The Selection of Saul
Text: I Samuel 9:1-12:25
Saul, the Herdsman - I Samuel 9:1-14
The story moves to the son of a mighty man of valor who was named Kish. His son’s name was Saul. Saul had a lot going for him. He was declared to the be most handsome man in Israel and he was also the tallest, being a whole head taller than everyone else.
Some of Kish’s donkeys became lost so Kish sent out his son, Saul, with a servant to find them. They searched the regions of Shalishah and Shaalim. We don’t know for certain where these locations are. We know Saul’s home was in Gibeah (I Samuel 11:4). His route took him along the hills of Ephraim, which is a ridge that extends into Benjamin’s territory. Most assume Shalishah is related to Baal-Shalishah (II Kings 4:42), which was located 12 miles north of Lydda, west of Ramah toward the border of Dan. Shalishah means “three land” and there is a location in that area where three valleys come together. They then go to Shaalim. Since it mentions that Saul comes back to Benjamin’s territory and that Shaalim is in Ephraim’s territory. Finally, they reach Zuph. I Samuel 10:2 mentions that they would go near Rachael’s tomb, which is located at Zelzah, near Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem, so it is assumed they ended up somewhere in the southwest section of Benjamin.
By this time (three days later - I Samuel 9:20), Saul suggests that they should return home without the donkeys, or else his father would start to worry about what happened to them. The servant suggested that they visit the man of God who was in the nearby city. He hoped the prophet could tell them what would be best to do. Since Samuel made a circuit (I Samuel 7:16), we cannot assume which town Saul and his servant were near. Saul points out that they have nothing to offer the prophet as a sign of respect for someone superior. Even the food has been consumed on this journey. The servant said he had a quarter shekel to offer the prophet. So Saul agreed to see the prophet.
A small side comment is added in I Samuel 9:9 to explain that the term for a man of God had changed. They used to be called seers (one who sees visions) and are now more often called prophets (one who speaks the words of God).
As they walked up the slope to the city, they asked a young woman, who was drawing water from a well, whether the seer was in town. She said that he had just recently arrived on account of a sacrifice that was being offered that day. If they hurried, they should be able to catch him before the sacrifice and the festival begins. By chance, they run into Samuel just as he was heading out to sacrifice.
- Why would Saul and his servant ask a prophet about such a small matter as where to find some lost donkeys?
Saul Chosen to be King - I Samuel 9:15-24
The story now switches to Samuel’s point of view. Samuel had been told by God the day before that God was sending Samuel a man from the tribe of Benjamin. Samuel was to anoint him to be the ruler over Israel. God also said that he would free Israel from the Philistines. Though Samuel had driven the Philistines out of Israel (I Samuel 7:13), it appears that they had started battles again now that Samuel was old. It is hinted at when it says, “The hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.”
As Saul and his servant approached Samuel, God told Samuel that this was the man He mentioned the day before. Saul didn’t know who Samuel was, so when he approached him, he asked Samuel where he could find the seer’s house. Samuel revealed that he was the seer. He then invited Saul to join him at the feast and then tomorrow he would answer his questions. But meanwhile, Saul didn’t need to worry about the donkeys that were lost three days ago, they had been found. Thus, Samuel gave Saul proof that he was a seer, a reason not to be in a rush to return home, and an offer of food (remember that they had used up their supplies). Besides, the best that Israel has to offer will be at the disposal of Saul and his family. This last remark confuses Saul, he is from a small tribe and, in his view, an insignificant family. Why would Samuel speak like this to him?
Yet, Samuel takes Saul and his servant to the sacrifice and places them at the head of the table. Food that Samuel had the cook set aside earlier was brought out and set before Saul. The right leg was the priest’s portion at a sacrifice (Leviticus 7:32); thus, Samuel was giving Saul his portion of the sacrifice as a mark of high honor.
There is some confusion in the translation of I Samuel 9:24 in regard to who was speaking. Many commentators believe that it was the cook who told Saul that there was a portion that was reserved until the appointed time for the guests Samuel would invite. What is important is that again it is pointed out to Saul that Samuel knew of his arrival in advance.
Saul Anointed as King - I Samuel 9:25-10:16
After the feast, Samuel and Saul return to the place Samuel is staying. They go up onto the roof, likely to have a private conversation. Homes in that region and time typically have flat roofs. What they discussed was not recorded for us.
Apparently, Saul spent the night on the roof because Samuel woke him at daybreak and said he wanted to send Saul on his way. He then asked for the servant to go ahead so that Samuel and Saul could talk privately about what God wanted him to hear.
Samuel anointed Saul and said that God had appointed him to be a ruler over His people. To prove that his words were from God, Samuel told Saul that they will find two men near Rachel’s tomb near the town of Zelzah. The men will tell Saul that the donkeys have been found and that his father is worried about what happened to his son. When Saul gets to the oak tree at Tabor, he will meet three men going to worship God in Bethel. One will be carrying three young goats, another will be carrying three loves of bread, and the other will be carrying a jug of wine. They will give Saul two of the loaves of bread, which Saul must accept. Then Saul came to where a Philistine garrison is camped and will enter the nearby city. In the city, he will be met by a group of prophets playing instruments and prophesying. The Spirit of the Lord will come upon Saul and Saul will start prophesying with them. At that point, Samuel tells Saul to do what the occasion demands.
He is then to go to Gilgal and wait for Samuel to arrive seven days later. Samuel will over sacrifices and then tell Saul what he needs to do.
All that God predicted came to pass that day and it changed Saul’s heart – that is, Saul now was confident that God was with him. When Saul began prophesying, people who knew him were surprised that the son of Kish had become a prophet. The question “Is Saul also among the prophets?” became a proverb. It probably was used when something strange and unexpected happened. The phrase shows some misunderstanding among the people about prophets. They assume that prophets desire the duty and train for it. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that God picks whom He desires to speak His words (Amos 7:14-15). Yet, one person there asked who is the prophets’ father. The men are from different families, but in prophesying, they show themselves to be sons of God.
When Saul finished prophesying, he found himself at the local place of worship. His uncle finds Saul and his servant and asks where they had been. Saul told him that they went to look for the donkeys and when they were unsuccessful, they asked Samuel. Saul’s uncle wanted to know what the great prophet said to Saul, but Saul only told him that Samuel said that the donkeys had been found. He left out the part about him being anointed to be king of Israel.
The Announcement of King Saul - I Samuel 10:17-27
Sometime later, Samuel calls a gathering of the people at Mizpah and delivers a message from God. God reminds them that He is the one who delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Yet, the people now have rejected God, who protects them, from being their king.
God then tells the people to divide up into tribes and clans within tribes. Lots were cast and the tribe of Benjamin was chosen. Then the lots chose the clan of Matrite. And, finally, Saul was selected. However, Saul couldn’t be found because he hid among the baggage. People grabbed him and brought him forward. They noted how tall he was. Here again, we see shallow thinking. The people were focused on Saul’s looks and didn’t ask about his abilities.
Samuel announced that this was the man God had selected to be their king. The people eagerly responded with “Long live the king!”
Samuel then reviewed the rules of the kingdom and wrote it all down. The written copy was placed before the Lord for safekeeping. Then the people went home.
God touched a number of valiant men’s hearts and they joined Saul. However, not everyone was happy with the selection. Some worthless men complained that Saul wasn’t good enough and refused to acknowledge Saul as king. Saul knew this but kept silent. Literally, the text says he was a deaf man to the complaints.
Saul’s Battle Against the Ammonites - I Samuel 11:1-15
The Ammonites, whose territory was to the east of Israel, were led by a man named Nahash to lay siege to the town of Jabesh located in the region of Gilead on the east side of the Jordan. Ammon and Moab were the sons of Lot. Their descendants resented Israel’s conquering of the eastern side of the Jordan, claiming that it was stolen from them (Judges 11:13). Thus, battles for the territory happened occasionally (Judges 10:6-11:33).
The men of Jabesh eventually gave in and asked for peace terms. Nahash wanted to make an example of Jabesh to embarrass all of Israel, so he demanded that every man’s right eye was to be gouged out. This would effectively disable all the men of Jabesh from warring against the Ammonites. The elders of the city requested seven days to ask for help from the rest of Israel. If there is no response within that time, then they would surrender to Nahash.
Messengers reach Saul’s hometown of Gibeah and the entire town mourned for their brethren. When Saul came in from the fields where he was plowing, he asked what was going on. When he was told the news, the Holy Spirit came upon Saul. In his anger, he cut up his oxen and sent pieces throughout Israel, threatening that if any doesn’t respond to his call to battle, they would be cut up as well. In fear, 330,000 men met Saul in Bezek on the west side of the Jordan, across from Jabesh-Gilead.
Saul then sent a reply to the elders in Jabesh that they would be delivered before the afternoon of the following day. The elders then told Nahash that they would come out to him on the following day and he could do as he saw fit to them.
Israel’s army was divided into three companies to create a three-prong attack. They attacked in the early morning. The night was divided into three watches, the morning watch was the last one (between 2 and 6 am). This implies that Israel’s army marched through the night and struck down Nahash’s army so thorough that no group survived, only some scattered individuals.
The people of Israel were so excited by their victory that they ask Samuel to tell them who had spoken against Saul’s reign because they planned to put them to death. But Saul intervened. That day was a day that the Lord granted them victory. Instead of destroying Saul’s enemies, Samuel suggested that Israel gather at Gilgal and reaffirm Saul’s kingship, which occurred with feasting and offerings to God.
- Why would Nahash allow the elders of Jabesh to send for aid?
- Why would the men from Judah be numbered separately from the rest of Israel?
Samuel Charges the People with Rebellion - I Samuel 12:1-25
At the celebration, Samuel reminds the people that he had selected a king at their insistence. They had wanted a king because Samuel was getting old and his sons are with them if they choose to take action against them.
Samuel then puts himself on trial. He has lived his life openly before them. He challenges anyone there to give evidence that he has harmed anyone during his life. The people testify that Samuel had not defrauded, oppressed, or stolen anything from them. Samuel then calls on the Lord to witness their testimony. While Samuel's sons were guilty of corruption and taking bribes, Samuel was not held responsible for his sons’ sins (I Samuel 8:3). From this position of innocence, Samuel is then able to reprove the people (Matthew 7:1-5).
Samuel then reminded the people of Moses and Aaron, whom God had appointed to lead Israel out of Egypt. But because they forgot their God, God sent armies to punish Israel, such as Sisera (Judges 4:2), the Philistines (Judges 10:2; 13:1), or Moab (Judges 3:12). And when they turned back to God and cried for help, He sent judges, such as Gideon (Jerubaal) (Judges 6), Barak (Judges 4), Jephthah (Judges 11), and Samuel to deliver them. [Bedan is believed to be a copyist’s error.
But this time, because they insisted on a king. Here we find one of the motivations for wanting a king. Nahash, king of the Ammonites, came against Israel. Samuel was too old to lead a battle and his sons were too corrupt. Instead of pleading with God for deliverance, they wanted a king. It was Saul who delivered them. They received what they asked for.
The kingship came about because they desired a king but it was God who placed a man on the throne. Thus, his authority comes from God and not from the people. It was not an option for the people to reject the king God set on the throne. Thus, they and their king were not released from following God. If they rebel against God, then the Lord will be against them, just as He was to their forefathers.
To prove his point, even though it was time for the wheat harvest, around mid-May to mid-June, a dry period in Israel’s climate, Samuel asked God to send a thunderstorm. It was a sign that they had acted wickedly in asking for a king. Seeing the storm, the people admitted that they had sinned.
They plead for mercy and Samuel tells them that despite their sins, they have nothing to fear if they remain faithful to God. God won’t abandon Israel – not for their sake but for His great name.
Samuel won’t stop praying for them, even though he opposed their insistence on a king. To not pray for them would be a sin.
Thus, a final warning to remain faithful so that they and their king would not be swept away.
- Why did Samuel wait until Saul’s first victory to scold the people for wanting a king?