A drawing of lots before a large throng of people at Mizpeh disclosed that Saul, a Benjamite, was to become the first king of Israel. The people loudly demanded to see the man, but he couldn’t be found (I Sam. 10:17-21).
The continued boisterous demands of the crowd became wearying to Samuel. He realized that the people wouldn’t be satisfied until Saul appeared. Samuel was certain that Saul couldn’t be very far away because he had seen him earlier in the day. Searching had been futile. The only thing left to do was to take the matter to God who had just performed a miracle for Israel by causing certain lots to be drawn.
“We humbly ask you to make known to us where Saul is,” Samuel asked God.
“He is hiding in the mass of carts and camping gear brought in by the people who arrived this morning,” a voice said to Samuel.
The elderly prophet immediately advised his aides where to look. Shortly afterward they returned with Saul, who was greatly embarrassed.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized to Samuel. “The thought of appearing before such a large crowd was too much for me.”
“Buck up!” Samuel smiled. ‘You’ll be all right. Pull yourself up to your full height and walk with me out before the people.”
It was difficult for the young Benjamite to go before such a throng as though he were something on display, but he obediently accompanied Samuel to the elevated place where the lots had been cast.
“This is Saul, the man who will be your king!” Samuel called out to the people as he took the younger man by the arm and gently pushed him forward (I Sam. 10:22-23).
A mighty cheer welled up from the crowd at sight of the large, tall, athletic and handsome man. The cheering continued for so long that Samuel finally held up his hands for silence, but the noise of the crowd didn’t die down right away.
“Your God has chosen this man for you!” Samuel called out to the people. “You see for your selves that there is none quite like him in all of Israel!”
Another long cheer came from the crowd. Gradually it turned into a disorganized chant, finally developing into a definite statement.
“Long live the king!” the people shouted over and over. This expression of affection for royalty has lasted to this day.
After Saul walked out of view, the voices gradually ceased. Samuel then outlined to the people the changes that would be required because of a different kind of government soon to go into effect.
“Return to your homes, and may God be with you,” was the last thing Samuel said to the assembled Israelites (I Sam. 10:24-25).
Carefully eluding the people, Saul set out for his home in Gibeah to continue working on his father’s farm. This was according to Samuel’s suggestion. The older man knew that it was up to God to create a situation that would lead to Saul’s coming into active leadership of Israel.
Saul didn’t go home by himself, though possibly he would have preferred to do so because of his retiring nature. Whether or not he liked it, he was accompanied by a number of trusted men whose business it was to make certain that he arrive safely at his father’s farm – and thereafter to serve as his royal attendants.
For days after his returning home, many people came to bring him gifts and wish him well. At the same time there were some who came to jeer at him and taunt him with insulting remarks. Large and strong as he was, Saul could have given these hoodlums some painful moments. But he realized that a king should never brawl nor lay hands on his taunters. Nor should anyone who lives by God’s laws, for that matter. Saul controlled himself to the point that he didn’t even act as though he heard them (I Sam. 10:26-27). However, because Saul did not receive the complete support of the people, he was unable to set up a royal organization. Saul waited patiently until circumstances should work toward his being more widely accepted.
Shortly after lots had been drawn to determine the man who should become Israel’s first king, an Ammonite army appeared in the area of Jabesh-gilead, a city just east of the Jordan River in the territory of Gad.
The inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead were fearful when they saw such a fighting force approaching, but they were filled with panic when the Ammonite army marched up and completely surrounded their city. The people weren’t equipped to fight off armed besiegers. This could mean being bottled up until food ran out, if the enemy chose to stay that long. If the Ammonites chose to attack, defeat would be only that much sooner. All they could do would be to throw themselves on the Ammonites mercy – if any. And the Ammonites were known as a very cruel people.
The leaders of Jabesh-gilead made their decision, and fearfully went to confer with their besiegers.
Now Nahash, the Ammonite king, was a harsh, arrogant man who was intent on driving Israel out from the territory east of the Jordan River. He was aware that Israel under Jephthah’s leadership had crushed his nation’s army nearly forty years previously. And he felt that it was time the score was more than evened.
“For Israelites, you show considerable courage,” Nahash observed sarcastically as he stared at the leaders of Jabesh-gilead. “Surely you are aware that the people of your city are alive only because I prefer to take my time in destroying them!”
“We realize that,” the Gadites replied uneasily. “But by fighting to the end, we could make your siege costly. We’re here to tell you that we are willing to become your servants if you will agree to spare us.”
Nahash gazed at them in disbelief. Then he broke out into a roar of hoarse laughter. When he finished laughing, his expression abruptly changed again.
“My only agreement with you,” he spat at the Gadites, “is that I will scoop out the right eyeball of every man in Jabesh-gilead! That would prevent you from ever taking up arms against me and should give the rest of Israel something to think about” (I Sam. 11:1-2)!
The Gadites were startled at this cruel declaration, but they made one more attempt at trying to save their city.
“Please give us seven more days of freedom,” they humbly asked the glaring Nahash.
“Now why should I spare your city for seven more days?” the Ammonite leader slowly asked in mock concern.
“So that we may send messengers to other Israelites tribes to bring us help,” they explained. “If no one comes to rescue us within a week, then do as you will with us.”
Nahash glanced around wide-eyed at his officers.
“Have you ever heard anything like this?” he asked. “We have come many miles over a hot desert to conquer these people, and they have the gall to suggest that we postpone the conquering until they can scrape together an army to try to fight us off!”
“You fear that an Israelite army will come if we send the messengers?” the Gadites bravely asked, knowing that such a question might be their last.
For a moment it seemed that Nahash would become very angry. It was evident that he was making an effort to control himself. Then a bitter grin crept over his swarthy face.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I were to tell you that I don’t fear any part or all of Israel,” he muttered slowly as he leaned forward and shook his finger at the Gadites. “Just to prove my contempt for your nation, I’m going to give you those seven days you’ve asked for! You have my permission to alert all your tribes. If they send an army here, than that will spare me the trouble of going over the Jordan to destroy it! Now go” (I Sam. 11:3)!
As soon as the Gadites had disappeared from view, Nahash’s officers began to express their concern because of what could result from their king’s rash promise.
“We’ll see to it that those messengers never get far from Jabesh-gilead, sir,” they told Nahash.
“Why bother?” the king grinned. “We know that Israel doesn’t have a standing army. It would be impossible to form one and move it here within a week. After we’ve taken Jabesh-gilead, we’ll clear the Israelites out of the land east of the Jordan. Then we’ll give some attention to those on the other side of the river.”
So saying, Nahash settled back to enjoy a glass of wine. His officers withdrew, their exchanged glances making it plain that they didn’t completely share their leader’s confidence.
Not long afterward messengers arrived in various parts of Canaan with the startling news that the Ammonites were besieging Jabesh-gilead, and would move into western Canaan unless an army could be sent at once to stop them.
The messengers were not sent directly to new king Saul for help. Although they had accepted Saul as their king, most Israelites knew he was just a farmer with no military background. They had little confidence in his ability to save them. Saul had not yet proved himself to them.
As in other parts of Canaan, the people of Gibeah, Saul’s home town, fell into a state of fear when they heard the news. Some were so terrified at what they imagined would happen that they went around shrieking and moaning.
Saul knew nothing of all this until after a messenger had arrived in Gibeah. He was driving a herd of cattle in from a grazing area when one of his men met him to tell him what had happened (I Sam. 11:4-5).
These events having to do with the Ammonites triggered Saul into action as the king of Israel. He knew he had an immediate responsibility to the people of Jabesh-gilead. He was so moved by the threat of one of Israel’s ancient enemies that he decided to whip up a fighting force immediately. As a means of getting fast action, he sent pieces of freshly-butchered work bulls to the leaders of the tribes of Israel. The messengers who brought the pieces explained to the leaders that it was a reminders from Saul and Samuel that their bulls, too, would be slashed up in like pieces – unless the leaders immediately sent armed men to help rescue the people of Jabesh-gilead.
This edict was promptly obeyed by the leaders, who feared what God might do to them if they failed to deliver the men. Within hours thousands of able men were swarming into Bezek, a town west of the Jordan River not far from Jabesh-gilead.
Meanwhile, the men who had come from Jabesh-gilead returned to their city with news that help would be there by about mid-morning of the next day. The leaders were so happy to hear that rescue was on the way that they decided to talk to Nahash again.
“We have decided to surrender to you,” the Gadites told the Ammonite king. “By tomorrow our people will come out to you. We hope that you will spare our city, if not us.”
“A very touching performance,” Nahash grinned, nodding knowingly. “Why speak of surrender when you have no choice? I’ve given you your chance, but don’t think that your people will get away with keeping any valuable possessions. Everything they bring out with them will be examined by my men. Now enjoy your last few hours with the sight of both eyes. By tomorrow night every man of you will have only one good eye!”
Back in Bezek, Saul was pleased at the count of Israelites who had rallied in defense of Jabesh-gilead and the nation of Israel. Closer to a third of a million men showed up. Most of them were untrained, but all were armed and ready to fight (I Sm. 11:6-10).
Although Saul had never commanded an army, he was inspired in what to do. He lost no time in getting the men by night across the Jordan River. There he divided them into three parts. Each division was commanded by a man who had military experience. One was sent south of Jabesh-gilead to wait unto dawn. Another was dispatched to a point out of sight north of the city to wait until the same time. The third stayed on the west side toward the river.
By dawn next day, Nahash was getting anxious for the people of Jabesh-gilead to come out of the city.
“I’ll give them just a little while longer,” he grumbled to his officers. “Then it they’re not out, pull up your equipment and batter the gates in!”
At that moment an excited lookout raced up to Nahash’s tent.
“Many men are approaching on foot from the west!” he panted.
The Ammonite king lunged to his feet and strode outside with his officers. When he saw the dark line of humanity spreading across the plain, in the early dawn light, his anger was greater than his surprise.
“Those Gadites are trying to trick me!” he snapped. “Form all the men in their fighting ranks except enough to guard the gates of the city! We’ll settle with those Gadites as soon as we wipe out our attackers!”
Ammonite officers began barking orders. The circle of Ammonite soldiers melted away from around Jabesh-gilead. While men were moving swiftly and noisily about, another excited lookout was desperately trying to make himself heard.
“An army is coming from the north!” he kept yelling.
An officer finally heard him, and rushed the report to Nahash. At first the Ammonite leader wouldn’t believe it, but when the oncoming men were pointed out to him, his angry mood started to turn to one of concern. He shouted orders to his officers to change battle tactics. Officers yelled new orders to their men, who began to become confused. Then someone noticed that both attacking bodies of men had ceased moving. The Ammonites were puzzled, but all they could do was stand and wait or flee.
“Hah! Perhaps they’re losing their nerve, now that they see how many there are of us,” Nahash remarked as he stared intently at one group and then at the other.
There was an excited shout from several Ammonite soldiers who were pointing southward. Nahash looked to see a third army coming into view over the low hills! Glancing to the north and to the west, he saw that the other two divisions were approaching again. It was plain to him then that the first two divisions had halted to await the arrival of the third so that all three could attack at once!
For a moment Nahash was tempted to give the command to retreat to the east. Many of his soldiers, including himself, were mounted and could easily have escaped. But he knew that he would have to account to his people for leaving his foot soldiers behind to be slain. The only thing to do was to spread out and meet that oncoming human vise.
Minutes later arose the harsh shouts of men rushing together in the deadly contact of battle (I Sam. 11:11).
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.