(1 Samuel 11:1-15) King Saul shows himself worthy of the Kingdom by his prompt action in the case of the Siege of Jabesh-gilead by the Ammonites. He is universally acknowledged Sovereign.
It was, no doubt, to avenge the disgrace they had suffered at the hands of Jephthah that their warlike monarch, Nahash,—deeming the opportunity a favourable one, owing to the old age of the reigning judge, Samuel,—invaded the Israelitic country bordering upon his kingdom, and besieged the city of Jabesh-gilead.
Make a covenant with us.—The citizens of Jabesh-gilead, feeling their isolation and comparative remoteness from the chief centre of the people, were willing to pay a tribute to the Ammonite king, and made him overtures to this effect.
The object of Nahash’s cruelty was to incapacitate the inhabitants of Jabesh from ever further assisting his enemies in war; they would henceforth be blinded in the right eye, while the left eye would be concealed by the shield which fighting-men were in the habit of holding before them.
And all the people lifted up their voices, and wept.—This is exactly what might have been expected from Benjamites hearing of the terrible straits into which the city they all loved so well, and which was united to them by such close bonds of friendship and alliance, was reduced; but though they grieved so deeply, they do not seem of themselves to have been able to devise any plan for its relief, until their great fellow-citizen took the matter in hand.
We read of the Spirit of the Lord coming upon men like Othniel (Judges 3:10) and the other great Israelitic judges, who were raised up to be in their day the deliverers of the people; and the immediate result of the Spirit of the Lord coming upon them was to impart new and unusual power to their spirit, power which enabled them successfully to surmount every danger and difficulty which barred the progress of the great work they were specially called upon to do.
On this strange war-signal of king Saul, Ewald, in his History of Israel, Book II., section iii. 1 (note), remarks, “how in like manner it was formerly the custom in Norway to send on the war-arrow; and in Scotland a fire-brand, with both ends dipped in blood, was dispatched as a war-token.”
Not improbably Saul cut the oxen into eleven pieces, and sent one to each of the other tribes.
And the fear of the Lord fell on the people.—It was some such mighty awakening under the influence of the Spirit of the Eternal, as is here related of King Saul, which suggested to the poet Asaph the bold but splendid image of the seventy-eighth Psalm, when, after describing in moving language the degradation and bitter woe of fallen Israel, the singer, struck with a new inspiration, bursts forth with “Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine. And he smote his enemies,” &c. (Psalm 78:65). “The people rose as one man” (see margin) against the enemies of their national freedom. It was the same Spirit of the Lord which inspired Saul to put himself at the head of the children of Israel which now laid hold of all the people, lifting them up, and giving them new strength and resistless courage, and the mighty feeling that God was with them.
It was owing to some influence of a similar nature that with scanty numbers, ill-armed and ill-trained, the Swiss won for their land centuries of freedom on memorable fields like Laupen and Morat, though the proudest chivalry of Europe was arrayed against them. it was the same Spirit which impelled the peace-loving traders of the marshes of Holland to rise as one man, and to drive out for ever from their loved strip of fen land the hitherto invincible armies of Spain. No oppressor, though backed by the wealth and power of an empire, has ever been able to resist the smallest people in whose heart has burned the flame of the Divine fire of the “fear of the Lord.”
The children of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand.—It has been suggested that this verse was the addition of some late reviser of the book, who lived in the northern kingdom after the final separation of Israel and Judah, but such a supposition is not necessary to account for the separate mention of Judah and Israel, or for the apparently great disproportion in the numbers supplied by the great southern tribe. The chronicler, with pardonable exultation, specially mentions the splendid result of the young hero’s first summons to the tribes, adding, with perhaps an undertone of sadness, that the rich and populous Judah to that great host only contributed 30,000. There is no doubt, as Dean Payne Smith well observes, that “as a matter of fact Judah always stood apart until there was a king who belonged to itself. Then, in David’s time, it first took an active interest in the national welfare, and it was its vast power and numbers which made the shepherd-king, who sprang from Judah, so powerful.” In the reign of King Asa of Judah, the numbers of the men of war of that proud tribe amounted to 300,000. It is, however, to be remembered that in the Old Testament Books, owing to the mistakes of copyists, numbers are not always to be strictly relied upon.
For to day the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel.—And as yet unspoiled, the king’s heart was full of humble reverent piety. By this first public act of pardon, he “not only signified that the public rejoicing should not be interrupted, but reminded them of the clemency of God, and urged that since Jehovah had shown such clemency upon that day, that He overlooked their sins, and had given them a glorious victory. it was only right they should follow His example, and forgive their neighbours’ sins without bloodshed.” (Seb. Schmidt, quoted by Keil and Delitsch.)
And renew the kingdom there.—There had been, as Samuel and Saul well remembered, many murmurings on the occasion of the original royal election at Mizpeh. Then the people had by no means unanimously accepted as sovereign the Benjamite who was now crowned with the glory of a splendid success. The seer, with striking generosity to one who superseded him in his position as judge, again presented the hero Saul to Israel as their anointed king.