I Samuel 11
The dramatic events recorded in I Sam. 10 happened so quickly. There was the anointing of Saul by Samuel, then Samuel’s meeting up with various groups of people, his reception of the prophetic gift, his return home and finally Samuel’s designating him as King over Israel. He is the anointed King, to be sure, but he also seems to share the prophetic office, with the spirit “jumping” on him (mentioned in 10:6, εφαλλομαι; and 10:10, αλλομαι). He has become a new man, according to God, but what his new role is, and who the new man is, is unclear.
Until I Sam. 11. The purpose of this chapter is to show how Saul acts when he gets the opportunity to show regal leadership. It all happened about a month after the events of I Sam. 10. The men of Jabesh in Israel were harassed by the neighboring Ammonites. The Jabeshites knew their own vulnerability and said, “We will serve you” (δουλούσομεν). But the Ammonites rejected this offer by insulting them. The Ammonites demanded the impossible: that the Jabeshites would serve the Ammonites all right, but that the Ammonites would also have the right to gouge out their right eyes. Thus they would place shame (ὄνειδος) on Israel (v 2). The Jabeshites requested seven days to formulate a response. There it is—seven days again (cf. 10:8).
Not knowing what else to do, the Jabeshites sent messengers to Saul. The text doesn’t even say that they requested help—they just reported the demand of the Ammonites. While the people were weeping and not knowing what do, Saul came in “from the field after the morning” (μετὰ τὸ πρωὶ ἐξ ἀγροῦ, v 5). Once the words of the sons of Jabesh were reported to Saul, an interesting thing happened. There is no mention of a council of elders sitting down to consider what to do, or Saul ordering people to devise a response to the Ammonites. The thing that happens is that the Spirit once again “jumps on” Saul (εφαλλομαι, same verb as in 10:6; here it is 11:6). but it doesn’t end there. Saul is also said to be angry: ἐθυμώθη ἐπ᾽ αὐτοὺς ὀργὴ αὐτοῦ σφόδρα, “and his wrath was kindled against them, exceedingly so.” So we have the potent combination of the Spirit’s jumping and exceedingly great anger.
Saul devises a method to get the entire people to support his venture. He dismembers (verb is μελίζω, or to cut them in parts) two oxen and sends them throughout the kingdom with the warning: so shall your oxen be if you don’t show up to fight for us. The effect on the hearers is electric, with the author using the word εκστασις to describe it. εκστασις appears about two dozen times in the LXX and its basic meaning is to be thrown out of one’s normal mind. One is not simply “ecstatic” as we might say, but one is fully amazed, fully captivated, probably by the bold demand of Saul and the realization that this is a defining moment for the people. What is interesting is that when the numbers of those showing up are counted, they are counted as if Israel already is a two-part nation: Israel and Judah (v 8). This probably reflects an editor’s view from the time of the divided monarchy, though it is surprising to see it said in this way here.
Well, the gathered troops, 670,000 of them, show up and join in battle against the Ammonites. Numbers are notoriously slippery in ancient texts, and this number seem inflated, but the point is that there was enormous support for Saul’s demand. The fight then followed. Verse 11 shows Saul also as a military strategist, dividing the troops into three large companies. They enter into the Ammonite camp during the first watch and strike them down for several hours. A complete victory for the people of God results. So convincing was the victory that the text tells us that two people of the enemy couldn’t even be seen together—an interesting way of pointing out their complete scattering (11:11).
In the wake of this victory two things should be noted: first, there was a movement afoot to kill the people who had expressed opposition to Saul’s kingship (the ‘pestilential” fellows of 10:27), but Saul shows his magnanimity by saying that the day of victory was not the day to kill some of their own. Second, Samuel decided that it was necessary to “renew the kingship” (ἐγκαινίσωμεν ἐκεῗ τὴν βασιλείαν, v 14), including meeting together in a formal ceremony. That will take place in the next chapter.
I Samuel 12
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