In this blog post today, the Lord reveals to Samuel that Saul is his choice as the person to become Israel’s first king.
Read 1 Samuel 9
The Lord apparently moved rather quickly to show Samuel, the man who was chosen to be the first king of Israel according to the wishes of the people. And so we are told that there was a man from the tribe of Benjamin named Kish, son of Abiel (and the genealogy continues to establish the lineage of Saul firmly).
Kish is described in verse 1 of the Complete Jewish Bible as “a man of substance and brave as well.” Other versions say Kish was a “mighty man of valor” or “a mighty man of power.”
What is being translated is two Hebrew words used to describe the family status of Kish; the first is gibbor and the second is chayil. Gibbor means “mighty” in the sense of being physically strong. Chayil means to be very well to do; to be wealthy and with political influence. So Kish’s family was part of the ruling clan of Benjamin, they were the tribal aristocrats.
Kish’s son was Saul, meaning “the requested one” (that is, he is the one, the king, provided as an answer to the demand for the people of Israel). Saul is described as being young and good-looking and that in fact he among the people of Israel was perhaps THE most handsome man of them all. Plus, he was the tallest of all the people.
The word for people is ammim, and it means God’s people (not the people of all nations so he wasn’t the tallest man on earth). It is thought that he was around 40 years old at this time, but possibly a tad younger.
Notice that God gave to Israel the exact kind of person with the characteristics that people prefer when left to their inclinations to determine: he was charismatic, tall, handsome, strong, and part of a prosperous and influential family; outwardly he had everything.
The Lord knew that Israel would take one look at Samuel’s anointed king and revel in their newfound hope, confident that they had done the right thing by insisting on having a king like their neighbors.
Verse 3 begins the background story that explains how it is that God revealed His choice of Saul to Samuel. And it is that several donkeys owned by Saul’s father, Kish, vanished and so Saul was sent on a mission to find them and bring them back.
He was to take one of the family servants along with him. Saul was, to take a na’ar, a youth with him. And while the youth may have been a servant, he was likely not a slave, for the term na’ar is not usually indicative of a slave, bonded or bought.
Some think that this na’ar might have been the family of Kish’s chief household steward for he will display confidence, wisdom, and a comfortable familiarity with Saul.
Further, we find that the donkeys were female donkeys, as the Hebrew word athon tells us. These were a herd of valuable donkeys, and much effort would be spent to find them.
So Saul took the young servant, and they went into the Hills of Ephraim to look for the donkeys. After wandering around for a few days, they were becoming discouraged, as there was no sign of these lost possessions.
In fact, they were gone long enough that Saul figured that his father would soon start to be concerned about his and the boys’ safety and so didn’t want to worry him unduly. Pretty soon they came to the territory of Zuph. Zuph was the family name of a clan of Levites, ancestors of Elkanah and Samuel.
Somewhere in this area, Saul decided to abandon the search for the donkeys, but the young servant that was with him suggested that they go into a nearby town and inquire if the local seer might be there and help them find the donkeys.
Here we see the term I told you about a few weeks ago as we enter the era of the Prophets of God. And the term is “Man of God” (in Hebrew, ish Elohim).
Just as the term “goyim” changed in its usage and meaning over the centuries from being a generic word for nations (any and all nations) to indicating gentiles, to indicating gentile nations, and then finally to pagans living in the countries, so the term ish Elohim changed over time in its meaning. In its most primitive form ish Elohim referred to a holy man of some sort that had a set of mystical abilities.
Later it meant a seer much like the Mesopotamian sorcerer Bil’am who could see the future and cast spells or curses, and then later on it indicated a Prophet who was not so much a person who held special knowledge or could see the future.
Used in the context of 1st Samuel 9 the meaning is more like a seer who had a supernatural ability to know things or perhaps even see the future, apparently a gift given to him by God.
Saul agreed that a seer might be helpful; maybe he could tell them where to look for the lost donkeys. Since it was customary to pay for a seer’s services (that’s how a seer made his living) and Saul had no money or other valuables with him, he knew they couldn’t approach the seer empty handed (they’d just be turned away).
But the youth had a fourth of a shekel of silver of his own, and he offered it to his master Saul to use to pay for the seer. Saul changed his mind and rather than go home they ventured into the city in the territory of Zuph.
The city was built upon on a hilltop, a rather usual place for a city because it could be more easily defended. When they arrived, they stopped at the traditional place to ask for directions, the city well where the women gathered.
There they asked some girls if the seer was there, and the girls pointed the way. They also informed Saul and his companion that this seer was about to start sacrificing at the high place ( the bemah) where the altar was located, but that they needed to hurry as the ceremony was about to begin.
Now we start to see how divine providence is going to play its role; the two travelers arrive just in time for the feast that is going to be hosted by none other than Samuel! It turns out that Samuel is the seer they were seeking, but they didn’t know it.
In this era, Samuel was called a Prophet (a nabi). In fact, back in verse 9, the scriptural narrator explains that the term seer (ra’ah in Hebrew) was becoming outmoded and now the word Nabi (Prophet) was in use.
Samuel (being a transitional figure) was kind of a cross between a ra’ah and a Nabi (a seer and a Prophet). A Prophet was a man who received God’s Oracle and then pronounced it either to the people or the king, depending on God’s instructions to him.
Usually what a Prophet knew of the future was merely part of an overall message from God. A seer, on the other hand, was a professional holy man. People would come to him and ask him questions (such as the whereabouts of something he lost, or how an individual event might turn out, etc.) and often the seer could provide the answer (for a fee, of course).
Anyway, this was a particular kind of sacrificial and feast gathering whereby there would be honored guests, and after the sacrifice, the sacrificed animal would be eaten.
Here is where our Torah knowledge comes into play. The term “sacrifice” as used in verse 13 where it speaks of the seer, Samuel, blessing the sacrifice is not wrong per se, but it misses an important nuance.
The word used is Zevah, and Zevah is a particular kind of sacrifice. It is the kind that is a voluntary sacrifice, as employed when making a vow or giving thanks to God because of some good fortune.
It is also the kind whereby the worshipper gets the bulk of the meat from the sacrifice, as opposed to all the other kinds of sacrifices whereby the priests get to keep the remainder that isn’t burned up on the altar.
Therefore it is appropriate that the Zevah sacrificial animal or animals would become the central meat dish for this sacrifice and banquet for the several dignitaries that were present.
Saul and his traveling companion walked up to the place of the feast, and there was Samuel! And this was all quite a surprise for Saul and must have had his mind spinning, but Samuel had been expecting him.
The day before Saul had come seeking a person to help him find his father’s donkeys, the Lord told Samuel that the next day (the day Saul arrived) that he would send him a man from the tribe of Benjamin and this was to be God’s choice for Israel’s first king. God told Samuel that this Benjamite was to be anointed the Nagid.
Now, this is an interesting choice of words since Melech is Hebrew for a king. Nagid means prince or chief or captain. So is there a problem here? Some think there is, but a little digging into history provides the solution.
As it turns out, the term nagid was a common one that indicated the king in waiting. In other words, it referred to the man who was officially designated as the next king but hadn’t yet been coronated.
So there is no conflict; Saul was the king-designate (the nagid) until the day he was anointed king and enthroned at which point he became Melech (king).
Verse 16 also gives us an interesting tidbit of information: the trouble with the Philistines was beginning to crop up again, and Saul would be the one to deal with it.
So what we see here is that while peace with the Philistines was still in place while Samuel was judging, there was some saber rattling beginning to occur. Samuel was getting old, the tribal and clan leaders were losing confidence in him, and tension between Israel and the Philistines was building.
One cannot help but wonder if it was perhaps this growing threat of a rejuvenated Philistia coupled with the less-than-vibrant leadership of the old Samuel that was the trigger that sent some anxious Israelite tribal delegates to confront Samuel and seek his replacement with a strong, younger, and charismatic king.
There was very likely growing doubts among the 12 tribes that Samuel was no longer capable of leading Israel to defend against formidable enemies.
Nor did he have the energy and influence to call for the tribes to send a militia of troops to fight, and that a professionally trained national army led by a warrior king was perhaps the best possible preparation for what seemed like inevitable war with the Philistines, which would occur in a matter of time.
When Samuel laid eyes on Saul, the Lord verified that this is indeed the chosen one. Now interestingly Saul didn’t seem to know who Samuel was; at least he didn’t know what he looked like because Saul walked up to Samuel and asked him if he knew where the seer was staying. When Samuel identified himself as the seer, he also invited Saul to sit with him at the banquet table.
And then the next morning he’d tell Saul what he hoped to find out (the location of his father’s lost donkeys). Where the Complete Jewish Bible and most bibles say that Samuel will tell Saul “what is on his heart,” this is not at all meant to convey how it sounds to us, Westerners.
And this is not a troubled Saul who will have his inmost feelings exposed. Rather remember that in the bible the function of the heart is what we today know is the brain. Samuel was saying (in modern terms) that he’d tell Saul what was on his MIND. And what was on Saul’s mind was finding those donkeys so he could go home.
So when Samuel tells Saul to stop worrying about the donkeys that they’ve been found, it is done is a dismissive kind of way. Saul was about to have much weightier things to deal with than a handful of scattered donkeys.
Then Samuel breaks the news to Saul by asking him rhetorically “who is it that all of Israel is longing for. Isn’t it you and your father’s household?”
While that may be a very cryptic comment to us, Saul instantly knew what Samuel was suggesting. Every person in Israel knew the answer to “Who is it that all of Israel is longing for?”: it’s a king they are longing for.
Saul offers a stunned reply that also embraces typical Middle Eastern grace and humility. He says that he’s only a man from Benjamin (one of the smaller tribes), and further, his family is one of the least important.
From a tribal standpoint, Saul’s clan is indeed the ruling group of Benjamin, but his family is but one of many who forms this tribe and at least in Saul’s mind it was not at all the most influential of the clan’s families.
The banquet was about to begin. It was taking place inside some structure built for this purpose. Samuel led Saul into the dining area and put him at the table reserved for the most notable guests (of which 30 were identified as special guests of honor that would sit with Samuel). Samuel ordered the cook to serve Saul the thigh and shoulder (some translations will say “leg”). It doesn’t matter; these are all attempting to get across that this was a perfect choice cut and the one to whom it was served was being shown the greatest honor.
The right thigh and leg were reserved for the priests, so it was certainly the left thigh and leg given to Saul. Samuel even makes it clear that this was reserved for Saul before Samuel even knew who it was that would receive it.
And even that it would be offered in front of this roomful of dignitaries was to serve a divine purpose of announcing that this man was to be Israel’s king.
After the festivities, Samuel and Saul walked down to the city and went up to a rooftop to talk. No doubt Samuel was speaking to Saul of the great things that would be expected of him, and of the corrupt state of the people of Israel that Saul was now duty bound to remedy.
The next morning Samuel woke Saul and told him it was time to go. But first, something important had to be discussed, and so Samuel told Saul to send his servant on ahead so they could speak in private.
Saul was about to be told what it was that God said was to be done. And Samuel would assume the role of God’s Prophet who would be the one to deliver the Lord’s history changing ruling to the first king of Israel.