Under the mutual obligations that were made between king and people at the end of the last chapter, Samuel sent everyone to their homes. Saul went back to Gibeah to wait for an occasion to assume command, but he was not permitted to remain in obscurity for very long. The firstfruits of his government were about to be shown. One evening, as he came home from the fields, he heard wails of distress and panic; and as he drew near to Gibeah, he asked what it meant. And then the story was told.
On the eastern side of the Jordan River, the city of Jabesh-gilead was being hard pressed by the Ammonites. These enemies of Israel had been disastrously defeated by Jephthah less than 60 years before, but they had never relinquished their claim to the land. Under Nahash, their king, they had gathered in overwhelming numbers around the besieged city. Its citizens had tried their best to extricate themselves, but in vain. Despairing of aid from their fellow-Israelites in the disturbed state of affairs which still prevailed, they had offered to become tributaries; but King Nahash had brutally refused this proposal, except upon the condition that every man in the city should lose his right eye – thereby making them useless for purposes of war, so that they could never again rise up against him; for the left eye was always covered by the shields that were carried in times of battle. The people of Jabesh-gilead had only been able to extract one week of respite from the contemptuous clemency of Nahash; and if no deliverance came to them by the end of that week, then the right eye of every man in the city would be put out. In the midst of this extremity, they sent an urgent request for immediate help from their countrymen. In order to save their lives, people will part with their liberty, and they may even consent to have their eyes put out. Is it not wisdom, therefore, to part with those sins which are as dear to us as our right eye, rather than to be cast into hell-fire?
In despair, the messengers from Jabesh-gilead came to Gibeah. We will recall from the Book of Judges that Jabesh-gilead had refused to join in the war of extermination against the tribe of Benjamin over 300 years earlier, and 400 of their maidens had been given in marriage to the remnant of the Benjamites. Therefore, a blood-tie existed between the people of Jabesh and Gibeah; and in this awful hour, the former felt that they had a claim for help from the latter. If they would not help, who would? But the people of Gibeah despaired, too! It seemed to be impossible – in such a short time – to send effectual help.
The day threatened to close in hopeless despondency. But then the man of humility from the last chapter became suddenly aware of the uprising of an entirely new power within his heart! We are told that “the Spirit of God came mightily upon Saul.” He met the appeal of the Gileadites with courage, and he sent a kingly summons to the hosts of Israel. How loyally was his will obeyed! The fear of the Lord called forth the people; and Saul found himself at the head of 330,000 men, whom he divided into three groups. They came into the midst of the enemy host during 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” (verse 11).
The Lord blessed the Israelites with victory in this warfare, and the people were enthusiastic in their king. Even those who had despised Saul (chapter 10:27) now honored him. So great was the people’s loyalty after this battle, that they wished to destroy all detractors; but after the Lord had worked such a wonderful salvation for Israel, Saul desired that no vengeance should be taken on the malignants. Similarly, the once-despised Savior will at length be acknowledged by all people as the Lord’s own anointed King! As yet, upon His mercy-seat, He receives the submission of rebels, and He even pleads their cause; but shortly, from His righteous tribunal, He will condemn all who persist in opposing Him.
This was a favorable time for Samuel to make final arrangements for the establishment of the kingdom. He called the people to Gilgal – a scene of historic interest and Divine blessing. It was here that Israel first encamped in the Promised Land, and it was here that the ordinances of circumcision and the Passover were first observed again after a long interdict upon them. It was here that they had renewed their Covenant-promises and – as a nation united to God – took possession of the land of Canaan. Here stood the pillar composed of the twelve memorial-stones taken from the riverbed of the Jordan. It was fitting, therefore, that Gilgal should be the scene of the formal establishment of Israel’s monarchy. To this place, the people gathered; and the ceremonies were performed by which Saul was confirmed as king, under God, over His people Israel.
This was a happy day for the nation. Samuel had reason to be glad, and the king and the people also had abundant cause for joy. The monarchy had been established, and God had smiled upon the first royal act of Saul. Jabesh-gilead had been relieved, and the Ammonites were overthrown. The nation had united in a public service of gratitude. On a theatre so full of historic interest, they all rejoiced greatly! The joy of the Lord is the strength of His people; it is a perpetual spring of peace and happiness that no one can take away. It gives a song in the night, and it makes our wilderness-experience happy; and it will raise a song of triumph when we reach the eternal shore, where everlasting joy shall be upon our heads, and sorrow and sighing shall be unknown!
O precious Savior! We give thanks to You for coming to our rescue when we were in slavery to sin, and for crushing all our enemies under Your feet! Amen.
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