If you were able to create a president or a king of your own making what qualities would be important to you? Charisma? Loyalty? Charm? A strong orator? Good looks? Perhaps you would want someone with the looks of JFK, the quality of Lincoln, and the mind of Eisenhower? In 1 Samuel 9 we meet Saul, the first King of Israel, and in him we see many things that we truly would want in a king as well as many things we truly wouldn’t want in a king. In seeing Saul we gain a greater awareness of who we’re to ultimately put our trust in, but before I get to ahead of myself, follow along as I read 1 Samuel 9-10:16.
As our passage begins we meet the man, the myth, the legend, Saul. I say this because this is the feel you get from reading these first two verses. His Father Kish, was a prominent and wealthy Benjamite and no doubt from his wealth Kish probably did have his own standing within the city, but notice that it’s not the wealth of Kish that is given a kind of mythic status here, it’s the son of Kish who is front and center. v2 gives us a few adjectives describing young Saul: he is handsome, he is tall, and he is unique, so unique that among the people of Israel there was no one like Saul. When you combine his rugged looks, his height, and his fame you get the impression that Saul is the Israelite equivalent of Robert Redford. If there were a ‘Mr. Israel’ contest we know who the winner would be. But the outward appearance of things is often deceiving, and even though Saul may check all the boxes physically, he is largely ignorant spiritually.
Well, Kish’s donkeys have run off, and for that culture a donkey was to them what a car is to us today, so this was a big deal and this is even shown in the text; the remainder of chapter 9 we see Saul and his servant go on a donkey hunt. They went through all the hill country of Ephraim: which included Shalishah, Shaalim, and the land of Benjamin but couldn’t find the donkeys. It wasn’t until they got to the land of Zuph in v5 when Saul began to think their quest was futile so he tells the servant they should return so his father won’t start worrying about them over the donkeys. But notice the spiritual sensitivity of the servant in v6? The servant is aware that they just happen to be in the city where the prophet (AKA – ‘seer’) lives. The servant knows the wisdom of the prophet (that everything he says is true) so he says to Saul, ‘Perhaps he can tell us where we should go?’ After rummaging around for something to give the prophet in return for direction/wisdom, they set off to go see him. When they approach the city a few young women told them the prophet was there, and that if they hurry they’d find him near the entrance of the city preparing for a sacrifice. In v14 they come near the city gate and see Samuel coming toward them.
Now we reach a very significant part of our passage, v15-17. These three verses are significant because the narrative could function without them smoothly and easily. If you read v14 and skip ahead straight to v18 you don’t skip a beat in the story. Because that’s the case a question comes into view: why have v15-17 at all? I hope you see the answer from reading them. The answer is: we have them because in them God lets us see behind the curtain. In them we learn that God has been very active behind the scenes in bringing Saul to Zuph so that he’d meet Samuel. In fact, the day before God told Samuel that He’d bring him a man from Benjamin about that same time of day and told Samuel to anoint that man as ruler over the people. God gives two reasons for this in v16: first, Saul will save Israel from the hand of the Philistines; and second, God has seen His people, and has heard their cry. Thus, when Samuel saw Saul walking toward to city God said in v17, ‘Here is the man…He shall restrain My people.’ You have to wonder at this. It’s a big deal. God’s going to bring the first king to Samuel and there’s no one like this man. How will God do it? How will God bring Saul to Samuel? With a great parade, or a large nation-wide political rally? No. God uses lost donkeys to bring Saul to Samuel.
Let me ask you a question: do you believe in the sovereignty of God? Really, do you believe God is sovereign? You should, see here in this passage and all over the rest of the Bible that there is no such thing as an accident. No coincidence. No chance. No luck. Standing over everything, absolutely everything, is God who over every square inch of existence cries ‘Mine!’ Nothing happens unless He allows/ordains/plans/permits it to happen. In seemingly ordinary things, like lost donkeys, God is doing far more than meets the eye. You see God often works in this mysterious manner. Many of us can look back on our lives and see God’s providential hand guiding and leading us in the normal ordinary things of life weaving together a wonderful and grand mosaic that only He can create. Too often what I’ve found is that we only think God has the big things planned out: who you marry, where you’ll live, or what job you’ll work. Church, you need to hear it, God’s over and in every decision, absolutely every decision, every event, and every occurrence. Even lost donkeys.
Saul was totally oblivious to God’s working here. When he and his servant came into the city and saw Samuel (who was waiting for them) they said to him, ‘Can you tell us where the seer is?’ To which Samuel says, ‘I am the seer.’ Samuel told him not to worry about the donkeys any longer, and that they would come to the sacrifice, enjoy a meal together, and leave in the morning when Samuel would tell them all that was on their minds. Samuel then asks in v20, ‘For whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you and for all your father’s house?’ Samuel is basically saying, ‘Saul, all Israel now desires you, their future is in your hands, don’t worry about donkeys any longer.’ Saul apparently understands the gravity of such a statement and responds with his own question in v21, ‘I’m a Benjamite, the least of all tribes, my clan is also the smallest, why would you speak to someone like me in that way?’ The sacrifice happened, they ate together afterwards, Samuel placed Saul at the head of the table, and the cook (at Samuel’s word) brought out a meal for Saul that had already been prepared for him. At this point, no one but Samuel knew what was going on. ‘Who is the strange handsome man at our dinner table Samuel? And why does he get the best portion of our meal?’ Only Samuel knew, well God knew, He had planned this whole thing, but everyone else around the table, Saul included, had no idea what was happening.
After they had slept Samuel woke them, told them to prepare to leave, and as they we’re leaving the city Samuel sent Saul’s servant ahead so that he could make known the Word of God to Saul. As soon as the servant was far ahead Samuel poured oil over Saul’s head and kissed him saying in 10:1, ‘Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over His people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies…’ What a moment right? Originally sent out by his father to look for the families lost animals, only to have just spent the evening with Samuel the prophet, ate an exquisite meal, and is now being anointed as the king of Israel. Saul’s head has got to be spinning, the sovereign plan of God caught him by surprise, and he found himself in a moment that he’d never forget.
To confirm this extraordinary calling, Samuel gives Saul three signs. v2 says Saul will meet two men by Rachel’s tomb, v3-4 says Saul will meet three men further on by the oak of Tabor, and v5-6 says Saul will meet a group of prophets at Gibeath-elohim. In each of these events certain words will be said and certain actions will be done. In the last sign, Saul is told he will prophesy with the prophets because the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon him. When these three signs take place v7-8 says Saul is to conclude that God is with him, that he should do whatever his hand finds to do, and to wait for Samuel at Gilgal for 7 days.
v9 indicates when Saul left Samuel, still wet with the oil of anointing, that God gave him another heart. This doesn’t mean, as the New Testament teaches, that Saul is now a new creation or that he had been converted. The rest of Saul’s story makes it plain that he’s unconverted and that he doesn’t know God. What this does mean is that by receiving the Spirit of God, God was enabling Saul to do certain actions or duties, specifically to be king. As Saul traveled that day all these 3 signs took place just as Samuel had said, and as Saul reached Gibeath-elohim he met the prophets worshipping and (just as Samuel had said) Saul joined them and prophesied with them. This was so out of character for Saul, that those who knew him said in v11 ‘What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?’ This event was so surprising that the saying ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’ became a local motto such that when anything highly unexpected happened someone would say, ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’ similar to how we might say ‘Well I’ll be darned’ when something surprises us.
As our passage ends we see Saul going home and having a conversation with his uncle. That he did this should puzzle you, because back in v8 Samuel had instructed Saul to go to Gilgal and wait there 7 days for him. Saul apparently didn’t do this, rather, he just went home. Already we see a bit of what Saul will be like as king, disregarding the words of the prophet; and even while at home his conversation tells us a bit of what Saul will be like as king. His uncle asks him in v14, ‘Where did you go?’ Saul answered, ‘To seek the donkeys, and when we saw they were not to be found, we went to Samuel.’ ‘Yeah?’ the uncle responded, ‘What did Samuel say?’ Notice v16, ‘He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.’ But about the matter of the kingdom, of which Samuel had spoken, he did not tell him anything.’’ We probably shouldn’t be too hard on Saul here. He’s young, handsome, tall, filled with God’s Spirit for a time, and totally unprepared to be the new king. As we end this chapter there is much secrecy in the air. For now, barely anyone knows that Saul is king. Only God, Samuel, and Saul know it, that’s it.
Let me leave you with two things:
First, see the all sovereign God.
If no one knows or if no one can see God working, does it mean He’s not working? No. He is always doing something, laboring for the good of His people and the glory of His name. So I ask again, do you believe in the sovereignty of God? Do you believe it, or do you deny it? I hope you believe it. J.I. Packer says, ‘Men treat God’s sovereignty as a theme for controversy, but in Scripture it is a matter for worship.’ R.C. Sproul says, ‘The more we understand God’s sovereignty the more our prayers will be filled with thanksgiving.’ Other than the gospel itself there is no other doctrine that brings rest into the soul like the sovereignty of God. Since God is sovereign, it means He never says oops and is never surprised by anything. Thus, everything in our lives gains a sweet sense of purpose. Why is God allowing me to go through this or that? Why has God brought me here or there? Why hasn’t God done this or done that? Why has He done this or that? Whatever has taken place, whatever is taking place, and whatever will take place, God is completely sovereign over. He knows why and He has His purposes. We may not see His hand working, we may not know the reason why God allowed something to happen until afterwards, but we can rest in His sovereign wisdom, trusting what His Word says, that He is good and that He’s always working.
Second, see the glory of Jesus.
Isaiah 53 says Jesus was the exact opposite of Saul, there was nothing special about Jesus’ physical appearance that would’ve drawn us to Him. Yet God accomplished a spectacular salvation for His people through His Son who on the surface of things looked like no one special. The eternal Son of God came to ordinary little Jerusalem, to an ordinary little family, yet for those who have eyes to see, the Son of God is the epitome of extraordinary in every way possible. Sight, a true sight along with a deep comprehension of who the Son of God is, is a gift of the new birth. When someone is truly converted to Christ, Jesus will no longer be seen as just a teacher or just a prophet, He’ll be seen as He is – God!
So as we get a glimpse of the first king of Israel, gain a greater glimpse the true King, King Jesus. He didn’t lose donkeys, but rode into the city on a donkey. He didn’t disobey the word of a prophet, but fully obeyed His Father in life and death. Lesson? Don’t trust in earthly kings or princes or presidential candidates, they will always fail us and let us down. Saul was made king because Israel wanted to be like the world, yet Jesus came and said, ‘I am not of this world.’ 1 Samuel 9-10 is giving us a glimpse of Jesus…do you see it?
See King Jesus, standing out and standing above all earthly princes, as Someone not only worthy of our trust, but worthy of our hearts.