Saul and Jabesh-Gilead
In chapter ten of First Samuel Saul was anointed as king of Israel but his actual reign began in response to a crisis which occurred in the next chapter.
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.”
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.”
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.”
When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, they reported the matter in the ears of the people, and all the people wept aloud. 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. 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.
1 Samuel 11:1-7
No doubt Saul would have responded the same way if any other city of Israel had been attacked, but he was a member of the tribe of Benjamin and therefore had a close connection with Jabesh-Gilead. The cause of that connection is found in the last part of Judges. A civil war broke out between Benjamin and the rest of Israel and all the Benjamites were exterminated except for 600 men.
So all who fell that day of Benjamin were 25,000 men who drew the sword, all of them men of valor. But 600 men turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon and remained at the rock of Rimmon four months.
And the men of Israel turned back against the people of Benjamin and struck them with the edge of the sword, the city, men and beasts and all that they found. And all the towns that they found they set on fire.
The other Isrealites woke up to the fact that they were facing the loss of a tribe of Israel because they had sworn that none of them would allow their women to marry men from Benjamin. But they found a solution to their problem.
And they said, “What one is there of the tribes of Israel that did not come up to the LORD to Mizpah?”
And behold, no one had come to the camp from Jabesh-gilead, to the assembly. For when the people were mustered, behold, not one of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead was there. So the congregation sent 12,000 of their bravest men there and commanded them, “Go and strike the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword; also the women and the little ones. This is what you shall do: every male and every woman that has lain with a male you shall devote to destruction.”
And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead 400 young virgins who had not known a man by lying with him, and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan.
They gave these women to the survivors of Benjamin and so saved the tribe from extinction. This account appears at the end of Judges but it took place much earlier. Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, was the high priest.
And the people of Israel inquired of the LORD (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, ministered before it in those days), saying, “Shall we go out once more to battle against our brothers, the people of Benjamin, or shall we cease?” And the LORD said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.”
During the events in Judges the tribe of Benjamin was growing in numbers and at some point Jabesh-Gilead was rebuilt.
We don’t know whether Saul felt an affinity for Jabesh-Gilead because of its past connection to his tribe but the residents of Jabesh-Gilead didn’t forget how Saul had rescued them from the Ammonites. After Saul was killed by the Philistines they rescued his body and gave it an honorable burial.
The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. So they cut off his head and stripped off his armor and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. They put his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan.
But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days.
1 Samuel 31:8-13