Scripture Text – 1 Samuel 7-11
For centuries, the people of Israel had looked to Jehovah as their King, but then they came to a point where they asked the Lord to give them a king just like the other nations. It was a critical time in the history of Israel, and it took the prayers and guidance of Samuel to bring them safely through this dangerous time of transition.
Serving The Lord
Please read 1 Samuel 11:1-15 to get the background for this section.
One of the reasons Israel asked for a king was so the nation could unite behind one leader and have a better opportunity to face their enemies. The Lord however stooped down to their level of unbelief, and He gave them a king who looked like a natural warrior. How sad it is that God’s people trusted a man of clay whom they could admire, and yet they would not trust the Lord who throughout the nation’s history had proven Himself powerful on their behalf. In His grace, God gave Saul an opportunity to prove himself and consolidate his authority, as flawed as the Lord knew he was.
The challenge (1 Samuel 11:1-3). The Ammonites were descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot (Genesis 19:30–38) and therefore related to the Jewish people. The dangers posed by Nahash (“snake”) and his army had helped to motivate the Jews to ask for a king, and now Nahash was encamped around Jabesh Gilead, a city about fifty miles from Saul’s home. Rather than engage in a long and costly siege however, Nahash offered to negotiate with the people in the city and let them live. All he demanded was that they submit to the humiliating and crippling punishment of having their right eyes gouged out. Archers and swordsmen would be handicapped in battle, and everybody would be humiliated and marked as defeated prisoners of war. Without having to kill anybody, Nahash could subdue the city, take its wealth, and enslave the people. He had done this to others previously and most likely assumed the Israelites would be no different.
Wisely, the elders of the city asked for a week’s delay, hoping to find somebody who could rescue them, and Nahash agreed, thinking that weak Israel couldn’t muster an army. It’s interesting that nobody from Jabesh Gilead responded to the call to arms when the nation had to punish the wickedness of Gilead in Benjamin (Judges 21:8–9), but now they were asking their fellow Jews to come and rescue them!
The conquest (1 Samuel 11:4-11). It’s strange that the messengers from Jabesh Gilead didn’t hasten to contact Samuel and Saul first of all. Samuel their prophet had prayed and God gave victory over the Philistines, and Saul their new king had the crux of an army. It would take time for the Jews to get accustomed to the new form of government. So, when the news finally arrived, Saul was plowing in the field with the oxen. The Jews were noted for their loud and passionate expressions of grief, and when Saul heard the people weeping, he asked them what was causing all the weeping and grief. No sooner did the king understand the situation than he experienced an overflowing anointing of the Spirit of God and his own spirit was filled with righteous indignation that such a thing should happen in Israel.
Instantly Saul moved into action and in a dramatic way sent the message to the men of Israel that they were needed for battle. He also identified himself with Samuel when he issued the call to arms, for he and Samuel were working together. The Lord worked on Saul’s behalf by putting fear in the hearts of the people so that 330,000 men gathered for battle. Saul mustered the army at Bezek, about twenty miles from Jabesh Gilead, and then sent a message to the city that help was coming the next day before midmorning. Shrewdly and wisely, the citizens told the Ammonites that they would surrender the next day, and this gave Nahash the kind of false confidence that threw the entire army off guard.
To Be Continued