Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 11:1
Saul's Victory over the Ammonites. - Even after the election by lot at Mizpeh, Saul did not seize upon the reins of government at once, but returned to his father's house in Gibeah, and to his former agricultural occupation; not, however, merely from personal humility and want of ambition, but rather from a correct estimate of the circumstances. The monarchy was something so new in Israel, that the king could not expect a general and voluntary recognition of his regal dignity and authority, especially after the conduct of the worthless people mentioned in Sa1 10:27, until he had answered their expectations from a king (Sa1 8:6, Sa1 8:20), and proved himself a deliverer of Israel from its foes by a victorious campaign. But as Jehovah had chosen him ruler over his people without any seeking on his part, he would wait for higher instructions to act, before he entered upon the government. The opportunity was soon given him.
Nahash, the king of the Ammonites (cf. Sa1 12:12; Sa2 10:2), attacked the tribes on the east of the Jordan, no doubt with the intention of enforcing the claim to part of Gilead asserted by his ancestor in the time of Jephthah (Jdg 11:13), and besieged Jabesh in Gilead,
(Note: The time of this campaign is not mentioned in the Hebrew text. But it is very evident from Sa1 12:12, where the Israelites are said to have desired a king, when they saw that Nahash had come against them, that Nahash had invaded Gilead before the election of Saul as king. The Septuagint, however, renders the words כמחרישׁ ויהי (Sa1 10:27) by καὶ ἐγενήθη ὡς μετὰ μῆνα, and therefore the translators must have read כּמחדשׁ, which Ewald and Thenius would adopt as an emendation of the Hebrew text. But all the other ancient versions give the Masoretic text, viz., not only the Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic, but even Jerome, who renders it ille vero dissimulabat se audire. It is true that in our present Vulgate text these words are followed by et factum est quasi post mensem; but this addition has no doubt crept in from the Itala. With the general character of the Septuagint, the rendering of כמחרישׁ by ὡς μετὰ μῆνα is no conclusive proof that the word in their Hebrew Codex was כּמחדשׁ; it simply shows that this was the interpretation which they gave to כמחריש. And Josephus (vi. 5, 1), who is also appealed to, simply establishes the fact that ὡς μετὰ μῆνα stood in the Sept. version of his day, since he made use of this version and not of the original text. Moreover, we cannot say with Ewald, that this was the last place in which the time could be overlooked; for it is perfectly evident that Nahash commenced the siege of Jabesh shortly after the election of Saul at Mizpeh, as we may infer from the verb ויּעל, when taken in connection with the fact implied in Sa1 12:12, that he had commenced the war with the Israelites before this. And lastly, it is much more probable that the lxx changed כמחריש into כמחדש, than that the Hebrew readers of the Old Testament should have altered כמחדש into כמחריש, without defining the time more precisely by אחד, or some other number.)
- according to Josephus the metropolis of Gilead, and probably situated by the Wady Jabes (see at Jdg 21:8); from which we may see that he must have penetrated very far into the territory of the Israelites. The inhabitants of Jabesh petitioned the Ammonites in their distress, "Make a covenant with us, and we will serve thee;" i.e., grant us favourable terms, and we will submit.
But Nahash replied, "On this condition (בּזאת, lit. at this price, בּ pretii) will I make a covenant with you, that I may put out all your right eyes, and so bring a reproach upon all Israel." From the fact that the infinitive נקור is continued with ושׂמתּי, it is evident that the subject to נקור is Nahash, and not the Israelites, as the Syriac, Arabic, and others have rendered it. The suffix to שׂמתּיה is neuter, and refers to the previous clause: "it," i.e., the putting out of the right eye. This answer on the part of Nahash shows unmistakeably that he sought to avenge upon the people of Israel the shame of the defeat which Jephthah had inflicted upon the Ammonites.
The elders of Jabesh replied: "Leave us seven days, that we may send messengers into all the territory of Israel; and if there is no one who saves us, we will come out to thee," i.e., will surrender to thee. This request was granted by Nahash, because he was not in a condition to take the town at once by storm, and also probably because, in the state of internal dissolution into which Israel had fallen at that time, he had no expectation that any vigorous help would come to the inhabitants of Jabesh. From the fact that the messengers were to be sent into all the territory of Israel, we may conclude that the Israelites had no central government at that time, and that neither Nahash nor the Jabeshites had heard anything of the election that had taken place; and this is still more apparent from the fact that, according to Sa1 11:4, their messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, and laid their business before the people generally, without applying at once to Saul.
Saul indeed did not hear of the matter will he came (returned home) from the field behind the oxen, and found the people weeping and lamenting at these mournful tidings. "Behind the oxen," i.e., judging from the expression "yoke of oxen" in Sa1 11:7, the pair of oxen with which he had been ploughing.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 11:6
When the report of the messengers had been communicated to him, "the Spirit of Jehovah came upon him, and his anger was kindled greatly," sc., at the shame which the Ammonites had resolved to bring upon all Israel.
He took a yoke of oxen, cut them in pieces, and sent (the pieces) into every possession of Israel by messengers, and said, "Whoever cometh not forth after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done unto his oxen." The introduction of Samuel's name after that of Saul, is a proof that Saul even as king still recognised the authority which Samuel possessed in Israel as the prophet of Jehovah. This symbolical act, like the cutting up of the woman in Jdg 19:29, made a deep impression. "The fear of Jehovah fell upon the people, so that they went out as one man." By "the fear of Jehovah" we are not to understand δεῖμα πανικόν (Thenius and Bttcher), for Jehovah is not equivalent to Elohim, nor the fear of Jehovah in the sense of fear of His punishment, but a fear inspired by Jehovah. In Saul's energetic appeal the people discerned the power of Jehovah, which inspired them with fear, and impelled them to immediate obedience.
Saul held a muster of the people of war, who had gathered together at (or near) Bezek, a place which was situated, according to the Onom. (s. v. Bezek), about seven hours to the north of Nabulus towards Beisan (see at Jdg 1:4). The number assembled were 300,000 men of Israel, and 30,000 of Judah. These numbers will not appear too large, if we bear in mind that the allusion is not to a regular army, but that Saul had summoned all the people to a general levy. In the distinction drawn between the children of Judah and the children of Israel we may already discern a trace of that separation of Judah from the rest of the tribes, which eventually led to a formal secession on the part of the latter.
The messengers from Jabesh, who had been waiting to see the result of Saul's appeal, were now despatched with this message to their fellow-citizens: "To-morrow you will have help, when the sun shines hot," i.e., about noon.
After receiving these joyful news, the Jabeshites announced to the Ammonites: "To-morrow we will come out to you, and ye may do to us what seemeth good to you," - an untruth by which they hoped to assure the besiegers, so that they might be fallen upon unexpectedly by the advancing army of Saul, and thoroughly beaten.
The next day Saul arranged the people in three divisions (ראשׁים, as in Jdg 7:16), who forced their way into the camp of the foe from three different sides, in the morning watch (between three and six o'clock in the morning), smote the Ammonites "till the heat of the day," and routed them so completely, that those who remained were all scattered, and there were not two men left together.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 11:12
Renewal of the Monarchy. - Saul had so thoroughly acted the part of a king in gaining this victory, and the people were so enthusiastic in his favour, that they said to Samuel, viz., after their return from the battle, "Who is he that said, Saul should reign over us!" The clause עלינוּ ימלך שׁאוּל contains a question, though it is indicated simply by the tone, and there is no necessity to alter שׁאוּל into השׁאוּל. These words refer to the exclamation of the worthless people in Sa1 10:27. "Bring the men (who spoke in this manner), that we may put them to death." But Saul said, "There shall not a man be put to death this day; for to-day Jehovah hath wrought salvation in Israel;" and proved thereby not only his magnanimity, but also his genuine piety.
(Note: "Not only signifying that the public rejoicing should not be interrupted, but reminding them of the clemency of God, and urging that since Jehovah had shown such clemency upon that day, that He had overlooked their sins, and given them a glorious victory, it was only right that they should follow His example, and forgive their neighbours' sins without bloodshed." - Seb. Schmidt.)
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 11:14
Samuel turned this victory to account, by calling upon the people to go with him to Gilgal, and there renew the monarchy. In what the renewal consisted is not clearly stated; but it is simply recorded in Sa1 11:15 that "they (the whole people) made Saul king there before the Lord in Gilgal." Many commentators have supposed that he was anointed afresh, and appeal to David's second anointing (Sa2 2:4 and Sa2 5:3). But David's example merely proves as Seb. Schmidt has correctly observed, that the anointing could be repeated under certain circumstances; but it does not prove that it was repeated, or must have been repeated, in the case of Saul. If the ceremony of anointing had been performed, it would no doubt have been mentioned, just as it is in Sa2 2:4 and Sa2 5:3. But ימלכוּ does not mean "they anointed," although the lxx have rendered it ἔχρισε Σαμουήλ, according to their own subjective interpretation. The renewal of the monarchy may very well have consisted in nothing more than a solemn confirmation of the election that had taken place at Mizpeh, in which Samuel once more laid before both king and people the right of the monarchy, receiving from both parties in the presence of the Lord the promise to observe this right, and sealing the vow by a solemn sacrifice. The only sacrifices mentioned are zebachim shelamim, i.e., peace-offerings. These were thank-offerings, which were always connected with a sacrificial meal, and when presented on joyous occasions, formed a feast of rejoicing for those who took part, since the sacrificial meal shadowed forth a living and peaceful fellowship with the Lord. Gilgal is in all probability the place where Samuel judged the people every year (Sa1 7:16). But whether it was the Gilgal in the plain of the Jordan, or Jiljilia on higher ground to the south-west of Shiloh, it is by no means easy to determine. The latter is favoured, apart from the fact that Samuel did not say "Let us go down," but simply "Let us go" (cf. Sa1 10:8), by the circumstance that the solemn ceremony took place after the return from the war at Jabesh; since it is hardly likely that the people would have gone down into the valley of the Jordan to Gilgal, whereas Jiljilia was close by the road from Jabesh to Gibeah and Ramah.