Saul having been publicly chosen by the lot, Samuel, so the sacred writer continues, ‘‘told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the Lord”. ( ). What Samuel told the people is not revealed. The notice therefore raises a question in connection with the divine command to Samuel ( ) to the effect that he witness against the people on account of their request that a king be set over them—witness against them by showing “the manner of the king that shall reign over them”, manner of the king, that is, as was explained, what would be his customary way of acting, normal behavior, what he would do as king in the throne. This king according to the witness of the seer, would usurp the Lord’s place in the Israelitish commonwealth and enslave God’s people. Is this “manner of the king” of Samuel’s witness the “manner of the kingdom” that the prophet wrote in a book and laid up before the Lord on the occasion of Saul’s public election? Doubtless the two are mutually exclusive. What favors this view is the difference between the form of the words of the two expressions “manner of the king,” and manner of the kingdom.” Then, too, why should Samuel once more have addressed to the people a word calculated to dissuade them from wanting to be ruled by a human king, seeing that they had gotten their way so that the king now stood before them. It is a safe conjecture, therefore, that the “manner of the kingdom” was the norm of the royal government according to which the king, as the vicar of the Lord, had to order his life, would he enjoy the favor of Heaven and not come to grief. Approximately four hundred years ago such a norm had been communicated in writing to the nation. It is contained in the book of Deuteronomy (chap. 17). If the above conjecture is correct, and doubtless it is, then it was this norm that formed the basis of the prophet’s address to the people on the occasion of Saul’s public election. If this conjecture is correct then the substance of what Samuel told the people is that the law of Jehovah must be with the king, and that therein he must read all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of His law to do them. . Fearing God, the king would prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel. But God would smite both king and people with the rod of (His anger, should they not fear Him to keep His law. In this vein Samuel must have addressed the people. Whether they responded with, “All that the Lord saith, we will do,” is not revealed. It is likely that they kept silence; for they were still impenitent. Yet Samuel wrote his words in a book, which he laid up before the Lord. This doing of the prophet had terrible significance. It indicated that the Lord would mark the transgression of His law by people and king, and avenge Himself upon His adversaries.
Then “Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house.” Saul also went home to Gibeah; and there went with him a band of men, whose hearts God had touched. But the children of Belial said, How shall this man save us? And they despised him, and brought him no presents.” The behavior of these children of Belial easily can be explained. What they wanted is a human king to substitute for Jehovah, a man whom they could make their expectation in the room of God. In a word, what they wanted is an idol. Saul would not do, so they concluded, for the man lacked courage, as his hiding himself among the baggage had indicated. How could such a one deliver them out of the hand of their oppressors? He had not in him the makings of a king. He was a coward, that’s what he was. “How shall this man save us?” they mockingly asked. For they worshipped not the Lord but man, courage in man, as forgetful that courage is of the Lord. And therefore they could have no patience with human weakness. For they wanted to trust in the arm of flesh, and therefore they wanted so much to trust in Saul. But he had made this impossible for them. He had hid himself among the stuff. And they were sorely disappointed and gave him no gifts. Away with the man.
But there were others who were differently disposed, men whose heart the Lord had touched, representative, it is certain, of the true Israel, and thus men who put their trust in the Lord, and who therefore were confident that the Lord would bring deliverance through Saul, whom they regarded as God’s gift to His people. And so they went with him to his home, as believing that through him the Lord would deliver His people.
Saul heard the mockery of the children of Beliel. But he was as though he had been deaf, so the text reads in the original. Such were Saul’s reactions to the taunts of those wicked men not because he was endowed with that wisdom of which the fear of the Lord is the beginning but rather because he had not the will to reply. For he was afraid and confused. (Had he not hid himself among the stuff? So he was glad that he could return to his home. For he wanted to be away from the crowd.
It was about this time that Nahash, king of the Ammonites, marched against Israel, and lay siege to Jabesh-Gilead, situated in Northern Gilead, and belonging to the half-tribe of Manasseh east of the Jordan. According to the text at, it was this incursion of the Ammonites that had caused the people of Israel to demand that a king be set over them. They now had their king; but he had returned to his home after his public election and was taking no action. For he had not the courage, as the Lord as yet had not raised him up.
The inhabitants of Jabesh tried to come to terms with Nahash. They said to him, “Make a covenant with us and we will serve thee.” Nahash was willing on the condition that they allow him to thrust out all their right eyes, and lay it for a reproach upon all Israel. Let us fathom the wickedness of this proposal Nahash felt certain that the people were afraid to come to the relief of their brethren in Gilead and that therefore the whole nation was at his mercy. Because he wanted this admitted and proved, he would make a covenant with the Jabeshites on condition that they allow him to thrust out their right eye. That would be to the world the tangible evidence that the whole nation was in his hand, body and soul. This explains his allowing the Jabeshites seven days respite, that they might send messengers unto the coasts of all Israel, appealing for help to their brethren. If the nation failed to respond, there would be nothing left for the Jabeshites to do but to allow Nahash to lay upon them that mark of ignominy.
When the men of Gibeah-Saul received the tidings, they were sore distressed for their brethren’s sake. For there was a special attachment between them and the Jabeshites. The latter had not taken part in the war of the ten tribes against Benjamin—a war that had resulted in the near-extermination of the brother tribe. Coming in from the field, Saul inquired after the cause of the people’s weeping, and was told the tidings of the men of Jabesh. And his anger kindled greatly, for the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. Taking a yoke of oxen, he cut them in pieces, and distributed the parts among the tribes by the hands of messengers, who explained the action as meaning that “whosoever cometh not forth after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen.” The measure that Saul adopted on this occasion to arouse the nation to action was indicative of the rashness that characterized the man throughout his reign. That the threat took effect was due to one thing: the fear of the Lord fell upon the people (). And the result was that they came out with one consent. The king numbered them; and the children of Israel 300,000, and the men of Judah 30,000. The men of Jabesh were told that help would be forthcoming. They could now reply to Nahash, which they did in these words, “Tomorrow we will come out unto you, and ye shall do with us all that seemeth good unto you.” The language employed was calculated to deceive the king, to throw him off guard. And so it did. And the result was that he failed to prepare for the battle that was pending. On the morrow Saul with the three companies into which he had put his people, suddenly fell upon the unsuspecting and disorganized Ammonitish host. The enemy was slain. They were scattered that badly that two of them were not left together.
The people of Israel were elated. Saul, to their mind had proved his mettle, and they hailed him now as a mighty man of valor. They ended with their victory in their king and thus failed to give God the glory. That they were men thus disposed is evident from their reactions. They said to Samuel, “Who is he that said, Shall Saul reign over us? bring the men, that we may put them to death.” They were that excited, now that it appeared that Saul was just the kind of man that they all along had desired. What they were willingly ignorant of is that the Lord had raised up Saul. Had he not hid himself among the stuff? How then were they to account for this sudden surge of courage in the man, being, as they were unmindful of the fact that the Spirit of the Lord had come upon him. Saul had the practical wisdom to resist those wicked men. He said to them, “There shall not a man be put to death this day: for today the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel.” That was a beautiful confession. And it was made by an unbeliever, for that is what Saul was despite his declaring that the victory had been the Lord’s.