The Lord's Day Evening
September 20, 2009
1 Samuel 11:1-15
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
And whose gifts of leadership were already evident. Well, there are a hundred stories just like that. And it is, in some ways, a reflection of Saul. Saul is a young man. In a few chapters we’ll read of him being thirty. So one assumes this stage in his life he is perhaps in his late teens, early twenties, and shy, and perhaps diffident. Good looking for sure; tall for sure. But no sign that he's a leader, and a leader of men, and a leader of men into battle and death, and bloodshed. Well, all of that is going to change tonight.
One event in our lives can often mark us for the rest of our lives. They can be defining moments. Saul is about to meet his defining moment. Before we read 1 Samuel 11, let's once again call upon the Holy Spirit. Let's pray.
Holy Spirit, You wrote these words. Every word, every syllable comes from You. This is the very Word of God that we read and we ask for Your blessing. Come, and help us again, not only to read but to understand, and also to have that burning desire in our hearts to do. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
1 Samuel chapter 11:
“Then Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabest-gilead, and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, ‘Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you.’ But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, ‘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.’ The elders of Jabesh said to him, ‘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.’ When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, they reported the matter in the ears of the people, and all the people wept aloud.
Now, behold, Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen. And Saul said, ‘What is wrong with the people, that they are weeping?’ So they told him the news of the men of Jabesh. And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, ‘Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!’ Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one man. When he mustered them at Bezek, the people of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand. And they said to the messengers who had come, ‘Thus shall you say to the men of Jabest-gilead: ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have deliverance.’’ When the messengers came and told the men of Jabesh, they were glad. Therefore the men of Jabesh said, ‘Tomorrow we will give ourselves up to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you.’ And the next day Saul put the people in three companies. And they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. And those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.
Then the people said to Samuel, ‘Who is it that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring the men, that we may put them to death.’ But Saul said, ‘Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.’ Then Samuel said to the people, ‘Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom.’ So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed peace offerings before the Lord, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.”
Amen. May God add His blessing.
Saul was facing two dangers: a danger from without and a danger from within. Externally, of course, you have to the west the Philistines, and the Philistines have a garrison in Saul's hometown of Gibeah. Every day Saul and the Benjaminites in Gibeah would be fully aware of the threat of the Philistines. Now, to the east of the Jordan River, the Ammonites. He's also got problems within. The tribes are scattered north and south and some folk in Jabesh-gilead for example are across the Jordan, they are in the trans-Jordan region and a good way north of where Saul was. And in the final verse of chapter 10, we were given an indication that there were sons of Belial, or as the ESV renders it, “worthless fellows”, who had said, “How can this man save us?” Saul has problems and Israel has problems, outside and inside, externally and internally. Saul, at this point, is a nobody. He may well have been chosen as king and declared to be king by Samuel in chapter 10, but he lives in Gibeah. He probably hasn't been much further than those donkeys had traveled in the previous chapter. There were men and women in Israel who had never heard of him. This young, farmer's boy, pretty may be, but king?
And there comes a defining moment and an enemy appears, and a fierce one at that - Nahash, the Ammonite. Saul is at home in Gibeah, but up north and across the River Jordan in a place called Jabesh-gilead, Nahash the Ammonite — and the Ammonites are on the back side of the River Jordan, they are to the east, massive territory to the east held by the Ammonites — and the Ammonites are threatening the folk of Jabesh-gilead. The Dead Sea Scrolls contained a record, whether it's true or not we don't know, but it contained this record with a reference to Nahash the Ammonite. And he had gone out among the Gadites and the Reubenites, doing what he's threatening to do here to Jabesh-gilead - that is subjugating them and gouging out their right eyes.
Now you understand when you fought in these times you would hold a shield in your left hand, and most people are right handed, and the sword in your right hand, and you would protect your left eye with the shield and the right eye was the eye that you saw with. Well, if you gouge out your right eye, you can't fight anymore. You’d be useless in battle. It was a way of rendering those whom Nahash the Ammonite had conquered useless in battle. He's threatening this to the people of Jabesh-gilead.
Now there are enemies in the world, and there are bad people in the world, and there are wicked and evil people and malevolent people in the world — people that can only be dealt with by an act of hostility and war. There's no place for pacifism in this fallen world. I find it difficult to respect those who are pacifists. There are some extraordinarily talented composers whose music I love dearly who are pacifists in the 20th century. Schaeffer says, “Pacifism in this poor world means deserting people who need the greatest help.”1 Chesterton said, “The least excusable - pacifists are the least excusable in the long list of enemies of society.”2 Well, he didn't mince his words. This was a time for war. This was a time for action. This was a time for battle. There's a time for peace, the preacher says in Ecclesiastes, but there's a time for war, and this was war. This was an imminent and deadly and hostile threat that needed to be met with equal resistance and opposition. Someone needed to show leadership. Someone needed to lead men against the Ammonites and against Nahash.
Now, Nahash and the Ammonites generally had a grudge against Israel. In the time of Jephthah, and we're only talking about decades in the past here, in the time of Jephthah the Judge, the Israelites had fought against the Ammonites and had ransacked thirty or so cities, so the issue is still hot and still relevant. The Ammonites you remember are cousins. The Ammonites are the product of Lot in his drunken, incestuous relationship with his daughter. Those are the Ammonites. There was no love lost between the Ammonites and Israel. And Jabesh-gilead did an extraordinary thing — they asked for seven days. And what's even more extraordinary is that Nahash agreed to it, perhaps out of military pride more than anything else. They wanted seven days to see if they could find someone, did you notice the language - “someone to save us.” They didn't think about Saul. Perhaps they had never heard about Saul in Jabesh-gilead, although that's hard to believe. But far more importantly, they didn't look to the Lord. They did not cry to the Lord in the hour of their trouble and distress. They didn't quote a psalm, perhaps not yet written, but promises like the ones in the psalms — that “God is our shelter in the day of trouble” Psalm 27; that He is a “shelter in the day of trouble.” It's an indication of how perilous Israel as a whole had become. They had asked for a king so they could be like the nations. They so desperately want to be like everyone else.
Now there's a bond between these two cities — Gibeah, Saul's city, and Jabesh-gilead in the north. Do you remember how the book of Judges closes? It's unpleasant reading. It's horrible reading. Chapters 19 and 20 and 21, you remember it was in Gibeah - Saul's hometown - that a Levite you remember had brought a concubine to the city, and the men of Gibeah had asked, first of all, for the Levite to be brought out so they could have their way with him. Instead, the concubine, the young girl, is sent out. And do you remember in the morning, after they had ravaged her all night, she is dead. It led to civil war- a civil war by the command of God Himself. God urged the Israelites to go into battle against this city, Gibeah, and against the Benjaminites. That was a great, great slaughter of people. Thousands and thousands of men were killed and that northern city, Jabesh-gilead, that is now in trouble, refused to go into battle against Saul's city, Gibeah. When God ordered the Israelites to go against Jabesh-gilead you remember they found 400 virgins, young women who had never been married. And they were given as wives to the women who were left in Gibeah. All the married men and their wives had apparently been killed. Israel made a vow that none of their daughters would marry any man in Gibeah and the women were provided from this northern town.
Now do you understand what that means? In Saul's time, many of the women in Saul's hometown are daughters and possibly granddaughters of folk living now in this distressed northern city. That's why, in verses 4 and 5, they break into weeping, because they’re weeping over mom and dad. They’re weeping over nana and pops in Jabesh-gilead threatened by Nahash the Ammonite.
And Saul — and you have to smile, this man who we saw going after lost donkeys and couldn't find them — he suddenly emerges behind a bunch of cows. A farmer's boy, he may very well be declared king, but he's herding cattle. And then, in verse 6, something extraordinary happens. This is supernatural. This is the world that we live in. We don't live in a closed universe of Newtonian physics. We live in a universe where the supernatural happens. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words.
Now, I know that some of you are asking the question, and I wish you wouldn't — “Is Saul converted?” That's like reading the last chapter of a book and not wanting to buy the book! Hold that question for several months. Assume for now that he is. Just assume that he is. The Spirit comes upon him. He hears this distress of a city that he is indebted to in the north, that have provided many of the women that live in his hometown. And you notice what verse 6 says? “His anger, his anger was greatly kindled.” Now I don't know what some people do with that text. You see, the Spirit comes and it makes him angry. The Spirit comes and we're supposed to be sweet and loving and kind and thoughtful and smiling and happy and joyful and ecstatic. But the Spirit comes upon Saul and he's angry.
My dear Christian friend, if there are not times in your life when you are angry, you can hardly be a Christian. If the murder of unborn children doesn't anger you, this wholesale massacre of unborn children in our country, if that doesn't on occasions anger you — when you see a Christian friend being wholly ignored because they don't go to the right school, because they don't belong to the right fraternity, because they’re not part of your social network — if that doesn't anger you, I'm saying you can hardly be a Christian, because injustice and wrong angered Jesus. We read in the gospels, in the synagogue, when He was going to heal a man with a withered hand and the Pharisees were watching Him because it was the Sabbath Day and they had 600 things you could not do on the Sabbath Day and one of them was “heal somebody with a withered hand.” — Just watching and waiting to see if He would do it. The gospel says Jesus was angry.
When he walked into the temple outer courts and there they were - You know you have to pay certain offerings using money and the temple didn't allow Roman money so you had to change your money. You couldn't have money with the head of the emperor on it, so you had to change money. And the Jews were good at exchange rates and making a buck or two and making a profit you understand. So as you entered the outer courts of the temple there would be these tables and money lenders competing with each other for the best rates to exchange money. And Jesus is angry! He overturns those tables because they have made the house of God into a den of thieves. I can't understand why people find that passage so troubling. Why should that trouble you? The Spirit comes upon Saul and he's angry. It's a righteous anger against injustice and wrong.
Now they gather at Bezek. Bezek is a town probably directly opposite Jabesh-gilead on the west side of the river. Jabesh-gilead is on the well, this way, Jabesh-gilead is on this side of the river and Bezek is on this side of the river, probably just parallel to each other. He sends word. It's short and sharp and crisp — “Tomorrow. Noon. Victory.” And there is a great victory. God comes. He has equipped and energized Saul as a leader of men, as a military leader with a definite strategy, and the Ammonites are killed from morning until noonday, until they scatter and not two of them are left scattering together. It's an enormous victory. And then the blood is raging. “Imitate the action of a tiger,” Shakespeare says in Henry V. Well, tiger's blood is flowing in these men's veins and they remember the last verse of chapter 10. They remember back in Gibeah there were certain men who had scoffed at God's appointment of Saul and had said, “Shall this man be king over us?” Let's kill them!
Churchill, to follow Ligon from this morning, Churchill once said, “We shall show mercy, but we will ask for none. — We will show mercy, but we will ask for none.” And I think this is one of Saul's greatest moments, that in the heat of this battle, he says “no” to what probably most of the men would have seen as a just action on his part, but politically he would have rued the day of putting his own men to death, and thereby perhaps encouraging even greater resistance to come in days to come.
Now, I want us to look at the closing verses because it is uncanny, no, that's not the right word. It is so providential that this text tonight dovetails so extraordinarily with what Ligon was saying this morning in his sermon on the Beatitudes. Samuel and Saul, at this moment, and Samuel especially, they understand that a moment of victory is a dangerous moment. A moment of well-being is a dangerous moment. It's dangerous because they are tempted now to say, “We have a king just like the nations.” If we had a king, we would be safe and happy — that's what they thought. If we can conform to the world, we’d have joy and gladness. Some of us are saying something like that. If I could have a bigger house with twice as many rooms, then I'd be happy and safe. If I could have a better job and more money, then I'd be happy and safe. If I had a prettier wife, then I'd be happy and safe. What did Ligon say this morning? It's been buzzing around in my head all day. If you love what you want more than you love what you need, you’re in big trouble. Samuel understood that. Samuel had been listening to Ligon's sermon. He understood the danger of this moment, that these Israelites would feel good about themselves. That's why he calls them to go to Gilgal. That's why they offer sacrifices of peace offerings. That's why at the end of this chapter they rejoiced greatly — because they got it. At least for this moment they got it — that true joy and true greatness comes from knowing that these things come from God.
“I'd rather have Jesus than houses or lands. I'd rather have Jesus. I'd rather be His than have riches untold. I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold. I'd rather be led by His nail pierced hand than to be a king of a vast domain, or be held in sin's dread sway. I'd rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today. I'd rather have Jesus than men's applause. I'd rather be faithful to His dear cause. I'd rather have Jesus than worldwide fame. I'd rather be true to His holy name.”
Do you see how this dovetails into that sermon from Luke this morning? Where's your treasure? Samuel understood that unless they see that their treasure lies in the Lord's provision. They crowned Saul as king before the Lord — they had crowned him king in chapter 10. Now they are crowning him king before the Lord.
You see in verse 14, “Samuel said to the people, ‘Come let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom.’” This is about the kingdom. This isn't about Saul's kingship. It's about the kingdom. It's about the rule and reign of God. That's what it's about. And my friend, we need to be asking that question as we were left this morning asking that question and we're left again tonight asking that question. Follow the bread crumbs. Where's your treasure? Because if you love what you want more than you love what you need, you've already got your reward and you’re going to be disappointed. “I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold.”
1. Francis Schaeffer. A Christian View of the Church. p.391 http://books.google.com/books?id=uzW26tCtePUC&pg=PA391&lpg=PA391&dq=Pacifism+in+this+poor+world+means+deserting+people+who+need+the+greatest+help.+schaeffer&source=bl&ots=s1amEy_cee&sig=K1uR5AczPJGjCL4-NSDypS_f7P8&hl=en&ei=mye6SqLcONiOtgesy_XtDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false
2. Gilbert K. Chesterton. http://chesterton.org/discover/nutshell/pacifism.html
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