SAUL: The Courageous

1 Samuel 11

 Saul had been anointed Israel’s first king in the previous chapter and now in chapter 11 he has a chance to prove himself.  Following his declaration as king, Saul inexplicably went back to tending his father’s sheep.  Why did he do this?   Many Bible scholars point to Saul’s humility but it may very well be that Saul was demonstrating a measure of wisdom in returning home.  Israel had never had a king before so the monarchy was new and we have already read about some resistance Saul encountered from a bunch of worthless people (10:27).  Perhaps Israel’s first king went home to wait for God to act, after all, God had chosen Saul to rule over His people, Saul had no desire to become king, and perhaps Saul wisely decided to wait for further instructions from God through God’s prophet, Samuel. 

Saul’s chance to prove his worth as king would not be long in coming.  Dark storm clouds were gathering just over Israel’s horizon at a small town called Jabesh Gilead in the form of Israel’s bitter enemy, Nahash the Amorite.  Adelaide Anne Proctor in her work, Legends and Lyrics, Second Series, wrote this: 

Blessed are those who die for God,
And earn the Martyr’s crown of light–
Yet he who lives for God may be
A greater Conqueror in His sight

Saul was about to be given the opportunity to live for God and here, early in his career, he rises to the opportunity. 

1.  The bad news, verses 1—4

According to the Septuagint, this occurred about a month after the convocation at Mizpeh where Saul was anointed chosen to be king.   So for one month Saul went back to the life he knew so well. 

During this time, Israel’s enemy was on the move.  The Amorites were a group of Semitic people, prominent in the book of Judges, and were for the most part Bedouins who lived on the fringes of the desert, from where they continually raided border towns and cities.  In Judges 11:13 we read this—

The king of the Ammonites answered Jephthah’s messengers, “When Israel came up out of Egypt, they took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, all the way to the Jordan. Now give it back peaceably.”

It seems as though Nahash and his people laid claim to the land Jabesh Gilead was sitting on.  Nahash overwhelmed the townsfolk who were utterly defenseless and willing to surrender to the superior might of the Amorites.  Nahash had no problem making willing subjects out of the people, as long as he could gouge out their right eyes.  This would be considered a disgrace upon all Israel; a sign that the whole nation could not help one small town.

What a secondary but tremendous lesson here for Christians.  We cannot make peace and compromise with our enemy, the Devil.  He always extracts a hefty toll when we try to bargain with him.  Of course, he is ready, willing, and able to bargain with us.  Remember what happened to Samson when he compromised his integrity and honor for worldly passions?

Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison.  (Judges 16:21)

What a picture of what sin does to Christians:  it first blinds you to the seriousness of it, then it binds you; traps you in an endless cycle of sin, drawing you further and further in, and finally it grinds you, leaving you empty and cold.  The good people of Jabesh Gilead were willing to become subservient to the Amorites in exchange for their lives.

2.  The divine opportunity, verses 5, 6

Just then Saul was returning from the fields, behind his oxen, and he asked, “What is wrong with the people? Why are they weeping?” Then they repeated to him what the men of Jabesh had said.   When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he burned with anger.

Here is an effect the Holy Spirit has on a person that we don’t consider very often:  the Spirit came up Saul and he “burned with anger.”  Did you know that a believer can motivated by the Holy Spirit to “burn with anger” as much as be moved to compassion?  There may be one Spirit, but He manifests Himself in many different ways.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.  (1 Corinthians 12:4—6)

Why was Saul so angry?  Doubtless his anger was roused by the reproach brought upon the nation of Israel by the arrogant Nahash.  Does sin cause us to become angry?  There is a righteous anger, you know.  Christ expressed it.  So did Paul.  When was the last time sin against God caused you to become angry?  When was the last time your own sinfulness caused you to become angry?  

God took this deplorable situation and used it to motivate young Saul to action.  The Spirit of God filled Saul with a holy anger and empowered him as a righteous and powerful military leader.  This anointing from God lasted, apparently, until Samuel anointed David to replace Saul as king.

3.  The challenge, verse 7

He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, “This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel.”

Saul’s inspired reaction was to send out a general call to war throughout the tribes of Israel.  This call was graphically illustrated by chopping up his own oxen and displaying them.  This gory spectacle was like a loud trumpet blast in the ears of a drowsy nation.  We are told—

Then the terror of the LORD fell on the people, and they turned out as one man.

The “terror of the Lord” does not refer to some kind of divine punishment.  In fact, Saul’s appeal to fight was so powerful and so energetic and so enthusiastic, that the people of the nation, down to the last man, discerned that the power of God was now at work in Saul and it inspired them with a kind of holy fear and compelled them to follow Saul.  300,000 men from Israel and 30,000 from Judah rallied behind Saul and mobilized at Bezek, just across the Jordan from beleaguered Jabesh Gilead.

When a person is moved by the Holy Spirit, signs will follow.  Remember; the action of the Holy Spirit is contagious.   When a person yields himself to the Holy Spirit, others will do so.  When we are enthused about God and God’s work, it will motivate other believers.  When we are excited about our faith that excitement will touch other people; it will produce that same excitement in believers and curiosity in unbelievers.   Acts 4:13—

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

Fearlessness and courage are two things that will characterize a believer who is completely dedicated and devoted to Christ.

4.  A mighty victory, verses 8—11 

Being led by the Spirit of God, Saul had no problem with followers.  We may well imagine how the citizens of Jabesh Gilead felt when they received this message— 

‘By the time the sun is hot tomorrow, you will be delivered.’  (verse 9)

 That they were “elated” (NIV) was an understatement!  They would live, and they would live with both their eyes.   The timely arrival of Saul and his loyal forces serves as an excellent illustration of God’s mercy.  The besieged citizens were literally on the brink of destruction, about to become a life-long slaves to the Amorites and a reproach and an embarrassment to Israel.  Saul the Spirit led and Spirit empowered leader was able repel the enemy and deliver the people of Jabesh Gilead. 

There is literally nothing that a person filled with the Holy Spirit cannot do for the Kingdom of God.  There are many people today who are like the pitiful citizens of Jebesh Gilead:  threatened and taunted by the Devil, on the verge of being absorbed into the world around them.  People like that, who have been overtaken by sin are watching their witness for Christ slip away and their rescue is up to us; Spirit-filled warriors of Christ.   The words of Jude sound a clarion call to all of us— 

Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.  (Jude 22—24) 

Victory over the enemy comes when we begin see the enemy for who he is and we begin to hate him with everything inside us.  Too often we treat sin as mistakes or errors in judgment; we take sin and the Devil for too lightly.  We are, according to the inspired Word of God, to hate even clothing tinged with sin.  

5.  Mercy or weakness, verses 12—13 

The people then said to Samuel, “Who was it that asked, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring these men to us and we will put them to death.”

But Saul said, “No one shall be put to death today, for this day the LORD has rescued Israel.”

Saul’s complete and astonishing victory cemented the allegiance of the people.  In fact, in their new zealousness for the man who acted so kingly in battle, the people of Israel wished to execute the “sons of worthlessness” who had objected to Saul’s elevation to the throne just a short time earlier.  But Saul, proclaimed an amnesty, sparing them.  

Most Bible scholars point to Saul’s statesmanlike quality in demonstrating mercy toward the troublemakers.  But are we really witnessing mercy?  Or are we witnessing something else?   Is Saul being a good leader and king by allowing these men to live? 

In 1513 Machiavelli wrote a 100 page book on statecraft and the wielding of power called The Prince.  Here is his opinion: 

It is necessary for him who lays out a state and arranges laws for it to presuppose that all men are evil and that they are always going to act according to the wickedness of their spirits whenever they have free scope

Jesus Christ, in the Parable of the Ten Minas found in Luke 19:11—27, teaches us how a godly king shows mercy and leadership at the end of the story— 

“He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.” 

So was Saul showing magnanimous mercy to those who deserved it?  Or was he once again showing weakness, not strength?  Was there something in Saul that kept him from achieving greatness as Israel’s first king? 

Machiavelli was right, as far as he went.  Human beings are not basically good; they are sinful and they are corrupt and in their hearts, evil.  Saul was Israel’s first king.  It was a position he neither considered nor coveted; it was literally thrust upon him in a moment.  He was God’s man and the people’s choice.  But he was a poor choice for he was a mirror reflection of the people who chose him.  Saul would prove to be much like the people he just saved in Jabesh Gilead:  a fearful, double-minded compromiser who cared more for his own comforts than for the God he claimed to represent. 

6.  Reaffirmation, verses 14, 15 

Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there reaffirm the kingship.”  So all the people went to Gilgal and confirmed Saul as king in the presence of the LORD. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the LORD, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration. 

This was the public confirmation of the private call of God.  Gilgal was famous for being a place of suffering and humiliation.  Joshua 5:2— 

At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” 

The reason God wanted Joshua to do this was because it had been left undone for a generation— 

All the people that came out (of Egypt) had been circumcised, but all the people born in the desert during the journey from Egypt had not.  (verse 5) 

This situation had to be set right so that the people could continue to be obedient in their new land.  It was here, in this place of historical significance, that all of Israel affirmed the choice of Saul as king.  

Unfortunately, the celebration that followed would give way to disobedience and disappointment.  The true state of Saul’s heart would work itself out in his actions.   The  prophet Jeremiah wrote these telling words concerning the true state of the human heart–

The heart is deceitful above all things
       and beyond cure.
       Who can understand it?  (Jeremiah 17:9)

And Jesus warned–

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.  (Luke 6:45)

No wonder David prayed–

Hide your face from my sins
       and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
       and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence 
       or take your Holy Spirit from me.  (Psalm 51:9-11)

(c)  2009 WitzEnd 

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