'Studies in the Old Testament'

Israel's monarchy begins! - 3

April 2019

(Continued from page 543)

The anointing of Saul

The children of Israel wanted a monarch like those of the other nations. In response to their demand, God granted them the most obvious man available. Saul is introduced in I Samuel 9, as a "choice and handsome" man who came from good stock, for his father, Kish, is a Benjamite of some reputation - a "mighty man of valour" (9:1). This expression can be understood to refer to a man's courage, his military skill and success, or even his wealth. He is, for one reason or many, a man of renown, and, although his son Saul has not yet established a reputation for himself, he has all the physical attributes which will stand him in good stead with the people.  Not only was he the most handsome man in Israel, he was the tallest. From his shoulders up he towered above the people and, humanly speaking, he was an ideal choice for king. When dressed in his kingly garments, he must have been a striking figure. This was the kind of person the children of Israel wanted to lead them into battle, to fight for them, and to judge them as they "went out and came in" - but it will take much more than this for Saul to fulfill his calling as king.

The sovereignty of God is evident in the selection of Saul, as recorded in chapters 9 and 10. In 9:16, God says to Samuel:
"Tomorrow about this time I will send thee a man from the land of Benjamin."  So when Samuel met Saul, he knew that he was God's choice for Israel's king, but Saul had no such knowledge and we cannot help but be impressed by the detailed process God uses to inform and transform Saul as the new king. That Saul does not previously know Samuel is evident from the text. When he arrives at the entrance to the city (9:18), Saul turns to the first person he sees to ask directions to the "seer's" house - and Samuel is the one Saul asks for directions!  Samuel informs Saul that he is the seer but, before Saul can blurt out his request, Samuel speaks words Saul never dreamed he would hear, instructing Saul to go up ahead of him to the high place, where the sacrifice and the sacrificial meal are about to be eaten. Saul is to eat with Samuel that day and then spend the night. The next morning, Samuel will tell him "all that was on his mind" (v19) and then send him on his way.  Having said this, Samuel goes on to reveal details which can only confirm that he is indeed a seer (prophet) who hears from God (9:202):

"And as for your donkeys which 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 household?"

Without Saul ever asking, Samuel tells him what is missing, how long they have been missing, and that they have been found. If this amazes Saul, more is still to come for Samuel tells Saul he will tell him all that is on his mind . . . the next day (v 19). It is more than the matter of the lost donkeys, for Samuel's final words in verse 202 speak of an altogether deeper matter:
"And for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you and for all your father's household."  Saul asked in verse 211Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Wherefore then speakest thou so to me?  The matter of the donkeys has been settled, so Samuel's words are a mystery to Saul.  He has already been impressed by his words of knowledge, yet he asks why Samuel speaks to him in this way?  Why does he address him in this way, since he is not from a prominent tribe or from the most prominent family?  Thus Samuel plants questions in Saul's mind - questions that will be explained more fully the next morning.

But God has arranged another clue to pinpoint the chosen king.  Samuel, Saul, and his servant make their way up to the high place, where he gives them the place of honour at the head of all the invited guests.  Samuel has demonstrated his faith for, when God informed him that the king will come on the following day (9:16), Samuel made reservations for him as the honoured guest of the sacrificial meal (9:23-242). He instructed the cook to set apart the choicest portion, telling him to serve it when instructed to do so (v232) and, when Saul and his servant were seated, Samuel instructed the cook to bring out the portion which has been set aside in expectation of his arrival:

23 And Samuel said to the cook, "Bring the portion that I gave you, concerning which I said to you, 'Set it aside.'" 24 Then the cook took up the leg with what was on it and set it before Saul. And Samuel said, "Here is what has been reserved! Set it before you and eat, because it has been kept for you until the appointed time, since I said I have invited the people." So Saul ate with Samuel that day.

So the man who appeared to have dropped in unexpectedly is none other than the guest of honour!  There was further conversation of an unknown nature between Samuel and Saul on the roof before Saul settled down for the night. Early the next morning Samuel roused Saul, apparently to send him on his way before the people are up and about and possibly watching the important event to follow.  As they are leaving the city, Samuel instructed Saul to send his servant on ahead so that he could (v272)
"proclaim the Word of God" to Saul.  When he does so, Samuel takes his flask of oil and anoints Saul's head, kissing him, and informing him that God has indeed chosen him to be ruler over all Israel.

From the events of the previous day and the mysterious statements Samuel has made to Saul, it is possible that Samuel may have given earlier clues to Saul as to his imminent anointing as the coming king - perhaps to prepare Saul for the bombshell that is about to break over his life. But now there is no possibility for misunderstanding as Samuel's words and actions in anointing Saul make it very clear that he has been appointed and anointed to be the king. But Saul is a man who needs some convincing (as we see later in Chapter 10, verse 22) and this may explain the manner in which Samuel has carefully prepared the ground for the anointing under God's guidance.  Samuel then prophesies with regard to the events which will transpire in the next few hours in astonishing detail that can only come about if God is the author of the events.  First, on the road to Rachel's tomb, they will meet two men, who will inform them of what Samuel has already told them, namely that the lost donkeys have been found, and Saul's father is now worried about his son (v 2).

Further on, when they reach the "oak of Tabor," more of God's criteria is met as (verses 3-61) they 
"meet thee three men, one carrying three kids, and another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a bottle of wine" - and, just as Samuel prophesied "they will salute thee, and give thee two loaves of bread, which thou shalt receive of their hands. After that ... when thou art come thither to the city, that thou shalt meet a company of prophets ... and they shall prophesy: And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man."

The bread served as their provisions for the rest of their way home and, finally, Saul and his servant reach the "hill of God," where the Philistine garrison is stationed, and where the third sign takes place. The third sign is different from the first two in at least two regards.
First, the third sign is publicly witnessed and at least partially grasped as significant. We are informed of the prophecy Samuel gave to Saul regarding the two men he would meet and later on the three men on their way to Bethel, but we are not given a full account of how these things take place. We are only given the general statement that "all these signs came about on that day" (10:9).  But when it comes to the third prophecy, which tells of the Spirit coming upon Saul, we are given an account which includes the impact this has on the nation.  The first two signs are almost entirely for the benefit of Saul alone.1  He alone has been told these things will happen.  Anyone watching the fulfilment of these two prophecies would not discern that these are signs, for they would be unaware of their detailed prediction. But this third sign is one which catches people's attention, so much so that it becomes proverbial (10:122): '"Is Saul also among the prophets?"'

Second, what happens to Saul on the "hill of God" is not normal; it is supernatural. The Spirit of God comes upon Saul and he prophesies, along with those who are known to be prophets. There is no question on the part of those who witness this amazing incident - Saul is among the prophets. So why is this important - some people may judge this to be just an example of God demonstrating His power through a chosen servant?  God always does things for a purpose - as the great Albert Einstein said: "God does not play dice with the Universe."  This anointing with His Spirit is important because this is a public demonstration that God has empowered Saul to judge the nation. In Exodus 18, Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, counsels him to distribute the work load of judging the nation and the appointment of 70 judges is described in Numbers 11, where all of them prophesy before the eyes of the nation, demonstrating that the Spirit of God is upon them, empowering them to serve as judges. The same thing is now happening to Saul.2 The Spirit of God has come upon him, empowering him to judge the nation as their king. This event is clearly supernatural, and it is done in public. This important change in Saul becomes proverbial, so that even those who do not witness this sign hear of the first public indication that Saul is to be Israel's king.

Verses 14-16 of chapter 10 are a part of the private confirmation to Saul of God's choice of him as Israel's king.  The writer describes the events following Saul's meeting with Samuel in chronological order, and so Saul's arrival home and his interaction with his uncle come after his becoming one of the prophets for a time (v 10-13) and, from the flow of the argument, the conversation with Saul's uncle is a part of Saul's private confirmation for he questions him about what he has been doing over the days he has been gone.  Saul is evasive and answers so that the matter of his anointing will not be raised or discussed, but this only spurs his uncle on, because he is clearly interested in what happened, especially once he learns that Saul has met with the great man of God, Samuel.  But Saul is only willing to tell him the part about the donkeys, again revealing the apparent reticence to be declared king which he reveals again later (v22) when he physically hides from the people - and so it has to be Samuel who publicly introduces Saul as Israel's king at the coronation.

(Continued on page 545)

Israel's monarchy begins!

Social changes wrought by Israel's monarchy

The kings of the United Monarchy

The anointing of Saul

The coronation of Saul

The first of Saul's tragic sins

Saul refuses to completely destroy the Amalekites

Saul's first two tragic sins and dynastic succession

The selection of David by Samuel

Saul, Jonathan, and David

David's flight from Saul aided by Michal

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