We are now introduced to the first king over all Israel, a man who began well and ended poorly. There are signs of trouble from the very beginning, but there is also grace from God that is clearly present. The fact that we know there will be a fall does not prevent the goodness bestowed from being true goodness. God showed great favor to Saul.
“Now there was a man of Benjamin, whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bechorath, the son of Aphiah, a Benjamite, a mighty man of power. And he had a son, whose name was Saul, a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people . . .” (1 Sam. 9:1-27.
Summary of the Text
Kish, the father of Saul, was a great man (v. 1) in a tiny tribe. This man Kish had a son named Saul, who was both handsome and strong (v. 2). Now a herd of donkeys belonging to Kish were lost, and Kish told Saul to take a servant and to go and find them (v. 3). They obeyed, making a wide circuit without locating the donkeys (v. 4). Saul suggested returning before his father started worrying about them instead of the donkeys (v. 5). But the servant responded by saying that there was a man of God (Samuel) in the city were they now were, and perhaps they could ask him about the donkeys (v. 6). Saul’s only objection was that they had nothing to offer the man of God (v. 7). The servant had a quarter of a shekel of silver, which was sufficient (v. 8). In the old days, prophets used to be called seers (v. 9). And so Saul agreed (v. 10).
As they approached Ramah, they met maidens who came to draw water, and asked after the seer (v. 11). They replied yes, he was ahead of them, approaching to bless the sacrifice in the high place (v. 12). The maidens say where to find him, because the people will wait for his blessing (v. 13). And when they came to the city, they ran into Samuel (v. 14). Now God had prepared Samuel for this the day before (v. 15). God had heard the prayers of Israel and was going to answer them through Saul (v. 16). And when Samuel first set eyes on Saul, the Lord spoke to him again. This is the man (v. 17).
Saul approached Samuel in the gate and asked where the seer lived (v. 18). Samuel identifies himself, and tells Saul to ascend up to the high place ahead of him (v. 19). As for the donkeys, they are found (v. 20). When Samuel says that Saul is the desire of Israel (v. 20), Saul responds modestly (v. 21). Samuel took Saul, and seated him prominently among about 30 men (v. 22). And Samuel told the cook to give Saul a choice portion which Samuel had set aside previously (v. 23). So Saul was given a shoulder portion and ate it (v. 24). They came back down from the high place and talked on the top of Samuel’s house (v. 25). Saul spent the night there (v. 26). They walked together to the outskirts of the city (v. 27), where Samuel had the servant go on ahead. And then he anointed Saul as a prince (10:1).
Let God Sort it Out
The text makes it clear that establishing a king like the other nations was going to be a bad deal (1 Sam. 8). In asking for a king the way they did, they were rejecting God (1 Sam. 8:7). This is one of the great themes of the whole book. In the very first chapter, Hannah asks for a son (1 Sam. 1:20). She later says that she named him Samuel because she had asked for him (1 Sam. 1:27-28). But Samuel means “His name is El,” and not “asked for.” The word for ask is sha’al, from which we get Saul. Hannah had Sauled for Samuel. Samuel was all the Saul that Israel needed, and we are told this on the first page of the book. And of course, Samuel labors to keep the king from being a disobedient king (Dt. 17:15-16).
But at the same time, Samuel anoints Saul and kisses him (10:1). He doesn’t say, “take your stupid monarchy.” He gives him a choice portion of the sacrifice, thus adopting him (v. 24; Lev. 22:10-16). That portion was probably for the priest and the priest’s family (Ex. 29:27), but in any case was a portion of high honor. And the text explicitly says that God was giving them Saul “to save my people out of the hand of the Philistines.” God says that “their cry is coming unto me” (v. 16). Saul begins with manifest princely virtues (v. 2), and in genuine humility (v. 21). What is coming is a fall.
A Foreshadowed Trouble
When Saul asks the maidens drawing water about the seer, the way they answer is interesting. They tell Saul where Samuel will be found, at the high place (v. 12), but they also add the information that the people will wait for Samuel, not partaking until he has arrived (v. 13). But this is precisely the way in which Saul failed as a king. He did not wait for Samuel to come to bless his sacrifice (1 Sam. 13:8-10)
In the Midst of Sin
Samuel labored for grace in the midst of sin. God showed grace in the midst of sin. Sin can be individual, and sin can be corporate. When the godly are placed in the midst of corporate sin, what do they do? They do not have the option of a “do over,” going back to the point of failure and making the right choice this time. We have to start making right choices in the very middle of very bad downstream consequences. God does not call us all to make the same choices, or to take the same stand. Ehud was called to assassinate Eglon in a way that Obadiah was not called to assassinate Ahab. When Nehemiah’s men were told to surrender their arms, their right response amounted to “come and take them.” But Jeremiah required the people to surrender to the Babylonians. But we are all called to take the same kind of stand, responding faithfully to the Word of God.
Counter-cultural obedience is not a “one size fits all” sort of thing. But it is a “one heart fits all” sort of thing. But make special note of this. “The heart must be right” is not intended to be an all-purpose excuse for whatever it was you already wanted to do.