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In this chapter, we see how Saul steps into his position as king by taking a stand against the Ammonites, protecting his people, and earning their respect.
This story begins with a man named Nahash who was the king of the children of Ammon. The Ammonites and Moabites are both descendants of the same ancestor whose name is Lot, Abrahams’s brother. The Ammonites have a problem with Israel, they claim Israel had taken a portion of their territory. This belief led them to, during the days of Judges, harass the people. One of the ways they did this was by gouging out the right eye of every man. It was the Hebrew judge Jephthah who led an attack against them, defeating them. Fast forward to the time of Saul and King Nahash is still bitter about the disgrace his people faced during that defeat.
Nahash looks at this moment to be the best time to seek revenge. Samuel the current judge is old and on the edge of retirement and Saul, the newly appointed king is inexperienced and viewed as weak. The territory of Jabesh-Gilead bordered the Ammonite land so the king decided to begin the harassment by surrounding that city.
Decades before when the Ammonites were wreaking havoc about 7,000 Israelites fled to Jabesh-Gilead and found sanctuary there. They were well aware of the devastation the Ammonites could inflict on them. They also may have felt that their isolation from the rest of their people left them without protection. This fear caused them to partner with the enemy. They partnered with the enemy instead of trusting their God. They believed the enemy would be honorable and stay true to his word, they hoped he would extend mercy to them if they agreed to live under his authority.
Nahash was willing to take them up on their offer under one condition. He wanted revenge and he wanted to bring disgrace on Israel. He agreed, “I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel.” The elders hesitate a bit over this condition, in response, they ask for a grace period to think about it. The elders ask for seven days, agreeing if no one comes to their rescue they will surrender to Nahash.
This conversation is interesting to me. The Israelites ask Nahash to work with them, hoping this would get him to ease up on his harassment. Nahash gives them a yes, with one condition. The Israelites must have been insulted with that condition so they tell the king they will agree after seven days and only if no one comes to their rescue. The Israelites believe that Saul or even Samuel would come to their rescue. When I think about this conversation I imagine Nahash scoffing at the elders and rolling his beady eyes. As I said earlier he doesn’t see the current leadership as being a threat to him and he turns this into a bit of a cat/mouse game.
The Jabesh-Gilead was stuck between a rock and a hard place and that caused them to put their fear aside and reach out for help. They sent messengers to Gibeah of Saul or Saul’s hometown. This horrible news caused the people to weep loudly throughout the city.
Do you know the Lord hears the cries of His people? The Lord heard the cries of his children over this threat and He moved, He moved big time, it says so right here in vs. 6, “When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger”. This would be righteous anger, anger that moves against the enemy and is powered by the will of God. There are a plethora of stories in the Bible telling how the Spirit of the Lord would settle on Israel’s judges causing an immediate and unusual surge of power that would give them the ability to successfully defend their people and to defeat the enemy.
That is what is happening to Saul in this story. The Spirit fell and Saul was endued with extraordinary wisdom, valor, and power to stand against his enemy. It’s interesting because everything Saul did was in the natural, meaning, he didn’t do anything particularly supernatural, yet God settled on him to make it possible. Everything Saul did could have been done by anyone else, it wasn’t a special skill to chop an ox into pieces. A supernatural ability was not needed to send messengers to the other tribes.
During biblical days, credit was given to the Lord for all acts of protection, and intervention even though it was through man, no matter how supernatural or basic it seemed. God was given credit. In today’s modern world we tend to give credit to the man for using his wisdom and instincts rather than giving credit to God. We tend to knock the move of the Lord down a few pegs rather than exalting the move of the Lord. We dumb down our testimonies of what the Lord has done, rather than declaring that this is what the Lord has done. This is the Spirit of the Lord at work.
While what Saul physically did was not incredibly superhuman, he did use divine wisdom and divine knowledge. Saul was on his way back to his farm following behind his oxen. Once he heard the news of the threat to his people, he took those oxen and cut them into 11 pieces, then had them Fed-exed throughout Israel, one to each of the other tribes. This was seen as a war cry, it was a way of rallying the troops. Opening the box and seeing the chunk of beef was just the visual the people needed to be awakened to fight their enemy, to stand as one nation under God.
The box also contained a message, a public address if you will. Saul declared, “This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel.” First of all, Samuel isn’t finished yet, and I love that Saul includes him, he recognizes that he still needs Samuel to mentor him, he still has room to grow and he needs Samuel’s anointing to do it. Secondly, this is why I think this action showed divine wisdom and knowledge. The Lord knows the heart of his people, and he knows what will get them to move into action. Apparently, the thought of having their oxen chopped up into thick steaks is what moved them into action.
Saul managed to muster together 330,000 men in Bezek. The plan came together and the details were worked out. By the time the sun was hot the next day, they would be there to rescue them from the hands of the Ammonites. The elders in Jabesh-Gilead did not want the king to develop any suspicions so they lied to him. Yes, people told lies and those lies are recorded in the Bible. We are not supposed to lie, but there are very specific times in the Bible when lies were used to defeat an enemy. I suppose there are always people who have no problem lying and they will be used by the Lord too.
Saul separated his troops into three divisions and sometime between 2 and 6 AM they began their attack. This battle raged until about noon. The slaughtering lasted for many hours, any remaining Ammonites were scattered so much that no two of them were left together.
Saul and Samuel stood as a united front. Together they represent both the physical strength and spiritual strength of the Lord. Together they are a team and together they are leading this nation. So I leave you with this thought, who are you partnering with? Who does the Lord want you to team up with?