7. The Making of Israel’s First King (1 Samuel 9:1-11:13)
Over 40 years ago, my parents lived in a sparsely populated development which overlooked Puget Sound in Washington State. (The view was so spectacular that my father built the outhouse up on the hill, facing the view and the road.) One Sunday afternoon while my parents were taking a nap, my sister and I were playing along the road when a car pulled up beside us and the driver asked if we had seen a pig. He told us his pig had somehow escaped from his pen and was running wild somewhere nearby. Deciding that a pig hunt would be a great afternoon activity, my sister and I got into the car to help look for the pig.
The driver warned us about the cross-cut saw lying on the back floor, which had just been sharpened, but the warning came too late. My sister had already run her leg along the sharp teeth, creating several deep cuts. The driver panicked, wrapping a less than sterile rag around the ankle to slow down the bleeding. The closest hospital was some eight or ten miles away, and he drove us there as quickly as possible. It was from the hospital that I called my parents, still napping. Thinking Ruth and I were just outside, they were shocked to learn I was calling from the hospital and that my sister had a large number of stitches in her leg.
That was a pig-hunt that turned sour. What looked like an exciting venture turned out to be not only unsuccessful, but downright painful and costly. Our text tells of an animal hunt that turns out just the opposite. It begins with several donkeys wandering off and getting lost, with Saul and a servant in pursuit. They never actually find the lost animals, but the trip made in search of these strays is well worth the effort, as we shall see. What begins perhaps as an almost irksome task ends up with a revelation which must have caused Saul’s head to swim with wonder and excitement.
The mood of most of the Israelites is one of enthusiastic expectation. The elders of the nation, strongly supported by the people, have come to Samuel, demanding a king to judge them like all the nations around them. Samuel is not pleased. He senses that this has not been prompted by faith and obedience to God, and God confirms his suspicions as He also comforts Samuel regarding the personal affront of the elders’ demand to him. As in the past, the Israelites even now are turning from God to idols. The people are not rejecting Samuel as their judge; they are rejecting God as their King. In spite of their sin of asking for a king, God instructs Samuel to warn the people concerning the high cost of a king and then inform them that they will indeed be given a king. With this assurance, Samuel dismisses the people and sends them to their cities (8:22).
Oblivious to the warnings and seriousness of their sin, the Israelites are ecstatic over their future king. As God had instructed in Deuteronomy 17:15, the king must be one of God’s choosing. Surely this means that Samuel will be the one who will designate God’s choice. All eyes are on Samuel. Every man who crosses the path of this prophet and judge is viewed as a candidate for king. No wonder Saul’s uncle is so interested in what Samuel has to say to Saul (1 Samuel 10:14-16).
No one would have ever imagined just how God would make the choice of His king known. Chapters 9-11 of 1 Samuel tell us. The events of these three chapters serve a very important purpose, for they demonstrate emphatically that Saul is God’s choice for Israel’s king, and that God has fully equipped him to carry out this task. The events of chapter 9 make it clear to Samuel that Saul is God’s choice for Israel’s king. Chapters 9 and 10 describe events which should convince Saul that he is God’s choice for Israel’s king. And chapters 10 and 11 record the casting of lots, the designation of Saul, and the great military victory over Nahash and the Ammonites, which convince the Israelites that Saul is their king. These three overlapping functions might be illustrated in this way:
For Samuel’s Benefit
For Saul’s Benefit
For Israel’s Benefit
Samuel Gets the Message: Saul Will Be Israel’s King
1 Now there was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah, the son of a Benjamite, a mighty man of valor. 2 And he had a son whose name was Saul, a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people. 3 Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul's father, were lost. So Kish said to his son Saul, “Take now with you one of the servants, and arise, go search for the donkeys.” 4 And he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. Then they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then he passed through the land of the Benjamites, but they did not find them. 5 When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant who was with him, “Come, and let us return, lest my father cease to be concerned about the donkeys and become anxious for us.” 6 And he said to him, “Behold now, there is a man of God in this city, and the man is held in honor; all that he says surely comes true. Now let us go there, perhaps he can tell us about our journey on which we have set out.” 7 Then Saul said to his servant, “But behold, if we go, what shall we bring the man? For the bread is gone from our sack and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What do we have?” 8 And the servant answered Saul again and said, “Behold, I have in my hand a fourth of a shekel of silver; I will give it to the man of God and he will tell us our way.” 9 (Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he used to say, “Come, and let us go to the seer”; for he who is called a prophet now was formerly called a seer.) 10 Then Saul said to his servant, “Well said; come, let us go.” So they went to the city where the man of God was. 11 As they went up the slope to the city, they found young women going out to draw water, and said to them, “Is the seer here?” 12 And they answered them and said, “He is; see, he is ahead of you. Hurry now, for he has come into the city today, for the people have a sacrifice on the high place today. 13 “As soon as you enter the city you will find him before he goes up to the high place to eat, for the people will not eat until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward those who are invited will eat. Now therefore, go up for you will find him at once.” 14 So they went up to the city. As they came into the city, behold, Samuel was coming out toward them to go up to the high place. 15 Now a day before Saul's coming, the LORD had revealed this to Samuel saying, 16 “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over My people Israel; and he shall deliver My people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have regarded My people, because their cry has come to Me.” 17 When Samuel saw Saul, the LORD said to him, “Behold, the man of whom I spoke to you! This one shall rule over My people.”
While the events of this text are for the benefit of Saul and all Israel, their primary benefit is for Samuel. After all, at God’s instruction Samuel has promised Israel a king, and now he must discern just who that king might be. The events of our text bring Saul into contact with Samuel in a way which makes this prophet certain that Saul is God’s choice for Israel’s king.
Saul’s father, Kish, is a Benjamite of some reputation. Our text informs us that he is a “mighty man of valor” (9:1). This expression can be understood to refer to a man’s courage, his military skill and success, or even his wealth. He is, for one reason or many, a man of renown. Saul comes from good stock. And while Saul has not yet established a reputation for himself, he has all the physical attributes which will stand him in good stead with the people. In short, he is what our teenage daughters would call a “hunk.” He is tall (taller than any other Israelite), dark (people in that part of the world usually are – and since he works out in the fields, he would have an awesome tan), and handsome. It will take much more than this, however, for Saul to fulfill his calling as king.
And so it is that some of the livestock of Kish become lost. We do not know how the donkeys got loose, but somehow they wander off from the farm of Kish. Kish sends his son, Saul, after the lost animals, instructing him to take along one of the servants to help. These two set out on an unsuccessful search, as far as the lost donkeys are concerned, but one which proves to be otherwise fruitful. These two men cover a lot of ground in the next three days, but they do not find the lost donkeys. Saul is ready to throw in the towel and give it all up. Surely his father will begin to worry more about them than the donkeys.
Saul’s young servant is not so sure. He knows that they have come very near to the place where “a man of God” lives. It seems that neither the servant nor Saul know this “man of God” by name, and that the servant knows much more about him than Saul does. This “man of God” is a “seer,” a name formerly used to designate a prophet.31 The servant knows Samuel by reputation, if not by name. He is a highly esteemed man, whose words always come true – a true prophet. Perhaps they can ask this man about their journey and learn the whereabouts of their lost donkeys.
Saul seems to like the idea, but he does raise a very practical problem – they have nothing to give the seer. Their resources are completely depleted. They have used up all their supplies and do not even have bread to eat. How can they ask for his services with nothing to give in return? The servant has a solution for this problem, too. He has a silver coin which will suffice. With this encouragement, Saul consents to seek the help of the “man of God,” completely oblivious, it seems, as to who he is or to what this might lead.
As Saul and his servant reach the outside of town, they meet some young women on their way to draw water and ask if the seer is there. They tell the men that indeed he is there, and if they hurry, they might catch him while he is still available. He is about to bless a sacrifice and then celebrate the meal with a few invited guests. Once all this begins, Saul and his servant will have to wait for some time, since they are not invited guests and would not dare interrupt the sacrifice and celebration. This is just the right moment, but they must hurry.32
Saul and his servant continue upward, toward the city. As they approach the city, Samuel sees them coming. It is at this point that we find another parenthesis, described to us in verses 15 and 16. From a purely human point of view, Saul’s arrival is unlikely (they have wandered about, unsuccessful in finding the lost animals, and now they are out of food and eager to go home). From the young women’s point of view, they are lucky. From a divine point of view they are expected, as we shall see. The day before, God has spoken to Samuel, indicating that he will meet the new king the following day. He is going to be a Benjamite, and he is to be anointed by Samuel. This king is the gracious gift of a compassionate God, who has heard the cries of His people and is raising up this man to deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. When Samuel looks up and sees Saul and his servant arriving at the city, God tells him that this is the man. Samuel thus knows the one coming toward him is God’s choice for Israel’s king.
Saul is Informed and Transformed
9:17 When Samuel saw Saul, the LORD said to him, “Behold, the man of whom I spoke to you! This one shall rule over My people.” 18 Then Saul approached Samuel in the gate, and said, “Please tell me where the seer's house is.” 19 And Samuel answered Saul and said, “I am the seer. Go up before me to the high place, for you shall eat with me today; and in the morning I will let you go, and will tell you all that is on your mind. 20 “And as for your donkeys which were lost three days ago, do not set your mind on them, for they have been found. And for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you and for all your father's household?” 21 And Saul answered and said, “Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak to me in this way?” 22 Then Samuel took Saul and his servant and brought them into the hall, and gave them a place at the head of those who were invited, who were about thirty men. 23 And Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the portion that I gave you, concerning which I said to you, 'Set it aside.'“ 24 Then the cook took up the leg with what was on it and set it before Saul. And Samuel said, “Here is what has been reserved! Set it before you and eat, because it has been kept for you until the appointed time, since I said I have invited the people.” So Saul ate with Samuel that day. 25 When they came down from the high place into the city, Samuel spoke with Saul on the roof. 26 And they arose early; and it came about at daybreak that Samuel called to Saul on the roof, saying, “Get up, that I may send you away.” So Saul arose, and both he and Samuel went out into the street. 27 As they were going down to the edge of the city, Samuel said to Saul, “Say to the servant that he might go ahead of us and pass on, but you remain standing now, that I may proclaim the word of God to you.”
10:1 Then Samuel took the flask of oil, poured it on his head, kissed him and said, “Has not the LORD anointed you a ruler over His inheritance? 2 “When you go from me today, then you will find two men close to Rachel's tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah; and they will say to you, 'The donkeys which you went to look for have been found. Now behold, your father has ceased to be concerned about the donkeys and is anxious for you, saying,” What shall I do about my son? “' 3 “Then you will go on further from there, and you will come as far as the oak of Tabor, and there three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you, one carrying three kids, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a jug of wine; 4 and they will greet you and give you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from their hand. 5 “Afterward you will come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is; and it shall be as soon as you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and a lyre before them, and they will be prophesying. 6 “Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man. 7 “And it shall be when these signs come to you, do for yourself what the occasion requires; for God is with you. 8 “And you shall go down before me to Gilgal; and behold, I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings. You shall wait seven days until I come to you and show you what you should do.” 9 Then it happened when he turned his back to leave Samuel, God changed his heart; and all those signs came about on that day. 10 When they came to the hill there, behold, a group of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them. 11 And it came about, when all who knew him previously saw that he prophesied now with the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” 12 And a man there answered and said, “Now, who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb: “Is Saul also among the prophets?” 13 When he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place. 14 Now Saul's uncle said to him and his servant, “Where did you go?” And he said,” To look for the donkeys. When we saw that they could not be found, we went to Samuel. “ 15 And Saul's uncle said, “Please tell me what Samuel said to you.” 16 So Saul said to his uncle, “He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.” But he did not tell him about the matter of the kingdom which Samuel had mentioned.
While Samuel knows that Saul is God’s choice for Israel’s king, Saul has no such knowledge. The next section is largely devoted to the process God uses to inform and transform Saul as the new king. That Saul does not previously know Samuel is apparent from our text. When he arrives at the entrance to the city, Saul turns to the first person he sees to ask directions to the “seer’s” house. Samuel is the one Saul asks for directions. Samuel informs Saul that he is the seer. Before Saul can blurt out his request, Samuel speaks words Saul never dreamed he would hear. Samuel instructs Saul to go up ahead of him to the high place, where the sacrifice and the sacrificial meal are about to be eaten. Saul is to eat with Samuel that day and then spend the night. The next morning, Samuel will tell him “all that was on his mind” and then send him on his way. Having said this, Samuel goes on to say something which must amaze Saul: “And as for your donkeys which were lost three days ago, do not set your mind on them, for they have been found. And for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you and for all your father’s household?” (9:20).
Saul does not even have to ask the question, because Samuel already knows what he wants to know. Without Saul ever asking, Samuel tells him what is missing, how long they have been missing, and that they have been found. If this amazes Saul, more amazement is still to come. Samuel has told Saul he will tell him all that is on his mind . . . the next day (see verse 19). If this matter of the lost donkeys is not to be on his mind, then what is? I believe it is the things Samuel says next to Saul in verse 20: “And for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you and for all your father’s household.” The words Saul speaks to Samuel in response, recorded in verse 21, are the essence of what Saul will now have on his mind, since the matter of the donkeys has been settled. What can the words of Samuel possibly mean? And why does Samuel speak them to Saul? How can this be, since he is not from a prominent tribe or from the most prominent family? This, I believe, is what Samuel plants in Saul’s mind, and what he will explain more fully the next morning. And so it will be.
Samuel, Saul, and his servant make their way up to the high place, where he gives them the place of honor at the head of all the invited guests.33 Samuel is a man of faith. When God informs him that the king will come on the following day (9:16), Samuel makes reservations for him as the honored guest of the sacrificial meal (9:23-24). He has the cook set apart the choicest portion, telling him to serve it when instructed to do so (when the promised king appears). When Saul and his servant are seated, Samuel instructs the cook to bring out the portion which has been set aside in expectation of his arrival. The man who appears to be an unexpected drop-in is in fact, expected and none other than the guest of honor.
There is a further conversation between Samuel and Saul on the roof before Saul settles down for the night. Early the next morning, Samuel awakens Saul to send him on his way privately before the people are up and about and watching him with great curiosity and interest. As they are leaving town, Samuel instructs Saul to send his servant on ahead so that he can speak privately with him. When he does so, Samuel takes his flask of oil and anoints Saul’s head, kissing him, and informing him that God has indeed chosen him to be ruler over all Israel.
No doubt, this is a bomb shell for Saul. From the events of the previous day and the mysterious statements Samuel has made to Saul, it is evident that Samuel might be speaking of Saul as the coming king. But now there is no possibility for misunderstanding. Samuel’s words and actions (the anointing) make it very clear that Saul has been appointed and anointed to be the king. But Saul is a man who needs some convincing (see 10:22). So Samuel prophesies regarding the events which will happen in the next few hours. First, on the road to Rachel’s tomb they will meet two men, who will inform them of what Samuel has already told them, namely that the lost donkeys have been found, and Saul’s father is now worried about his son.
Further on, when they reach the “oak of Tabor,” they will encounter three men going up to worship God at Bethel. One man will have three kids, another three loaves of bread, and the third will have a jug of wine. These three will not only greet Saul and his servant, they will give them two loaves of bread which they are to take. This bread will serve as their provisions for the rest of their way home.
Verses 14-16 of chapter 10 are a part of the private confirmation to Saul of God’s choice of him as Israel’s king. The writer describes the events following Saul’s meeting with Samuel in chronological order, and so Saul’s arrival home, and his interaction with his uncle, come after his becoming one of the prophets for a time (verses 10-13). But from the flow of the argument, the conversation with Saul’s uncle is a part of Saul’s private confirmation.
When Saul arrives home, his uncle is there to greet him and question him about what he has been doing over the days he has been gone. Saul gives only sketchy facts, so that the matter of his anointing will not be raised or discussed. Saul’s silence may have only spurred his uncle on, because he certainly is interested in what happened, especially once he learns that Saul has met with Samuel. Saul is only willing to tell him the part about the donkeys, and so it will have to be Samuel who publicly introduces Saul as Israel’s king, which happens in the next section.
The King is Introduced to Israel
10:10 When they came to the hill there, behold, a group of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them. 11 And it came about, when all who knew him previously saw that he prophesied now with the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” 12 And a man there answered and said, “Now, who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb: “Is Saul also among the prophets?” 13 When he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place. 14 Now Saul's uncle said to him and his servant, “Where did you go?” And he said,” To look for the donkeys. When we saw that they could not be found, we went to Samuel. “ 15 And Saul's uncle said, “Please tell me what Samuel said to you.” 16 So Saul said to his uncle, “He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.” But he did not tell him about the matter of the kingdom which Samuel had mentioned. 17 Thereafter Samuel called the people together to the LORD at Mizpah; 18 and he said to the sons of Israel, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'I brought Israel up from Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians, and from the power of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.' 19 “But you today rejected your God, who delivers you from all your calamities and your distresses; yet you have said, 'No, but set a king over us!' Now therefore, present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes and by your clans.” 20 Thus Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. 21 Then he brought the tribe of Benjamin near by its families, and the Matrite family was taken. And Saul the son of Kish was taken; but when they looked for him, he could not be found. 22 Therefore they inquired further of the LORD, “Has the man come here yet?” So the LORD said, “Behold, he is hiding himself by the baggage.” 23 So they ran and took him from there, and when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward. 24 And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the LORD has chosen? Surely there is no one like him among all the people.” So all the people shouted and said, “Long live the king!” 25 Then Samuel told the people the ordinances of the kingdom, and wrote them in the book and placed it before the LORD. And Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his house. 26 And Saul also went to his house at Gibeah; and the valiant men whose hearts God had touched went with him. 27 But certain worthless men said, “How can this one deliver us?” And they despised him and did not bring him any present. But he kept silent.
11:1 Now Nahash the Ammonite came up and besieged Jabesh-gilead; and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a covenant with us and we will serve you.” 2 But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “I will make it with you on this condition, that I will gouge out the right eye of every one of you, thus I will make it a reproach on all Israel.” 3 And the elders of Jabesh said to him, “Let us alone for seven days, that we may send messengers throughout the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to deliver us, we will come out to you.” 4 Then the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and spoke these words in the hearing of the people, and all the people lifted up their voices and wept. 5 Now behold, Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen; and he said, “What is the matter with the people that they weep?” So they related to him the words of the men of Jabesh. 6 Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul mightily when he heard these words, and he became very angry. 7 And he took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout the territory of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen.” Then the dread of the LORD fell on the people, and they came out as one man. 8 And he numbered them in Bezek; and the sons of Israel were 300,000, and the men of Judah 30,000. 9 And they said to the messengers who had come, “Thus you shall say to the men of Jabesh-gilead, 'Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have deliverance.'“ So the messengers went and told the men of Jabesh; and they were glad. 10 Then the men of Jabesh said, “Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you.” 11 And it happened the next morning that Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp at the morning watch, and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. And it came about that those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together. 12 Then the people said to Samuel, “Who is he that said, 'Shall Saul reign over us?' Bring the men, that we may put them to death.” 13 But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the LORD has accomplished deliverance in Israel.”
Finally, Saul and his servant reach the “hill of God,” where the Philistine garrison is stationed,34 and where the third sign takes place. The third sign is different from the first two in at least two regards. First, the third sign is publicly witnessed and at least partially grasped as significant. We are informed of the prophecy Samuel gave to Saul regarding the two men he would meet and later on the three men on their way to Bethel, but we are not given a full account of how these things take place. We are only given the general statement that “all these signs came about on that day” (10:9). But when it comes to the third prophecy – the one which tells of the Spirit coming upon Saul – we are given an account which includes the impact this has on the nation. The first two signs are almost entirely for the benefit of Saul alone. He alone has been told these things will happen. Anyone watching the fulfillment of these two prophecies would not discern that these are signs, for they would be unaware of their detailed prediction. But this third sign is one which catches people’s attention, so much so that it becomes proverbial.
Second, what happens to Saul on the “hill of God” is not normal; it is supernatural. The Spirit of God comes upon Saul and he prophesies, along with those who are known to be prophets. There is no question on the part of those who witness this amazing incident – Saul is among the prophets. So why is this important? It is important because this is a public demonstration that God has empowered Saul to judge the nation. In Exodus 18, Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, counsels him to distribute the work load of judging the nation. The appointment of these 70 judges is described in Numbers 11, where all 70 of them prophesy before the eyes of the nation, demonstrating that the Spirit of God is upon them, empowering them to serve as judges. The same thing is now happening to Saul. The Spirit of God has come upon him, empowering him to judge the nation as their king. This event is clearly supernatural, and it is done in public. In fact, the change in Saul becomes proverbial, so that even those who do not witness this sign hear of it. This is the first public indication that Saul is to be Israel’s king.
The next indication will be very public. Samuel calls all of Israel to Mizpah (the place where they repented and turned to God at the beginning of Samuel’s ministry – see chapter 7), where he confronts a very eager audience. In all their enthusiasm and optimism of what is to come, Samuel once again reminds the Israelites that their demand for a king is a manifestation of disobedience and unbelief. Samuel indicates that it was then (in chapter 8), and still is to this very day, a rejection of God. This God, whom they will replace with a human king, is the One who delivers them from all their difficulties. It is not their new king who will deliver them, because it has always been God who delivered them, and who will continue to do so. In spite of Israel’s sin, God is about to graciously give them the king they are demanding.
The king, as seen in Deuteronomy 17:15, is to be the man of God’s choosing, and this choice will be indicated by the casting of the lot. It is first narrowed down to the line of Benjamin and then finally to Saul, the very one whom God has already indicated to Samuel earlier, the one whom Samuel has already anointed as king. But this process is for the benefit of the people of the nation, so that they will be convinced that Samuel is God’s choice.
When Saul is indicated by the casting of the lots, he is nowhere to be found. No one seems to know him or his whereabouts. It is by further inquiry of the Lord that He indicates Saul is hiding by the baggage. The people run to the luggage, find Saul, and bring him to Samuel. When the people look upon Saul, they are greatly impressed. Here is a man whom we have already learned is very handsome (9:2), and we are told once again that he is taller than any other Israelite. In effect, Saul is the “Goliath” of Israel, a giant of a man, and an extremely handsome man at that. From a merely physical perspective, Saul is first class material.
Samuel points out to the people what an extremely pleasing choice God has made. God makes and gives no “junk.” Saul is a magnificent specimen of humanity. No one could have asked for more. And so the people begin to shout, “Long live the king!” (verse 24). At this time, Samuel spells out all of the ordinances which pertain to kingly rule, writing this on a book which he places before the Lord. And then he sends the people home.
Saul likewise goes to his house, accompanied by a group of valiant men whose hearts God has touched. These men seem to be something like Saul’s “secret service,” accompanying him wherever he goes, protecting him from any who might wish to harm him. These valiant men are further evidence that Saul is indeed God’s choice for Israel’s king.
Not all the people see it this way, however, for our text informs us there is a group of men – worthless fellows – who do not look upon Saul as their deliverer. Do these men know the “old Saul” too well? Do they disdain the man for hiding amongst the luggage? Is he not their kind of leader? We really don’t know why they look down upon Saul, but their most serious sin is to doubt and dispute God’s choice of their king. While all the others have gifts for Saul, these worthless fellows do not. Their disdain for Saul is obvious. Nevertheless, Saul chooses to remain silent and do nothing about them for the moment. They will appear again in our text, however.
What the Israelites really want is a king who will deliver them from their enemies. They want a king who will go before them into war (8:19-20). And specifically, they want a king who will deal with Nahash, the king of the Ammonites (12:12). The proof of Saul’s kingship will be clinched if Saul can successfully lead them into war. Chapter 11 is all about just this.
Nahash, the Ammonite king, has besieged the Israelite town of Jabesh-gilead. The people are about to give up and ask Nahash to declare what his terms for peace are. The people of Jabesh-gilead are willing to be his subjects; they really seem to have no choice. But the king’s terms for peace are severe. He not only wants the Israelite town to surrender to him, he insists that he will pluck out the right eye of each. This will do at least two things: (1) It will humiliate the Israelites, and (2) it will disable them so that they will fight with great difficulty. (Have you ever tried to sight a gun or aim a bow and arrow without your right eye?)
The people of Jabesh ask Nahash for seven days to plea to their Jewish brethren for help. If no one comes to their aid, they promise, they will become his subjects. Messengers are sent throughout the land of Israel, pleading for help. It seems as though nothing is being done, and that no one intends to get involved. But word eventually comes to Gibeah of Saul, and when it does, the people of that city begin to weep. Saul is coming in from the fields and observes the weeping and asks what has happened. When he is told, he is furious.35 He slaughters a yoke of oxen (was it his oxen or those of an unconcerned spectator?), cuts them into pieces and sends these pieces around the land, warning that anyone who refuses to assemble for war will find his oxen slaughtered also. It seems as though some are excusing themselves from coming to the aid of their brethren because they cannot get away from the farm at the moment. Saul’s actions make it clear that they will have nothing to farm with if they refuse to help their brethren. He threatens to take away the equivalent of their “tractors.”
A grand total of 330,000 soldiers assemble, 30,000 of them men of Judah. Word is sent to the people of Jabesh, assuring them that help is on the way. The men of Jabesh inform Nahash that on the following day they will “come out” to him. Nahash thinks this means that they intend to surrender. The people of Jabesh hope it means they will “come out” fighting. And so when their Israelite brethren attack the Ammonites the next day, they do come out fighting, and the result is a crushing defeat for the Ammonites. As the text indicates, “no two of them were left together” (verse 11).
Saul is an instant hero. It is one thing for Saul to be “among the prophets;” it is still another for him to be chosen king by lot. But when Saul is the one man who can assemble the whole nation and then defeat the Ammonites, this is all the proof the people need or want. “And now,” the people ask, “who are those nay-sayers, who spoke of their king with disdain?” Let these fellows be brought forward and dealt with!
Saul’s finest moment is not in assembling the nation for war nor in winning a stunning victory over the Ammonites. His finest moment is in dealing with some of his own people, who have spoken against him. Saul can take his revenge, and in so doing, bring great pleasure to the people, as well as to himself. But Saul refuses to dampen the spirit of the day with such action. Most of all, Saul is unwilling to take credit for the victory which has just been won over the Ammonites. It is the Lord who “has accomplished deliverance in Israel” (verse 13), and thus Saul will not raise a hand against those who disdain him. Truly Israel does have their king, and a good one at that.
This last observation is probably the most unexpected, namely that Saul is a good king. Unfortunately, I have previously considered Saul only in retrospect. I could never look at Saul without first thinking of David. And when I thought of Saul in the light of David, Saul always came out second, and with good reason. In addition, I have discovered that I am guilty of viewing Saul’s commencement as Israel’s king only in the light of his latter days, days which put him in a very poor light.
But if we take this text as it stands, we must look at Saul differently here in the light of the following facts. (1) Saul is a gracious gift of God to His people, in spite of their sinful demand to have a king. God gives Saul to Israel as her king out of mercy and compassion, because He has noted the nation’s calamities and distresses, and has sent Saul to deliver His people, just as He has done since the exodus (9:16; 10:18). (2) Saul is not given to Israel because God wants this man to fail, and therefore picks the worst possible specimen of humanity to give the nation as their king. God picks a physically superior man, whose appearance and stature seem to perfectly suit the task he is being given. (3) God supernaturally empowers Saul, putting his Spirit on him to enable him to judge and to lead with wisdom and power. Whatever weaknesses Saul has as a man, God deals with supernaturally, so that he became “another man” (see 10:6, 9). (4) And finally, God identifies Saul in such a way that no one but a worthless fool would deny that he is the appointed king.
God is not trying to sabotage the reign of Saul, though He surely knows his kingdom will fail. The failures of Saul are not due to God’s undermining, but to Saul’s personal failure to walk in the ways of God, in his failure to trust and obey God. Saul fails to appropriate the resources God has graciously given him to enable him to rule in justice and righteousness. Saul is not a second-class king, given by a spiteful God; he is a first-class king, completely equipped for his task, and wholly responsible for his failure. This king is not a David, to be sure, but neither is he a dud. For me, this is a new thought, but one which our text teaches.
How gracious God is to us, in spite of our sin. God gives Israel a king, but this king is not “like the king of the nations.” This king is the finest humanity available, a man transformed in heart and supernaturally empowered by the Spirit of God. When Saul walks in the Spirit, he functions as the deliverer of the people of God. When he walks in the Spirit, he recognizes that the victories his armies win are God’s victories, not his own. He is a man marked by humility and grace. This will change, all too quickly. Even though we know this change will come, let us see what a magnificent king he is, at least for a short time.
The military victory in which Saul leads the Israelites (chapter 11) is not due to Israel’s having a king nor to any merit on Israel’s part, but solely due to the mercy and grace of God, who hears the cries of His people and once again comes to their rescue. The Israelites quickly embrace this new king. He is the kind of king they want. When Jesus comes as the “King of Israel,” He is no Saul. He does not have a striking appearance, which attracts men, and He is not enthusiastically embraced as God’s Son:
1 Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 3 He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him (Isaiah 53:1-3).
His followers, and even His closest disciples, want Jesus to be a king like Saul, but Jesus refuses. He does not come to cast off Roman rule, but to give His life as a ransom for many. He comes to a sinful world, and bears the penalty of wicked men, so that they might have their sins forgiven and become the sons of God. This is the kind of king many reject today. They would like a king who is more like Saul. Saul is God’s first king, and in the beginning he is a good king. But there is really only one great king, and this is Jesus, the King of the Jews, who came to earth as a man (without putting off His deity), lived a sinless life, and then was crucified for the sins of men, and raised from the dead on the third day. This is the same “King” who will come again, and this time, all will recognize Him, and every knee will bow to Him. He will subdue all of His enemies and then rule over the earth in perfect righteousness. This is the King for whom we are waiting.
Finally, this text is a fascinating passage as it relates to knowing the will of God. God has revealed through Samuel the prophet that He will give Israel a king (1 Samuel 8). He then providentially (circumstantially) leads Saul and his servant to the very place where Samuel will be, and to the feast at which Saul is the unknown (by name), but expected, invited guest of honor. God directly reveals to Samuel that the king is coming the next day. When Samuel first sees Saul, God tells him that this is the promised guest, who is to be Israel’s king. And then by means of supernatural signs, and by the casting of lots, and by a spectacular military victory, He indicates to Saul and to the nation Israel that this man is to be their king.
We do not see Saul seeking the kingdom nor even seeking God out in prayer. Saul is willing to seek out Samuel for divine guidance to find his donkeys, but only after his servant suggests the idea and then offers to pay for it. Saul is designated as Israel’s king as he goes about the everyday business of life. Who would ever think that this man would set out to find donkeys and end up being anointed as Israel’s king?
It seems as though Samuel also obtains divine guidance as he goes about the normal course of his life and ministry. Samuel is continuing to minister, just as he always has done, when God tells him that the king will be coming the following day. Samuel learns God’s will concerning Israel’s king as he faithfully carries out his duties as one of Israel’s prophets and judges. God has a way of making His will clear to us, when it is necessary for us to know it. He does not try to hide His will from us, and when He is intent on revealing it, we cannot miss it. God’s will is not a secret, which takes a special technique to discern.
As you get up tomorrow morning, think of this text and what it implies. What irksome task will come your way? Will it be searching for lost donkeys? Probably not, but there will be those mundane and even irritating tasks which seem to consume your life with little apparent significance. God has a way of using such irksome tasks as the means to much greater ends.
Israel eagerly awaits the coming of her king. Every action, every word of Samuel is viewed with great expectation and interest. If these ancient Israelites so eagerly await their first king, how much more eager should we be for the coming of the King of Kings, our Lord Jesus Christ? Do we begin every day wondering if this is the day? Are we faithfully going about our duties, eager to please the King when He comes? Let us commence every day with a sense of eager anticipation, knowing that the coming of our King may be today.
31 One has to wonder why this parenthetical comment, which constitutes all of verse 9, is included in our text. It certainly serves to explain the term “seer” when it is used in verse 11. It also indicates that this book is written some time after the events it describes, as is the case with a number of other books of the Bible.
32 The element of timing seems to be emphasized here. From the vantage point of these young women, Saul and his servant have the “good luck” to arrive at precisely the right moment to meet briefly with Samuel. He himself has just arrived in town. He is on his way to the high place for the sacrifice and meal that follows. If Saul and his servant hurry, they just might be able to ask Samuel their question. Little do they (or anyone else) realize the divine element in all of this. To them, it is “good luck” and “hurry up.” For God, it is simply everything being on schedule.
33 One cannot help but wonder if these 30 men, who are also Samuel’s invited guests, may not have thoughts about the possibility that Samuel might choose one of them to be the first king. The mood is electric with excitement and expectation, and whatever Samuel does is viewed as potentially significant (see also 1 Samuel 10:14-16).
35 Note that while much anger is ungodly, the anger of Saul here is godly. In fact, his anger is the result of the Spirit coming upon him. There are times when Christians ought to be angry and are not. There are times (at least a few) when it is a sin not to be angry. There are, of course, many times when our anger is sinful.