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The coronation of Saul
It would not have been a wise political move to leave the people out of the selection process, so Samuel called them together at Mizpah (10:17), the place where they repented and turned to God at the beginning of Samuel's ministry (in chapter 7), and here he confronted a very eager audience. Recognising again their enthusiasm and optimism for the task they have eagerly anticipated, despite its un-Scriptural warrant, Samuel once again reminds the Israelites that their demand for a king is a manifestation of disobedience and unbelief. Samuel makes it clear to them that their request was, and still is to this very day, a rejection of God. The God of Israel, whom they desire to replace with a human king, is the One who delivers them from all their difficulties. It is not their new king who will deliver them, because it has always been their Faithful God who, despite their harlotry, saved them from their sinful stupidity - and who will continue to do so. In spite of Israel's sin, God was to graciously give them the king they demanded.
In other nations, either the people would set up a popular hero, or a member of the warrior class would make himself king. Israel's king, as seen in Deuteronomy 17:15, is to be the man of God's choosing, and this choice will be indicated by the casting of the lot. It is first narrowed down to the line of Benjamin, then the family of Matri, and then finally to Saul, the son of Kish, the very one whom God had already indicated to Samuel so that he has already anointed him as king. But this process is for the benefit of the people of the nation, so that they will be convinced that Samuel is God's choice, for Israel was still a Theocracy. When Saul is indicated by the casting of the lots, he is nowhere to be found. No one seems to know him or his whereabouts. This is an indication that, as a young man, Saul was shy and lacked self-confidence. Although tall and handsome he was not aware of having any great capabilities, or of yet recognising the reality of having been made king over God's heritage. It is by further inquiry of the Lord that He indicates Saul is hiding by the baggage. The people run to find Saul and bring him to Samuel. When the people look upon Saul, they are greatly impressed. Here is a man whom we have already learned is very handsome (9:2), and we are told once again that he is taller than any other Israelite. In effect, Saul is the "Goliath" of Israel, a giant of a man and extremely handsome, and who, from a merely physical perspective, is first class material in the eyes of most of the people. We notice that this was also a wise move politically. If someone had been chosen from the tribe of Judah, jealousy would have occurred. Instead, the most handsome and the tallest man was chosen from the smallest tribe. Who could say anything but good?
Samuel points out to the people what an extremely pleasing choice God has made in choosing Saul, a magnificent specimen of humanity. No one could have asked for more and the people show their appreciation when they begin to shout, "Long live the king!" (v 242). At this time, Samuel spells out all of the ordinances which pertain to kingly rule, writing this in a book which he places before the Lord before he sends the people home. Saul likewise goes to his house, accompanied by a group of valiant men whose hearts God has touched. These men appear to act as a personal bodyguard to Saul, accompanying him wherever he goes, and protecting him from any who might wish to harm him. These valiant men are further evidence that Saul is indeed God's choice for Israel's king, for we read (v26) that they were "men whose hearts God had touched."
Not all the people see it this way, however, for the text informs us there is a group of men (v27) - "certain worthless men" - who do not look upon Saul as their deliverer. Perhaps these men know the "old Saul" too well, or despise him for hiding amongst the luggage? Is he not their kind of leader? We really don't know why they look down on Saul, but knowing man's propensity for rebelling against God and desiring always to do "what is right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25), their most serious sin was to doubt and dispute God's choice of their king. While all the others had gifts for Saul, these worthless fellows did not and clearly showed their disdain for Saul. Nevertheless, Saul choose to remain silent and do nothing about them for the moment and verse 26 tells us that Saul went to his house at Gibeah. Archaeologists have discovered what they believe to be the house of Saul. It was not a palace but a rustic fort, for the first monarch of Israel was more of a tribal chieftain than a king who dressed in silk and costly garments.
The Israelites had earlier stated their ambition to obtain a mighty king to deliver them from their enemies and to go before them into war (8:19-20), and no sooner was Saul chosen than an opportunity came for him to prove himself. Chapter 11 begins with the invasion by Nahash the Ammonite against the inhabitants of the city of Jabesh-Gilead. The city was on the east side of the Jordan and its inhabitants were probably caught by surprise and barely had time to close their gates when the armies of Nahash laid siege against them. Not having had time to gather provisions and water to withstand a long siege, they sent a messenger under a white flag and said to Nahash (v1-22), "Make a covenant with us, and we will serve you." Nahash replied, "On this condition will I make a covenant with you, that I may thrust out all your right eyes, and lay it for a reproach upon all Israel." This will do at least two things: firstly it will humiliate the Israelites, and secondly it will partially disable them so that they will be easy to subjugate in the future, for it is very difficult to fight as ably, particularly using such weapons as a bow and arrow, without your right eye. Naturally, the inhabitants did not look happily on this cruel request, so (v3) they asked for a seven day period of grace to think it over. They would send messengers throughout Israel and, if no one came to save them, they would surrender under the terms of Nahash the Ammonite. No job description for a king had been written at that time, and Saul was ploughing his field when he received the message from Jabesh-Gilead and verses 6 and 71 record his response:
And the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard those tidings, and his anger was kindled greatly. And he took a yoke of oxen, and hewed them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the coasts of Israel by the hands of messengers, saying, whosoever cometh not forth after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done unto his oxen. And the fear of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out with one accord.
It has been suggested3 that Saul may have had a special concern for the city of Jabesh-Gilead through ancestral ties which came about following the civil war between Benjamin and the other Israelite tribes (described in Judges 19-21) which resulted in the annihilation of all but 600 men of the Benjamites. In remorse for the potential destruction of the tribe the leaders of Israel proposed that the virgin women of any town that had not sent troops to combat Benjamin should be seized and given to these survivors as wives. When it was discovered that Jabesh-Gilead had failed in this respect the 400 virgins of the city were captured and given to the Benjamites. Since Saul was a Benjamite it is suggested that his ancestry sprang in part from this city. Regardless of this potential extra commitment to the city from Saul, we have clear evidence of the nature of his early king-ship from the action he took and the credit he gave his God for the outcome.
In those early days of his reign, Saul was clearly a humble man who linked Samuel's name with his own out of correct acknowledgement for the office of priest, prophet, and judge held by God's faithful servant. In this way he ensured that the political and religious aspects of the kingdom were united and the fruit of this alliance under the God of Israel was quickly seen to be effective. The fighting men of Israel were numbered in Bezek, across the Jordan river from Jabesh-Gilead, and here we see the first hint of the later division, because the sons of Israel were 300,000 and the men of Judah 30,000. They informed the besieged city that, by the time the sun was hot, they would have deliverance and the inhabitants were clearly glad to hear this promise from their new king. The men of Jabesh-Gilead then said to Nahash (v101), "Tomorrow we will come out unto you, and ye shall do with us all that seemeth good unto you." But they knew that, by tomorrow, their new king and his armies would be in hot pursuit of the Ammonites. Verse 11 tells us of the mighty victory they achieved over the Ammonites so that "no two of them were left together". Israel was proud of the first success of their new king and his regime and exclaimed to Samuel, "Who is he that said, Shall Saul reign over us?" They were referring to the sons of Belial described in 10:27. It is one thing for Saul to be "among the prophets;" it is still another for him to be chosen king by lot. But when Saul is the one man who can assemble the whole nation and then defeat the Ammonites, this is all the proof the people need or want and the people want the "nay-sayers," who spoke of their king with disdain, to be brought forward and punished! But Saul replied, "There shall not a man be put to death this day; for today the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel" (v131). He was still humble and gave glory to God as he contemplated the fruits of victory from his first military encounter. Saul's finest moment is not in assembling the nation for war, nor in winning a stunning victory over the Ammonites, but in dealing with some of his own people who have spoken against him. Saul could have taken his revenge, and in so doing brought great pleasure to the people, as well as to himself. But Saul not only graciously refused to dampen the spirit of the day with such action, he was also unwilling to take credit for the victory which had just been won over the Ammonites, acknowledging that the Lord had brought deliverance to Israel, and thus he would not raise a hand against those who disdain him. Israel appeared to have made a good choice of king and Samuel said to the people (v14-152):
Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there. All the people went to Gilgal; and there they made Saul king before Jehovah in Gilgal and offered sacrifices of peace-offerings before the Lord and king Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.
Thus we see that Saul is a gracious gift from God to His people, in spite of their sinful demand to have a king. God gives Saul to Israel as her king out of mercy and compassion, because He has noted the nation's calamities and distresses, and has sent Saul to deliver His people, just as He has done since the exodus (9:16; 10:18). Saul was not given to Israel because God wanted this man to fail, and He certainly didn't pick a poor specimen of humanity to give the nation as their king to teach them not to disobey His will, but He picked a physically superior man, whose appearance and stature seem to perfectly suit the task being given. God supernaturally empowered Saul, putting his Spirit on him to enable him to judge and to lead with wisdom and power so that whatever weaknesses he had as a man, God dealt with supernaturally, so that he became "another man" (ref. 10:6, 9). God identified Saul in such a way that only the "worthless men" of verse 27 would try to deny that he was the appointed king. However, all of this changed for Saul all too quickly.
Chapter 12 begins with Samuel's review of Israel's history. He reminded them of everything God had done for them and that he had not defrauded anyone as he gave an account of his stewardship as judge and the people exonerated him (v4): "Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken out of any man's hand.. He recalled the period recorded in the Pentateuch and Judges (v 8-11), reminding the people of God's dealings with Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Sisera, the Philistines, and the king of Moab. He also reminded them how the people had served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and how God had sent such men as Gideon, Jephthah, and even included his own name in the list of historical characters. But, they had begun to serve the Baals again and, knowing that the Canaanites considered Baal responsible for crop fertility, Samuel said to them (v171):
Is it not wheat harvest to day? I will call unto the Lord, and he shall send thunder and rain; that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking you a king.
It was to be a demonstration that they were wrong in asking for a king in advance of God's program, and it would validate the fact that God was in charge of the elements of nature responsible for fertility and not the demon god, the Baal. Samuel duly called on the Lord; the Lord sent thunder and rain, and (v182) "the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel."
I Samuel 13:1 tells us that after Saul had reigned for two years he began to select an army of specialized troops. We can assume from this that the year was approximately 1048 to 1047 B.C. We know it was early in his reign because 1 Samuel 14:35 records that he built his first altar to the Lord. Based on a date of 1048 B.C., Saul's son Jonathan must have been twenty or twenty-one years old when Saul put him in charge of the specialized army. Saul would have been in his mid-forties, and thus approximately forty years old when he became king. Jonathan's birth-date would have been approximately 1070 B.C. These figures are inferences, since we are not given specific dates or ages for these men, but the chronology seems to indicate their accuracy.
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