What are you hiding from? Saul among the baggage. 1 Samuel 10:17-26

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 10:17-26

Last week we finished up the story of Saul’s anointing to be king. We learned that God’s choice of Saul was made evident through a number of providential acts of God surrounding this event. And we learned that this calling was confirmed to Saul himself through three signs that Samuel predicted that all came true.

And even though at the end of the story, Saul hesitated to act after the Spirit came on him, to provoke the Philistines and then gather Israel’s army to deliver Israel, God has not set aside his plan for him.

Coming to our passage for today, since Saul’s anointing was still a private act known only to Samuel and Saul, something more needs to be done. So in this story –

Saul is chosen by lot

– as a public recognition that he is God’s choice for king.

17Now Samuel called the people together to the Lord at Mizpah.

Back in chapter 8, when Israel demanded a king, Samuel had dismissed everyone at Ramah so that a king could be selected. Here he is calling them back together at Mizpah to reveal God’s choice.

18And he said to the people of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ 19But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, ‘Set a king over us.’ Now therefore present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and by your thousands.”

This confirms again why God is unhappy with their demand for a king. They thought God couldn’t take care of them and so they wanted a human king with a standing army. Human kingship isn’t wrong in itself, but their lack of trust in God is evil and a sin (12:19-20). It was a rejection of God as their king.

So God reiterates that he has been more than sufficient to care for them, delivering them from Egypt and from all their enemies; “from all their calamities and distresses.”

20Then Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. 21He brought the tribe of Benjamin near by its clans, and the clan of the Matrites was taken by lot; and Saul the son of Kish was taken by lot.

Casting lots to discern God’s will was not uncommon in Israel. (Leviticus 16:8-10, Joshua 7:10-26, 18:6, 19:51; 1 Samuel 14:41-42, 1 Chronicles 24-26, Nehemiah 10:34, Psalm 22:18, Jonah 1:7, Nahum 3:10 See also Proverbs 16:33 and Acts 1:21-26) They were probably stones or pieces of wood with marks on them that were thrown like dice. And depending on which marks came up, they would select one option between two choices.

It began with the 12 tribes, then down to the clans of that tribe, then to families and then to any sons in that family. And Saul was chosen.

Now, what do you think the odds are that among all the possible choices the lot would fall to Saul? We are talking about thousands and thousands of people. But God was in this. Saul was already chosen, and God used the lot to affirm this choice before all the people. God orchestrated all of this.

But when they sought him, he could not be found. 22So they inquired again of the Lord, “Is there a man still to come?” and the Lord said, “Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.” 23Then they ran and took him from there.

Saul is afraid of being king. Of course, he already knew he was the one and thus knew the result that was coming. And he hides. And so they ask, “It’s supposed to be Saul, but he’s not here – is there another?” This then requires a word from the Lord to tell them where to find Saul.

This is another indicator of Saul’s core weakness, fear, which we talked about last week. Instead of stepping forward in faith to fulfill God’s purpose for him, he hides and hopes they will find someone else.

And when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward. 24And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? There is none like him among all the people.” And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

Height was seen as a positive attribute for leaders in the ancient world, so Saul’s height acts to confirm his being chosen as king.

Samuel strongly affirms Saul as God’s chosen. The phrase “there is none like him among all the people” isn’t just a reference to his height. God really has chosen the best person for the job. And then Saul is acclaimed king.

25Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the Lord.

It’s not clear what was in this book. It seems to define the rights of a king, which were talked about in chapter 8. But here these rights are balanced by the “duties of the king” for the people, which would include providing good order and delivering them from their enemies. (Perhaps we should see the phrase in 8:20  – “to judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” – as a summary of these duties.)

Then Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his home. 26Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went men of valor whose hearts God had touched.

It’s interesting that Samuel is still in charge, he dismisses the people. As we will see, before Saul is fully established as king, he will need to pass a test to show that he is able. And that is what happens in the next story in Chapter 11.

Everyone went home, including Saul, but he goes with “men of valor” who become the nucleus of a standing army for Israel.

A story about hiding . . .

I think we should all be able to relate to Saul.

We all have fears that can keep us from doing God’s will

What has God called you to do, but your fear has stopped you from obeying?

God loves to challenge us;  to stretch us and help us to grow in terms of our character and our capacity to serve him. He often calls us out of our comfort zones, and to do things that are beyond what we would ever imagine we could do. Now, we can be like Saul and hide out of fear. Or we can step out in faith to do what God wants us to do.

And so I ask, What are you hiding from?

  • talking to a neighbor about Jesus?
  • standing up for your faith?
  • doing the right thing when no one else is?
  • beginning a new ministry role?

Hiding doesn’t work. God knows about it and has ways of calling you out. What we all need to do is let go of our fears and step out in faith to do what God wants us to do. It may seem impossible, but God doesn’t ask us to do things we can’t do; we can do whatever he wants with his help and strength. With the calling comes the anointing, just as in the case of Saul. And so we should act.

Let me end with a word of grace. Just as with Saul, if you have failed to act in faith to do God’s will or you are currently hiding from doing God’s will, this doesn’t mean that God is done with you yet. God is merciful and every day is a new day to make things right by stepping out in faith to do God’s will. And I encourage you to do just this.

Saul’s anointing. Three confirmations & Saul’s hesitation. 1 Samuel 10:1-16

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 9-10:16

Last week we saw an amazing display of God’s knowledge and ability  when he providentially orchestrated the events surrounding the anointing of Saul. It’s really quite incredible. Today we pick up the story and see how it ends. And it’s ending will give us insight into Saul and much of what is ahead in these stories about Saul in 1 Samuel.

By way of review we read again in v. 1 about –

Saul’s anointing

1aThen Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, “Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies.

Right after this Samuel predicts three signs that are meant to fully convince Saul that he is to be king.

 1bAnd this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince over his heritage.

Remember, he wasn’t looking to be king, he was looking for donkeys. And you can understand some measure of reluctance. And so God is merciful to him to make it as clear as clear can be.

Sign one:  2When you depart from me today, you will meet two men by Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah, and they will say to you, ‘The donkeys that you went to seek are found, and now your father has ceased to care about the donkeys and is anxious about you, saying, “What shall I do about my son?”’

He came to Samuel concerned about donkeys. And he leaves with witnesses attesting that they have been found, confirming Samuel’s word to him.

Sign two: 3Then you shall go on from there farther and come to the oak of Tabor. Three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you there, one carrying three young goats, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a skin of wine. 4And they will greet you and give you two loaves of bread, which you shall accept from their hand.

The items they have are for sacrifice at Bethel. They give Saul two loaves of bread. He came to Samuel without bread and he leaves with bread.

Sign three:  5After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim, where there is a garrison of the Philistines. And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. 6Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.

He came to Samuel looking for a prophecy about his donkeys but on his way home he prophesies.

The mention of the Philistine garrison is key. The Philistines were once again ascendant and had a group of soldiers stationed in or near this city, which is Saul’s hometown (It is called Gibeah in v. 10 below. See 10:11 – they knew him. Also see 11:26)

Samuel promises that when the reality of the anointing comes; that is, when the Spirit comes upon him, he will “be turned into another man.” This means that the Spirit will empower him to fulfill his calling of king and deliverer.

Then Samuel shares what Saul is to do after the signs.

7Now when these signs meet you, do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you. 8Then go down before me to Gilgal. And behold, I am coming down to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do.”

The phrase, “do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you” implies that Saul is to do something. What he is to do, is to attack the previously mentioned Philistine garrison. And after he provokes them, he is to gather the Israelite army and go to Gilgal. And he is to wait seven days for Samuel to come to give further instructions. (These instructions are referred to again in chapter 13. Even though there it is Jonathan, Saul’s son who attacks a Philistine garrison and so provokes them, both Saul and Samuel know that now these instructions come into play. And Saul does not keep these instructions and is judged.) (I am indebted to V. Philips Long in his book, The Reign and Rejection of King Saul for this interpretation.)

This is how his anointing is to be made public.

Well, sure enough everything comes true.

9When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day.

 Everything happened just as predicted. (The statement “God gave him another heart” is probably summative of the events of the whole day, or the change began then and continued on through to his Spirit experience – see 10:6) 

And then the third sign’s fulfillment is narrated.

10When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. 11And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” 12And a man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

As predicted “the Spirit of God rushed upon him” and he prophesied. This prophesy was an outward sign of his possession of the Spirit, even though it was temporary. (This is similar to what happened in Numbers 11:25ff, when the Spirit came upon the elders of Israel and they temporarily prophesied as a sign of their being chosen.)

Those who knew Saul from before are witnesses that the Spirit is upon Saul and they are surprised. They say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” He was not known to be a prophet, nor perhaps anyone in Kish’s family. But then someone suggests, “And who is their father?” referring to the other prophets, making the point that prophecy isn’t hereditary. The basic point of the question, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” seems to be that someone unexpected has the Spirit working through them. (This is repeated in 19:20 when Saul was hostile to the prophets and so again his prophesying here is very unexpected. This phrase appears with Saul’s first and last encounter with the Spirit.)

Here again, with these three signs, we see God’s providential oversight.

  • Samuel predicted he would meet two men who would say such and such, and it happened.
  • Samuel predicted that he would meet three men who would give him two loaves of bread, and it happened.
  • Samuel predicted that he would meet a band of prophets and he would prophesy, and it happened.

I just have to say, wow! Isn’t God amazing?

But then we come back to our story and Saul’s missed opportunity.

13When he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place. 14Saul’s uncle said to him and to his servant, “Where did you go?” And he said, “To seek the donkeys. And when we saw they were not to be found, we went to Samuel.” 15And Saul’s uncle said, “Please tell me what Samuel said to you.” 16And Saul said to his uncle, “He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.” But about the matter of the kingdom, of which Samuel had spoken, he did not tell him anything.

He didn’t attack the Philistine garrison. He was told to “do what your hand finds to do.” But he does nothing. So there’s a disconnect. And since this was how he was to make public his role as king, and he didn’t do it, he hid his anointing and what Samuel said about kingship from his uncle. And so the story just kind of fizzles out.

I want us to focus on this, because we can learn from it. Here we begin to see –

Saul’s core weakness

As we will clear soon enough, Saul ends up being a failure as a king – rejected by God and a scourge to God’s people. And it all stems from his inability or unwillingness to deal with his core weakness, which is fear.

He was afraid to act even though he was given very clear confirmations that he was to be king and the job description of a king included delivering Israel from the Philistines. And he was next the the outpost in own hometown after the Spirit came on him, and he did nothing.

And this will become a characteristic throughout his story – fear that leads to not carrying out God’s will.

  • fear of the Philistines (here and in chapter 13)
  • fear of even being king (the rest of chapter 10)
  • and fear of his own people (chapter 15)

As the story goes on from here – the question for the first time reader is, “Which way will Saul go? Will he overcome? Or will he be overcome?” Well, we already know, but we will find out what his failure looks like in great detail in chapters 13-15 and beyond.

But let’s not just focus on Saul.

What is your core weakness?

We each  an area (at least one) that can keep us from being all that God wants us to be; where we struggle to be faithful; that can keep us from fulfilling God’s purposes. We all struggle with whether we will overcome it and be fully faithful to God or whether it will get the best of us, so that we don’t do God’s will.

Do you know what your weakness is? Are you attending to it to make sure that it isn’t keeping you from doing God’s will? Are you praying to be strong, seeking God’s help and the help of others? Are you asking to be filled with the Spirit to overcome your weaknesses? Saul received the Spirit but failed to do his part. When the Spirit comes to help you, do you do your part to step out in faith to act? (Dave Weaver)

What is the story of your life? Of victory or defeat? Will you be a Saul who fails or a David who succeeds despite failure along the way?

Well, your story isn’t over yet, and so I encourage you this morning to press on and to be an overcomer.

A divine providence. The anointing of Saul. 1 Samuel 9:1-10:1a

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 9-10:16 or how this story is put together

Today we’re looking at the story of the anointing of Saul. This is an unusually long story covering all of chapter 9 and 16 verses of chapter 10, or 43 verses. So I’m gonna summarize most of it today, but also come back to the end of it, Lord willing, next Sunday in more detail (10:1-16). I encourage you to read through this story. It’s artfully arranged. (See above, the literary structure of this narrative.)

Last time, at the end of chapter 8, Samuel had sent the elders of Israel home, so that the process of selecting a king could begin. And God is busy at this in our story.

The anointing of Saul

A brief introduction. In vs. 1-2 – we learn about Saul’s family and father, Kish, who was well to do. We also learn a bit about Saul’s looks. v. 2 says that –

he was “a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.”

[Commentary for those who want to go through the verses and not just have a summary: The introduction in v. 1 is similar to what we find in chapter 1 regarding Elkanah. Kish was a “wealthy man” or it can be translated, “a man of standing” NIV. He did have wealth as we see here, he had more than one servant and he had donkeys (9:3). That Saul was outstanding in his looks is not a negative portrayal, as if this is all Samuel or anyone else is looking at (1 Samuel 16:7). Saul also has good qualities and God gave him “another heart” (10:9). And David was noted as being handsome (16:12). There is a tendency throughout this passage to read into the story negative characterizations based on Saul’s later choices.]

Saul’s journey.  vs. 3-4 introduces us to the problem. Some donkeys are missing and so Saul and a servant are tasked to find them. They traveled for three days (v. 20) through the territory of Ephraim and Benjamin and ended up in the land of Zuph. But their search was futile.

In vs. 5-10 Saul is ready to give up since he doesn’t want his father worrying about him being lost, but his servant counsels that they ask the man of God in the city about the donkeys, whom we find out later is Samuel.

[Commentary: The first clue that the so far anonymous “man of God” is Samuel comes from v. 5. The land of Zuph is the territory where Samuel lives, in Ramah (1 Samuel 1:1). The second clue is in v. 6. The phrase, “all that he says comes true” refers back to 1 Samuel 3:19, “The Lord . . . let none of his words fall to the ground” (also Deuteronomy 18:21-22). Ramah was just 5 miles from Saul’s home in Gibeah. The issue of the gift for the man of God is not that such was required by Samuel, but that it was a form of support. Like with Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 10:8-10 no payment is required by the prophet, but it is the responsibility of the person to give. A quarter shekel of silver is a little over a week’s wages for an ordinary person.]

vs.  11-14 – As they went toward the city they met some young women who told them how to find the man of God. And sure enough, they run into Samuel on his way out of the city to a sacrificial feast.

[Commentary: This was most likely in the evening, since this was the common time for women to gather water. Note the sense of urgency – Saul and his servant are to hurry to go meet Samuel. At this time Israelites still used “high places” for sacrifice and worship. After the temple was built in Jerusalem they were forbidden. This one was most likely built by Samuel – 1 Samuel 7:17. As noted before, Samuel was a Levite and has some kind of oversight role here.] 

Next, we jump into our text, with a flashback –

God’ word to Samuel about anointing a king.

15Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed to Samuel: 16“Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen my people, because their cry has come to me.” 17When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you! He it is who shall restrain my people.”

So God has prepared Samuel with instructions ahead of time. And now he points out the very man – Saul, who is to be king. He is to anoint him to be “prince” which probably means here, the one who will become king. He will “restrain” or keep within proper bounds God’s people.

To anoint with oil in this way is to symbolically designate someone for a role. Saul is anointed king and deliverer. (Before this, it seems only priests were anointed, e.g. Exodus 28:41). The oil represents the Spirit’s empowerment (Isaiah 61:1, 1 Samuel 16:13)

It’s amazing that despite their rejection of him, God is concerned about their well-being and raises up Saul to defeat the Philistines for them. This is another example of how God’s love is truly steadfast.

A banquet. In vs. 18-20 Samuel invites Saul and his servant to a meal and tells them that their donkeys have been found.

[Comments: It’s not clear what “all that is on your mind” (v. 19) refers to. Is Saul concerned about the well-being of Israel? Does he know that there is a search going on for a king? v. 12 indicates that this meal was already planned. Samuel is in town “because the people have a sacrifice today.”]

In vs. 20b-21 Samuel gives him a big clue as to what’s going on; he tells Saul that he is the one chosen as king – he is the one desired by all Israel. And Saul responds by humbly expressing his unworthiness.

[Comments: Saul responds humbly, even though he is from a prominent family. And it is true that the territory of Benjamin was small and they were almost wiped out by the rest of Israel in Judges 20-21. Samuel acknowledges Saul’s humility in 15:17  when he says, “you are little in your own eyes.” Samuel never responds to his question in v. 21.]

In vs. 22-24 Samuel gives Saul a head seat and the best portion of the meal, before 30 invited guests. And then in vs. 24-26 Samuel hosts Saul and his servant overnight and sends him off in the morning.

[Comments: After the meal at the high place they come back into the city and Saul stays in Samuel’s home. Sleeping on the roof was a cool place on a hot night.]

This, then brings us to the anointing of Saul and God’s word to him.

27As they were going down to the outskirts of the city, Samuel said to Saul, “Tell the servant to pass on before us, and when he has passed on, stop here yourself for a while, that I may make known to you the word of God.”

So here it comes!

10:1aThen Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, “Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies.

As we saw, anointing symbolizes the empowerment of the Spirit, and the reality of this happens in 10:9-10, when the Spirit God comes upon Saul.

The key theme in this story is that –

God is orchestrating all of this

Saul and his servant were guided to an end that they had no idea about. They were clueless, but God did it anyway. (Tsumura highlights this kind of reading of the story.)

1. That the donkeys were lost is not an accident, and also that Saul couldn’t find them. This is what God told Samuel in v. 16 – “Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin.” This was how God did this, having the donkeys run off three days before.

2. They end up in Samuel’s hometown in the region of Zuph and the city of Ramah.

3. The servant speaks up just in time to keep Saul from going home. He suggests that they should talk to the man of God in the city about the donkeys first.

4. The servant finds money to give to the man of God, to appease Saul’s concern that they can’t talk to him without a gift. v. 8 says more literally, “there is found in my hand” this money (a divine passive). God provided that this would be there a head of time, so Saul would have no reason not to go to Samuel.

5. Samuel “happens” to be in town for a sacrifice. In v. 12 the women tell them that “he has come just now to the city.” God times things just right.

6. The women tell them to hurry or they will miss Samuel.

7. Samuel is the first person they come across as he is on his way to the banquet (vs. 14, 18). Again, the timing is perfect.

And God also worked on Samuel’s end to prepare things for Saul’s arrival. If Saul was unknowing in all this, Samuel knew.

1. God spoke to him a day before about a Benjamite (v. 16)

2. God identified Saul when they met. This is the guy!

3. By faith Samuel had the best portion waiting for Saul, as v. 24 says, “it was kept for you until the hour appointed, that you might eat with the guests.”

God brought all this together. This is a true divine appointment between Saul and Samuel.

For one thing this teaches us that God really has chosen Saul to be king. And the story goes on to confirm this more as I hope to show you next week. Despite Saul’s later disobedience and failure, it was God’s plan to have him be king. The failure was due to Saul’s choices, not God.

But clearly this story emphasizes how amazing God is, who can know all things and bring things together in this way, when he chooses to do so.

 And God still works in this way today

 1. God providentially watches over us.  This isn’t to say that things are always so scripted, as it is here. But as Jesus teaches in Matthew 10:29-31, God knows everything that is going on, even when a sparrow falls to the ground. And he knows the number of our hairs. We are not subject to fate, powerful forces that control our destiny that have no love or concern for us. Neither are we subject to a random, arbitrary world, where nothing has meaning or leads to any purposeful end. God orders and shapes all things according to his will. And God acts for us to care for us and intervenes in our lives according to his purposes. This is reassuring.

And this also applies to our congregation. All that has happened in the last number of months. God knows and God is overseeing. We don’t usually see the bigger picture in the moment or maybe even after many years. In the story of Saul we have a divine window into what’s going on. But in the end, on the final day, we will see how God has worked to bring things together and what God has been up to in our lives, and in our life together as a congregation.

2. God works to raise up leaders for his people. This is what is going on in this story. And he often picks and prepares those that no one would expect. Saul was focused on farm life – here looking for donkeys. But then he is anointed to be king. No one expected this, least of all Saul.

Who will God raise up to be leaders among us? Maybe we will be surprised as well. Maybe God will surprise you by tapping your shoulder.

3. Everyone has a role in God’s plan, not just prophets or princes. (Mary J. Evans) Both Saul’s servant and the young women played a crucial role. Without them, the story would not have played out like it does here.

What is your place in God’s plan? And what is your role in what God is doing here at New Providence? What is God asking you to do? How will God use you?

Israel demands a king. 1 Samuel 8:1-22

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 8:1-22

We are back into 1 Samuel today, chapter 8 if you would like to turn. Last we saw, in chapter 7 Israel finally got it. If they repent of their sins, God will bless them and take care of them as promised. And God gave them a miraculous deliverance from the Philistines through Samuel’s prophetic leadership. And they had peace for many years.

When we come to chapter 8, however, things take a real turn for the worse, because now –

Israel wants a king

The story begins with Samuel’s attempted retirement.

1When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba.

Many years have passed and Samuel is old. He has appointed his sons to take his place. Perhaps having them down in the remote city of Beersheba (50 miles south of Jerusalem) was to test whether they could handle the job. We find out the results in v. 3.

 3Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.

So Samuel’s kids didn’t turn out to be faithful to God. (Unlike Eli and his sons, Samuel is not a part of their sin by overlooking it or even profiting from it.)  This shows once again that good people and good parents can raise children who don’t follow in their path.

In this case it presents an opportunity for the elders of Israel. 

4Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.”

What they want is to switch from having a tribal confederation led by judges, who were usually raised up by God for a specific need and often only in one part of Israel to a permanent, centralized monarchy held by one family.

They are taking advantage of Samuel’s son’s not being like their father, to make a request for a different system that, ironically is entirely built on heredity, where sons are often worse than their fathers. So this is confusing. The problem of Samuel’s sons is real, but it’s a cover for their actual reason in asking for a king, which comes out in v. 20 – they want a king with a standing army to protect them.

6But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.”

More literally, it says the thing was “evil in his eyes.” And so Samuel seeks God. v. 6 goes on to say,

And Samuel prayed to the Lord.

 He’s troubled and so he sought out God and what God would say. This is a good model for us when we are troubled, to pray and make sure we are in tune with God before we speak or act. 

7And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

The immediate question is, “Why is asking for a king so wrong?” Deuteronomy 17:14-20 predicts Israelite kingship without judgment, as do other Scriptures (Genesis 17:6, 16; 49:10; Numbers 24:17-19; Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1 21:25, 1 Samuel 2:10). And God works to bless and bring about this request in the stories that follow, especially with David. So what’s going on here?

I believe that God is flexible with how Israel is organized. And he might have raised up a king of his own initiative, perhaps with David, at the right time. The issue is why they ask. They think God is inadequate! This is plain and simple a rejection of God as their king, because they think God can’t take care of them properly. (That God’s adequacy to save is the issue here is confirmed in 1 Samuel 10:18-19 that talks about the rejection of God. Samuel reminds them that God has and can continue to save them, but they wanted a king. And also in 1 Samuel 12:7-11 Samuel recounts how God has saved them in the past, and in 12:16-18 the miracle confirms that God can still save them, which leads them to repentance for asking for a king.) The lack of faith in God shows that their demand for a king here is an expression of their tendency to idolatry. They want a king as an idol, something they rely on instead of or in addition to God for their salvation and security, which is why v. 8 categorizes this as “forsaking me and serving other gods.”

This must have been particularly galling to God and Samuel, because Israel has just lived many years in peace after God miraculously delivered them from the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:14). And on top of this the reason for their previous struggles with defeat at the hands of their enemies was due to them, not God! They were unfaithful to God as so God did not bless them. It was entirely and without exception their fault. But they blame God. What an insult and slander of God, what they are saying! (See similarly Numbers 14:11.)

So yeah, God’s unhappy. He grants their request, but as God says in Hosea 13:11 – “I gave you a king in my anger.” (The rest of the verse, “and I took him away in my wrath” refers to the end of kingship in northern Israel with the Assyrian conquest. The southern monarchy ended with the Babylonian exile.) (We will see why God allows a king in chapter 12.) If they wanted to ask for a king in a way that didn’t slander God it should have gone like this, “God, we are unfaithful and so we keep breaking covenant and being defeated. Can you make it easier for us by giving us a king? Can you accommodate our failings?”

This is just another in a long line of betrayals. It’s really amazing to see God’s patience with his people. And we can be sure that we also try and test God’s patience at times. What a loving God we have!

Note also here that when God’s people reject God, they reject his servants who represent him as well – their rejection of Samuel. This is still the case today. God comforts Samuel – it’s not about you, but about their rejection of me. But you can tell he still felt it.

Then we come to God’s warning about the ways of a king. As we read, notice the seven statements, where the word “take” or the phrase “appoint for himself” are used.

10So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17He will take the tenth of your flocks . . . 

This is a picture of how the Canaanite kings around them operated, which seems to be what they have in mind.

Kings take things, because it takes a lot of bureaucracy to support a royal family and a royal court and a standing army. It requires things like your sons and daughters, taxes, your land and your crops. And “you shall be his slaves.”

This was a huge change for the people of God. Kings would have near arbitrary power over them. They would be in a class above the rest of Israel. The judges never had any of this.

and you shall be his slaves. 18And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

God often judges by giving people just what they want. In the book of Judges, Israel wanted to serve the gods of the nations around them, and so God gave them over to the power of these nations until they cried out for salvation. (See also Romans 1). Here their judgment is giving them what they want, with the end that they will be slaves. If before they cried out for deliverance from the oppression of their enemies, now they will cry from the oppression of their king (Stephen B. Chapman). But God will have none of it. They asked for it.

Israel’s stubbornness

19But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

Their hearts are set. Even if it causes them pain, they want a king. They think a king will properly protect them.

21And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. 22And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”

Work has to be done, which starts in our next chapter. And then he will gather them together again for next steps.

There’s a lot to learn from in this passage, and I have already mentioned several themes, but surely the most important one is this –

Trust God to take care of you

Samuel was old. Things were good for many years under his leadership. But they feared with his passing that their enemies will again cause them great suffering. And since they don’t trust God to take care of them, they need something else, here a king to make up for God’s supposed lack of provision.

Where in our lives do we not trust God to take care of us? We also want peace and security. And we are afraid of suffering. So what do you do when:

  • God says, “I will give you daily bread” – but you were raised in poverty and so you want more than that, you need a full pantry and bank account to feel safe.
  • God says, “I want you to give up your career and do something different and I will bless you” – but you rely on your career to provide for you and your lifestyle choices.
  • God says, “I want you to give up your house and home and move somewhere else” – but you can’t even imagine doing this.
  • God says, “I want you to endure a time of testing a bit longer, but don’t worry, my grace is sufficient for you” – but you feel you must get out of the test now.
  • And how does this apply to our congregation and where we are?

In these situations we might even pray or demand from God, “I have to have this or this or that to keep moving forward.” And maybe God gives it to you and so you keep moving forward or maybe God doesn’t and so you stop following God. But in either case we are no different than the ancient Israelites. We are saying, “God, you are inadequate. I don’t think you can take care of me. Your grace is not sufficient for me.”And we turn something that is good and can be a blessing, into an idol because we trust in it and rely on it, more than God.

Where are you struggling in your faith this morning?

If you are struggling let me counsel you to be honest and confess it to God. Be like the man who said to Jesus, “I believe, but help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24.) Give me the strength to move forward in faith, even though I don’t have it in me.

And finally let me encourage you. God is faithful to his promises. God is more than sufficient! In the midst of your struggle, receive these words from Isaiah 41:10 as God’s words to you this morning: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you.”