Poole on 1 Samuel 11:5-8: Oxen Hewn and an Army Raised
Verse 5: And, behold, Saul came after the herd out of the field; and Saul said, What aileth the people that they weep? And they told him the tidings of the men of Jabesh.
[Behold, Saul was coming, following the oxen from the field] Some, thinking this beneath a King, say that for the sake of pleasure he went out into the countryside, and by chance happened upon a herd, or teams of oxen, etc. (Hugo and Lyra in Sanchez). But others maintain that he returned from the cultivation, or plowing, of the field (thus Mendoza out of Cajetan and Tostatus, similarly Sanchez, Lapide, Menochius, Tirinus, Martyr). Saul, although made King, returned to his accustomed business (Lapide). Which is such a commendation of his constant spirit, than which there is perhaps none greater in the whole life of Saul (Sanchez). So also David, after his anointing, returned to the tending of his sheep (Lapide). Moreover, Saul, 1. applied himself to agriculture, so that he might sustain his life, since he was not yet firmly held by all as King, but was despised by many, who were not bringing the gifts due to him, 1 Samuel 10:27 (Mendoza). 2. He had not yet undertaken anything worthy of a King; now, he was unwilling to be admitted into rule before his own deserving of it (Mendoza out of Tostatus). 3. Nothing that occurred in that month that would require royal attention or presence. And because of those murmuring, not a few, and perhaps desirous of the royal scepter, he wished actually to show that he was delighting in rural life, more than in royal life; and that he was not going to fly from the plow to the scepter unless compelled by necessity. In which a truly heroic and royal spirit shined forth, inasmuch as it would not succumb to so flattering a fortune; but it held out to rule by vigorous and steady strength (Tirinus). Moreover, this art was practiced by the noble, both among the Romans and the Greeks. Pliny’s Natural History 18:3: The fields were cultivated by the hands of the Emperors themselves, with the land in the laureled ploughshare and the triumphal plowman. Indeed, he adds that at that time the best Emperors handled seed with the same care as war; and that they arranged fields with the same diligence as camps. Virgil, Æneid 6, among the Emperors calls thee, …sulcos, Serrane, serentem, sowing the furrows, O Serranus. Valerius Maximus’Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings 4:4: Very rich were they, who were fetch from the plow in order to be made Consuls; they were turning the soil for the sake of pleasure. Ovid’s Festivals 1: The Prætor, with the plow laid aside, was giving laws to the peoples; and the senator was feeding his sheep himself. Propertius, Elegies 4, concerning the first beginning of Rome, and the former simplicity and rusticity of the ancients, thus sang: The Curia, which now shines high, with the toga-wearing Senate, had skin-wearing Fathers and rustic hearts. Cicero, in Cato, relates that Marcus Curius, when he had triumphed over the Samnites and Sabines, and over Pyrrhus, spent the last period of his life in cultivating fields (Mendoza). Behold and admire the simplicity and modesty of the first kings (Lapide). Certainly Israel’s Judges (whose example was set forth to Saul, for he had no example of Royal authority) were not shrinking from agricultural employments. In Judges 3:31, Shamgar killed the Philistines with a ploughshare, evidently an instrument with which he was well-acquainted. And, that rural concerns are not unworthy of a Prince, you will learn from Columella, Concerning Rural Business 1; and from Varro, Concerning Agriculture 2:1 (Sanchez).
Saul came after the herd out of the field; for being only anointed king, and not publicly inaugurated, nor owned, nor presented by the generality of the people, nor having yet had opportunity of doing any thing worthy of his place, he thought fit to forbear all royal state, and to retire to his former private and country life, which, howsoever despised in these latter, vain, ambitious, and slothful ages of the world, was anciently in great esteem among the Greeks and Romans, whose princes and generals did frequently exercise themselves in it; though some conceive that he now lived in some state, and that he had been in the fields only to recreate himself, and that his coming after the herd was but accidental, and is mentioned only to usher in what follows of the yoke of oxen.
Verse 6: (Judg. 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6; 1 Sam. 10:10; 16:13) And the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard those tidings, and his anger was kindled greatly.
[And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon Saul] Namely, a spirit of valor (Vatablus, Menochius, Tirinus, Mendoza, Sanchez); and of military prudence (Mendoza): and a zeal for the defense of the fatherland (Tirinus, Sanchez).
The Spirit of God came upon Saul, inspiring him suddenly with more than ordinary courage, and zeal, and resolution, to engage himself and the people for their rescue. Compare Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29.
[And his fury was kindled greatly, וַיִּ֥חַר אַפּ֖וֹ מְאֹֽד׃] And was angry (grew hot [Tirinus, similarly Piscator]) his nose exceedingly (Montanus, similarly Tigurinus, Piscator). It is a Periphrasis of anger from its effect (Piscator). His anger burned exceedingly (Junius and Tremellius, similarly Montanus, Arabic) against the Ammonites (Piscator). Anger is the instrument of the Holy Spirit: The Stoics, therefore, stray with their freedom from passion (Martyr).
His anger was kindled greatly against Nahash, for so insolent and barbarous a proposition.
Verse 7: And he took a yoke of oxen, and (Judg. 19:29) hewed them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the coasts of Israel by the hands of messengers, saying, (Judg. 21:5, 8, 10) Whosoever cometh not forth after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done unto his oxen. And the fear of the LORD fell on the people, and they came out with one consent (Heb. as one man; Judg. 20:1).
[And, taking both oxen, he cut them into pieces, etc.] He not only sets forth his proclamation in words, but he also adds a symbol (Martyr). Of course, things taken in by the eyes move more powerfully than things taken in by the ears. I suppose that the severed members of the oxen were displayed in some public and conspicuous place, which would instill fear in onlookers (Sanchez). The deed of that Levite in Judges 19:29 is imitated (Sanchez, Tirinus, Mendoza). This was the domestic example of Saul; for that had been done in Gibeah, the city of Saul, in which he was then residing (Menochius).
Sent them throughout all the coasts of Israel; wisely considering, that the sight of men’s eyes do much more affect their hearts than what they only hear with their ears.
[By the hand of messengers] Hebrew: of those messengers (Piscator), that is, by those messengers from Jabesh, so that they, acting concerning their own affairs, might move more deeply (Malvenda and Piscator out of Junius).
[Saul and Samuel] For, that Samuel was present on this expedition, verse 12 and the beginning of the next chapter teach. See above on 1 Samuel 7:15 (Junius, Piscator, Malvenda, Lapide). He sets himself before Samuel: 1. Because of his royal authority (Mendoza). For Royal dignity was greater than that of a Prophet (Drusius). 2. Because his speech was concerning labors and dangers, in which all the best men wish to go before (Mendoza). He added Samuel, because he was not yet approved by all as King; that is to say, Those that are not willing to follow Saul, let them at least follow Samuel (Drusius).
He joins Samuel with himself, both because he was present with him, as appears from 1 Samuel 11:12, and that hereby he might gain the more authority to his command, and strike the greater terror into all despisers of it.
[So shall it be done to his oxen] Threats were added against those that might refuse to fight; so that either love of country, or private loss, might move all (Menochius). This was a great punishment; for at that time wealth consisted in animals for the most part. Now, he was unwilling to threaten the punishment of death or mutilation at the beginning of his reign, lest he should appear to begin with excessive rigor (Lyra).
[The fear of the Lord] Either, 1. Wherewith they were fearing Jehovah (Malvenda, Mendoza). Because they were heeding their King in the place of God Himself (Mendoza). He does not say, the fear of the King, or of punishment; but the fear of the Lord. They were fearing, lest they should offend God by deserting their compatriots (Martyr). Or, 2. A fear sent by God (Malvenda, Junius, Piscator, Mendoza, Martyr, Vatablus), that is, wherewith Jehovah terrified the people: or a fear sent forth by God into their heart (Vatablus). With Saul commanding on the outside, God was actually more deeply impressing His fear upon their souls (Mendoza). This is worthy of attention, that God adds force and weight to the edicts of princes and the words of messengers (Martyr). The Lord sent a spirit of fear and obedience towards the Prince upon the people, whereby He inclined their hearts to do the things commanded by the King (Menochius). Or, 3. A great and violent fear; as the name of God is wont to be added for augmentation (Malvenda, similarly Drusius).
The fear of the Lord; either, 1. A great fear; great things being oft thus expressed; as cedars of God, mountains of God, etc. Or, 2. A fear sent upon them by God, as Genesis 35:5, that they should not dare to deny their help.
Verse 8: And when he numbered them in (Judg. 1:5) Bezek, the children (2 Sam. 24:9) of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand.
[And he numbered them in Bezek (thus all interpreters)] It is the name of a place. Others less rightly translate it by pebbles; that is, with stones cast into one heap, which Saul afterwards numbered (Vatablus, thus the Rabbis in Mariana). The Doctors [of the Hebrews] explain it as in fragments of pottery. Others: by stones. But how was such a multitude able to be numbered in one city? Response: In Bezek is able to be expounded as in the field, or territory, of Bezek; or certainly, near Bezek (Drusius).
[Three hundred thousand] Josephus mendaciously has seven hundred thousand, so that he might display the strength of his own people to the Romans; but seventy thousand of Judah (Lapide). It is a marvel that so many assembled in so short a time; but the great fear of Nahash, or rather of Saul, accomplished this (Sanchez). The Sixtine Greek exemplars have six hundred thousand men. And perhaps there were many more than those that are numbered in the Vulgate. For under David there were eight hundred thousand men of Israel, and five hundred thousand men of Judah, 2 Samuel 24:9; 1 Chronicles 21:5. Therefore, from those Saul was able to choose three hundred thousand, etc. (Mendoza).
[But thirty thousand of the men of Judah] Here, they comprehend under the tribe of Judah Simeon also, which is wont to be tied to the former. See Judges 1:3. A much smaller number is reckoned of these two tribes than might actually be able to be understood; they maintain this to be the reason, that the habitations of Judah and Simeon were bordering on the Philistines; with whom at that time they were waging wards, and whom at that time it was fitting to fear: and so it was not able so aptly to be drained of men as the remaining tribes. For this is the real reason why the tribe of Judah is here numbered separately from the other tribes (Malvenda out of Junius, Piscator). Or the men of Judah were numbered separately because that tribe was more noble and bellicose (Lyra). It appears that Judah was modest and virtuous. For, although they knew that the right of the Kingdom belonged to them; nevertheless, although they saw Saul from the tribe of Benjamin made King, they immediately presented themselves at the edict, and undertook the primary parts of the common war (Martyr).
Three hundred thousand, etc.: This great terror drew so many forth; which is not so strange to him that knows what none deny, that the land of Canaan contained vast numbers of people in a little compass. The men of Judah are numbered apart to their honour, to show how readily they, to whom the kingdom was promised, Genesis 49:10, submitted to their king, though of another and far meaner tribe; and how willing they were to hazard themselves for their brethren’s rescue, although they might have excused themselves from the necessity of defending their own country from their dangerous neighbours the Philistines.
 Hebrew: וְהִנֵּ֣ה שָׁא֗וּל בָּ֣א אַחֲרֵ֤י הַבָּקָר֙ מִן־הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שָׁא֔וּל מַה־לָּעָ֖ם כִּ֣י יִבְכּ֑וּ וַיְסַ֙פְּרוּ־ל֔וֹ אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֖י אַנְשֵׁ֥י יָבֵֽישׁ׃  See 1 Samuel 16. Serranus was a cognomen first given to Atilius (flourished 257 BC), who was called from rural life to the consulship.  Valerius Maximus was a first century Roman collector of antiquities.  Factorum et Dictorum Memorabilium Libri Novem. Fasti.  Marcus Curius Dentatus (died 270) was a consul of the Roman Republic. During his first term, he defeated the Samnites (a people of south-central Italy) and the Sabines (an Italic people of the Apennine Mountains). Later, Pyrrhus, king of the Grecian Molossians and a very capable general, invaded the Italian peninsula, but was forced to retire by Dentatus’ efforts.  Lucius Junius Columella (first century AD) was a Roman soldier. After retiring from military service, he took up farming, writing Res Rustica, twelve books on husbandry. Res Rustica is probably the most important work of its kind surviving from this period.  Hebrew: וַתִּצְלַ֤ח רֽוּחַ־אֱלֹהִים֙ עַל־שָׁא֔וּל בְּשָׁמְע֖וֹ אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֑לֶּה וַיִּ֥חַר אַפּ֖וֹ מְאֹֽד׃  Hebrew: וַיִּקַּח֩ צֶ֙מֶד בָּקָ֜ר וַֽיְנַתְּחֵ֗הוּ וַיְשַׁלַּ֞ח בְּכָל־גְּב֣וּל יִשְׂרָאֵל֮ בְּיַ֣ד הַמַּלְאָכִ֣ים׀ לֵאמֹר֒ אֲשֶׁר֩ אֵינֶ֙נּוּ יֹצֵ֜א אַחֲרֵ֤י שָׁאוּל֙ וְאַחַ֣ר שְׁמוּאֵ֔ל כֹּ֥ה יֵעָשֶׂ֖ה לִבְקָר֑וֹ וַיִּפֹּ֤ל פַּֽחַד־יְהוָה֙ עַל־הָעָ֔ם וַיֵּצְא֖וּ כְּאִ֥ישׁ אֶחָֽד׃  Hebrew: כְּאִ֥ישׁ אֶחָֽד׃.  Judges 20:1: “Then all the children of Israel went out, and the congregation was gathered together as one man (כְּאִ֣ישׁ אֶחָ֗ד), from Dan even to Beersheba, with the land of Gilead, unto the Lord in Mizpeh.”  Hebrew: בְּיַ֣ד הַמַּלְאָכִ֣ים׀.  See Psalm 80:10: “The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars (אַרְזֵי־אֵל, the cedars of God).”  See Psalm 36:6: “Thy righteousness is like the great mountains (כְּהַרְרֵי־אֵל, like the mountains of God); thy judgments are a great deep: O Lord, thou preservest man and beast.”  Hebrew: וַֽיִּפְקְדֵ֖ם בְּבָ֑זֶק וַיִּהְי֤וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ שְׁלֹ֣שׁ מֵא֣וֹת אֶ֔לֶף וְאִ֥ישׁ יְהוּדָ֖ה שְׁלֹשִׁ֥ים אָֽלֶף׃  Hebrew: וַֽיִּפְקְדֵ֖ם בְּבָ֑זֶק. בזק may mean to scatter or smash.