We continue the story in 1 Samuel 9 with the introduction of a man from Benjamin. Benjamin was the youngest of the 12 sons of Jacob, Joseph's younger brother. It is odd that a story about a king for Israel begins with a Benjamite since according to Genesis 49:10 the king ought to come from Judah. Not to mention that Judges 19 describes a terrible sin committed by some Benjamites that caused the tribe of Benjamin to be almost completely wiped out (Judges 19-21).
Saul is the son of a powerful/mighty/wealthy man named Kish. Not only that, Saul is also the most handsome man in all of Israel. If there had been a Mr. Israel competition Saul would have won. Not only was Saul handsome, he was also head and shoulders taller than any of the people (1 Samuel 9:2).
It is interesting that out of all the qualities that Saul possessed the writer mentions his height. Saul is the only Israelite in the Bible described as being tall (Bergen, 121). Otherwise only the height of the enemies of Israel are noted (Num. 13:33; Deut. 1:28; 2:10; 9:2; 1Sam. 17:4) Israel had asked for a king "like all the nations" (1 Sam. 8:20) and that is exactly what they were getting.
But disaster had struck and Kish’s donkeys were missing. Saul was tasked with the donkey recovery mission, and along with a servant he set out to find and bring back the missing donkeys. Saul searches for three days an area as far as 20 miles and fails to find the donkeys.
It is interesting to ponder that with all the different ways Saul could have been introduced, he is introduced as being handsome, tall, and incapable of finding donkeys. This details becomes more significant when you consider that “semitic leaders throughout ancient times were often referred to as shepherds.” (Bergen, 121) Not to mention that the most significant patriarchs of Israel (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses) were also depicted in the Bible as skillful shepherds. So, to mention that Saul and his servant spent three days searching for fairly large animals and failed, is something that ought to catch the attention of the reader. Perhaps, foreshadowing to a poor shepherd that will not make the best leader. As far as appearances go, Saul is great! But some subtle red flags seem to be raised here and there in the story.
The next red flag comes when Saul is ready to quit and go back home and he never thought of consulting God, even though he is in the city where Samuel is. Saul’s servant is the one who suggests that Saul consult the prophet. How could Saul be clueless about the most important figure in Israel at the time? There had not been someone like Samuel in Israel since the days of Moses.
Maybe Saul didn’t want to bother God regarding some missing donkeys, maybe we behave in a similar way thinking we should only seek God in matters of life and death…
Samuel by contrast is fully aware of Saul who, up to now, is a nobody. Saul may have been clueless about Samuel and the whereabouts of his father’s donkeys, but Samuel not only knew about Saul and had made preparations to meet with Saul, he also knew about the donkeys, and about Saul’s future.
Saul was clueless. Samuel knew everything he needed to know. The difference is stark, and it has to do with each individual’s relationship with God. Samuel has a habit of coming to Godwhen he is facing difficulties (1 Sam. 8:6, 21). Samuel also developed a close relationship with God from an early age, always willing to listen to God’s word (1 Sam. 3:10). The Lord was with Samuel (1 Sam. 3:19). This close relationship with God is what equips Samuel to lead and what Saul is lacking at this point. Saul may be tall and handsome, but that does not qualify him to lead God’s people.
So Samuel anoints Saul and prophesies that the Spirit of the LORD will come upon him and that he will be turned into another man and that God is with him. (1Sam. 10:6,7) After Saul meets with Samuel, God gives him a new heart (1 Sam. 10:9) and indeed the Spirit of God came upon him. (verse 10)
Samuel also tells Saul to wait seven days for him to tell him what he should do, (v.8) and this establishes the correct relationship between prophet and king. The king is chosen by God, but is not free to do what he wants with God’s people, the king is still held accountable to God and God directs the actions of the king. Israel is still God’s people, Saul will be a commander (v.1) but God remains ultimately in charge. This is an important lesson that Saul needs to remember, to wait for Samuel to show him what he should do.
The day finally comes and Samuel calls all the people together and divides them up according to tribes. He reminds them of how God always provided for them and points out how they have rejected God as their king. After all the tribes are present a process of choosing or casting lots begins, the last time we witnessed something like this was when the Israelite army lost a battle against Ai and they were looking for the person who had sinned (Josh. 7:16-18) bringing to the mind of the careful reader the notion of judgment. This process was also used so that everyone would know what no-one got the position due to political manipulation, rather God picked for them a king a like all the nations.
Once Saul was chosen and people saw how handsome and tall he was everyone was pleased, or almost everyone. But we will have more information on the next post.
- Andrews Study Bible: Light. Depth. Truth. Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews UP, 2010. Print.
- Bergen, Robert D. 1, 2 Samuel. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1996. Print.
- White, Ellen Gould Harmon. Patriarchs and Prophets. Coldwater, MI: Remnant Publications, 2000.