammonite army – tomorrow we will come out to you and you can do with us whatever you wish. No army will give its secret plans to the enemy. Jabesh simply had to sit tight until the next day. For Christians, the excitement of anticipation of God working for them is beyond description. Have you ever experienced such excitement? Sadly, many Christians have not, so they miss the pleasure of witnessing what God can do. Too many times, God acts but Christians fail to notice, they are so wrapped up in their fears and personal sins. After the anticipation comes the action! And if you have never even anticipated what God can do, you will likely never recognise what He does when He does it. Observing God triumph over our enemies is faith building, believe me.
“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.”
Next morning the massed army of Israel gathered near Jabesh, and the Ammonites were unaware of their coming doom. It was when the night watch was being changed and dawn arose. Just a few guards were fully awake, as the rest slumbered before what they thought was going to be a simple surrender. The Ammonites were completely surprised.
Splitting the army into three divisions of 110,000 each, Saul sent them to do battle down the valley below the town of Jabesh, probably in a pincer movement – a central body of men straight down the flat land of the valley into the camp, and the other two divisions flanking either side, using the hillsides to best advantage by swooping downward to stop escape. Then they closed in tighter and tighter until most of the Ammonites were killed. The few that remained were so scattered they were totally alone – not one fellow soldier was by the other’s side. And so they were all cut down by the wrath of God, effected through His servant, Saul.
“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.”
Christians usually only see the latter days of Saul, in his confusion, bitterness and paranoia. They seem to forget that his earlier days were godly and full of truth. On the day he fought the Ammonites, he pardoned those who did not wish him as their king, because God had saved Israel from destruction. Unfortunately, he habitually let other enemies off, against the wishes of Samuel, thus incurring God’s wrath that led to final earthly judgement upon him – his suicide on the field of battle.
So it is with us all: we can be godly and true, but can then spiral downward into sin and loss of God’s presence. Such a downturn is easy to accomplish, given our penchant for sin! That is why every day brings its own struggle to remain in His pleasure. We cannot sit down and be lax, or Satan will be only too pleased to help us toward evil, with a little nudge here and a small move there. Such occasions are ever with us, and the more active we are in God’s service, the more we can expect these darts of death. There is no resting place for the minister of God – and that goes for any Christian, for each of us is a minister.
“Then said Samuel to the people, Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there.
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.”
Though not mentioned until verse 12, we can take for granted that Samuel was present at everything that occurred from the moment word reached Gibeah. This is because he was usually present at every such occasion, including battles. At the time he was still the ruler of Israel and its high priest.
Samuel led everyone back to Gilgal (meaning a rolling wheel. Why a rolling wheel? Well, the word is based on a word very similar – galgal – meaning whirlwind, or whirl of dust/chaff. It is possible that the area had whirlwinds, or was a large agricultural centre used for threshing wheat), which was the first Hebrew camp developed into a major city. This was where Samuel was judge, the political and religious centre of all Israel.
The idea was to rebuild the nation there, as a city of royalty. Once there, Saul was officially made king – whether with a crown or not we do not know, but there was some kind of ceremony, as the wording suggests. Note that they made him ‘king before the LORD’. This means in the presence of God. This included a turning to, or back to, God. Thus, in repentance and in joy, the people repented and welcomed their king, probably in the temple grounds in sight of the Holy of Holies.
It is something we cannot understand – that God did not wish the people to have a king, but yet He accepted their praise at Saul’s inauguration, and even blessed him for a while. Often, God tolerates our errors and even (to a point) allows us His presence and blessings. Such is a mystery of Godhood.
At Gilgal, the people made peace offerings to God. These were voluntary offerings of thanks to God symbolising an alliance or friendship and seeking peace with Him. These offerings were made time and again throughout the history of ancient Israel, who continually sank to the most serious of errors, bringing much heartache and national destruction on their own heads.
At the end of this chapter we find Saul and all the people rejoicing before God. He delivered them from the hands of their enemies and renewed their faith as well. Saul had sealed his authority as king, by completely destroying the Ammonites. Only he had commanded Israel to rally together to fight, and the fight was won. So, Saul’s popularity took a new turn. He even forgave those who had turned against him.
We can see from the above there is no need to spiritualise texts – each text has its own ‘natural’ application to our own lives. The major lesson here is that when we rely only on God, and trust Him even when circumstances seem against us, then we will triumph over those circumstances. Not always exactly as we would like, perhaps, but always for our good.
© January 2000 (Revised January 2018)