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?