1 Samuel 11; 12:1-5: Jabesh-Gilead Saved
Saul is king, and we follow him into the country east of Jordan. The land of Gilead, east of Jordan, between the Dead Sea on the south and the Sea of Galilee on the north, was a good pasture country with groves of trees and fine brooks of water running down to the Jordan, through narrow valleys which they had worn for themselves. Some people of Israel who had many flocks and herds were allowed to live in this good pasture country. The tribe of Gad made its home in Gilead. Jabesh was a city of Gilead, and its people were in great trouble, for the Ammonites, a people living to the east of Gilead, came against them and were too strong for them. They were going to put out the right eyes of the people of Jabesh and make them their servants. The people of Jabesh asked for seven days in which to look for help, and sent messengers throughout the land to see if the people of Israel would help them. The people felt very sorry for the people of Jabesh. The messengers came to Saul's town, Gibeah. Saul heard their message as he came from plowing in the field. The spirit of God came upon him, and he sent through all the country to gather soldiers. They came to Saul at Bezek, north of Shechem, a large army, and Saul hurried with them to the help of Jabesh-gilead. He divided his men into three companies and from three sides at once they attacked the Ammonites while it was still dark, in the early morning. Many of the Ammonites were killed, and the rest were scattered, and Jabesh was saved.
Do any of you remember hearing of Gilead before, and of a war with the Ammonites, when Jephthah led the army and saved Gilead? It was the same Gilead which Saul saved, and from the same enemy. The people of Gilead were very grateful to Saul, and they afterward were kind to Saul and to his family.
The hearts of the people were turned to Saul by this victory. Samuel called them to Gilgal, near the Jordan, where they had first camped when they came into the land. There again they declared Saul king and made sacrifices to the Lord.
Read if you have time 1 Sam. 12:1-5, how the old Samuel asked the people if he had always been faithful as their judge and how they answered before the Lord that he had been always faithful.
Our story is in the country beyond Jordan in the land of Gilead, between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. We remember this fine pasture country with its trees and brooks when the children of Israel first came to it and two tribes and a half made their homes there: Reuben, by the Dead Sea; Gad, in the middle country; and half the tribe of Manasseh, north and east of the Sea of Galilee. Notice on the map three great brooks: the Arnon running into the Dead Sea at the middle of its eastern shore; the Jabbok, running into the Jordan midway between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee; and the Yarmuk, farther north, of which some of you have a picture.
Who lived in this eastern country? Remember when the children of Israel came on their journey from Egypt they were not allowed to have war with Edom, south of the Dead Sea, for the Edomites were descended from Esau, Jacob's brother. Neither might they disturb Moab, by the Dead Sea south of Arnon; nor Ammon, off to the northeast from Moab, for these tribes were descended from Lot, the nephew of Abram. They passed by these tribes who were their cousins and took land from the native people, from the Arnon to the Jabbok and farther north. Remember the story of Jephthah. When the Ammonites attacked Gilead, they said that Israel had taken away their land. It was not true. Jephthah denied their charge and in the battle defeated them. Now these same Ammonites again attacked Jabesh, a city of Gilead, and made the cruel threat that they would put out the right eyes of the people of Jabesh and make them servants. Was there no one to help? Our story tells us how the spirit of God came upon Saul, the new king, and Jabesh-gilead was saved. Saul's coming upon the Ammonites in the night, dividing his men into three companies, reminds us of the victory of Gideon. The night was divided into three watches: sunset to ten o'clock, ten o'clock to two, and two to sunrise. In the Gospels we find four watches, according to the Roman custom. (Matt. 14:25) The people of Jabesh-gilead remembered this help from Saul and afterward showed their gratitude. People from Jabesh recovered the bodies of Saul and his sons after their death and buried them in Jabesh. Some of Saul's family also found a safe home in Jabesh. (1 Sam. 31:11-13; 2 Sam. 8:9)
Following the victory of Saul over the Ammonites, we read of the gathering of the people at Gilgal to confirm his appointment as king. Remember the secret anointing of Saul by Samuel, the more public choice at Mizpeh, and now this still more public recognition. Read in 1 Sam. 12:1-5 the witness of the people to the goodness and faithfulness of Samuel.
We shall do well to associate the events of Saul's reign with three wars: this first war, relieving Jabesh-gilead, in which Saul was wholly successful; and his wars with the Philistines and with the Amalekites, in which he failed.
1. What was Saul's first fight after he was made king? Where was the battle? What had the Ammonites threatened to do to the people of Jabesh-gilead? To put out their right eyes and make them servants.
2. Show me on the map where the two nations, Moab and Ammon, lived.
3. Show me Gilgal where Samuel gathered the people after Saul's victory. What kind of a judge had Samuel been? Who would now judge the people? What would Samuel do?
Who lived in the land east of Jordan when Moses and the children of Israel took it? Moab south of the Arnon; Ammon to the northeast of Moab; Sihon, king of the Amorites, from the Arnon to the Jabbok; Og, king of Bashan, north of the Jabbok. But Sihon had taken his country from Moab. (Num. 21:21-26) Ammon also claimed that that land belonged to them and had war about it with the people of Gilead. (Judges 11:11-15) Perhaps the same claim led to the attack upon Gilead in the days of Saul. Let us recall the spiritual meaning of three things - Gilead, the Ammonites, and King Saul. Then we will put the three things together.
The study of this lesson recalls thoughts that we had when we learned of the choice of homes in this country beyond Jordan by two tribes and a half of Israel. The land of Canaan represents a heavenly, spiritual life. The country beyond Jordan represents more natural, external states, like states of physical enjoyment and recreation, which are blessed by the Lord if they are made helpful to spiritual life, not otherwise. Hence the requirement that the tribes which settled there must first help their fellow Israelites to gain possession of their inheritance; then they might return and enjoy this country. The tribe of Gad, occupying the district of Gilead, represents especially an external goodness in which is much self-confidence. We may associate this country with the rich young man who claimed to have kept the commandments, but needed to gain a humbler spirit. (E. 432; R. 352)
Moab and Ammon were tribes living in this land. They were descendants of Lot, who parted from Abram and chose the low plain of Jordan which seemed so pleasant. Lot represents the enjoyment of outward pleasant things. His two sons represent the two elements of love and thought in regard to such things: Moab the love of them, and Ammon the thought about them. Both may be good and useful, and the children of Israel in their journey from Egypt were not allowed to fight with Moab or Ammon. (Deut. 2:9, 19) But love and, thought about natural pleasant things easily turn to what is evil. Ammon in our story represents such thought, with its excuses and false reasoning. Ammon attacks Gilead, for how easily false thoughts, proud thoughts, excusing thoughts, creep into a good life which is not deep and spiritual, but of a natural self-confident kind. Ammon claims territory which belongs to Gilead. This enemy misleads the natural goodness and makes it blind. What does our story say? The Ammonites were about to put out the right eyes of the people of Jabesh-gilead. (A. 2468)
We have learned that the kingdom represents the governing of life, not in a child's way, but in a youthful and mature way, by principles of truth, understood and faithfully applied. The good king must learn the truth from the Lord and from His Word. But there are degrees in the development of this power. Saul, the first king, represents a first effort to rule the life, when truth is understood in an imperfect and natural way. By and by the rule of a truer, more spiritual understanding will be represented by David and Solomon. Saul was chosen for his height and outward beauty, which suggests an understanding that is greatly influenced by outward appearances. Compare the choice of David. (1 Sam. 16:6-7) Still this understanding is able to set right many things in outward life. It may not be able to go deeply into motives, but here in the department of outward life, of conduct, it shows itself strong. Saul's brilliant victory at Jabesh-gilead, the lasting friendship of the people of Gilead for him, and his burial in that country suggest the external character of the truth and government of life which Saul represents. He had less success in wars with the Philistines and with Amalek, which represent deeper and more subtle evils which must be conquered by a riper, more spiritual understanding. David was successful where Saul failed. (A. 4763, 10540)
We have learned that the desire of the people for a king was sinful because it represents a separation of the kingly element of truth from the priestly and fatherly element of love, as if knowing were the most important or only important thing. (A. 1672, 8770) Can you see the meaning of the destructive rain given as a sign because the people had chosen a king? (1 Sam. 12:16-18) Is it not a picture of truth without love?