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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

1 Samuel 9

Verse 1


"There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth; and he had a son whose name was Saul, 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."

The appearance of this genealogy at this point in the narrative is the clear signal that Saul the son of Kish was God's choice to be the king of Israel.

What a marvel is this! God used a search for lost donkeys to bring the Divine designate face-to-face with the prophet Samuel even BEFORE Samuel had ever met him. The narrative here is very skillfully presented.

Three valid reasons why the heavenly choice fell upon Saul are discernible, as pointed out by Philbeck.[1] (1) Saul came from a very wealthy and powerful family; (2) the tribe of Benjamin was centrally located between the rival tribes of Judah and Benjamin and thus strategically located to achieve the unity of the northern and southern tribes. (3) Furthermore, Saul certainly looked like a king. His being head and shoulders taller than the rest of the people is mentioned again in 1 Samuel 10:23.

"A king chosen from either Judah or Ephraim, the two largest tribes, would have aroused the bitterest feelings in the other."[2]

Students who are particularly interested in genealogies will discern that the genealogies of Saul as given here and in 1Chr. 8:33,1 Chronicles 9:39 do not agree, and Willis has a thorough discussion of this.[3] The variations are meaningless, because the Hebrew word for father also means grandfather, or simply ancestor. For example, Jesus Christ is called the son of David the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1). Thus, there are all kinds of skips in genealogical tables.

The allegations of some critics that we have different sources for this narrative, "rest upon no tenable ground";[4] and we shall omit any discussion of them.

A handsome young man (1 Samuel 9:2) "The word in Hebrew rendered `young man' means a man in the prime of life. Saul was not a teenager, for he had a son (Jonathan) at the time of this narrative."[5]

Verse 3


"Now the asses of Kish, Saul's father, were lost. So Kish said to Saul his son, "Take one of the servants with you, and arise, go and look for the asses." And they passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. And they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then they passed through the land of Benjamin, but did not find them."

There are a great many "chances" or "accidents," as we might call them, in this narrative, but none of them could be anything other than the providential intervention of God in human affairs in order to achieve the divine purpose. The straying away of Kish's donkeys, Saul's futile search for them, and his "accidental" arrival at the city where Samuel was - who can believe that any of these occurrences was "by chance"?

"Shalishah ... and Shaalim" (1 Samuel 9:4). "These names are unknown";[6] and it is impossible to trace exactly the course of Saul's journey hunting for the lost animals.

Verse 5


"When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant who was with him, "Come, let us go back, lest my father cease to care about the asses and become anxious about us." But he said to him, "Behold, there is a man of God in this city, and he is a man that is held in honor; all that he says comes true. Let us go there; perhaps he can tell us about the journey on which we have set out." Then Saul said to his servant, "But if we go, what can we bring the man? For the bread in our sacks is gone, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What have we"? The servant answered Saul again, "Here I have with me the fourth part of a shekel of silver, and I will give it to the man of God, to tell us our way." (Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he said, "Come, let us go to the seer"; for he who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer). And Saul said to his servant, "Well said; come, let us go." So they went to the city where the man of God was."

"When they came to the land of Zuph" (1 Samuel 9:5). "This was the territory in which Ramah was located."[7] It is assumed by most commentators that Samuel's home town of Ramah was the city to which Saul and his servant came on this journey; however, Keil denied this, pointing out that the text nowhere mentions `Ramah,' also writing that, "What town it really was cannot be determined."[8] Keil based his opinion upon the failure of the text specifically to mention the town's name; but Payne gives an adequate reason for that omission. He stressed the artistry of the narrator here and stated that, "The name `Ramah' was deliberately avoided, because the narrator did not wish to give it away too soon that a meeting with Samuel was about to take place."[9]

"All that he says comes true" (1 Samuel 9:6). "This was one of the two tests of a true prophet; the other was that the teaching of the prophet must be in keeping with the faith of Israel (Deuteronomy 18:21-22; 13:1-3)."[10]

"The fourth part of a shekel of silver" (1 Samuel 9:8). The silver shekels were sometimes cut into halves or quarters; and a quarter of this coin, much more valuable then than now, "Weighed approximately 2.5 grams, or one-tenth of an ounce,"[11] of pure silver.

"He who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer" (1 Samuel 9:9). This has nothing whatever to do with a late date for this narrative, because 1 Samuel 9:9 is freely admitted by all scholars to be a gloss, once a marginal comment that was accidentally included in the text. "The word `prophet' is the older and established word from the beginning of the O.T. to the end of it."[12]

Some writers have marveled that Saul's servant knew that a `man of God' was available in that city, whereas Saul seemed to be totally ignorant of it. This is easily explained. Saul and his servant were searching for lost animals, and there is no way that they would have remained side by side walking together in such a search. They would have separated in order to cover more area in their search.

Evidently, the servant had already encountered some of the citizens of that town (very probably Ramah), who had told him of Samuel's recent arrival in Ramah. He could hardly have known of `a man of God's' being there unless that had indeed happened. Of course, Saul did not know that, so his servant told him. It is amazing how often writers forget the abbreviated nature of such narratives as this.

Verse 11


"As they went up the hill to the city, they met young maidens coming out to draw water, and said to them, "Is the seer here"? They answered, "He is; behold he is just ahead of you. Make haste; he has come just now to the city, because the people have a sacrifice today on the high place. As soon as you enter the city, you will find him, before he goes up to the high place to eat; for the people will not eat till he comes, since he must bless the sacrifice; afterward those eat who are invited. Now go up, for you will meet him immediately." So they went up to the city. As they were entering the city, they saw Samuel coming out toward them on his way up to the high place."

"Maidens coming out to draw water" (1 Samuel 9:11). It was the custom in cities of that day that the young women supplied the various households with water from a common source. Jacob met Rachel when she was performing such a task (Genesis 24:15).

"He must bless the sacrifice" (1 Samuel 9:13). "Such a blessing of the food at mealtime is not mentioned elsewhere in the O.T. The priestly blessing of the meal is seen in the Qumran literature and in the Lord's Supper."[13]

In this connection, Willis pointed out that, "To bless the sacrifice is the same as giving thanks for it, because Luke 9:16 says, `Jesus blessed the loaves and fishes,' and John 6:11 says that, `He gave thanks for them.'"[14]

Verse 15


"Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed to Samuel: "Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the tribe 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 the afflictions of my people, because their cry has come to me. When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, "Here is the man of whom I spoke to you! He it is who shall rule over my people."

So there was nothing whatever "accidental" about Saul's arrival before Samuel. The providence of God foretold it and then brought it to pass.

"The Lord told Samuel" (1 Samuel 9:15). God, having created the universe and everything within it, might have communicated this information to Samuel in several different ways; but exactly how he did so is not revealed. As DeHoff said, "In view of the fact that men have almost unlimited means of communication, it is a little ridiculous for critics to argue about how God communicated with Samuel."[15]

"The Lord revealed to Samuel" (1 Samuel 9:15). "The Hebrew words from which this statement comes is literally, had uncovered his ear, a figure of speech said to be derived from the practice of one's pushing aside another's hair or the corner of his turban to whisper something in his ear."[16]

"And he shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines" (1 Samuel 9:16). H. P. Smith wrote that, "This sentence is a direct contradiction of 1 Samuel 7:11ff";[17] but such an error should be rejected. (See our comment on 1 Samuel 7:11ff, above.)

"Anoint him to be prince over my people Israel" (1 Samuel 9:16). The word `prince' as used here has the same meaning as `king.'

Verse 18


"Then Saul approached Samuel in the gate, and said, "Tell me where is the house of the seer"? Samuel answered Saul, "I am the seer; go up before me to the high place, for today you shall eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is on your mind. As for your asses that 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 all your father's house"? Saul answered, "Am I not a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel? And is not my family the humblest of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then have you spoken to me in this way"?"

"Go up before me to the high place" (1 Samuel 9:19). This was Samuel's way of showing respect and honor to Saul.

"All that is on your mind" (1 Samuel 9:19). This indicates that Saul might have been contemplating the deplorable state of the people of Israel and pondering the possibility of his being able to do something about it. Certainly, he had something on his mind except finding the lost donkeys.

"And for whom is all that is desirable in Israel" (1 Samuel 9:20). Porter commented that Saul's immediate disclaimer of any worthiness and his stressing the small size of the tribe of Benjamin and the relative insignificance of his father's house have the meaning that, "Saul evidently understood this as a promise of the kingship."[18] It will be recalled that Gideon also made similar remarks to the Angel of Jehovah (Judges 6:15).

Verse 22


"Then Samuel took Saul and his servant and brought them into the hall and gave them a place at the head of those who had been invited, who were about thirty persons. And Samuel said to the cook, "Bring the portion which I gave you, of which I told you, `Put it aside.'" So the cook took up the leg and the upper portion and set them before Saul; and Samuel said, `See, what was kept is set before you. Eat, for it was kept for you until the hour appointed, that you might eat with the guests.'"

The portion of meat reserved for Saul was the shoulder, which was usually the priests portion of the sacrifice, and the meaning of this might be either one of two things: (1) Samuel, to whom the shoulder properly belonged, gave it to Saul as a compliment; or (2) there was a symbolical meaning that Saul would have some kind of superiority over the priests of Israel in the future. It seems to this writer that the first of these is the more probable.

Verse 25


"So Saul ate with Samuel that day. And when they came down from the high place into the city, a bed was spread for Saul upon the roof, and he lay down to sleep. Then at the break of dawn Samuel called to Saul upon the roof, `Up, that I may send you on your way.' So Saul arose, and both he and Samuel went out into the street. As 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.'"

The anointing of Saul would take place on the next day, and this is covered in the next chapter.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 9". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.