Israel had asked for a king; and to Samuel’s surprise, the Lord told Samuel to give them one (8:1-18). So the next question was that of who the new king would be. In our last essay we saw the story of the Lord’s choice of Saul as the king, which was done in private. In this essay we shall see the public portion of Saul’s selection as king in 10:17-11:15.
The first segment, 10:17-24, shows the Lord doing something that the Jews often expected him to do, namely, manipulate lots. But this manipulation is different. The usual procedure was to cast lots with the expectation that the Lord would manipulate them to cause his choice to emerge. That is, whatever decision came forth from the lots was accepted as the Lord’s choice. But in this case, the Lord already had revealed his choice; and Samuel was trusting that the Lord would manipulate the lots to confirm what already had been revealed. And that is what he did.
Casting lots in that culture was similar to casting dice in ours, except that we do not cast dice to discover the will of God. People in our culture cast dice to play games or gamble.
In order to announce God’s choice for king, Samuel had to do it in a way that would be acceptable to the people. He couldn’t just say that the Lord had told him who it was. They would have been suspicious of that. So he went through the expected pattern of casting lots. And as you see, the lot fell on the tribe of Benjamin, then on Saul’s family, and finally on Saul himself (vv. 20-21).
Notice that Samuel, before casting the lots, warned Israel once more of the mistake they were making in wanting a king. He reminded them that it was a rejection of the Lord. But they didn’t want to hear that. They wanted their king, and that was that (vv. 18-19).
Interestingly, when the lot revealed Samuel as the new king, he was nowhere to be found (v. 21). Scholars have speculated about why Saul hid himself. For example, it is suggested that he was just being humble and modest, or that he was fearful the lot would not point to him. But there is no way to know. The Lord, apparently through Samuel, told the people where Saul was hiding; and they went to get him (vv. 22-23). And he was introduced to the people as their new king (v. 24).
The fact that Samuel informed the people of the rights and duties of the kingship in verses 25-27 is important. Samuel used a different word here for “kingship” (meluchah) from the one he used back in 8:11, where Samuel was speaking of the “ways of a king” (melech). There he was referring to the oppressive rule of a despotic king (8:11-18). Here Samuel was speaking about the proper “rights and duties” of the kingship over the Lord’s people under the overarching rule of God. The purpose of this list of “rights and duties” was to avoid the kind of despotic rule mentioned in chapter eight. Samuel put the “rights and duties” in writing and laid the book before the Lord. That is, he placed it in the sanctuary where it would be both safe and accessible (v. 25). And then he sent the people to their homes.
Interestingly, Saul also went to his home. That is, he didn’t immediately set up a government as such. But that is understandable. The only government any of them had ever known was that of the judges, especially that of Samuel. And Saul, in spite of being officially elected king had not yet proven himself in battle, which was often the way the judges gained the confidence of the people. Nor had Saul e taken on the responsibility of judging the people, because Samuel still was doing that. So Saul didn’t exactly have a basis of authority to lead the people. In other words, it took more than an announcement to become the leader of the people.
Indeed we can see in verses 26-27 that there was a division respecting Saul from the beginning. Some fighting men went with him to Gibeah in a show of loyalty to their new king. But others “despised him.” Saul knew about the latter group, but he “held his peace.” That is, he didn’t challenge them. Instead he ignored them.
In 11:1-4 we see that not long afterward, Saul came face to face with his first opportunity to provide leadership to the nation. In the next chapter (12:12), we will see that Nahash had made his original thrust against the east-bank tribes of Israel prior to Saul’s election. Indeed Nahash’s aggression was part of Israel’s reason for wanting a king. But now Nahash had launched a major campaign by laying siege to Jabesh-gilead. Jabesh-gilead was just on the east side of the Jordan River, about half way between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee.
The people of Jabesh were willing to cut a deal and serve Nahash; but Nahash made the terms so severe that they asked for a week to seek help before making a decision. Now that may seem strange to us, but it makes perfect sense in that context. On the one hand, Jabesh was willing to serve Nahash, because they didn’t want to suffer the inevitable losses that a fight would bring. On the other hand, Nahash was willing to allow Jabesh a week to seek help for two reasons. First, he also didn’t want to take the heavy losses that would be necessary to take the city by force. And second, Nahash was confident that Jabesh would not get any help from the western tribes. So he could afford, he thought, to wait a week, after which Jabesh would surrender to him on his terms. But Nahash did not know about Saul.
In verses 5-11 we see that Saul, under the power of the Holy Spirit, rose to the occasion. He took two oxen, cut them in pieces, and sent the pieces throughout Israel with the message that any person who didn’t “rally to the flag,” so to speak, at Bezek would have their oxen cut up. Notice that the call went out not just in the name of Saul, but also in the name of Samuel. Samuel at this point still was the most important man in Israel. And the people came to Bezek, 370,000 of them (vv. 6-8). Bezek, by the way, was located just across the Jordan from Jabesh-gilead.
You may remember the story in Judges 19 about the man whose concubine was killed by the inhabitants of Gibeah. He cut her body in pieces and sent them around to the twelve tribes in order to express his outrage. And the tribes responded by going to war against Gibeah. Well, we see that Saul received a similar response. Saul immediately sent a message to Jabesh-gilead that they would be delivered the next day (v. 9). And that was what happened (v. 11).
Now then, the chapter ends, in verses 12-15, with a grand celebration of Saul as king, a celebration that was not possible when Saul was first publicly elected. Notice first of all that as soon as Saul’s reign was secure, certain of his supporters wanted to take revenge on those who had not supported Saul earlier (v. 12; cf. 10:27). But Saul proved to be both generous and pious in response to that suggestion. He said, “No one shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord brought deliverance to Israel” (v. 13).
Samuel, being a consummate leader realized that this was the time to cement Saul’s monarchy with the people. So he led the people to Gilgal, which was the place where Israel first camped when Joshua brought them into the Promised Land (Josh. 4:19). And of course that was a spot that was easily accessed by the eastern tribes. And there they held another ceremony of making Saul king. It might seem to us unnecessary to do that, but Samuel knew what he was doing. This time all of Israel participated in the ceremony, and thus all Israel was committed to Saul as king in a way that was not true the first time.
The “big idea” in this lesson is the public installation of Saul as king. The institution of the monarchy was itself a huge step. Not only did the people have to adjust to having a king instead of a judge, their commitment to whomever was chosen to be that king was necessary for the monarchy to succeed. So this was a crucial time for Israel.
Turning to application, I believe the most helpful thing we can look at is Saul himself. At this stage of his career, Saul provided a sterling example of leadership. In other words, he provides an outstanding model for our own lives.
First, he was humble. He believed himself unworthy of selection as king (9:21). Second, Saul was trustworthy. For example, he didn’t reveal to his family that Samuel had told him he would be king (10:16). Third, Saul was patient. After he was proclaimed king, he went back home rather than attempt to seize the reigns of power prematurely (10:26). Fourth, Saul exhibited self-control. He held his peace regarding those who refused to support his kingship immediately after he was publicly chosen (10:27). But fifth, he was decisive. He demonstrated that when faced with the urgent plea of the eastern tribes at Jabesh-gilead. He took immediate, decisive action against Nahash (11:6-7). Sixth, Saul was a man of courage. He didn’t hesitate to lead Israel into battle against Nahash (11:11). Seventh, Saul was faithful to the Lord. He quickly gave the Lord the credit for the victory over Nahash (11:13). And eighth, Saul was merciful. He refused to take revenge against those persons who earlier refused to support him (11:13). All of these characteristics are admirable and worthy of emulating to this day.
In closing I want to make four points regarding Saul’s installation as king. First, the installation of Saul as king was preceded by a rebuke (10:18-19). Samuel charged Israel of rejecting the Lord, of being disloyal. Second, the Lord directed the installation (10:20-22). He manipulated the lots so that the one whom he already had revealed to be the chosen one would be selected. Third, Saul’s installation was confirmed by most of the people (10:23-24). They shouted, “Long live the king!” And fourth, the installation of Saul was accompanied by regulations for the conduct of the king (10:25). Samuel was careful to provide rules that would, if followed, keep Israel’s kings from being despots.