Saul’s First Test

I Samuel 11

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
August 2020

This chapter brings up an interesting question.  It is a question that there is a lot of confusion on.  Is it sinful to be angry?

If it is, is it always sinful?  Most believe it is.  I Samuel 11 gives us an answer.  What it says may sound a little shocking.  It is not what most people believe.  it is not what most people have been taught.

In the last chapter Saul becomes king.  Now the king is tested.  He faces his first test and he passes the test.  Saul starts out great.  This is a short chapter.  It is only eleven verses long.

It is a man’s chapter. There is a lot of action and violence, a lot of fighting.  Bad things happen in this chapter and God brings good out of evil.  In an earlier chapter, we saw how God brought good out of a PERSONAL TRAGEDY (some missing donkeys).

Now, he is going to bring good out of a NATIONAL TRAGEDY.  He is going to bring good from the evil.  He is going to bring good out of terrorism.  He brings good out of the violent Ammonites.  That is like bringing good out of ISIS, the holocaust or COVID.

Chronology of Events

To understand this chapter, you have to understand five events.  We are going to look at them briefly.

Event One

Israel asked for a king and got one. They got their first king, their first monarch.  They wanted a king like all of the other countries had.  They did not want an invisible king.  They wanted a king who would fight their battles and that is what they got.

Event Two

The king goes home.  After the king was chosen, he went home (I Samuel 10:26).  He did not set up a big bureaucracy.  He did not immediately move into the White House.  He did not sit on his throne in some fancy palace.  He went home and he went back to farming.  When we see Saul in this chapter, he is out in the field, plowing with oxen.  He was an old farm boy.

Event Three

A city is attacked.   The city of Jabesh Gilead is attacked by the Ammonites around 1043 BC.  Several ancient sources tell us that this took place about a month after Saul became king (DSS, LXX, Josephus).  The city they attacked (Jabesh Gilead) just happened to be the same tribe as Saul was.

Apparently, the Ammonites did not get the memo that a new king was chosen in Israel and he was from the tribe of Benjamin.  They assumed that Israel had no central government and was just a coalition of tribes.  They attacked Jabesh Gilead and put a siege around the city.  They cut if off from the rest of the world.  No one could get out and no one could get in.

That is how the chapter begins.  Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh Gilead (I Samuel 11:1 NIV).  That is what the Hebrew text says (MT) but there is another reading of this verse found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Now Nahash king of the Ammonites oppressed the Gadites and the Reubenites severely. He gouged out the right eye of all of them and there was no one to save Israel. There did not remain an Israelite man who was beyond the Jordan whose right eye Nahash king of the Ammonites did not gouge out, except seven thousand men who escaped from the hand of the Ammonites and went to Jabesh Gilead. And they were there about a month.[1]

The Hebrew Bible does not say this.  It is not in the Masoretic Text (MT).  It is in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Did this actually happen?  We do not know for sure.

This may not have been Nahash’s first military campaign against the people of Israel.  The Ammonites were located east of the Jordan River.  The tribes of Reuben and Gad also lived east of the Jordan River.  They may have attacked them first.

The Ammonites surround Jabesh Gilead.  The people ask for a treaty (I Samuel 11:1).  They say, “We will give you one, but we have to cut the right eyes out of all of your soldiers first” (I Samuel 11:2)

The Ammonites were terrorists.  Terrorism did not begin in our day.  It is not a new phenomenon.  The first terrorists were not Muslim.  Terrorism existed in Samuel and Saul’s day.  Nahash was a terrorist.

He wanted to gouge out the eyes of his enemies.  He did not just want to hurt them, he wanted to humiliate them.  He wanted to physical mutilate and dismember them.  It was cruel.  It was inhumane.  It was barbaric.

To make matters worse, the Ammonites were related to these people.  They were kin.  They had a blood connection.  The Ammonites were descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew.  They were descendants of Lot’s youngest daughter through incest (Genesis 19:30-38) but they were still family.  The Ammonites are attacking their own relatives.

God is going to use the Ammonites to spotlight the new king.  He used a crisis to bring out Saul’s leadership qualities.  A good crisis often brings out the best in leaders.  George W. Bush leadership abilities were on display after 911. The coronavirus has brought out Donald Trump’s leadership abilities.

Event Four

Saul saved the city from destruction.  His first day on the job and he is thrown into the hot seat.  Saul faces his first test as king and passes the test with flying colors.  This was Saul’s finest hour.  Saul comes face to face with evil.

He comes face to face with barbarism.  He comes face to face with terrorism and he did not fear.  He did not back down.  The people wanted to surrender and make a treaty but he didn’t.  Saul was fearless.  There was no negotiating with evil.  There was no negotiating with terrorists.

The people ask for more time to make a decision and are given a week (I Samuel 11:3).  Everyone is crying and weeping.  Saul hears about what is going on, gets angry, cuts up an ox in pieces and sends it to the other tribes (I Samuel 11:6-7).

Saul went right into action.  He took charge of the situation.  He got the nation together in a crisis situation.  Saul may have been the king but he did not have a standing army.  He mobiles one quickly.  He mobilizes an army of over 300,000 soldiers.

He did not just quickly organize an army.  He planned an attack and the planning involved some military strategy.  They marched all night.  They attacked them early in the morning while they were all asleep.  He attacked them when they least expected it.

He attacked them from three directions (I Samuel 11:11).  It is hard enough to fight off an attacker from one direction if you are not prepared but Saul attacked them from three directions.

One hundred thousand troops attacked the Ammonites from three different directions.  It was the classic ambush strategy and it worked.  The Ammonites were totally wiped out, except for just a few men who escaped.

Event Five

Saul is celebrated and honored as king.  He is publicly affirmed as king.  He has become a war hero.  So all the people went to Gilgal and made Saul king in the presence of the Lord. (I Samuel 11:14 NIV).  He has the whole nation behind him and the whole nation is united.

Relevance Today

Why does this chapter matter?  Why is it important to us today?  This chapter is important for two reasons.  First, this chapter points us to Jesus.  Second, this chapter teaches us a valuable lesson.  Let’s look at these two points.

1. This chapter points us to Jesus.  The whole Bible points to Jesus and so does this chapter.

Saul: A Type of Christ

Saul is a type of Christ.  There are two main characters in I Samuel: Samuel and Saul.  Both men are types of Christ.  They are both pictures of Christ.

We know how Samuel was a type of Christ but how could King Saul possibly be a type of Christ?  Saul was an evil ruler.  He tried to kill David repeatedly.  He tried to kill his own son and his own son-in-law.  He was demonized.  He participated in the occult.

How could Saul possibly be a type of Christ?  We see how Saul could be a type of Jesus in this chapter.  Let me point out several similarities between Jesus and Saul. You cannot read this chapter and miss this.  It is important.

1) Both Jesus and Saul were kings

They were from different tribes.  Saul was from the Tribe of Benjamin (I Samuel 9:1-3).  Jesus was from Judah, but both were Jewish kings.  Saul was a king and Jesus is the king of kings.  Both started their ministry around the same time.  Saul became king at the age of thirty.  Jesus began his ministry around the age of thirty.

2) Both started their ministry at the age of thirty.

Both started their public ministry around the same time.  Saul became king at the age of thirty (I Samuel 13:1).  Jesus began his public ministry around the age of thirty (Luke 3:23).

3) Both Jesus and Saul were anointed

Both were not only kings; they were anointed kings.  Saul was anointed by Samuel with a flask of oil.  Jesus was also anointed.  He was anointed by Mary of Bethany.  He was anointed with the Holy Spirit.  In fact, the word “Messiah” means “anointed one.”

4) Both Jesus and Saul were Spirit-filled

When they began their ministries, the Spirit of God came on them.  The Spirit came on Saul.  When he and his servant arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he joined in their prophesying. (I Samuel 10:6 NIV).  When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger. (I Samuel 11:6 NIV)

The same was true of Jesus.  When Jesus began his ministry, He was baptized, and the Spirit descended on Him like a dove (Luke 3:22).  Luke 4:14 says that he returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.

He went to Nazareth, entered the local synagogue, stood us and said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 NIV).

5) Both Jesus and Saul defeat a powerful enemy

Saul defeated Nahash, the king of Ammon.  Nahash in Hebrew (nah-hash) means “serpent”.  Nahash was the serpent king.  He was a wicked king.  He was a powerful king.  He was intimidating.  He wanted to poke people’s eyes out and mutilate them.  Saul defeated the serpent king and so did Jesus on the cross.

6) Both Jesus and Saul delivered their people

They both delivered Israel from their enemies.  Saul delivered the Israelites form the Ammonites.  The word “save” or “salvation” is found three times in this chapter (I Samuel 11:3, 9, 13).  Saul is a savior in a military sense. He had a great victory.  He was the savior king, but Jesus is the real Savior King.

He is the savior of the world.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  He delivers people from their sins, but Jesus will also deliver people in a military sense.  At the Second Coming, when He returns, people die.  His robe is dipped in blood.  The Battle of Armageddon takes place.

7) Both Jesus and Saul were humble

The first king of Israel was not proud, ambitious.  He is humble.  He is humble in I Samuel 9, I Samuel 10 and I Samuel 11.  We see this quality repeatedly in Saul.

When Samuel said to him, “to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?” 21 Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” (I Samuel 9:20-21 NIV)

In I Samuel 10, his uncle asked him what Samuel said to him when he saw him (I Samuel 10:15).  He did not take that as an opportunity to talk about his own political future.

He completely sidestepped the question.  He did not tell him anything about him being king (I Samuel 10:16).  When he was chosen by lot to be king, he was hiding among the baggage (I Samuel 10:22).

We see this at the end of I Samuel 10.  Not everyone likes Saul.  Some worthless fellows said, “How can this fellow save us?” They despised him and brought him no gifts. But Saul kept silent (I Samuel 10:27 NIV).  We also see this quality of Saul in I Samuel 11.

12 The people then said to Samuel, “Who was it that asked, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Turn these men over to us so that we may put them to death.” 13 But Saul said, “No one will be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel.” (I Samuel 11:12-13 NIV).

This seems like the character of Christ.  Saul was not mean and vindictive.  It is what we see in Jesus.  He was gracious.  He was compassionate towards sinners.

He was compassionate to the worst of sinners.  He was meek and lowly of heart (Matthew 11:29). He prayed for His enemies and said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

8) Both Jesus and Saul were tested

A month after he became king, Saul was tested.  He faced a major crisis.  He passed the test.  He will not pass some other tests.  Jesus also was tested immediately after the Holy Spirit came on Him in the form of a dove.  He was tested by Satan in the wilderness.

9) Both Jesus and Saul receive vindication

Saul is publicly celebrated as king by the people.  He becomes a war hero.  Jesus will return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Everyone one will day be forced to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord.

2. This chapter has a valuable message for us about anger

Anger is a big problem in our day.  A spirit of anger has gripped the nation. Husbands are angry.  Wives are angry.  Children are angry.  Drivers on the road are angry.

Politicians are angry.  Protesters are angry.  People are out demonstrating with a spirit of anger.  Some preachers are angry.  They are always screaming, yelling and hollering.  There are some hate-filled preachers in some churches.

Many preachers have gotten it wrong on anger.  Some says that anger as always bad.  They say that anger is always sinful.  I Samuel 11 teaches something very different.  This chapter will go against what a lot of people believe.  It goes completely against what a lot of preachers say.

Not only is anger not always wrong, sometimes anger is good.  We know that because Jesus got angry (Mark 3:5).  I Samuel 11:6 says, “When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger” (NIV).  What do we learn about about anger from I Samuel 11?

1) Some events caused us to become angry

Something happened in the world, Saul heard about it and got angry.  He got really angry.  It says that Saul burned in anger (NIV).  He did not just become angry, he became “very angry” (NASB, NLT).  His anger was kindled GREATLY (KJV).

He was angry at Nahash.  He was angry at the Ammonites.  He was angry at and how God’s people were being treated.  He was angry at what was done to the people of God by the enemies of God right within the borders of Israel.

2) Anger leads us to take certain actions

Saul got angry and he did something.  Some people get angry and just talk about how bad things are.  Saul got angry and did something.  He was not just passive.  He acted and he acted decisively.

He cut a couple oxen into pieces and sent them through Israel.  Here you have to know the history of Jabesh Gilead.  Saul did not cut up a concubine in pieces and sent it to the other tribes like the Levite did in Judges 19 but he did cut up some oxen.

Then he organized an army and attacked the enemy.  He did not just get angry and talk about it (like we often do), he did something about the situation.  Is anger led to a military operation.  This is where it gets interesting.  Anger can lead to actions.  Sometimes the actions are sinful and wicked but not always.

3) Anger can be inspired by the Holy Spirit.

When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger. (I Samuel 11:6 NIV)

The Spirit of the Lord came upon Saul and he got angry.  This was God-inspired rage.  It was Spirit-directed and God-inspired. This was holy anger.  There is such a thing as an anger prompted by the Spirit.  The Spirit of God led Saul into righteous anger.  This anger was a direct result of the Holy Spirit coming upon Saul.

4) Anger can be sinful

Anger can also be sinful. Most of the time when we get angry, it is not because the Holy Spirit comes on us, it is because our sin nature (our flesh) comes on us.  Anger can be a work of the flesh.  How do you know when anger is sinful?

When anger is sinful, it is uncontrolled.  It controls you.  You do not control it.  That kind of anger does not come from the Holy Spirit because self control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23).  When anger is sinful, it is excessive.

If you want to see sinful anger, you just need to watch the news every night.  People on the street are protesting the death of George Floyd.   People were angry over racial injustice in the 1960s.  That was combined with self control.  The protests during the time of Martin Luther King were peaceful and nonviolent.

The anger over the death of George Floyd has turned into an uncontrollable rage.  It has led to rioters and looters and arsonists and murderers.  Anger that comes from the Holy Spirit results in justice, not injustice.


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