Saul is given favor by God, even though the circumstances are unfavorable indeed. Saul is given favor by Samuel, even though Samuel knows that trouble lies ahead. This chapter contains a number of references that will help us understand the rest of the story rightly.
“Then Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it upon his head, and kissed him, and said, Is it not because the LORD hath anointed thee to be captain over his inheritance? When thou art departed from me to day, then thou shalt find two men by Rachel’s sepulchre in the border of Benjamin at Zelzah; and they will say unto thee, The asses which thou wentest to seek are found: and, lo, thy father hath left the care of the asses, and sorroweth for you, saying, What shall I do for my son?” (1 Sam. 10:1-27).
Summary of the Text
We begin with Samuel anointing Saul privately (v. 1). Samuel then gives Saul three signs that will happen to him, designed to strengthen his faith. The first is that they will run into two men by Rachel’s tomb, who will tell him the donkeys are safe (v. 2). The second sign is that on the plain of Tabor, they will encounter three men going to Bethel to sacrifice, who will give Saul two loaves from their offering (vv. 3-4). The third sign is that a company of prophets near a Philistine garrison will come down from a high place prophesying with musical instruments, and because the Spirit comes upon him, Saul will join them (vv. 5-6). Once these signs have happened, Saul may do as God leads (v. 7).
Samuel tells Saul to wait for him at Gilgal for seven days (v. 8). As Saul turned away from Samuel, he was given a new heart (v. 9), and all three signs were fulfilled that day. The fulfillment of the third sign is told in such a way as to highlight the fact that Saul now has Samuel for a father (vv. 10-13). He then comes home, and Saul’s uncle asks for the story. Saul doesn’t tell him everything (vv. 14-16). Samuel then convenes the people at Mizpeh—the place where he had prayed for them before. Samuel’s words make it clear that the choice was ironic (vv. 18-19). Not only had Samuel prayed for them there, but Jephthah was from Mizpeh, and he had defeated the Ammonites (Judg. 10:17; Judg. 11:34), and the Ammonites were the big threat in the next chapter (1 Sam. 11:1). The location was a conscience-prodder, as Saratoga or Valley Forge would be for Americans.
Lots were cast, and eventually the house of Kish was taken. Saul was then discovered hiding in the midst of the military gear (vv. 20-23). Saul is then brought out, and acclaimed by the people (v. 24). Samuel then drafts some constitutional language of “rights and duties,” designed to keep the monarchy a constitutional one, unlike his warnings from chapter 8. These rights and duties are laid up before the Lord (v. 25). Saul goes home, with some men who had been moved by God (v. 26). But some sons of Belial weren’t having any (v. 27).
Saul is given every chance to see that he is becoming a king in accordance with the word of Samuel. As such, the message is that he must rule in accordance with the word of Samuel as well. Samuel had told him about the donkeys at their first meeting, and had anointed him. Samuel had given him three signs, all of which came to pass on that day. And then, after all this, Saul was chosen by lot—so that all Israel would know that God had selected him. Most commentators take Saul hiding in the warehouse as a sign of humility, but I take it as an indication of timidity and unbelief—the very thing that would get Saul into trouble. How many signs do you need before you accept the Lord’s calling?
A New Heart
Was Saul regenerated (v. 9)? I believe so, but I also think we cannot be dogmatic about it. In the sense of systematic theology, regeneration is irreversible, and so if he was, then Saul is with the Lord. If he was not regenerated in this way, then he experienced some enabling by the Spirit of God, but this enabling never got to the root of the matter.
We need to remember that it was the Spirit who enabled judges and kings to rule. If the Spirit departed from them, their dynasty would just fall apart. David knew that he had forfeited this blessing in just the way that Saul had forfeited it. He does not pray that he would not lose his salvation—he prays that he would have the joy of it restored (Ps. 51:12). At the same time, he prays that the Davidic line would not come unstuck (Ps. 51:11).
All this said, the reasons I believe Saul to have been truly regenerate are these: First, the Bible says he was given a new heart (1 Sam. 10:11). Second, his sins (which were great) were motivated by a natural timidity and insecurity, not high rebellion. Third, even in his persecution of David, the Spirit would come upon him (1 Sam. 19:24). Fourth, despite his manic vacillations, he was capable of acknowledging his sin (1 Sam. 24:17-22; 1 Sam. 26:21). Fifth, even when God had deserted him, and he resorted to witchcraft, he did so in order to talk with Samuel (1 Sam. 28:11). And last, David gives him high words of eulogistic praise (2 Sam. 1:23). Saul was certainly snake bit, as we say, but I believe he was a brother.
Words Before the Lord
Words that limit the power of tyrants need to be written on more than paper. The words that Samuel wrote down were words that had been written previously on Samuel’s heart. He knew that rebellion was written on Israel’s heart (v. 19), and this rejection was echoed more blatantly by sons of Belial, who did not want a theocratic king (v. 27). There were certain noble men, who believed in limited government, who were connected to Saul at first, before his corruption.
Constitutions are paper. Paper does not enjoy liberty, and cannot understand liberty. Paper can record what certain understanding hearts comprehend about liberty, and that record can be read by others who understand that liberty. But apart from the Spirit of God, there is no keeping liberty alive. Translating this down to our day, what could bring the Bill of Rights back from the dead? No political party. No rally. No petition. Who then?