1 SAMUEL # 6 CHAPTERS 10 & 11
THE CALLING OF SAUL
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This is an age-old story line, repeated all the time in books and movies. A young man goes looking for some donkeys, and comes back three days later at the king of his country.
OK, so it is isn’t a normal or well-known tale. But I love, in part because it seems almost random. Yet in that randomness, we can see God at work. That gives me comfort when events in my own life seem both ordinary and random.
In chapter 8, The elders of of Israel gathered and asked God to give them a king. They asked Samuel to ask God for that, and to show them who God wanted. Then they all went home.
The narrative suddenly switches, and 1 Samuel chapter 9 tells us about a young man who went out with his servant to look for some lost donkeys. The young man was named Saul. He was not at the meeting where the people asked for the king. He was not seeking the Lord, or going on a pilgrimage to a place of worship. He was just doing his job, which at that moment, was to find his dad’s lost donkeys.
After a few days of wandering in the hills, Saul and his servant decided to give up. As they turned back, they were near Samuel’s hometown. Saul’s servant knew this, and suggested that they ask Samuel to ask God where the donkeys are. Saul wasn’t sure about it, because they had nothing to give Samuel, but the servant had some money. Saul then said, basically, “OK, if you think it will helps us find the donkeys.” In other words, he has no desire to see a prophet in order to get closer to God, or to learn God’s will for his life. He just wants God’s help in accomplishing his own mission.
We learned at the end of chapter seven that Samuel used to travel around to various places in Israel and lead worship and judge disputes and share God’s words with the people. Even though Samuel did not live very far from Saul (compared to other areas of Israel) he had never met him. This implies that Saul had not, up to that point, been particularly interested in God. He obviously had never been to Samuel for any other purpose, and he obviously had never taken a sacrifice to worship with Samuel when he was in Saul’s area. Even now, he seeks Samuel not because he wants to know God, but because he’s lost his donkeys. His focus is not on the will of God or on relationship with God, but rather what Samuel can do for him.
So by this point, we can see something things about Saul. The first few verses tell us that he was an unusually tall and large man – the tallest man in all twelve tribes. He was also handsome. But other than that, there is nothing out of the ordinary about him. He isn’t particularly persistent. He isn’t especially patient, or spiritually sensitive. He’s just an ordinary person, except that he is very big, and impressive to look at. He had no clue what was coming.
Samuel, as always had been talking to God and listening. As we study this book, I think Samuel is becoming one of my favorite heroes of the faith. The people wanted a king. God told Samuel he would grant their request. So Samuel went back to work, and waited for God. He didn’t immediately go out and try to find a king for them. He talked to God and listened, and then, some time later, God told him when to anoint the first king. So when Saul showed up in town, Samuel was ready. He recognized him as the person God had chosen to be the answer to the request of the people of Israel. He treated Saul as if he had been expecting him (and actually, he had, since God told him to expect him) and made him a guest of honor at the feast he was going to.
After the feast, Saul was Samuel’s guest. They spoke for a long time. Later, in private, Samuel poured oil on Saul’s head, to anoint him as king of Israel. The significance of oil was that it represented the Spirit of God. The idea was, that with the oil, the Holy Spirit was poured out onto Saul, and he was to be God’s chosen instrument from now on. This is one of the big spiritual differences between the time before Jesus, and the time since his resurrection. Before Jesus, you see that God generally filled only one or two people with His Holy Spirit in each generation. It was as if he had just a few chosen instruments for each lifetime. But the prophet Joel predicted the great change that would come after the Messiah:
28 After all of this I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your elderly will have revelatory dreams; your young men will see prophetic visions. 29 Even on male and female servants I will pour out my Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-29, NET)
In Acts 2:17, on the day of Pentecost, the Lord gave his Holy Spirit to all 120 followers of Jesus. Peter quotes this prophecy from Joel and affirms that it was fulfilled from that day on. And so, from that day on, God’s chosen instruments to work in this world are every single person who trusts in Jesus. It is no longer one or two people in a generation – it is all of God’s people. We are all given the anointing of the Holy Spirit to do God’s work here and now.
But this was still a long way off in Saul’s day. And so when Samuel anointed Saul, it was something very significant and very special. We can see this anointing at work almost immediately. Samuel predicts that the Spirit of God will fall on Saul, and change him:
When Saul turned around to leave Samuel, God changed his heart, and all the signs came about that day.(1 Sam 10:9).
So the anointing was the outward sign of what was to take place spiritually with Saul. It was done in private, because Samuel wanted God to confirm his choice when they later publicly chose a king.
Now, I want us to pause for a moment, and ask “Why Saul?” Saul himself says basically the same thing in verse 21. I think it is all about God’s amazing grace.
First, Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin. In Judges 19-21, we learn of an incident where one of the towns belonging to that tribe perpetuated a terrible atrocity. The rest of the tribes demanded justice, but the whole tribe of Benjamin rose up to defend the evil doers. The result was war, and the tribe of Benjamin was wiped out – everyone except for six-hundred men who fled to the hills. The other Israelites eventually forgave them, and wives were found for those six hundred. But basically, two hundred years or so before the time of Samuel and Saul, the tribe of Benjamin numbered only about twelve-hundred people. This is why Benjamin was the smallest tribe in Israel. In addition, the tribe of Benjamin was probably still under a cloud of shame for fighting a war to defend something that was truly wicked and sinful.
The Lord had twelve tribes from which to choose a king. But he chose the smallest tribe, and the one that was still dogged by a shameful history, to bring forth the first king of Israel. It is as if he is saying, “Benjamin, your shame is removed. Look – I am paying attention to you. You are as significant and important as any other part of my people.”
There is another reason God might have chosen Saul. In the very near future, the Philistines are going challenge Israel with a huge warrior – a giant of a man named Goliath. Israel’s new king – Saul – is also a huge man. He might not have been as tall as Goliath (who was nine feet tall) but some commentators speculate that Saul might have been as tall as seven feet. Israel wanted a king who would lead them in battle. They wanted someone who would bring them respect among the other nations. Saul is big and strong and impressive. He is exactly what the people of Israel asked for.
Now that Samuel has heard from the Lord, he gathered the people of Israel. They chose the king not by election, but by casting lots. This was essentially like rolling dice or flipping coins. They did this, and trusted that God would determine the result. As it turns out, God chose Saul, which confirmed what Samuel had already heard. But Saul was hiding among the baggage.
At first this seems like Saul is charmingly humble. But maybe it wasn’t humility. Maybe it was reluctance to let himself belong so fully to God, reluctance to give up his own agenda in order to be God’s instrument in this world. We know that Saul was not spiritually sensitive, or even interested in God to begin with. God gave him his anointing, but it came from God. We don’t really know much about how Saul received these things. It looks like it was mostly external for him.
Think of the contrast between Saul and Samuel. When Samuel was called, he invited God to speak to him. He said “speak for your servant is listening.” he spent his life listening to the Lord, and not shrinking back from what God said, waiting when God said “wait” and acting when God said “act,” speaking when God said, “speak.”
Saul, on the other hand, didn’t look for God. He looked for donkeys. He didn’t look for the responsibility of leadership, and God practically had to force it on him. There is no record of him saying to the Lord, “I am your servant, use me as you please.” These things in Saul’s character are warning signs. They are seeds of destruction that, if not rooted out and given to the Lord, will end up causing big problems later on.
It wasn’t that God was trying to screw the Israelites because they had rejected Him as king. But he was trying to allow them their free will, and answer their prayers. They had certain parameters. They wanted a king to give them respect among the nations. They wanted him to be fine figure, impressive, a war leader. They didn’t want a prophet – they had rejected the idea of someone who listened to God and then encouraged them to do God’s will.
But the people refused to heed Samuel’s warning. Instead they said, “No! There will be a king over us! We will be like all the other nations. Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles.” (1Sam 8:19-20, NET)
Before the lots were cast, Samuel warned the people again about the folly of choosing a king. But they went ahead with it anyway. So the Lord gave them the best possible king he could, given their demands and choices. But those demands and choices meant that their king would have other deficiencies. We can see those deficiencies already.
Sometimes God is more gracious to us and gives us greater blessing when he does not answer our prayers the way we want him to. But the Israelites insisted, and he allowed them to make their own choices.
We can see that this might all end badly, even so, this incident in Saul’s life shows us a little bit of how gracious and caring God is. Saul was not looking for God, he was looking for donkeys. And yet God was still reaching out to Saul. Saul had no thought of becoming a king, but God gave him a kingdom. He was not special in any way, except perhaps physically, and yet God chose him. This is grace, all the more amazing because it is totally unexpected, and totally undeserved.
So where does this leave us? Are you making demands of God? Perhaps God will give you what you ask for, but maybe you should consider letting him have his way instead. He is gracious sometimes to give us our free choices, but His will is always best. Sometimes there is more grace in a prayer that is not answered the way we want it to be.
Maybe the Lord is making it clear to you that he want you to be his instrument in this world, but you, like Saul, are reluctant. God did use Saul, but Saul would have been much better off if he had willingly given up his own will and desires. Maybe like Saul, you’ve been coasting along, doing your thing, and God has gone out his way to get your attention. Don’t be like Saul, who remained insensitive to the Lord even afterward. This is grace, and I encourage you to respond in faith and surrender, and re-orient your life and priorities around listening to God and letting Him live his life through you.
Perhaps you feel like the tribe of Benjamin. You feel insignificant. Maybe there is a cloud of shame or disgrace in your past. Listen! God has chosen you. He chooses the foolish to shame the wise, the lowly to shame the great, the small to teach the grand. Your shame is removed and God wants you.
Let the Holy Spirit speak to you now.