Study: 1 Samuel 8-9 (Week 3) . King Saul...a man chosen by God

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As a prophet, Samuel’s ministry was larger and was seen as a stronger and more gifted judge than that of his predecessor, Eli. He learned much from his mentor, though sadly how to be a good father was not one of them. As Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel (1 Samuel 8:1). Like Hophni and Phinehas, Samuel’s sons Joel and Abijah also didn’t walk in the ways of the Lord. Though their crimes differed, the pattern remained the same: “They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.” (1 Samuel 8:3) It seems Samuel’s sons were the last straw for the Israelites.

The elders who approached the aging prophet with the request for a king seem to be affirming Samuel’s style of leadership and recognizing that since he was now old and grey, a decision needed to be made before greater leadership was placed into the hands of his corrupt sons.

The elders asking for a king wasn’t in and of itself a bad thing. In fact, it shows that Samuel was the kind of leader that allowed people to ask questions, pursue forward thinking, and display a concern over the health of future generations. The problem in the question was that the men came to Samuel with the request having been premeditated. They didn’t gather around him concerned that he was growing old, and because his sons fostered injustice, they were concerned about the future of the nation.  They didn’t come wanting to discuss options in how Israel should continue forward…they had decided a king was their best…and only option.

They had basically planned God right out of their plans. They never consulted Him on any of it.

Samuel was crushed. Coming to God with a heavy heart, feeling like his whole career had been for naught, the Lord corrected him:

God answered Samuel, “Go ahead and do what they’re asking. They are not rejecting you. They’ve rejected me as their King.

From the day I brought them out of Egypt until this very day they’ve been behaving like this, leaving me for other gods.

 And now they’re doing it to you. So let them have their own way. But warn them of what they’re in for. Tell them the way kings operate, just what they’re likely to get from a king. (1 Samuel 8:7-9 . The Message)

We must not jump to the conclusion that a desire for change means rejection on us personally. You know, the whole “it’s business, it’s not personal” thing.

A massively small example in comparison, I was doing some graphic design work for an incredible ministry whose founder and I had met through social media. When I say graphic design, I don’t mean anything major…I don’t have that kind of background. Even so, I was tasked with the job of finding other women on Instagram who had an eye for beautiful, inspiring images. Asking permission to feature them for a month, I’d pair Bible verses, quotes, etc. with their photos. Until she decided to go a different direction, that is. It wasn’t that she didn’t like what I was doing, she simply changed gears. But it left me feeling like I’d spent hours upon hours for no reason. Like Samuel, I was hurt.

Licking our wounds, Samuel and I both needed to shove feelings of shame and inadequacy aside and move on, toward what God was asking us to do next. For Samuel…that was finding the man He had chosen.


There is some irony in the way Saul is introduced. We learn first that his father was a man of valiant character and standing, with a lineage of importance and that Saul himself was a handsome young man. In fact, we are told:

“There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward, he was taller any of the people.” (1 Samuel 9:1-2)

There is no doubt we are being led to believe Saul has no equal and was a man fit to be king. But that didn’t make sense to me. So he was handsome and tall. Sure that’s a plus for any man seeking a powerful position in leadership, I get that. But there’s got to be more to Saul. I don’t believe God makes mistakes and I refuse to accept that He was just “biding time” until David’s reign…so what gives?

Years later, 1 Samuel 16 shares that while Samuel was looking for the man to anoint as the next king after Saul, God warned:

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature...for the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

So looking up the word handsome in the BLB (see week one), I learned that the word is towb in Hebrew and means much more than simply someone physically nice to look at. The word also translates to mean: a good thing, morally good, upright, kind. The description continues, saying:

“also as an adverb (well) – beautiful, best, better, bountiful, cheerful, at ease, fair…gracious, joyful, kindness, loving, merry, most pleasant, prosperity, ready, sweet, wealth, welfare, well-favored.”

Ok, there. Now that makes sense. Armed with this information, he sounds way more substantial than just a pretty face!

Even so, Saul doesn’t arrive on the scene constantly confident and walking tall, but rather slightly indecisive, relying on his servant’s suggestions. In fact, he just seems downright ordinary. While meeting him, we are brought right into the story as Saul and his servant set out to find his father’s missing donkeys. This does not sound like a man of leisure who sat with his feet up spending Daddy’s money. Instead, he worked hard alongside everyone else, even doing mundane, unglamorous tasks like this one. Animals in the area could easily stray from home while roaming on the bare limestone hillside, where hedges didn’t exist and the miles of stone walls were always in need of repair. He likely knew they were headed on a wild goose chase, not knowing which direction to look first.

Think about it. When we have a disobeying dog get out and run down the street, they are fast and terribly hard to find. But donkeys…think how fast they’d gallop out of eyesight! Even if someone saw which way they started, they could be miles away before Saul hopped on his horse to look for them!

They had searched through various districts, hill counties, territories and towns, realizing they had been gone so long that his father would soon stop worrying about the animals and start worrying about them (1 Samuel 9:5).

Not wanting to give up quite yet and come home empty-handed, Saul’s unnamed servant seemed to have more initiative than Saul, suggesting they visit the seer that lived in the nearby town, even being willing to use his own money to pay for it.

But he said to him, “Behold, there is a man of God in this city, and he is a man who is held in honor; all that he says comes true. So now let us go there. Perhaps he can tell us the way we should go.” (1 Samuel 9:6)

The spiritual awareness of who they thought Samuel was seems a bit lacking. Treating the idea more as seeking the help of a fortune-teller than a prominent man of God and prophet, they set off for town to find him.

I want to stop for a second and point out the servant’s willingness to contribute what appears to be his own money to aid in discovering the donkey’s location, showing he was much more than just an employee of Saul’s family but was emotionally invested in the success and well being of the household. Taking the man’s suggestions to heart and doing what was proposed showed further proof of Saul’s potential for kingship: he was willing to listen to the wisdom around him.

As the two men talk into town, they happen onto a group of young women coming out to draw water, and ask “is the seer here?” (1 Samuel 9:11) The girls seem to be a little more than helpful, not only telling Saul that he’s at the temple…but:

They answered, “He is; behold, he is just ahead of you. Hurry. He has come just now to the city, because the people have a sacrifice today on the high place. As soon as you enter the city you will find him, before he goes up to the high place to eat. For the people will not eat till he comes, since he must bless the sacrifice; afterward those who are invited will eat. Now go up, for you will meet him immediately.” (1 Samuel 9:12-13)

Is it just me, or were they a little extra-helpful in explaining exactly where Samuel could be found? These ladies were going the other direction, in search for water, obviously not invited to the sacrifice, yet were happy to tell him a detailed account of Samuel’s whereabouts. Their willingness to assist in such a way shows another component of Saul’s character and thus, leadership quality: He was likely a personable and good-natured man. Maybe his eyes crinkled when he smiled. Perhaps when he stopped to speak with them, he had the rare ability to make them feel like the world fell away around them. He must have been friendly, sociable, and charming…easily inspiring confidence and forging confidants.

The day prior to Saul coming to town, the Lord reveled this to Samuel:

“Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen my people, because their cry has come to me.” (1 Samuel 9:15-16)

Did you notice how God told Samuel to anoint him to be prince over His people? The word is nagiyd (pronounced: nageed) and means ruler, prince-overseer, captain, leader, governor. In fact, nowhere in the definition of nagiyd do we see the word, king. Isn’t that interesting? Seems God was anointing a leader, not a king…because the Israelites already had a king…Him.

It is unknown how much time had gone by since God’s conversation with Samuel about anointing a king to rule. It is also unclear how seriously he had been looking for whoever the Lord was establishing as this leader. Only Samuel was aware that the sacrifice and feast the town was celebrating on this particular day, would actually be used to commemorate the anointing of the leader of Israel.

Don’t you love when God does that? He brings one thing to fruition…and at the same time, bringing another. Two roads converging together so “coincidentally”. The integration of our agenda and God’s is so exciting to be part of, isn’t it? And that’s exactly what was happening here. A preplanned event turned into a historic God-ordained ceremony that we’re still talking about thousands of years later.

After the girls show Saul and his servant where to find Samuel, “They went up to the city. As they were entering the city, they saw Samuel coming out toward them on his way up to the high place.” (1 Samuel 9:14 . ESV)

I actually like the way my NIV translates this verse better because when reading the ESV it sounds like they know it’s Samuel coming toward them, which we’ll learn in the next few verses, they actually do not.

The NIV says, They went up to the town, and as they were entering it, there was Samuel, coming toward them on his way up to the high place.” (1 Samuel 9:14 . NIV)

See how such a slight difference in words conveys something completely different? The Hebrew word is hinneh (pronunced: heenay) and means behold, lo, see, and is used for pointing out persons, things, places, as well as actions.

So if I were translating this verse, I’d say:

“The two went up to the town looking for Samuel, and lo and behold…there he was, coming toward them on his way up to the high place.”

 Another divinely appointed merging of two lives so “coincidentally”, right?

When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you! He it is who shall restrain my people.” (1 Samuel 9:17)

Restrain? Really? Doesn’t that mean to keep under control or hold back?

Well, technically yes…but it’s yet another word lost in translation. The Hebrew word is atsar (pronounced: a-stair) could also be translated in this verse, as saying:

“Behold, the man of whom I spoke to you! This one shall (rule, reign, maintain, govern) over My people.”

The reason the verb astar is translated as restrain here though, is because it’s indicating a different type of reign, a special form of rule: one under the direct authority of Yahweh, Israel’s true King.

Though God was displeased by Israel’s request for a king, He still graciously granted their request, sending this man to be captain over them with the specific charge of saving them out of the hand of the Philistines…an undertaking that past judges were unable to carry out. Remember, chapter seven demonstrated how God Himself placed His hand upon the battle with these enemies, conquering them for the first time in forty years (Judges 13:1). But the Philistines wouldn’t remain dejected for long, so Saul would be the military head.

 Then Saul approached Samuel in the gate and said, “Tell me where is the house of the seer?”  Samuel answered Saul, “I am the seer. Go up before me to the high place, for today you shall eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is on your mind.  As for your donkeys that were lost three days ago, do not set your mind on them, for they have been found.

 And for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you and for all your father's house?”  Saul answered, “Am I not a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel? And is not my clan the humblest of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then have you spoken to me in this way?” (1 Samuel 9:17-21 . ESV)

Let’s reread this passage in The Message. Maybe it’s just me…but I’m not totally following. And it seems that Saul is completely bewildered, too.

Saul came up to Samuel in the street and said, “Pardon me, but can you tell me where the Seer lives?”

“I’m the Seer,” said Samuel. “Accompany me to the shrine and eat with me. In the morning I’ll tell you all about what’s on your mind, and send you on your way. And by the way, your lost donkeys—the ones you’ve been hunting for the last three days—have been found, so don’t worry about them. At this moment, Israel’s future is in your hands.”

Saul answered, “But I’m only a Benjaminite, from the smallest of Israel’s tribes, and from the most insignificant clan in the tribe at that. Why are you talking to me like this?” (1 Samuel 9:17-21 . The Message)

“At this moment, Israel’s future is in your hands.”

I mean, whaaaaaat?! Can you even imagine?? Here this guy is, dirty and smelly and likely hungry since they mentioned in 9:7 that the food in their sacs were gone and they had no money aside from the quarter of a shekel they planned to give Samuel for his help…and the man they’re looking for not only knows who Saul is, but tells them everything they wanted to know. And a whole lot more.

This interaction reminds me a bit of when generations later, Jesus meets Mary Magdalene next to the well. After meeting and talking with Him, John 4:28-30 shares that this Samaritan woman ran back into town sharing, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?”

Saul obviously didn’t think Samuel was the Messiah, but I’m sure he snapped to attention as the prophet also shared things inside Saul’s heart and mind. Before he knew it, Samuel not only announced that he was the very man they were looking for, but continued on with information that he could only have known as a prophet of God: the information of the donkeys that they had come for.

But what was this phrase in verse 19 about in the morning I will tell you all that is in your mind (the word lebab is also translated as in the soul or heart of man)? It obviously had nothing to do with the donkeys, because Samuel had just revealed all of that information, saying “do not set your mind on them” or “do not worry about them”.

So continuing on with the phrase about Saul having something to do with the future of Israel shows that though the news shocked him, leadership was likely something deep down inside that the Lord was already stirring up. Perhaps he had secret ambitions for leadership or desired to be an integral component in freeing his people from Philistine threat once and for all.

Apparently though, he may have been from a family of status…but his tribe itself was small. The Benjamites were named after Benjamin, the youngest of Jacob’s twelve sons and was likely viewed as insignificant, especially after being nearly wiped out years before. Therefore, the idea that Saul would have a large impact on anything outside his little clan, seemed more than a little out of reach.

Possibly like someone in a tiny town without much future apart from what his daddy did…and his daddy’s daddy…finding out he is to become a significant person not simply in the little community in which he lives…but in the nation itself. At that moment, Saul just couldn’t get his mind around such a concept.

Then Samuel took Saul and his young man and brought them into the hall and gave them a place at the head of those who had been invited, who were about thirty persons. And Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the portion I gave you, of which I said to you, ‘Put it aside.’”  So the cook took up the leg and what was on it and set them before Saul. And Samuel said, “See, what was kept is set before you. Eat, because it was kept for you until the hour appointed, that you might eat with the guests.”

So Saul ate with Samuel that day. And when they came down from the high place into the city, a bed was spread for Saul on the roof, and he lay down to sleep. Then at the break of dawn Samuel called to Saul on the roof, “Up, that I may send you on your way.” So Saul arose, and both he and Samuel went out into the street.

As they were going down to the outskirts of the city, Samuel said to Saul, “Tell the servant to pass on before us, and when he has passed on, stop here yourself for a while, that I may make known to you the word of God.” (1 Samuel 9:22-27)

So there they sit suddenly attending a banquet of about 30 people, sitting at the head of the table. Both of them, did you catch that? The servant is included in the place of honor, as well. I wonder why.

Perhaps there is simply tradition I don’t know about and couldn’t find in any of my reading, but nowhere did I find an explanation. So… I’ll just speculate and give a few ideas of my own, letting your mind wander as you form your own opinion:

1.     Some of the commentaries I’ve been reading through and studying indicate that Saul may have been a bit shy or unsure of himself. They’re deducing this from Saul’s whole “who…me?!” response to Samuel saying Israel was in his hands. Perhaps God and/or Samuel knew he needed a confidant.

2.     The word servant used throughout this story is na’ar, and not only means servant, but also a boy, or youth, from the age of infancy to young man of about twenty. Perhaps God and/or Samuel wanted to honor this young man, as well. Remember, God opened Samuel’s eyes and first spoke to him when he was only twelve years old.

1 Timothy 4:12 says,

Don’t let anyone belittle you because you are young. Instead, show the faithful, young and old, an example of how to live: set the standard for how to talk, act, love, and be faithful and pure.

It was this servant’s wise counsel to see Samuel for what to do about their search for the donkeys paired with generosity and willingness of giving up his own money, that ultimately led to the anointing of Saul. Yes, God could have done it any way He wanted, but he used a thoughtful and selfless boy to carry out His plans.

3.     Perhaps the servant was being prepared for something, too. We know nothing more of him neither before or after this story…but I’m sure his life was changed, while having a part of this massive moment in Israelite history. Assisting in and being in attendance of something that God’s hand is so unmistakably in, can transform a person’s heart forever.

Like we talked about earlier, when God brings one thing to fruition…He often brings another to completion, at the same time. Two roads converging together so “coincidentally”. This may have been the beginning of a big heart and life change for this man’s story, as well.

I may have to ask God about him when I get to Heaven.

After the feast, Samuel spoke with Saul on the roof before they went to bed. We don’t know what was said, but Samuel may have simply known the importance of beginning to curate and develop a relationship with him. He would need guidance and discernment as a man with power. Samuel may have begun a rapport with him early, so Saul would listen to him after becoming king.

The brief anointing ceremony at daybreak the next morning had no fanfare or large assembly. In fact, Samuel asks that Saul let his servant go on ahead of him.

“Tell the servant to pass on before us, and when he has passed on, stop here yourself for a while, that I may make known to you the word of God.” (1 Samuel 9:27)

It’s possible that the instruction to Saul to tell the servant to go on ahead was meant to symbolize the fact that from this point on, Saul must make his own decisions and take responsibility for them. He should no longer rely on others, not even his faithful companion, to take the lead.

I can't wait to continue on next week!

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