A New Hope
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Bible Passage: 1 Samuel 11
In less than a month, a new school year will begin. And I feel like this school year is loaded with hope after the year we just had. Teachers, students, parents – we are all looking forward to a new beginning. We are expecting things to be better.
And that is a great way to think about 1 Samuel 11. It is a new beginning for Israel. The people are pregnant with hope. The period of the Judges is finally over, and they are expecting great things from their new king.
1 Then Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh-gilead, and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you.”
This name – “Nahash” – means serpent. It’s the exact same word used in Genesis 3. The snake that tempted Adam and Eve was “Nahash”.
But there’s more. This man was an Ammonite. The Ammonites were cousins of the Israelites, descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot. They worshipped a god named Molech, who demanded child sacrifice. When the Ammonites conquered a new place, they would rip the babies out of pregnant women as sacrifices to Molech.
The point is that this was a significant enemy. At the end of the verse, you can sense the fear of the people as they tried to make a peace treaty with this enemy.
And this is a city you may remember. Jabesh-gilead was the home of the 400 young women who were kidnapped and forced to marry men from the tribe of Benjamin. This is no coincidence, because Saul would have been one of their descendants.
2 But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel.”
This was another practice of the Ammonites. Gouging out the right eye made the men unfit for military service, because one-eyed men aren’t very good with a sword and a shield.
3 The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days’ respite that we may send messengers through all the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves up to you.”
Nahash probably agreed to this because he didn’t expect anyone to come. But…
4 When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, they reported the matter in the ears of the people, and all the people wept aloud.
5 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.
Pay close attention to everything that happens next.
6 And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. 7 He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of the messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!” Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one man. 8 When he mustered them at Bezek, the people of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand. 9 And they said to the messengers who had come, “Thus shall you say to the men of Jabesh-gilead: ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have salvation.’” When the messengers came and told the men of Jabesh, they were glad. 10 Therefore the men of Jabesh said, “Tomorrow we will give ourselves up to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you.” 11 And the next day Saul put the people in three companies. And they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. And those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.
I want you to notice that this does not sound like the same man who was hiding with the baggage in the previous chapter. And there are some interesting details here that I don’t want you to miss.
Notice in verse 6, the “spirit of God rushed upon Saul”. That should remind us of Samson.
In verse 7, Saul cuts up the oxen and mails the parts across Israel. That should remind us of the Levite from Judges 19.
The number of soldiers in verse 8 and the three companies of verse 11 should remind us of Gideon.
The reference of Saul as savior should remind us of Othniel and Ehud.
What is happening here is unmistakable. Saul is really no different from the judges. He’s just another man whom God chose to use for His purposes. The subtext is clear.
God took a shy farmer and basically turned him into a super-judge.
And the backstory matters. God causes salvation to come out of “Gibeah”.
Do you remember the terrible story from Judges 19-21? It was several months ago, so let me summarize it. I told you at the time it was “rock bottom” for Israel. Gibeah is where wicked men abused the female servant of a Levite all night until she died. The Levite then cut her into 12 pieces, sent each piece to a different tribe, and it started a civil war that led to the deaths of 65,000 men as well as thousands of women and children. The tribe of Benjamin was almost wiped out, and only survived because the people kidnapped 400 women and forced them into marriage. And I already mentioned it earlier – these women were taken from Jabesh Gilead, the city under siege by the Ammonites. And Saul is one of their descendants!
Out of that complete mess, God raises up a new hope. And God is making something incredibly clear for those who have eyes to see it.
Salvation does NOT come from a king. It comes from God’s Spirit working through the king. God was saying to Israel what Christ Jesus says to us in John 15:5 – “without me you can do nothing”.
And for those who have eyes to see it, we should be thinking of Jesus right now.
Jesus was a humble carpenter’s son from Nazareth. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” That was the joke of the day. The family tree of Jesus was riddled with tragic stories. And from that mess, God raised up a Savior – THE Savior.
What does this mean for us? I want to suggest one simple application. Change is possible. It doesn’t matter how bad your story is. It doesn’t matter how much of a mess you’ve made up to this point. Change is possible.
The Gibeah of Judges 19 was rock bottom. But the Gibeah of 1 Samuel 11 is a much different place. Why? Because God… Because God likes to raise up beautiful things from the remnants of chaos.
That is His nature. That’s what He did in creation. He created order out of chaos.
It’s what He did in 1 Samuel 11 – he raised up a king from the most unlikely place. This chapter is probably the moment when Saul reminds us most of Jesus. And the whole Bible is full of these kinds of stories, all preparing us for Jesus. Because the Gospel is the best of stories from the worst of stories.
And the Gospel is STRONG in 1 Samuel 11. Look at the next two verses:
12 Then the people said to Samuel, “Who is it that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring the men, that we may put them to death.” 13 But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.”
Saul has no idea the irony of that sentence. God worked salvation, so no man shall be put to death this day. This is merciful and reminds of God’s mercy in the Gospel.
But the Gospel is even better. One day, it would not be a few people rejecting the King – it would be the entire nation. They will put their King to death and through His death God will work salvation.
Listen to how Peter describes the cross:
Acts 2:22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
If God can work salvation from a story where evil men tortured and killed the only innocent man who ever lived, then change is possible. I don’t care how bad you think your story is. If God intends to turn it around, that is exactly what He will do. He loves turning stories around. It’s literally His family business.
And we are being invited into it.
Listen to how Peter ends that sermon:
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What was the difference between Saul hiding in the baggage and Saul ready to fight an army of baby-murdering eye-gougers? It was the Spirit of God. And that’s what Peter promises us when we repent and find forgiveness in Christ. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit – the One who empowers change in our lives. He is how change is possible.
To be clear, then, I’m not telling you to leave this morning and go clean up your mess in your own power. Because that won’t work.
Lasting spiritual change is always empowered by the Holy Spirit and enacted through repentance. We can see that more clearly at the end of 1 Samuel 11. Look at verse 14:
14 Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed peace offerings before the Lord, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.
After salvation comes renewal and after renewal comes worship. This is the pattern. This is what repentance looks like. We receive salvation with empty hands. THEN we experience renewal by the Holy Spirit. And THEN we worship – we grow in our knowledge and appreciation for God.
Getting the order backwards is disastrous for our spiritual lives. We think it is our job to clean ourselves up, then we go to worship, then we get saved. That is backwards.
First, God works salvation for us. Then he applies it to us. It’s not salvation if we have earned it. We receive it with empty hands. Then we experience renewal. Then we worship.
It’s easier to understand this if we think of salvation as receiving good news.
On February 28, 1991, news broke that the first Gulf War had ended. Most Americans were celebrating, but a lady named Ruth Dillow was grieving. The day before, she received a notice from the Army that her son Clayton had been killed in action when he stepped on a landmine. For three days she grieved, believing her son was dead while everyone else celebrated the end of the war.
But on the third day, she got a phone call. The voice on the other end was her son, Clayton. And a few days later, an officer visited her home to explain. The Army had made a mistake. Clayton was injured, but not killed.
Ms. Dillow sat helpless for three days believing the worst news. She had no power to bring her son back. There was nothing she could do. But when the good news came, she received it with joy.
And that’s our relationship to the Gospel, except the bad news is true. Apart from Christ Jesus, the joyful call will never come. We will only know death and sadness and hell. But Jesus comes to us as good news, offered freely, and a promise to one day end all the bad news forever.
Our part is in the receiving and the repenting and resting. And because our need is perpetual, we keep receiving, we keep repenting, we keep resting. Israel has not “arrived” at the end of 1 Samuel 11 and neither have we. But thankfully, the grace of God is sufficient for all our sin.