1 samuel 11 is a weird one from a manuscript standpoint. What’s up with this eye gouging clause from Nahash? Odd negotiation tactic. Well, the Dead Sea Scrolls manuscript of 1 Samuel reads,
Now Nahash king of the Ammonites oppressed the Gadites and Reubenites severely. He gouged out all their right eyes and struck terror and dread in Israel. Not a man remained among the Israelites beyond the Jordan whose right eye was not gouged out by Nahash king of the Ammonites, except that seven thousand men fled from the Ammonites and entered Jabesh Gilead. About a month later (Masoretic then begins here) Nahash the Ammonite went up…
So Nahash (which means “snake”) seems to use eye gouging regularly. Reuben and Gad are of course on the East side of the Jordan River, with no natural boundary between them and Ammon, so conflict here is seemingly inevitable. The Ammonites and Moabites are said to be the descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew (Genesis 19:30-38) via Lot’s daughters… yep, Lot had kids with his daughters… messed up I know.
Anyway, Nahash gouges out the eyes of the folks he conquers. Jabesh Gilead tries to make peace, but Nahash wants their eyes. So messengers go to “Gibeah of Saul”. Notice how in chapter 10, Samuel sends Saul to “Gibeah of God”?
Saul sends a cut up ox all over Israel. Once again, this brings up Judges 19-20 (esp. 19:29-30). Ironic that it’s a resident of Gibeah sending the message to Israel this time. Last time it was a Levite calling Israel to punish Gibeah. Saul’s saying hey, you rallied against us, will you refuse to rally for Jabesh Gilead? So he gathers them to Bezek (across the Jordan from Jabesh).
But notice in verse 8, the armies are listed in terms of Judah and Israel. Foretelling? Anyway, Saul has a resounding victory, liberating Jabesh.
Often a new king will wipe out his opposition. Saul didn’t in chapter 10. Here in 11 Saul stops any attempts by the mob to go after those who resist Saul. But wait, they asked Samuel? He hasn’t done anything in this chapter yet. The people ask Samuel to lead this mass execution, but Saul steps in, calling for mercy. It seems roles are still fuzzy. Contrast this with David and Nathan, where David is quick to call for punishment, until he realizes that he is the subject of Nathan’s parable.
So they go back to Gilgal for another crowning ceremony. It seems the opposition needs to shown who’s boss, but they get to live.