Containing The Interval Of Thirty Two Years.
From The Death Of Eli To The Death Of Saul.
Saul's Expedition Against The Nation Of The Ammonites And Victory Over Them And The Spoils He Took From Them.
1. AFTER one month, the war which Saul had with Nahash, the king of the Ammonites, obtained him respect from all the people; for this Nahash had done a great deal of mischief to the Jews that lived beyond Jordan by the expedition he had made against them with a great and warlike army. He also reduced their cities into slavery, and that not only by subduing them for the present, which he did by force and violence, but by weakening them by subtlety and cunning, that they might not be able afterward to get clear of the slavery they were under to him; for he put out the right eyes (9) of those that either delivered themselves to him upon terms, or were taken by him in war; and this he did, that when their left eyes were covered by their shields, they might be wholly useless in war.
Now when the king of the Ammonites had served those beyond Jordan in this manner, he led his army against those that were called Gileadites, and having pitched his camp at the metropolis of his enemies, which was the city of Jabesh, he sent ambassadors to them, commanding them either to deliver themselves up, on condition to have their right eyes plucked out, or to undergo a siege, and to have their cities overthrown. He gave them their choice, whether they would cut off a small member of their body, or universally perish. However, the Gileadites were so affrighted at these offers, that they had not courage to say any thing to either of them, neither that they would deliver themselves up, nor that they would fight him. But they desired that he would give them seven days' respite, that they might send ambassadors to their countrymen, and entreat their assistance; and if they came to assist them, they would fight; but if that assistance were impossible to be obtained from them, they said they would deliver themselves up to suffer whatever he pleased to inflict upon them.
2. So Nabash, contemning the multitude of the Gileadites and the answer they gave, allowed them a respite, and gave them leave to send to whomsoever they pleased for assistance. So they immediately sent to the Israelites, city by city, and informed them what Nabash had threatened to do to them, and what great distress they were in. Now the people fell into tears and grief at the hearing of what the ambassadors from Jabesh said; and the terror they were in permitted them to do nothing more. But when the messengers were come to the city of king Saul, and declared the dangers in which the inhabitants of Jabesh were, the people were in the same affliction as those in the other cities, for they lamented the calamity of those related to them.
And when Saul was returned from his husbandry into the city, he found his fellow citizens weeping; and when, upon inquiry, he had learned the cause of the confusion and sadness they were in, he was seized with a divine fury, and sent away the ambassadors from the inhabitants of Jabesh, and promised them to come to their assistance on the third day, and to beat their enemies before sun-rising, that the sun upon its rising might see that they had already conquered, and were freed from the fears they were under: but he bid some of them stay to conduct them the right way to Jabesh.
3. So being desirous to turn the people to this war against the Ammonites by fear of the losses they should otherwise undergo, and that they might the more suddenly be gathered together, he cut the sinews of his oxen, and threatened to do the same to all such as did not come with their armor to Jordan the next day, and follow him and Samuel the prophet whithersoever they should lead them. So they came together, out of fear of the losses they were threatened with, at the appointed time. And the multitude were numbered at the city Bezek. And he found the number of those that were gathered together, besides that of the tribe of Judah, to be seven hundred thousand, while those of that tribe were seventy thousand. So he passed over Jordan, and proceeded in marching all that night, thirty furlongs, and came to Jabesh before sun-rising.
So he divided the army into three companies; and fell upon their enemies on every side on the sudden, and when they expected no such thing; and joining battle with them, they slew a great many of the Ammonites, as also their king Nabash. This glorious action was done by Saul, and was related with great commendation of him to all the Hebrews; and he thence gained a wonderful reputation for his valor: for although there were some of them that contemned him before, they now changed their minds, and honored him, and esteemed him as the best of men: for he did not content himself with having saved the inhabitants of Jabesh only, but he made an expedition into the country of the Ammonites, and laid it all waste, and took a large prey, and so returned to his own country most gloriously.
So the people were greatly pleased at these excellent performances of Saul, and rejoiced that they had constituted him their king. They also made a clamor against those that pretended he would be of no advantage to their affairs; and they said, Where now are these men? - let them be brought to punishment, with all the like things that multitudes usually say when they are elevated with prosperity, against those that lately had despised the authors of it. But Saul, although he took the good-will and the affection of these men very kindly, yet did he swear that he would not see any of his countrymen slain that day, since it was absurd to mix this victory, which God had given them, with the blood and slaughter of those that were of the same lineage with themselves; and that it was more agreeable to be men of a friendly disposition, and so to betake themselves to feasting.
4. And when Samuel had told them that he ought to confirm the kingdom to Saul by a second ordination of him, they all came together to the city of Gilgal, for thither did he command them to come. So the prophet anointed Saul with the holy oil in the sight of the multitude, and declared him to be king the second time. And so the government of the Hebrews was changed into a regal government; for in the days of Moses, and his disciple Joshua, who was their general, they continued under an aristocracy; but after the death of Joshua, for eighteen years in all, the multitude had no settled form of government, but were in an anarchy; after which they returned to their former government, they then permitting themselves to be judged by him who appeared to be the best warrior and most courageous, whence it was that they called this interval of their government the Judges.
5. Then did Samuel the prophet call another assembly also, and said to them,
" I solemnly adjure you by God Almighty, who brought those excellent brethren, I mean Moses and Aaron, into the world, and delivered our fathers from the Egyptians, and from the slavery they endured under them, that you will not speak what you say to gratify me, nor suppress any thing out of fear of me, nor be overborne by any other passion, but say, What have I ever done that was cruel or unjust? or what have I done out of lucre or covetousness, or to gratify others? Bear witness against me, if I have taken an ox or a sheep, or any such thing, which yet when they are taken to support men, it is esteemed blameless; or have I taken an ass for mine own use of any one to his grief? - lay some one such crime to my charge, now we are in your king's presence."
But they cried out, that no such thing had been done by him, but that he had presided over the nation after a holy and righteous manner.
6. Hereupon Samuel, when such a testimony had been given him by them all, said,
Now, as soon as he had said this, God gave such great signals by thunder and lightning, and the descent of hail, as attested the truth of all that the prophet had said, insomuch that they were amazed and terrified, and confessed they had sinned, and had fallen into that sin through ignorance; and besought the prophet, as one that was a tender and gentle father to them, to render God so merciful as to forgive this their sin, which they had added to those other offenses whereby they had affronted him and transgressed against him.
So he promised them that he would beseech God, and persuade him to forgive them these their sins. However, he advised them to be righteous, and to be good, and ever to remember the miseries that had befallen them on account of their departure from virtue: as also to remember the strange signs God had shown them, and the body of laws that Moses had given them, if they had any desire of being preserved and made happy with their king. But he said, that if they should grow careless of these things, great judgments would come from God upon them, and upon their king. And when Samuel had thus prophesied to the Hebrews, he dismissed them to their own homes, having confirmed the kingdom to Saul the second time.
(9) Take here Theodoret's note, cited by Dr. Hudson:
"He that exposes his shield to the enemy with his left hand, thereby hides his left eye, and looks at the enemy with his right eye: he therefore that plucks out that eye, makes men useless in war."
(10) Mr. Reland observes here, and proves elsewhere in his note on Antiq. B. III. Ch. 1. Sect. 6, that although thunder and lightning with us usually happen in summer, yet in Palestine and Syria they are chiefly confined to winter. Josephus takes notice of the same thing again, War, B. IV. Ch. 4. Sect. 5.