The focus in the book of 1 Samuel now shifts from Samuel to Saul. Saul was God’s choice to be Israel’s first king. He came from the tribe of Benjamin. Saul was tall, good looking and strong…the physical characteristics you would thing were necessary for a warrior king. He was obedient to his father and he seemed to be somewhat modest. But there is no indication of a spiritual life or faith in the Lord. He does however have some sense of the Lord about him, wondering how they could see the man of God without offering him something. Saul came from Gibeah, about five miles from where Samuel lived in Ramah. It is interesting that they lived that close, and Saul had never heard of Samuel. It is entirely possible that like many people today, Saul wasn’t against religion and things of the Lord, but he didn’t make knowing the Lord a priority. Saul’s path to being anointed king was a bit unusual. It occurred as he was out looking for his father’s donkeys. If Saul had chosen to send a servant instead, he would not have encountered Samuel and the story might have ended differently.
What we see of Samuel here is that he is still obedient to the Lord even though he is unhappy with the Israelites who are demanding an earthly king. He is unhappy enough that the Lord has to remind him it is God the people are rejecting. When Saul met up with Samuel, he was more than perplexed. Saul believed it was a chance encounter. Samuel knew better. Samuel invited Saul to feast with him that day, Saul having no idea what would transpire over the next day or two. All of Israel’s desire was fixed on Saul because they were awaiting an earthly king. Samuel ignored Saul’s claims that he was a nobody from a nothing clan and tribe. Off the two of them went to a banquet for a feast. Saul was given the special portion of the fellowship offering that would normally go to the priest. In fact, the cook informed Saul this portion had been set aside just for him. Strange things were happening, and they were happening fast!
Early the next morning Samuel anointed Saul as the first king of Israel. There was no huge crowd, there was no fanfare. Just Saul and Samuel. Even Saul’s servant had gone ahead. Perhaps Saul thought this was a prank, but Samuel gave him three signs that would verify what Samuel had said and done. They are signs that we can take to heart today. The first involved two men who would tell Saul the donkeys were found. It was not Saul who found them. This was a lesson in assuring him that God could and would solve his problems. Saul seemed to be a control freak. That was one of his weaknesses. He could not stand back and let God work and yet while he was feasting with Samuel, God was at work. The second sign was three pilgrims headed for Bethel. While the majority of Israel was engaged in the worship of idols, there was still a faithful remnant who continued to worship the Lord. The three men were bringing three kids (meaning baby goats), three loaves of bread, and wine. No doubt these were intended for the priest at Bethel, but the men would give Saul two of the three loaves of bread. Not only would God solve his problems but He would also supply his needs. As the first king of Israel, he would have to set an administration and recruit an army. He would have to depend on the Lord for help in all of this. The third sign had to do with spiritual power. Saul would meet a band of prophets and the Spirit would come over Saul and he would join them in prophesying and in their worship. This would be the time God would give Saul the power he would need to serve the Lord and the people of Israel.
Best of all, when Saul would turn to head home the Lord would give him a different heart. However, by the end of his life Saul would become very self-sufficient, rebellious, and disobedient. As a result, the Lord would take the Spirit’s power from him and give it to another…David. At heart Saul was much more of a secular/worldly person that one who favored spiritual things. After all this Saul returned home and didn’t tell anyone what had happened. Both Saul and Samuel were transitional leaders in Israel’s history. This is the time period between the judges and the united monarchy…1070BC-1000BC approximately. Samuel took Israel from widespread apostasy to somewhat of a return to the Lord, and Saul would be there to transition Israel from having a heavenly king to an earthly king.
Samuel wanted the Israelites to understand God was the one who selected Saul as king, so he called for an assembly of the tribes at Mizpah. When they had gathered Samuel gave a very brief overview of what God had done for His people and then reminded them, THEY wanted a king. This was not Samuel’s choice or the Lords. Like we have seen many times before, the tribes presented themselves before the Lord and the lot was cast. First the tribe was selected. The tribe of Benjamin came forward. Next the lot was cast for the clan and Matri’s clan was taken. The lot was cast for the family and then from the family of Kish, Saul was taken. When Samuel went to present Saul to the people as the first king, they could not find him. Saul was hiding among the baggage. Perhaps he was afraid. This was a huge undertaking, especially for one who wasn’t very close to the Lord who would help him.
Samuel presented Saul as Israel’s anointed king though he didn’t immediately inspire confidence. The people shouted long live the king almost out of a sense of duty. Samuel then explained the regulations of kingship to the people and to Saul and reminded them all that even the king was required to submit to the Lord and His Word. God was still involved here. It was ONE God, ONE nation, One covenant. The Lord was still in charge.
The Ammonites were the descendants of Lot and his daughter, so they were shirttail relatives. It was the dangers posed by Nahash, whose name means snake, that prompted Israel’s calls for a king in the first place. The wanted one person they could unite behind to fight off enemies. When Nahash attacked Jabesh Gilead he offered a solution to fighting a long-drawn-out battle. They could surrender, submit to having their right eye gouged out, and there would be no fighting. The only good news there would be an end to fighting. But losing a right eye forever marked them as being defeated prisoners of war and it would severely hamper the archers when they tried to shoot their bows and arrows. The residents appealed to all of Israel and Saul led the charge to fight. In the strength of the Lord Israel defeated Nahash. So far so good for Saul.
Time goes by quickly in scripture sometimes and at the end of today’s reading we find Samuel’s farewell speech. In asking for a king the Israelites had rejected the kingship of the Lord and the leadership of Samuel. He began his speech reminding the people he had done nothing wrong, and he had not cheated the people. The twelve tribes had been governed by judges for nearly 500 years and now they wanted a king. They didn’t seem to realize it was their disobedience that led to all the challenges and troubles in the first place. Somehow it always became the leader’s fault. The people bore witness that Samuel was a man of integrity. He served the Lord first and the people second. Saul would turn out to be a man of hypocrisy and self-centered interests. In his speech Samuel was working to prove to the people that the Lord had been righteous and faithful. He had kept his promises. Samuel reminded them that the Lord had made covenants with no other people and now, if they failed to obey the Lord, even though they had a king, the blessings the Lord had granted them would tun into curses. The Lord would discipline His people. Samuel demonstrated for the people the awesome power of the Lord once more. In the middle of the wheat harvest, which was from mid-May to mid-June, he asked the Lord to send thunder and rain. Samuel prayed up a storm. And God answered.
God’s purpose was to use Israel to bring glory to His Holy name through His chosen people. He would fulfill that purpose. The people knew the terms of the covenant. They knew what was expected of them. If they were obedient the Lord would bless them. If they disobeyed, God would discipline them. Now it was up to the people.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W