Saul Steps Up! — Part Two
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Saul Steps Up! — Part Two

1 Samuel 11:5–15  (ID: 3376)

As word of the Ammonites reached Saul, the anointed king was in a field, oblivious of the brutal threat against his people. Before long, though, he had led his people to victory had been installed as king under the Lord. What changed? Alistair Begg leads us through this exciting episode in 1 Samuel 11, demonstrating that Israel was saved not because they had a king but because their king possessed the Spirit of God. The Israelites may have been keen to reject the Lord, but He was not about to give up on them.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 and 2 Samuel, Volume 2

Saul, Israel’s First King 1 Samuel 8:1–15:35 Series ID: 109012

Sermon Transcript: Print

And I invite you to turn to 1 Samuel 11. Those of you who were not present this morning, which will be a number of you, should know that we didn’t get through the material this morning, and so I said that we would return to it and try and bring closure to what we had begun.

Let’s pick it up at verse 5, shall we? Let me read a section here just to get us started. And then, if you keep the text open, then I think that will be sufficient.

“Now, behold, Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen. And Saul said, ‘What is wrong with the people, that they are weeping?’ So they told him the news of the men of Jabesh. And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled.”

And as I say, if you keep the text open, then you’ll be able to follow along.

Father, we’ve prayed in our song that you will speak through your Word, and we want always to come to the Lord’s Table in light of the truth of your Word, so that we don’t get involved in some strange sacramentalism or even mysticism but that we would understand clearly that we meet you first of all through your Word, in the Bible, hearing from you. We want to hear from you now, and we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

We began by considering the fact that the melody line of salvation not only runs through the Bible but certainly can help us in trying to get our minds underneath this text of Scripture. And we had come to the section that begins here, really, in verse 5 and contains the salvific reference there in verse 9, where the announcement was going to be made, “Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have salvation.”

And we recognized—and it’s from here that we go on—we recognized that Saul, throughout the early part of all of this record, is almost entirely passive. He doesn’t speak much, and he seems to be far more in a responsive mode. Even with his servant, if you remember, right back in the beginning, when they’re out looking for the donkeys, Saul’s the one who says, “Well, I think we probably should go back. My father is thinking about us, definitely.” And it’s the servant who says, “No, there is a man of God in this place.”[1]

And here we find him in verse 5 coming into the community—out of the country area, presumably—and walking behind his oxen, and he has no idea why it is that the people are weeping as they are. It is up to them, then, to inform him, and when they give to him the news of the aggressive, cruel, defiant behavior of the Ammonite man Nahash, then two things happen almost simultaneously: one, the truth dawns him at the end of verse 5, and then in verse 6, “And the Spirit of God rushed upon [him] when he heard these words.” And what then unfolds is not on account of the fact that Saul was peculiarly good at leadership, because we have no indication of that as yet, but it was on account of the fact that the Spirit of God was equipping him for the task to which he was calling him. And we reminded ourselves of the words to Zerubbabel in Zechariah 4:6: “Not by might,” and not “by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.”

Now, when you think about the impact of the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God rushing upon someone, in the context of Judges and 1 Samuel, of course, there are some dramatic incidents. You can think in terms of Samson and what it meant for Samson to be possessed of the Spirit in that peculiar way—amazing displays of strength[2]—and then, of course, for Saul earlier in the narrative to have been included among the prophetic band and for him to be saying things and doing things that made everybody ask the question, “Well, what in the world has happened to Saul? He seems different from how we knew him.”[3]

And very often, when people speak about the impact of the Holy Spirit—and many of the songs that are written are peaceful songs, and understandably so. There is a sense of tranquility to them. For example, in the ’60s, if you grew up in the ’60s, and some of the American songs of the ’60s—I remember the gentleman from the West Coast, whose name escapes me for the moment, but I preached with him in Wales many years ago. But he wrote the song, you know, that has to do with the Spirit being “in this place.” And then the language goes on, “And I can hear the rush of angels’ wings, and there’s glory on each face.” “Surely the Spirit of”—that’s it—“surely the Spirit of the Lord is in this place. I can feel the rush of angels’ wings and glory on each face.”[4]

Well, interestingly, there’s no rushing of angels’ wings here in particular, but you will notice that the impact of the Spirit of God on Saul was that “his anger was greatly kindled.” So it helps us to round out our understanding of the work of the Spirit of God in the life of the servant of God. I’m not gonna build a doctrine on the fact that Saul was rushed by the Spirit and thereby became angry, but we do recognize the fact that his righteous response is in keeping with the response of the character of God, who “opposes the proud,” who “gives grace to the humble,”[5] who lifts up the broken and puts up on the right feet those who are bowed down and downhearted. And so Saul is now aware of the fact that the people of God, the nation of Israel, the men of Jabesh-gilead, have been intimidated and are threatened with abject humiliation, and so his anger is kindled.

And as a result of that, what we have is a dramatic and unmistakable call to war. You will notice what he does. When I was telling my granddaughters about this yesterday, in the afternoon, they thought it was very strange. And I said, “Well, of course, it is very strange.” “Go out,” he says to the messengers. “Thanks for letting me know, but I’d like you to go now, and I’d like you to take this little FedEx package around the community. I’ve just cut up my oxen here. I’ve divided them up into pieces, and I’d like you to go from house to house with them. Now, when you get there, you should let them know that I want them to understand that if they don’t come out and fight this vagabond, then I will do to their oxen what I have done to my oxen.” So in other words, here he is, he comes behind the oxen, he makes the discovery, he is overwhelmed by the Spirit of God, his righteous anger is kindled, and all of a sudden he’s a leader. All of a sudden he’s got a strategy. He didn’t have it before. He hasn’t been doing anything at all, really—just wandering around and going home. And now here he is.

Now, you’ll see what happens is that “the dread of the Lord fell upon the people.” “The dread of the Lord fell upon the people.” This isn’t some kind of happy, clappy adventure. No. No, there was a dreadfulness about it. “Something must be dreadfully wrong for this man whom we have acclaimed as king to do this to his oxen and to send the message out that he feels very, very strongly about the fact that we’re supposed to show up for battle.” And so the response is very clear in verse 7: “And they came out as one man.”

Now, we could pause on this—and we won’t—and think about what happens when leadership amongst the people of God is possessed of clarity of purpose, is able to see engendered among those who are led a unity of spirit, and who is enabled by the Spirit of God to then lead from a position of humility of heart. Saul is no longer hiding-in-the-baggage mode. He recognizes that there is, as Ecclesiastes reminds us, “a time for war, and a time for peace.”[6] And once again, the messengers are on assignment. They are supposed to get out now, and they are to spend their energies in making sure that they will be able to convey to the men of Jabesh-gilead this amazing good news: “Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have salvation.”

That just sent me again, just because of the way my mind works, looking for Larry Norman in the 1960s. Some of you say, “I don’t know who the fellow is,” but he had long hair, he was an American fellow, and he sang a song that began like this: [sings]. I thought, “What the world is that? How can you have a song that begins like that?” And then it went, “If you know a little story, you don’t keep it to yourself.” He was about as good as this that sang it, all right?

You tell it to your children
When you tuck them into bed,
And if you know a wonderful secret,
You don’t keep it to yourself,
’Cause a lifetime filled with Jesus
Is a like a road that never ends.
So let’s sing the sweet, sweet song of salvation,
And let the music fill the air.
Let’s sing the sweet, sweet song of salvation,
And tell the people everywhere.[7]

That was the song. So I found myself, “I’ve got to find that song”—which, of course, you can now, because there’s a thing called the internet, if you’ve noticed. And so I remembered the song, but I didn’t remember how bad he was at singing.

But I said to myself, “That’s exactly what he said: ‘I want you to go out into the community, and sing the sweet, sweet song of salvation.’” This is the whole gospel. This, incidentally, is what we’re supposed to do. We have a King. He’s called Jesus. He’s the triumphant one. Go out and tell the world. “Tomorrow, go and tell them,” says Saul, “that by high noon, by the time the sun is in the height of the sky, there will be salvation.” What a tremendous and wonderful story!

And how masterful is the understatement at the end of verse 9? “When the messengers came and told the men of Jabesh, they were glad.” That’s wonderful understatement, isn’t it? “You mean they weren’t jumping up and down?” No. But they were glad. They were glad. They were glad. “Therefore,” because they were glad, because of the good news that had come, “the men of Jabesh said” to the archenemy and his hordes, “‘Tomorrow we will give ourselves up to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you.’” Now, you need to go back to the very beginning of the chapter and remember that that is the kind of statement that they were making in the third verse: “If there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves up to you.” Now, the language in the text is somewhat variable, and it could also be translated “And we will come out and deliver ourselves to you.” It could be put in a number of ways.

No matter how educated or uneducated you are, no matter how spectacular you appear to be or how common and ineffectual you appear to be, the unifying factor and the empowering factor is the Spirit of God himself.

But clearly what you have here in this, given what we know of the background, given what we know about what is to happen, is that they’re saying, “Tomorrow we will come and give ourselves up to you,” but under their breath they’re saying, “however, that’s not all we’re planning to do.” In other words, they’re having a Kenny Rogers moment. Okay?

You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.[8]

You don’t engage in warfare against somebody who wants to gouge your eyes out without making sure that you’re in a position to be able to handle him—unless you’re just stupid. And they clearly weren’t stupid. When you face a vicious tyrant, you don’t want Chamberlain; you want Winston Churchill. And that is what they’re doing here. They’re skillful, they’re ready, they’re thinking, they’re under the leadership, and they’re about to see salvation come.

Having come together “as one man” in verse 7, it unfolds as per the plan, for Saul has put the company together. And he’s operated along the lines of Gideon, when you go back and consider the battle plan in Judges. And the one man, moving together in opposition to the forces of the enemies, leaves a “scattered”—not a multitude but a “scattered”—force, “so that,” at the end of verse 11, “no two of them were left together.”

Well, it is quite remarkable, isn’t it? Incidentally, you know, if you just go back up—something that I missed that we shouldn’t miss. The word that was given up there in 7b, halfway through 7—what Saul said is quite interesting. He said, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel…” “Saul and Samuel.” It’s a little reminder, isn’t it, of at least this: what Ecclesiastes again says, that “two are better than one, because they have a good return for their [work]”?[9] And the story of the Bible underpins that, and so, actually, does the story of church history.

Well, that then brings us to the closing words, which come from verse 12 to the end. And it brings us to the fourth statement that we were considering concerning this notion of salvation. The first one: “How can this man save us?”[10] The second: “If there is [any]one to save us…” The third one, as we’ve just seen: “Tomorrow, … you [will] have salvation.” And now, we come to this final statement.

In the aftermath of the victory, you will notice that there is an immediate call for the death of the “worthless fellows.”[11] The people immediately said to Samuel, “Who is it that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’” Now, they’re not using the exact same terminology, but what they’re clearly referring to is what was our starting point back up in verse 27, because “some worthless fellows said, ‘How can this man save us?’” In other words, “How would we ever have this guy to rule over us?” It’s the same thing. And so the fellows come to him, and they say, “You know, why don’t we just put them to death?” It’s amazing, you know, once you get a taste for killing, apparently you decide to kill anybody you can. And so they thought it would be good. It’s also a wonderful way to apportion blame and to make one feel better about oneself. I can’t but imagine that there were more worthless fellows than had actually identified themselves, and some who by their silence had joined them now find themselves suggesting that those who were the most vocal on the matter should be put to death.

But Saul, you will notice now, establishes his leadership in another way. And he says, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.” So now we’re beginning to see that the leadership of Saul, if it’s going to be any good, will be good because it is motivated and empowered by the Holy Spirit and is under the jurisdiction of God, who is King. Although he didn’t have access to Psalm 124, he would have been in tune with its message. You remember how this psalm begins: “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, then we would have been swallowed up alive.”[12] And so Saul understands the source of their deliverance: “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.” Salvation came not because Israel had a king but because the king had Yahweh’s Spirit.

This is, if you like, an Old Testament indication of John 15—Jesus to his followers: “Apart from me you can do nothing.”[13] You remember in the early days of the Acts, when the dramatic preaching and boldness of Peter and John, as representative of the others, begins to take hold in Jerusalem, and Luke records for us, “And when the people who were their opponents saw that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished.”[14]

Now, this is not an argument for being uneducated and common. That would be a foolish application of Scripture, wouldn’t it? So the application would be “Don’t go to school; try and be as dumb as you can. It will be very helpful in the kingdom.” No, that would be ridiculous. What does it point to? It points to the reality that no matter how educated you are or no matter how uneducated you are, no matter how spectacular you appear to be or how common and ineffectual you appear to be, the unifying factor and the empowering factor is the Spirit of God himself.

They “perceived that they were uneducated [and] common men,”[15] and “they marvelled” at their boldness, “and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”[16] The same characters who had it upside down when they’d been with Jesus after the resurrection: “Lord, are you this time gonna restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus says, “No, we’re not doing the kingdom to Israel right now. What we’re doing is evangelizing the world. But you guys, don’t go yet. You stay here. You stay here until the Holy Spirit of God rushes upon you. When that happens, then you go. Until that happens, you don’t go.”[17] And here Saul is the very epitome of that reality. How we need the power and enabling of the Spirit of God to do the work of God!

“There’ll be no murderous plot here today. No,” he says, “if you look, you can see what God has done. Samuel, why don’t you say a few words?” Verse 14: “Samuel said to the people, ‘Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom.’ So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul [the] king before the Lord in Gilgal.” How many times are you gonna say “Gilgal”? Why does he keep saying “Gilgal”? Well, we know now, don’t we? It’s mentioned, what, four times in this way, including the “there”? Six times, actually, maybe seven. It’s emphasis. Places matter. Places matter.

Surely Gilgal’s a good place to go. Why? Because of what we saw this morning in Joshua chapter 5. It was at Gilgal that the priests had walked on dry ground through the river Jordan—a reenactment of what had happened when the children of Israel had walked on dry ground through the Red Sea. And it was there at Gilgal that God had reminded them that he had removed their reproach, that he had removed their disgrace[18]—the kind of disgrace that was represented in the initial response of the people to Nahash when he came to them, which was to say, “Well, we’ll just make a treaty with you and become your servants. Well, okay, if you want to poke our eyes out, you need to give us seven days to try and work out a plan.”[19] What a dreadful predicament! What a change! You think leadership matters? You think places matter? Of course they matter!

And so Samuel says, “Let’s go there, and let’s renew the kingdom.” Now, we could spend a long time—which we don’t have, and therefore we won’t—debating the question “What kingdom are we renewing?” Whose kingdom? Are we renewing Saul’s kingdom, or are we renewing the King’s kingdom, God’s kingdom? Well, I think we don’t need to choose. Clearly, the people now are renewing their acclamation of Saul. But they are doing it, now, you will notice, in a way that hasn’t been done before: “There they made Saul king before [Yahweh] in Gilgal.” This is the stage four, isn’t it? Stage one, as we saw, private anointing. Stage two, personal confirmation, with the signs that accompanied Saul. Stage three, the public selection: “Long live the king!”[20] And now, stage four, the formal installation. So, in recognizing the place given to Saul, it’s actually a renewal of the people’s commitment to God as King, who has this day established Saul in this place; the King—namely, God—that they had rejected so that they might be like the other nations. They had been keen to reject him, but he was not about to give up on them.

I’m so glad that the God who has taken hold of my life holds me so strongly in his grip that even when I may like to give up on him, he has decided not to let go of me. That’s why we’re here. That’s why you’re still in the battle. That’s why you’re still running the race. He will hold me fast. “Now unto him [who] is able to keep [me] from falling, and to present [me] faultless before the presence of his glory [in Jesus] with exceeding joy…”[21]

No wonder, as Samuel goes on, and he says, “Listen, while we’re at it, let’s sacrifice peace offerings before the Lord.” Here they are in the place of fellowship. Here they are in the place of communion, if you like. And what a transformation from verse 4 to verse 15. The end of verse 4: “And all the people wept aloud.” And verse 15: “And all the [people] rejoiced greatly.” There we have it. What is it that takes us from our foolish weeping to our surprising rejoicing? Well, it is ultimately only God himself. And he renews his pledge to us, as it were, even as we have the opportunity to affirm our commitment to him and to this message of salvation. If we’re going to affirm our commitment to this message of salvation, then we can’t lose sight of it.

We don’t need to apologize for the fact of our inability to know God, to love God, to understand God, to serve God, except for the fact that he has chosen, in his immense grace, to take the initiative to redeem us and to restore us.

On one occasion Stott said, “Just [as] the world is becoming more aware of its need, the church is becoming less [assured] of its mission. And the major reason for [a] diminishing Christian mission,” he said, “is [the] diminishing confidence in the Christian message.” The “diminishing confidence in the Christian message.”[22] If we’re going to speak to people on a routine basis about the fact that Jesus is King, if we’re going to tell them that the story of the Bible is the story of salvation, that it runs as a melody throughout the whole panorama of Scripture, then we have to be able to articulate it in a way that is understandable by them.

We have to be unashamed in speaking about Genesis 1–11. We have to tell them that there was a real Adam and a real Eve, that they were made by God, and that they were aware of the fact that they were made by God, and that they knew that they had been made for God. We have to tell them that they doubted the goodness of God, that they rejected the wisdom of God, that they rebelled against the authority of God, and as a result they were banished from God’s presence. And then we have to tell them that despite that fact, God, because of his amazing love, set about to continue to reveal himself in the creative order and in the conscience of men and women—so much so that we can say to our friends, “You can run, but you can’t hide.”

And when our friends come back to us and say, “Well, you know, I can’t see any reason—no obvious, observable, believable reason—I can’t really see the light that you’re talking about,” what do you say then? You say, “Well, that’s because the darkness isn’t on the outside. The darkness is on the inside. The reason you can’t see is because you’re blind. And by nature you don’t have eyes to see, except your eyes are illuminated by the divine revelation of God by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, so as to make a person go, ‘Whoa!’” Who does that? God does that! And he does that despite the fact that we are indifferent, despite the fact that we are rebellious. He is amazingly gracious. We don’t need to apologize for the fact of our inability to know God, to love God, to understand God, to serve God, except for the fact that he has chosen, in his immense grace, to take the initiative to redeem us and to restore us. And he has done so throughout all of history by his actions, by his words, and finally, in a person.

Now, when you think about these things and you ponder the privilege of having had our eyes opened to see this and to believe it, then the challenge to proclaim it becomes the real issue, doesn’t it? And that’s the challenge that falls to all of us—not just to those of us who have any kind of public forum but in every case. But I want to say a word that can reach beyond myself to others who share my privilege. And instead of me saying it, let me just quote Tozer on this from an earlier era:

We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the [media], the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise … [it is] an ultimatum.[23]

And as I said in closing this morning, if I find myself uncomfortable with that picture—not of a business model but of a battleground—then it is probably because I just don’t recognize the enormity of the task and the nature of the challenge. So may God help us along those lines to think those things out.

Father, thank you that when we have time on our own with the Bible, we can go back and see if these things are so. Help us, then, to that end, we pray. And bless us as we take our place in the continuum of time. As we think about how far away Jabesh-gilead is, both in terms of geography and certainly in terms of chronology, when we think how distanced we are from those people—their lifestyle, the things they had that we don’t have and vice versa—we’re so vastly different. And the unifying factor is you. You are the faithful God, faithful to a thousand generations.[24] And we thank you for this. In your Son’s name. Amen.

[1] 1 Samuel 9:5–6 (paraphrased).

[2] See Judges 14:6.

[3] 1 Samuel 10:11 (paraphrased).

[4] Lanny Wolfe, “Surely the Presence of the Lord” (1977). Lyrics lightly altered.

[5] James 4:6 (ESV).

[6] Ecclesiastes 3:8 (ESV).

[7] Larry Norman, “Sweet, Sweet Song of Salvation” (1969). Paraphrased.

[8] Don Schlitz, “The Gambler” (1978).

[9] Ecclesiastes 4:9 (NIV).

[10] 1 Samuel 10:27 (ESV).

[11] 1 Samuel 10:27 (ESV).

[12] Psalm 124:1–3 (paraphrased).

[13] John 15:5 (ESV).

[14] Acts 4:13 (paraphrased).

[15] Acts 4:13 (ESV).

[16] Acts 4:13 (KJV).

[17] Acts 1:6–8 (paraphrased).

[18] See Joshua 5:9.

[19] See 1 Samuel 11:1–3.

[20] 1 Samuel 10:24 (ESV).

[21] Jude 24 (KJV).

[22] John R.W. Stott, The Authority of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1974), 31.

[23] A. W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God (1966), chap. 10, “The Old Cross and the New.”

[24] See Deuteronomy 7:9.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.