Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 11 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 3/1/2015 in Novato, CA.
1 Samuel 10:26-11:15
“Let Us Go To Gilgal and Renew the Kingdom”
Last week we saw how God established Saul’s kingship with legitimacy. However, the chapter ended in verse 27 with some naysayers. Some wicked men did not support King Saul. They said, “How can this man save us?” And they said, “Shall Saul reign over us?” And, I call them wicked, because that’s how the text describes them: as rebels, worthless men, literally, sons of Belial. And yet in today’s passage God finishes establishing Saul’s kingship in legitimacy by vindicating Saul. And so our passage for today is very much structured by the opening complaint of these naysayers in chapter 10, verse 27, and how they are again brought up in today’s chapter in verse 12. This event serves to take Saul from being king in name only, and has him raised up by God as a mighty deliverer and leader of the people. And so this passage wonderfully vindicates Saul’s kingship when this first test of his leadership arises. And as Saul does in verse 13, so we also do, which is to acknowledge that though Saul was used to the save the people, ultimately it was the LORD who saved the people, even by using King Saul.
So then, today I want us to see how King Saul is vindicated in his divinely established place of leadership among Israel. We’ll look at this in three points. First, we’ll see the threat: that there is help needed for Israel because of an Ammonite threat. Second, we’ll see how this tests Saul’s ability to lead as king, and that he passes the test wonderfully. Third, we’ll see how this served to renew Saul as King, where he seems to finally begin to actively reign over the people.
We begin then by seeing the help needed because of this Ammonite threat. This is the issue that will come to Saul to test whether he can really be used by God as king to save the people and to rule over them. Verses 1 and 2 present the threat to us. An Ammonite leader named Nahash was threatening an Israelite town named Jabesh Gilead, which was a town east of the Jordan River. Nahash threatened the city, and they tried to make peace with Nahash, but he would only accept their offer of peace if he could gouge out all the peoples’ right eyes. This was to shame them, obviously, and surely would have made them less able to mount a revolt later on too. Now, interestingly, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, there was additional information about Nahash discovered. According to the find, this Nahash had been going around already to the tribes of Reuben and Gad, which were the Israelite settlements east of the Jordan river, and had already gone through and gouged out all their right eyes. According to this Dead Sea Scroll, some had escaped and retreated to the town of Jabesh Gilead which is where chapter 11 picks up the action.
Now let’s pause for a moment and make sure you are aware of the history between Israel and the Ammonites. First off, we should note that the Ammonites are distant relatives to the Israelites. The Ammonites were one of the nations that came from the descendants of Lot. Remember, Lot was the nephew of Father Abraham, and he came with Abraham when God called Abraham to go to the Promised Land. They each ultimately settled in different parts of the Promised Land. Well, years later, after the Israelites who descended from Abraham had their sojourn in Egypt, and God brought them out, you’ll recall that God then used Joshua to bring them into the Promised Land. God had the Israelites conquer the inhabitants of the Promised Land, some seven nations who were very wicked. The Israelites then took the land of these peoples as a gift from God. However, God explicitly told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 2:19 that they were not to bother the Ammonites. Just before the Israelites were to conquering the Promised Land, God told them this in Deuteronomy 2:19, “And when you approach the territory of the people of Ammon, do not harass them or contend with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a possession.” So, Israel was given specific instructions to not harass the Ammonites in any way, or to do anything to threaten their territory.
And yet, when you get to the book of Judges, you find that the Ammonites became a thorn in the side of Israel, but really it was the Israelites’ fault. Basically, it was the same old story. Judges 10 describes how Israel went after false gods, including the false gods of the Ammonites. And so then in irony, it says that God sold them into the hand of the Ammonites. Poetic justice, of sorts, you could say. But the bottom line is that the Ammonites took the initiative then during the book of Judges to afflict Israel, particularly the cities east of the Jordan River, per Judges 10:8, which were adjacent to the Ammonite territory. So, that same sort of trouble continued on in various ways until we come to today’s passage.
And so, just to clarify, this was an evil thing for Nahash the Ammonite to do. Just because God had used the Ammonites in the past to bring chastisement upon Israel because of their sin, didn’t mean that the Ammonites were right in and of themselves to attack their distant relatives. This is especially true when God had specifically told Israel to treat the Ammonites kindly, especially in view of their family relationship. More so, how horrible of a treatment this is that Nahash would accept peace only at the cost of the peoples’ right eyes. We should see the evil of the attack in the first place, and especially the grotesqueness of this request for their right eyes.
But then to also clarify, the people of Jabesh don’t seem to respond in a commendable way. First off, when Nahash came to them like this, for them to surrender in the way they do in verse 1, doesn’t seem right. They offer to Nahash to become his servants. Interestingly, Deuteronomy 20 talks about peace treaties that Israel might make with other nations, and says it would be okay for the other nations to become their servants, but doesn’t seem to allow for Israel to become their servants instead. When you appreciate the typology of Israel in the Promised Land, that Israel is a picture foreshadowing God’s people dwelling in a blessed place forever under the rule of their God, it just doesn’t make sense for them to become servants of the Ammonites. It doesn’t support that picture that they were supposed to be. Instead, they should have called out to God for help.
This only becomes all the more clear when you see verse 3. When the people of Jabesh get this harsh answer back from Nahash, they appeal for seven days to seek out someone from Israel to save them. But isn’t that again the lesson of Ebenezer that they should have remembered? That God is their help and salvation? There is no record of them crying out to God to help them. And so all of this shows that the people of Jabesh Gilead handle this threat the wrong way. But nonetheless the call goes out to all Israel. Is there anyone who can help Jabesh Gilead? Is there anyone who can save them? We’ll see the answer becomes, “Yes!” Yes, Saul, King of Israel, by the power of God, will lead Israel to save the people of Jabesh.
And so this leads us now to our second point. Let us see how Saul is tested as king and passes the test. We see here that the message asking for help makes it to Saul’s hometown in verse 4. By the way, we see here that even though Saul had been anointed king it appears he’s not yet actively serving in that role. Instead he had went back to his home town and we find him busy about his normal duties in the field. Possibly the naysayers’ opposition had limited his ability to really take up his role as king yet. At any rate, in verse 5, Saul hears of the message from Jabesh. And look what happens in verse 7. God’s Spirit comes upon Saul. This is why we again keep saying that God was behind the victory here, which means that God was behind the vindication of Saul in this passage. The Spirit of God works within Saul some righteous anger at this situation. This is a good example that not all anger is wrong. Here Saul is quite right to be outraged at the evil of Nahash. And so Saul, by the grace of God, will respond to the call for help from Jabesh.
But here we see Saul beginning to shine as the new king. Because in verses 7-8 he effectively mobilizes the people of Israel as a whole to come to the aid of Jabesh Gilead. Interestingly, he sends these pieces of chopped up oxen throughout Israel as a call to arms. On the one hand, it’s reminiscent of the strange incident in Judges 19 where a Levite’s concubine was brutally raped and killed and so the Levite chopped her body up into pieces and sent it throughout the land to get the people to consider the horrible estate of the nation. That chapter reflected the evils it said that took place when there was no king. On the other hand, Saul’s action of chopping up this oxen sounds very much like typical covenant making back then. When making covenants, a king might take animals and cut them up. The king might then tell the people under him who he is making a covenant with, that they will become like those torn up animals, if they break the covenant. King Saul uses similar words in verse 7 saying, “Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to battle, so it shall be done to his oxen.” Though interestingly, Saul puts the threat on the people’s oxen, not on themselves. That probably reflects a commendable attitude of restraint and humility on the part of Saul to word things in these terms. And so the point of the oxen seems to simultaneously remind them how they’ve needed a king to lead them, and now he is covenantally calling them to heed him as new king, established by God through Samuel, and come to fight for Israel.
Well, Saul’s mobilizing of the forces was effective. I love how in verse 7 it says that the people’s response to Saul’s oxen pieces is that the fear of the LORD fell on the people, so they came out in unity. In other words, they saw that God was behind this, and that they must obey the king in order to obey God. Saul in turn, after seeing the large turnout, sends word to the people of Jabesh that help is on the way. Saul then employs some military strategy in dividing up his forces into three groups and attacking in early morning, which surely caught the Ammonites off guard. And so King Saul wages a successful battle against them. The result is not only a great slaughter to the Ammonites, but those that did survive ended up scattered. Thus, the threat of the Ammonites was successfully dealt with by King Saul. He had proven himself as King.
And that’s exactly the point that the text brings to us in verses 12-13. Saul’s mighty victory and excellent leadership gets the people to remember the naysayers against Saul. They point to this victory to show how wrong they had been. They even go as far as to call for the death of these who wouldn’t support the king. They probably were thinking in terms of treason. Well, here yet once more Saul shows himself as a great king. Because he takes the zeal of his faithful supporters, who want to put to death those wicked naysayers, and he measures out great kingly mercy. He shows mercy upon those naysayers and then gives all the glory to God in bring about this mighty salvation. Again, even in how he treats those who had opposed him, Saul shines here as the new king. And so Saul passes all the tests here with flying colors and is clearly vindicated in terms of his kingship.
This leads us then to our third point. Here we see the people celebrate Saul’s vindication as king by renewing him as their king. This begins in verse 12, at the initiative of Samuel the prophet. Verse 14, Samuel says, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and renew the kingdom there.” By the way, when you hear kingdom, you should also think of a king. King and kingdom go together. For Samuel to call for the kingdom to be renewed, is to call for its king to be renewed, and that is Saul.
So that’s exactly what the people do. In verse 15 it says how the people go to Gilgal and make Saul king before the LORD. Yes, they had essentially done that in last chapter, but then you had these naysayers, and lack of unity. Now, in light of the way Saul is vindicated here, they again make him king. This is a renewal sort of ceremony. And since it says it is done before the LORD, we should assume it was a very official and formal ceremony, done in a religious way, committing it all to God. And not only that, but they offer peace offerings to God; such offerings especially celebrated the fellowship the people had with God as their God. And don’t miss all the joy. Verse 15 emphasizes how greatly both Saul and all the people of Israel rejoiced that day. This was a wonderful celebration. And of course it should be. They were not only celebrating that God had established a king among them, but they were celebrating this mighty deliverance from the Ammonites. There was much reason to celebrate and rejoice.
And so what a wonderful picture we see here. It’s really everything you could want. Saul is vindicated in his kingship in how he leads the people of Israel to do the right thing and be used by God as an agent of deliverance for the people in their need. Through all this, God works a mighty salvation for his people against their enemies. The end result is a wonderful picture. The king of God’s people rejoicing together with them in peace in the Promised Land, worshipping God together. What a wonderful picture. What a foretaste of that which will be even greater in heaven. Again, we see the typology that was present in Israel. Things that looked forward to even greater things to come.
And it’s in that, which we realize that there was something yet better to come in this. As joyful as this chapter is, and as wonderful as Saul is vindicated here, there is an irony in it all. Because we know how the story goes on. These naysayers words are shown here in this passage as wrong. Saul could be used by God as king to save them. And yet ironically, sadly, there words will yet ring true. Saul will ultimately fail both God and the people as king. There yet needs to be another, better king, who will not fail.
And we know that came with Jesus Christ. Yet, interestingly, he too met with opposition to his kingship. There was division among Israel over whether he truly was the Messiah or not. In fact, largely, the people didn’t receive him. For Saul, the naysayers asked “How can this man save us?” For Jesus, as he hung on the cross, they said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him” (Matthew 27:42). For Saul, the naysayers said, “Shall Saul reign over us?” For Jesus, when he’s called their king by Pilate, they reply, “We have no king but Caesar!” Jesus, all the more, was despised and rejected by those who should have received him as king.
And yet Jesus was all the more vindicated. The Scriptures tell us particularly that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was his vindication. In Romans 1:4, it says that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead. In other words, the power of the Spirit in raising him from the dead vindicated him before all who opposed him. Those who rejected Jesus tried to put him to death, but they could not conquer him. Rather, it was actually through their putting him to death, that he was able to truly bring salvation for his people. So his resurrection both vindicates his Messiahship and enables him to save a people unto himself. And so that is why Jesus can so boldly declare after his death and resurrection, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” It’s as the vindicated Messiah King that he makes that statement. Peter says something similar in Acts 2. Peter says that God attested to Jesus by all the miracles Jesus did and especially in raising Jesus from the dead. So that Peter concludes by saying in Acts 2:36, “Therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Jesus was vindicated as King and Savior. Christ then has taken up his reign now at the right hand of God the Father. He reigns as the vindicated Son of David and Son of God. And yet as we think then of how Saul’s vindication looked forward to the better vindication to come of Christ’s kingship, we realize something typological in Saul’s story in this chapter yet to come in its full. I think of the victory and the celebration party. Yes, in part, this has come to be realized in Jesus. Whenever someone turns in faith to Jesus and is saved, that is a victory of King Jesus. And we the church celebrate that, and even the angels in heaven celebrate it. And every week as we come together in fellowship, it is this very thing. We are celebrating together with our king the fellowship with God that he has won for us. This is especially the case when we partake of the Lord’s Supper. We are having a covenant renewal ceremony, which is what they were doing here too essentially. And so when you read verse 15, think about what we do together on the Lord’s Day. That’s what this is all about. And yet; And yet: we know that the full consummated victory yet lies ahead. Right now we are still being called to arms by our king. We are called by our king to go out in battle array in a world that is full of Nahashs. No, we don’t go out to fight with physical weapons. Rather, we go out to fight with spiritual weapons — because it is a spiritual war. But don’t think that since it is a spiritual war that it’s not a real war. It is a real war, with eternal consequences. And so the final victory party will come upon Christ’s return when he bring the war to a final finish. Then we will dwell with our King for all eternity in the eschatological Promised Land, worshipping our God and delighting in him, forever.
So then, let us honor our king. Though the world may yet persist in denying him, let us honor him. In his mercifulness, he has stayed his hand of judgment against such for a time. In this time, he gathers up many former enemies and converts them to loyal subjects. He uses us in this very process. Let us then honor our king. And let us rejoice in his kingship. Hail King Jesus! Long live the King! And indeed he will live long — he’ll live forever! For death has no hold on him. Nor even us now, who are in Christ. Praise be to God for the great victory he has made us a part of. Amen.
Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.