The introduction to the new king of Israel doesn’t give us a lot of confidence—but we can have confidence in the God who orchestrated it all.
1 Samuel 9:1-24
There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bekorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. 2 Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.
3 Now the donkeys belonging to Saul’s father Kish were lost, and Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the servants with you and go and look for the donkeys.” 4 So he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and through the area around Shalisha, but they did not find them. They went on into the district of Shaalim, but the donkeys were not there. Then he passed through the territory of Benjamin, but they did not find them.
5 When they reached the district of Zuph, Saul said to the servant who was with him, “Come, let’s go back, or my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us.”
6 But the servant replied, “Look, in this town there is a man of God; he is highly respected, and everything he says comes true. Let’s go there now. Perhaps he will tell us what way to take.”
7 Saul said to his servant, “If we go, what can we give the man? The food in our sacks is gone. We have no gift to take to the man of God. What do we have?”
8 The servant answered him again. “Look,” he said, “I have a quarter of a shekel of silver. I will give it to the man of God so that he will tell us what way to take.” 9 (Formerly in Israel, if someone went to inquire of God, they would say, “Come, let us go to the seer,” because the prophet of today used to be called a seer.)
10 “Good,” Saul said to his servant. “Come, let’s go.” So they set out for the town where the man of God was.
11 As they were going up the hill to the town, they met some young women coming out to draw water, and they asked them, “Is the seer here?”
12 “He is,” they answered. “He’s ahead of you. Hurry now; he has just come to our town today, for the people have a sacrifice at the high place. 13 As soon as you enter the town, you will find him before he goes up to the high place to eat. The people will not begin eating until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward, those who are invited will eat. Go up now; you should find him about this time.”
14 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.
15 Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed this to Samuel:16 “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over my people Israel; he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked on my people, for their cry has reached me.”
17 When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the Lord said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.”
18 Saul approached Samuel in the gateway and asked, “Would you please tell me where the seer’s house is?”
19 “I am the seer,” Samuel replied. “Go up ahead of me to the high place, for today you are to eat with me, and in the morning I will send you on your way and will tell you all that is in your heart. 20 As for the donkeys you lost three days ago, do not worry about them; they have been found. And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?”
21 Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?”
22 Then Samuel brought Saul and his servant into the hall and seated them at the head of those who were invited—about thirty in number.23 Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the piece of meat I gave you, the one I told you to lay aside.”
24 So the cook took up the thigh with what was on it and set it in front of Saul. Samuel said, “Here is what has been kept for you. Eat, because it was set aside for you for this occasion from the time I said, ‘I have invited guests.’” And Saul dined with Samuel that day.
At the end of chapter 8, we were left in suspense. “Yes, you can have a king—now everybody go home.” Who’s it going to be?
This part of chapter 9 apparently gives us our answer. But if this is our introduction to the next king of Israel, it feels like we catch him in a weird moment. When the story moves to focus on our new king, what’s he doing? Is he riding a white horse and skewering Philistines? Is he sitting on a hill, presiding with wisdom over local disputes? Is he praying at the temple? Is he climbing a tree to save a kitten?
No, he’s on a wild donkey chase. And he soon gets tired of looking and wants to give up. It’s his servant who says they should persevere, and comes up with a plan for getting help from a seer. In fact throughout the story, the servant is much more confident than Saul, who follows along unenthusiastically. Every time Saul opens his mouth, he’s being negative or asking a dumb question.
When Samuel suggests that he’s been chosen by God to rule Israel, Saul really freaks out and protests that it can’t be right. Is it a lack of confidence in himself, or a lack of confidence in God’s choice?
(He might have a point about the tribe of Benjamin—Judges 19-21 tells us that they got in a fight with the rest of Israel and the other tribes refused to intermarry with them anymore, so they kidnapped some non-Israelite ladies to be their wives instead. That’s where Saul descended from.)
In fact, if you’re really reading the story closely, you might notice that God never calls Saul a ‘king’. He uses the word ‘ruler’, but never ‘king’ (this is true in the original language too). This isn’t exactly a vote of confidence for Saul. It’s a hint that maybe God isn’t giving Israel exactly what they asked for.
If chapter 8 left us with a question—“Who will be the king?”—chapter 9, so far, isn’t giving us the answer we were expecting.
On the other hand, just because Saul protests when Samuel suggests he’s going to be king, that doesn’t make him unsuitable. Would you really believe that God had picked you to be king? It’s typical of characters in the Old Testament to argue a bit when God calls them: think of Moses (Exodus 3-4), and Gideon (Judges 6). Saul is following a similar pattern to these leaders, whom God used to great purpose.
Plus, Saul is handsome, and he’s the tallest guy in Israel (v2). That will probably come in handy for a king. Like, for example, if Israel ever needed to fight any…really big guys. (AHEM. 1 Samuel 17.) Anyway, tall seems good, so let’s remain hopeful about that.
Overall, Saul doesn’t get a very confident introduction.
There might be some doubt in our minds about Saul, but there’s no doubt at all that this is all planned and orchestrated by God. We can tell that Saul isn’t becoming king through any merit of his own—he hasn’t demonstrated any special ability (aside from being tall), or put himself forward to be king, or been voted in by the people. He’s a guy who was looking for some donkeys and ended up at dinner with God’s personal prophet. God manipulates ordinary events to bring about his purpose. We can’t be in any doubt that this is all his doing. So if we trust God, we can trust that what’s happening here is the right thing.
Of course, we know now that Saul was the first in a long line of messy, inadequate kings, when Israel should have been looking to God to be their king all along. As we read Saul’s introduction we might not know exactly what God is doing with Saul, but we see what he’s done for us in Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t a typical king either. His introduction also shows God manipulating ordinary events (there’s even a donkey in Jesus’ birth story!) to bring about royal purposes.
But if Saul was the first king, Jesus is the last—the everlasting king. And he’s a king that we can have unshakeable, eternal confidence in.
Head: Why do you think God picked Saul?
Heart: Do you ever look at what’s happening in the world and feel a lack of confidence in God? How does knowing Jesus give you confidence?
Hands: What can you do to increase your confidence in Jesus? What can you do to encourage others to have confidence in Jesus?
Prayer: Lord God, sometimes we can’t see your working and we don’t understand what you’re doing in the world. Please forgive us for the times we trust our own plans, and don’t have confidence in you. We don’t understand exactly why you chose Saul, and why his kingship was allowed to go so strangely wrong. But we marvel at your plans and the way you put everything together to lead Israel’s history towards Jesus – and to lead us towards Jesus too. Help us to have confidence in you, even when the world seems weird and hopeless. Help us to look to Jesus for confidence, knowing that he has conquered every evil, and that he reigns on his throne forever. We look forward to the day that we’ll see his face and bow before him as our king. Amen.
A song to listen to: Come and Reign
Kamina Wust- Creek Road Presbyterian Church- South Bank