It is easy to look at Israel and think of it as a failed nation. And similarly, we look at Saul when we consider the greatness of David in comparison. Just as Israel has been ousted out of favour as the world is covered with Gentile Christians, yet the Christians are still called spiritual Israelites; the Christians have not replaced Israel, but that true Israel is the mixed multitude of Jew first, then the Gentile (c.f Romans 2), which was saved in the great exodus from Egypt. So we look on this chapter and realize that Saul, as the microcosmic example of Israel, displays the character of Israel at its height – when she was willingly led by God. Saul, the Benjaminite, having tread through Gibeah is given the background of a potential murderer, a false prophet of Israel as God himself declared to Samuel in 1 Samuel 8: and indeed, this is the foreword which we are not to forget, Saul’s victories being sandwiched in between 1 Samuel 8 and 1 Samuel 12 where the faithful prophet reiterates that Saul is not the Anointed One. There is another anointed one, the Son of God, who is witness against Israel’s king and Israel herself (1 Samuel 12:5).
Yet, there is an entirely different string of events upon comparing chapter 11 to Judges 20. Where the Levite cut the raped woman’s flesh into several pieces, so Saul cuts a yoke of oxen and demands a similar warning (v.7). Where the dread of the LORD fell upon the people through the Spirit so that they came out as one man, so also the Israelites fought Gibeah as one man (Judges 20:11 compared with v.7). The juxtaposition of that Gibeah of Saul (v.4) to the Gibeah of Judges 20 is that Saul is a different man – by the Spirit. It is by the Spirit of God that he is transformed into the leader of Israel, her captain and her prince. The enemy is not a brother as the men of Gibeah; the enemy is not an internal conflict amongst the tribes of Israel: but the enemy here is the serpent (Nahash) in the dry rocky wilderness-region (Jabesh-gilead). This serpent threatens to blind the filthy Israelites to deprive them of seeing and being in the light (c.f. Matthew 6:22-23), the right eye and the right side being where the blood of the sacrifice is smeared onto the priest in the Levitical practices (Leviticus 8:23-26) to indicate the blood on the right hand – the blood as the righteousness and strength of man (Psalm 17:7, 18:35).
What foolishness that the Israelites en masse would wish to cut a covenant with Nahash, only to be marked with such shamelessness in return. They wish to cut this covenant with the blood of their right eyes when the only blood worthy of cutting an eternal peace-keeping covenant is the blood of Christ symbolized by the blood of circumcision (Genesis 17). Yet, we are but circumcised in our hearts, and instead of the physical deformity of being literally blinded, our spiritual eyes are unveiled rather than forever masked by the serpent’s infliction, and that the mark of the cross, the ancient Hebrew spelling of ת tau, shall be the mark of the true Trinitarian covenant cut with the Son’s blood (Ezekiel 9:4).
And such is the community of one brought against the Ammonites – that they are united under the one leader Saul who is their typological Saviour. No two of the Ammonites are left together (v.11) as to create an unholy council against the Trinitarian God of unitary communality, and Saul undoubtedly returns to Gilgal in lieu of Joshua’s actions as a result of Joshua 5:9-10 where they also enjoyed Passover in the Promised Land. In Saul’s leadership we have a culmination of all the great stories of past types: of Moses being the typological intercessor for the Israelites in the Exodus even when they rebelled by attempting to make a covenant with the golden calf just as the men of Jabesh-gilead tried to covenant themselves to the serpent; of Joshua and the still hot sun (Joshua 10:13) in his battles, just as the Ammonites were struck down until the heat of the day (v.11); of the period when the Judges were overwhelmed and filled with the Spirit, just as Saul was equally filled and lead Israel to victory. In this entire ordeal, Saul is the magnificent shadow – and like Israel at her height, neither are the true objects of faith. The magnificence of Saul only emphasizes the magnificence of David’s reign: not simply because they are successful in their leadership as to give Israel a reputable name as God’s chosen nation, but that they were anointed and chosen by God. There is no indication of that with Saul, and in general, the office of kingship is not one to be hastily filled by man for Jesus is and always has been the only King who led the Israelites out of Egypt.
Yet, under Saul’s leadership, we have temporary praise; we have temporary love; we have temporary patience (v.12-15) – but it is the worthless men of Belial who despised Saul in chapter 10 who are to be the exalted men for pointing out that not even Saul can save Israel. V.3 sums it up – “If there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves to you”. Indeed, the praise in reality goes to Saul and not to Christ though peace offerings are provided as temporary measures (v.15); and though they do not cut a covenant with Nahash, they have adjoined themselves to this king which represents them – and if a king should be loved by those who rebel against God then even this chapter should be read with Christocentric eyes, that the fulfillment of God’s kingdom is not in Saul, is not in Israel, but in those who are truly heart-circumcised and who will tell others of the kingdom’s business (v.16) and who heeds God’s oracles and seers wholeheartedly (chapter 9 and 13) as to be the true head of Israel. Not even great King Saul the old Israel, nor David nor Solomon the types of Christ but in the person of Christ Jesus himself.