We have taken notice of the wickedness of Nahash, the king of the Ammonites. Invading Gilead, he laid siege to Jabesh east of the Jordan. Feeling certain that they could expect no help from their brethren anywhere—their pessimism was justified; the nation had rejected and forsaken the Lord and therefore it lived in dread of the heathen—the Jabeshites decided to surrender. But what would the Ammonite king do to them once he had them in his hands? The men of Jabesh were afraid, understanding, as they did, that the mercies of the godless are cruel. So they tried to bargain with Nahash. They said to him that if he promised that he would lift the siege and withdraw his troops and peacefully return to his own country, they would own him as their master and pass under his yoke. This is the meaning of their saying to him, “Make a covenant with us and we will serve thee.” Nahash was quick to perceive the significance of that proposal. It meant that the tribes of Israel were unwilling to risk going to war with him for the sake of their distressed brethren. The terrible shame of it! That was Nahash’s opportunity to make a spectacle of the nation before the eyes of all the world. He resolved to do just that. To achieve his aim he conceived the diabolical idea to put out all the right eyes of the men of Jabesh. Their being compelled to allow him to do that to them—compelled because their brethren refused to come to their rescue—would brand Israel reprobated in the sight of all the nations. It was plainly Nahash’s aim to disgrace Israel, to set it forth a people demoralized to the core. For he wanted Israel’s God blasphemed. Those eyeless sockets in the faces of the men of Jabesh would betoken better than anything else could that the people of Israel and Israel’s God were devoid of every virtue. For they would betoken, would those eyeless sockets, that the Jehovah of the Hebrews was capable of leaving his own devotees in the lurch when they needed Him most, and that His people were capable of a similar enormity. One of two, the Lord lacked either the power or the will to save. That such was Nahash’s reasonings is plain from his words, “That I may thrust out your right eyes, and lay it for a reproach—mark you, reproach, scorn, contempt (Hebrew, cherpah)—upon all Israel. That ignominious mark, borne by the nation as put upon it by Nahash, would express his utter contempt for the people of Israel and at once justify in the eyes of the nations his low estimation of them. For it would expose them to the world as a nation of men devoid of every manly virtue.
Doubtless Nahash was delighted that the elders of Jabesh asked for seven days respite that they might send messengers unto all the coasts of Israel with a view to acquainting the tribes with the terrible plight oi Jabesh. There was not the faintest doubt in his depraved soul that the messengers would get no response. The appeal for help having gone unheeded, the unwillingness of the nation to come to the rescue of Jabesh would be a proved fact.
As Nahash had anticipated, the grievous message of the elders of Jabesh fell on deaf ears. The people of Israel, held back it must be by fear of Nahash’s military might and by indifference to the plight of their brethren, failed to bestir themselves. This is not expressly stated, but it is clearly indicated by Saul’s threatening to hew in pieces the oxen of every Israelite that should not come after him and Samuel. Doubtless he was thus compelled to threaten the nation in order to get action. The reluctance of the people is further indicated by the notice that the terror of the Lord fell upon the people as threatened by Saul “and they came out as one man.” This cannot mean, as some interpreters have it, that the people recognized the holy and righteous will of their covenant God and were seized by a wholesome fear before the Lord which led them to recognize the obligation to fulfil His command revealed through Saul and were thus suddenly lifted up to a new spiritual life before God. Israel at this time was carnal. In asking for a king it had rejected the Lord; and it persistently was refusing to confess this great sin. Besides, according to the Hebrew text it was not the fear (jaree) but the terror (pachad) of the Lord that fell upon the people, an unwholesome, carnal fright, identical in its nature to the terror by which the wicked will be seized in the day of judgment. It was a terror that the Spirit of God awakened in them, and its object was the Lord and His anointed, king Saul and Samuel. The people were suddenly made to tremble also before Saul, who after his election had returned to his home as unrecognized by the people in his capacity of king, set over them by the Lord. Some had revealed that they despised him in their heart, because they judged that he was devoid of manly virtue, seeing that he hid himself among the stuff. Certainly all but a few were indifferent toward him. The nation was carnal. Its heart was far from God. In despising Saul, the Lord’s own gift to His people, it added to its guilt.
When the men of Gibeah, where Saul dwelt, received the tidings of the plight of Jabesh, they were sore distressed for their brethren’s sake. “And all the people lifted up their voices and wept”. Further than bewailing the lot of their brethren they went not. Coming in from the field, Saul inquired after the cause of the people’s grief, and was told the tidings of the elders of Jabesh. Then we read, “And the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard these tidings, and his anger was kindled greatly.” It was not the anger of spiritual love that kindled in Saul’s bosom, but the kind of wrath that takes its rise in the flesh and ends in man. Saul was furious beyond words, not because Nahash was striking at God but because the people that he wanted to disgrace were Israelites. Besides, especially the Jabeshites were likely to have a warm place in Saul’s heart. For, as was stated, the men of Jabesh had taken no part in that terrible war of the tribes against Benjamin—a war in which Benjamin had suffered near-extinction. That the Jabeshites had taken no part in that war perhaps also explains the weeping of the Gibeonites. These people were Benjamites. ,
Saul and his men to the number of three hundred and thirty thousand marched against Nahash. And the Lord gave victory for (His name’s sake. His reputation was at stake here. The people of Israel had rejected Him their invisible redeemer-King, and they were approving that great sin by their persistent impenitence. Could the Lord love and save such a people? That question now had been answered fully. Though the nation deserved to perish at the hands of its enemies, the Lord gave them a human king to save them also out of the hand of Nahash. The battle was fought. The Ammonites were slain. They which remained were scattered, so that two of them were not left together. But the victory was the Lord’s. He had risen, and His enemies were scattered. They fled before Him. As smoke is driven away, so He had driven them away. Just because the people of Israel had rejected Him and in consequence thereof were enveloped by the cloud of His anger—they groaned under the oppression of foreign dominions—He gave them a king, His purpose being to deliver them from His own wrath. As to Israel’s war with Nahash, the human impulses under which it was fought was not faith in the Lord but the natural, carnal wrath of a human king and the natural dread of a people for this king. For Israel, being carnal could exercise no faith in God. It had rejected Him without repenting. But also the carnal wrath, sympathy and dread of carnal men are in God‘s hands and are thus included in the things—all things—that work together for good to them That love God, the true Israel, but an Israel by nature dead in sin as well as the others and in that death hating and rejecting God. It was this Israel, the Israel according to the election of grace, that the Lord loved and for whose sake He sent deliverance even by the hand of a carnal Saul and the carnal Israel. He could do that as the hearts of kings and all men are in His hands. This is the truth contained in the notice that the terror of the Lord fell upon the people as threatened by their human king so that they came out as one man and in that other notice that the “Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard those tidings and his anger was kindled greatly.”