Saul raises his first army under threat of consequences to those who didn’t come. But the Spirit of the Lord is what moved and motivated ALL involved, even Saul.
This will be Saul’s first duty as king and Israel’s first response to their king. I’m curious about Saul’s threat. Did he have the means to carry it out? We are told that he went home with men of valor whose hearts God had touched. Would they be the ones carrying out his threat upon those who refused Saul’s command? I wonder if the “worthless fellows” answered the call.
I did a little searching on the location of our story and came across something interesting. We have met Jabesh-gilead before in our travels. In the story of the Levite and his concubine, the one town that didn’t come out to help repay the men of the Gibeah for their sins was Jabesh-gilead. They became the ‘volunteers’ who supplied two thirds of the virgins for the remaining soldiers of Benjamin. The rest of their people were wiped from the face of the earth. Now, after being resettled, they are the ones in trouble. I’m wondering if they are unsure if anyone will rise to their defense because of their history or because the monarchy is untried. Could they also be suspicious of a response from a king who lives in the very city that gave rise to the concubine incident in the first place? I’m trusting that town changed too between then and now.
One more thing I want to ask before we join our story is “WHY?” WHY would they even consider such a “peace treaty” with such conditions? If they had such a hold on the upper hand, WHY did Nahash even agree to peace and to wait a full week for an answer? WHY let them send out for help?! Why not press the advantage? I probably fail to comprehend this because I have never been in either of their places nor have I had to concern myself with the tactics of war. I know that I wouldn’t be standing around waiting to see if I had help on the way! Anyway, let’s rejoin our story.
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Not much has changed in the life of Saul. He still works in the fields and tends his father’s donkeys. He likes getting his hands dirty and wouldn’t have it any other way. The men who followed him home have all found lodging in the town of Gibeah. They longed for a way to be of service to their new king but he had no commands to give them. That inactivity was soon to change for in a town far removed from Gibeah would come a challenge the king would have to answer.
Israel was surrounded by nations that wanted to reclaim what they had lost. One of those nations was the Ammonites. They weren’t a mighty nation any more but bands of marauding men. One such band was led by Nahash. He was a particularly cruel man and had a burning desire to inflict not only death on Israelites but also shame and dishonor. His raids were more than territory skirmishes; they were personal vengeance. Jabesh-gilead was the latest target in his reign of terror.
It seemed as if Nahash appeared out of nowhere. One day all was fine in the region then the next the town was under heavy attack. This town held no garrison or troops. They weren’t desirable agriculturally but were on the banks of the Jordan; a place where a military stand could possibly be mounted. They were also on the boarder of Israel and would provide a foothold into the nation if taken. Nahash thought them worth taking and had committed his forces to the endeavor.
Nahash besieged the city for days. The people hid behind the city’s walls in fear. So far their defenses had been holding but it was clear that they couldn’t hold out much longer. It was also clear that Nahash had been losing men to the battle but he still held the upper hand.
The elders of Jabesh-gilead knew they were in danger of being, once again, wiped from the face of Israel. A meeting was called during the quiet hours of the third night.
“What shall we do? We will not survive much longer!”
“Our forces are spent!”
“I see no other option but to surrender.”
“Let us pray it is not already too late. Nahash is not known for his kindness in battle.”
“We will have to convince him that it is in his best interest too.”
The meeting broke up with plans to meet before first light at the gate to the city. From there they would present their case to Nahash.
From his tent Nahash hears his name being called. Along with his name a call for peace. “So, they tire of this finally” he thinks to himself. An evil smirk marks his face. He will come out to them and see what it is they offer.
Nahash and three of his commanders move between his army and the city. He stands a stone’s throw from the elders of the town. The commanders are watchful. They are prepared for any trick that might befall them.
“What is it you offer?” calls Nahash.
“We offer a treaty of peace. There is no reason for war between us.”
“And why would a treaty of peace interest me? You are nearly defeated. A few more days and I can take whatever I want from you.”
“But you can’t take service from dead men. ‘Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you’ (verse 1b). Our offer would also spare many lives of your own men.”
Nahash appears to consider this for a moment before he replies. “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel” (verse 2b).
The elders huddle together to confer with each other. In hushed whispers they discuss Nahash’s condition.
“He is determined to shame us if he cannot kill us.”
“Would you rather die?”
“No, but there has to be an alternative!”
“Maybe we can send for help.”
“Would they arrive in time?”
“IF we can convince him to wait for his answer they might.”
“But what if no one comes to our aid?”
“Then we have lost nothing. We will do as he says and our disfigurement will be a witness against our brothers who deserted us in our time of need.”
After reaching their decision they address Nahash again.
“Give us seven days; respite that we may send messengers through all the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves up to you” (verse 3).
Nahash roars with laughter. “You would have me wait and see if Israel will come to your defense? You must think me a fool!”
“No Nahash, we don’t think you a fool. We are but a small city on the edge of Israel whose history is tainted with blood and dishonor. There is likely to be no response to our pleas and our fate would testify for you against Israel.”
“Agreed! Send your messengers. See if anyone comes to your rescue. We are strong enough to meet any attempt of rescue Israel may mount!”
Both parties return to their dwelling places. The elders of Jabesh-gilead send word throughout the town for the fastest runners to assemble in one hour. A scribe is called upon to pen the message to be delivered to the elders of the cities on their travels. There is no guarantee of deliverance or even if deliverance is mounted that it will arrive in time. Israel is a large country and men on foot may not reach the far corners in time.
The hour has arrived for the messengers to depart. They have been given both written copies and verbal accounts to share on their way. Twenty men will carry their cry for help to their brothers on both sides of the Jordan.
Nahash allows the runners to depart without incidence. He fully expects them to fail in their task but he calls for military drills of his men as they wait out their week.
Those inside the city walls wait and pray. They call out to their God for deliverance from Nahash. They pray He has forgiven them for the time they were called on to help and failed to answer.
The following day many of the closer towns have received news of the horrors facing Jabesh-gilead. Each town feels for their plight but does not feel they have the resources to answer their call. “Maybe the next town will send help” is the standard thoughts of those approached.
Word reaches Gibeah early in the evening on the second day. The response of the town is similar to all the other towns the messengers have encountered; anger, weeping and hand wringing. Saul is coming from the field shortly after the messenger’s arrival in the city. He is driving his oxen home from the field he has been working. He did not intend to enter the city but the sounds coming from it grab his attention. He HAS to see what is distressing the people do deeply.
Saul meets a group of men as he nears the city. “What is wrong with the people, that they are weeping?” (verse 5b).
“News has just reached us from Jabesh-gilead. They have been besieged by Nahash, the Ammonite. They sought a treaty of peace with him for they are on the brink of destruction. His terms require that he gouge out the right eyes of every man in the city!”
Saul’s face turns red in anger! “Have the messengers found anyone to save them?”
“No my lord, they have not.”
“Call the messengers! Call my mighty men! Their king will answer their pleas! The hand of the Lord God will save them!”
The group of men Saul had encountered rush back into the city to deliver Saul’s message. Within minutes the people begin to assemble before Saul on the road by the city. As the men approach they find their king covered in blood up to his elbows. He has slaughtered his oxen and is cutting them into pieces. There is a determined look on his face as he finishes his task.
The oxen lay in two heaps as Saul straightens from his work. In a commanding voice he addresses the people gathered before him. He points to the group of runners. “You are each to take a piece of the oxen before you. You will carry it as a visual message to the people. You shall say to the people that their king commands their service. Tell them the story of Jabesh-gilead. ‘Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!’ (verse 7b). Every man is to meet in three days at Bezek, prepared for battle. We will come to the aid of our brothers and remove the hand of Nahash the Ammonite from their necks.”
The messengers each grabbed a piece of the oxen Saul had cut and ran in a different direction. All of Israel would hear of the king’s command!
To his men of valor Saul gave orders for them to scour the town for weapons and supplies. “No man is to rest tonight until he has equipped himself for battle.”
In the morning Saul and his men of valor marched from Gibeah to Bezek where they would await the arrival of the men from throughout Israel. There was much work to be done to prepare them as a unit for battle. Saul had never done this before but he trusted in the One who stirred his soul to action. The Lord would lead this battle and He would equip His king with the resources and wisdom to see it through.
Men were arriving in Bezek as early as Saul and his troops were. They were coming by the fifties and hundreds initially. By dawn of the second day they began pouring in by the thousands! Saul was pleased to see the response of the people. He knew it must have been the hand of the Lord as their king had not proven himself in their eyes, yet they continued to come. Evening of the third day brought the number of assembled men to over three hundred thousand! Thirty thousand of those were from the tribe of Judah. Saul assigned captains of thousands who assigned captains of hundreds and fifties for the men assembled.
At midday on the fourth day the messengers from Jabesh-gilead were dispatched back to their own people with a message from Saul. “Thus shall you say to the men of Jabesh-gilead: ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have salvation’” (verse 9b). All was in readiness.
That same afternoon the assembled army of Israel made ready for battle. Saul divided his army into three companies. One was to approach from the north, another from the south and the third from the west. They would move into place behind the nearest hills and attack from there early in the morning.
As Saul’s men moved into their places the messengers had reached their destination and delivered their message. As the evening was giving way to night the elders of the city called out to Nahash again. Until now the people of the town had remained huddled in place while they watched Nahash’s men drill for battle. Their drills had lost intensity as the days grew shorter for the people’s answer. Now they were nearly nonexistent.
Nahash hears the elders calling out to him again. He calls for his captains and goes to meet them as before.
“Tomorrow we will give ourselves up to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you” (verse 10) says the head elder.
Nahash roars with laughter again. “Just as I suspected! No one will rise to help you. Prepare yourselves for this is your last night as free men. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough for me. I will have to think of appropriate tasks for one eyed men to perform for me!” He laughs one more time at his own cruelty before turning his back on the elders and going to his tent.
It was all the elders could do to keep silent in the face of Nahash’s taunts. They knew their salvation was at hand and would be more than happy to watch Nahash receive justice at the hand of the Lord.
At first light Saul’s companies set out with one goal; death to all the Lord’s enemies! All three companies converge on the camp of the Ammonites. They were just stirring from their tents when the first sounds of battle erupted. Nahash had expected a defeated town today, not a charging enemy!
Swords, shields, spears, and any other item that could be used as a weapon clashed and rang out from midmorning to early afternoon. Nahash’s men were outnumbered but they fought anyway. They were cut down right and left by Saul’s army. By the time the battle concluded there were not two Ammonites standing together. Those that fled the battlefield did so alone. None to help them and no relief for their distress.
As the cries of battle fade into the distance the men of the city begin to emerge. They are overjoyed to see the men of Israel standing before them. They begin praising the Lord and Saul for deliverance. The men of Jabesh-gilead would have a song to sing and stories to tell of how the Lord had redeemed them from their shame.
What few injuries Israel suffered are quickly tended to and the camp gone over for spoils. The weapons gathered will go into Israel’s new armory.
(to be continued)
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I like how the people’s past did not determine their future. BOTH main towns changed their stories. Gibeah was not the depraved city but the home of the king. Jabesh-gilead received help when they had denied it before. They were forgiven. God made something special from the ashes.
Father God, THANK YOU that my past does NOT determine my future! YOU are my future! I AM something beautiful because of You. And I will be more so each day as we walk together.