This has got to be a difficult text for my Mennonite (= pacifist) friends! The Ammonites want to gouge out the right eyes of all the Gileadites. That is their condition for making a treaty with them.
The Israelites weep outloud when they hear of this impending disaster. Saul, returning from the fields, asks what’s wrong and is overcome with the Spirit of God and “he burned with anger” (v. 6). Against whom does Saul vent his anger? Against the people of God!
He cuts up the oxen and sends the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, threatening, “This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel” (v. 7). We read that the terror of the Lord falls on the people and “they came out together as one.”
As a result Saul mustered 300,000 men of Israel and 30,000 men of Judah. News of impending rescue is sent to the men of Jabesh Gilead who promise to surrender to the Ammonites the next day (v. 10).
Saul’s army breaks into the Ammonite camp late at night and slaughters them “until the heat of the day.” We read that “those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together” (v. 11).
But some of the people then want to execute those who had rejected Saul’s rulership. Saul, in a great act of mercy, intercedes for them and says, “No one will be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel” (v. 13).
Saul is made king in the presence of the Lord and there is a great celebration!
The takeaways from this chapter?
(1) There are real threats to the people of God. And there is a time for real leaders to step up and fight!
(2) God’s Word does not sugarcoat man’s inhumanity to man or the necessity (at times) to execute those who do evil.
(3) A holy anger can unite the people of God to do what is right!
(4) There is always room for mercy to be shown to others (those who opposed Saul’s kingship).