In the last essay, we studied 7:3-8:22, which tells of Israel’s repentance and recommitment at Mizpah (7:3-6), of a great victory over the Philistines (7:7-17), and of Israel’s demands for a king (8:1-22).
In this essay we take up 9:1 through 10:16. The Lord had approved the appointment of a king. So the next question was who it would be. And the story of who it would be is our study for today. The narrative begins in 9:1-2 with a description of a particular young man and a search for some donkeys. The young man is Saul, the one chosen to be Israel’s first king. His family was part of the tribe of Benjamin; and they were rich. His father, Kish, is described by a phrase that means more than just having money. It suggests that they were a powerful family, not just wealthy, though that doesn’t come out in the English translation.
Saul also was “a handsome young man.” Indeed there was no man in Israel more handsome than he. Moreover he was tall. “He stood head and shoulders above everyone else.” So I guess it is appropriate to use the saying common in the romantic language of our culture to say that Saul was “tall, dark and handsome.” He would have made the teen-aged girls hearts flutter.
However, the use of the word “young” here must be properly understood. Saul would have been only relatively young for the day. Saul already had a grown son, Jonathan. We learn that in chapter 13. Thus Saul probably was somewhere between 40-45 years of age.
In verses 9:3-10 we are told that Kish’s donkeys wondered off. Therefore he sent his son, Saul, and a servant to find them (vv. 3-4). The details of where they looked are unimportant. The larger areas were the regions of Ephraim and Benjamin. Benjamin was their home territory, and Ephraim was the nearest neighboring tribal region. Both ware located in central Israel just north of Jerusalem.
After searching for some time, Saul proposed that they return home, because if they were gone too long, his father Kish would worry more about them than about the donkeys (v. 6). But the servant had heard about “a man of God” who was in town; and he suggested that they consult him before heading home. Now notice I said “was in town.” Some have interpreted verse six to mean that they were at Ramah, Samuel’s hometown; but two things argue against that. First, in chapter ten, when Saul and the servant are on their way home, they passed by Rachel’s tomb, which would not have been on their way home from Ramah. And second, here in 9:6 it doesn’t say that they were at the seer’s hometown. It just says that he was “in the town” (cf. v. 12).
Saul was reluctant at first to go to the seer, because they had nothing to give him as a present (v. 7). But the servant had a silver quarter-shekel, which was an appropriate gift (v. 8). So Saul agreed (v. 10). By this time in the narrative, it appears that the wondering off of the donkeys was not a random event, but part of God’s plan.
Verse nine would be a footnote in a book today. But since there was no such thing as a footnote in the author’s day, he placed the information directly into the text. Apparently in his day, it was not a usual practice to call prophets seers. So he inserted verse nine to inform his readers that prophets formerly had been called seers.
In verses 11-14 we see the account of Saul’s and the servant’s finding Samuel. Some girls pointed them towards the shrine that was located on a high place in the town, where a sacrifice was to be made, and a ritual meal eaten, that day (vv. 11-12).
Just as they entered the town they saw Samuel on his way to the shrine (v. 14). But before the author tells of their meeting with Samuel, he inserts, in verses 15-17, an account of how the Lord had informed Samuel the day before that Samuel would meet the person who was to be anointed king that very day. And when Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him that Saul was the one.
Next, in verses 18-21, comes the account of their first meeting. This encounter was shocking for Saul. First, the man he asked for information about the seer turned out to be the seer (vv. 18-19). But that was a mild shock compared to what was coming. Second, the seer invited Saul to eat with him at the ritual meal, a totally unexpected and stunning honor (v. 19). Then third, Samuel informed Saul that his father’s donkeys were found (v. 20). I’m sure Saul thought, How could he know that? Fourth, Samuel made another shocking statement: “And on whom is all Israel’s desire fixed, if not on you and on all your ancestral house” (v. 20)? Saul was stunned. He replied, “I am only a Benjamite, from the least of the tribes of Israel, and my family is the humblest of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin. Why then have you spoken to me in this way” (v. 21)? We would be shocked too, if the Lord hit us with something like this.
The surprises weren’t over, however. Verses 22-26 tell us about Samuel’s hosting of Saul and Saul’s servant. When they arrive at the shrine, there were more shocks for Saul. Samuel took Saul and the servant to the head table, to the place of honor (v. 2). Then he ordered a special piece of meat brought to Saul, a thigh, perhaps Samuel’s own priestly portion. This again was intended to honor him (vv. 23-24). Then after the meal Samuel took Saul, and presumably the servant, to the house where Samuel was staying to host them there for the night.
Verses 9:27-8:9 continue the story. The next morning Samuel sent the servant on ahead, so he could speak to Saul privately (v. 27). Then Samuel took oil and anointed Saul to be the first king of Israel (10:1). This was very significant. Up to this time only priests had been anointed. Thus when Samuel (at the Lord’s request) anointed Saul as king, he elevated the office of king to a level equal to that of priest. From this point on, as priests were consecrated by anointing to lead the people in the arena of the sanctuary, kings were consecrated by anointing to lead the people in the arena of government.
To confirm the consecration of Saul as king, Samuel gave Saul three signs, all of which would take place on his journey home. The first sign was that Saul and his servant would meet two men who would tell them that Saul’s father’s donkeys were found and that Kish was now worried about them (v. 2). The second sign was that they would meet three men each of whom would be carrying certain specified items. The one who was carrying three loaves of bread would give Saul and his servant two of the loaves (vv. 3-4). And the third sign was that they would meet a band of prophets, who would go into a prophetic frenzy. Then the Spirit of the Lord would possess Saul himself; and he would go into a prophetic frenzy like the prophets. Finally, and most importantly, Saul would be changed into a different person (vv. 5-6).
Now the Word does not reveal what kind of person Saul was prior to this, or exactly what kind of person he was afterwards. From what we have seen, Saul seemed already to be a nice enough young man. But after this experience he was different. Perhaps the difference had to do primarily with Saul’s understanding of his call to be Israel’s leader. At any rate, he was a changed man. And the signs would show Saul that God would be with him in his high calling as king (v. 7).
Samuel concluded his conversation with Saul by instructing Saul in respect to sacrifices. Saul was anointed a king, not a priest. So he had to wait for Samuel when sacrifices were needed. File this in your mental filing cabinet, because we shall see that Saul later on would fail at precisely this point (13:8ff.).
Verse nine tells us that the Lord did indeed give Saul another heart and that all three signs were fulfilled that day. However the author records only one of the three fulfillments, namely, the one with the prophets.
In 9:9-16, the section closes with Saul’s return home. But Saul did not tell all that Samuel had told him. Perhaps he was having some difficulty believing all of it himself.
In respect to application, I want to focus on the Lord’s choice of Saul as king. Israel wanted a king, and the Lord said they could have one. And in this passage we can see the way he made the choice. First, the Lord saw Saul’s qualifications. Although Saul’s qualifications seem on the surface to be superficial (from a prominent family and tall and handsome), God obviously saw beneath the superficial to his inner character. If the Lord is to call and use us, we must be the kind of persons whom he can use.
Second, the Lord led Samuel by direct revelation. He revealed to Samuel directly that he would tell Samuel who the new king would be. And then the next day the Lord did just that. The Lord has not make a practice of leading me that way; but I believe we must always remain open to direct revelations of the will of the heavenly Father.
Third, the Lord guided Saul by special providence, signs, and empowerment. One, the Lord used insignificant events to guide Saul, such as the straying of the donkeys and the servant’s bringing of a silver coin on the trip. That has happened to me, and I suspect to you as well. Two, the Lord guided Saul by larger circumstances. For example, the girls outside the town led Saul directly to Samuel, who became the first person he met inside the town. We must be alert to the guidance of God in the larger circumstances of life. Three, the Lord led Saul by three special signs, which we already have reviewed. God occasionally still guides by special signs, and we must be prepared by prayer to receive them. And four, the Lord empowered Saul by the Holy Spirit (10:10). Every Christian has the Holy Spirit dwelling within, and if we have surrendered completely to his way and will, he will empower as well as guide us.