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SECTION 1. The Birth, Rise, Prophetic Ministry And Judgeship of Samuel (1-12).
This first section of the book covers the life of Samuel from his birth to the setting up of Saul as king in response to the people’s request. The first three chapters deal with the birth and spiritual growth of Samuel. This is then followed in chapter 4 by the Philistine invasion in which the Ark of YHWH of hosts is lost to Israel, something which takes place while Samuel is still a youth. That loss indicates YHWH’s demonstration of the fact that He no longer sees Himself as king over an Israel that has forsaken Him. However, He then goes on to demonstrate His authority over the gods of the Philistines by bringing disaster on them, so that His Ark is restored to Israel by the Philistines, who also pay Him generous tribute. The Ark is then placed with due honour (after a previous unfortunate incident) in the house of Abinadab where it will remain for many years. It is a recognised symbol that YHWH is still present as King over His people, and will therefore, once they turn back to Him, act on their behalf through His appointed deliverers.
This will firstly be through Samuel in this section, then through Saul before he is finally rejected, in the next section, and then through the young David in the final section, until he is outlawed and then exiled as a result of Saul’s activities. As a result of his exile there will be a lull, and the Philistines triumph. But in the second part of the book David will become the Spirit inspired king, the Philistines will be defeated, and then the Ark will be restored for public worship, having been ‘purified’ by its period spent in the house of Abinadab. The Kingship of YHWH has triumphed.
C). The Judgeship of Samuel At The End Of Which The People Seek And Are Granted A Human King (7:15-12:25).
In this subsection from 7:15-12:25 the writer describes the desire of the people for a king and the way in which that king is appointed. Such an appointment would inevitably be a tricky one in Israel, for Israel was comprised of a number of semi-independent tribes, each of which was jealous for its own position, with Judah and Ephraim, the two largest, being especially protective about their rights. And yet someone had to be found who once appointed would have the support of them all. Furthermore, on top of this, Samuel would want to ensure that whoever was appointed was YHWH’s choice.
Samuel clearly recognised the dangers and therefore waited on YHWH’s guidance, and it is the reconciling of these different problems that explains the slow process towards the appointment of the king, a process which in fact went as follows:
1). Samuel waits and prays for YHWH to indicate the right man for the position. When YHWH brings that man to him he must have been relieved to discover that the man was a Benjaminite. They were only a small tribe (which would serve to prevent tribal jealousy among the larger tribes) and were famed for their warlike ability. So he first interviews him, and then secretly anoints him with oil as YHWH’s chosen appointee. The man’s name is Saul. This satisfies Samuel that he has found the right man (1 Samuel 9:1 to 1 Samuel 10:1).
2). He subsequently arranges for Saul to prophesy among the prophets indicating both to him and to others his suitability as a man of God, and that he is acceptable YHWH. This will serve to satisfy the righteous in Israel, and the prophets themselves, who seemingly had an important part to play in the running of affairs. They too are now satisfied that this is their man (1 Samuel 10:5-13).
3). The next step is to have him accepted in the eyes of popular opinion. So Samuel arranges for the assembly of the tribes of Israel to be called together and in view of the fact that there was no precedent for choosing a king, choice is then made by sacred lot in the sight of all. As expected by Samuel the lot falls on Saul. This method of choice by sacred lot was an accepted one in Israel and was seen as revealing the mind of YHWH. We can compare its use under different circumstances in Joshua 7:16-18. In view of the fact that the choice by sacred lot was seen as publicly revealing the mind of YHWH, was carried out before their eyes, and was accepted as a standard way of making such decisions in Israel, it would be enough to satisfy the people that Saul was their man. Thus this would satisfy the common people (1 Samuel 10:17-24).
However, there was inevitably some dissension, from some ‘worthless men’ who did not see how this upstart from a small tribe could ‘save Israel’. Nevertheless the vast majority were with Saul, and preparations would begin for having him officially enthroned and acclaimed in accordance with practise elsewhere.
4). Meanwhile an Ammonite invasion across the Jordan in Transjordan provides an opportunity for Saul to prove his suitability by gaining a victory over the invading Ammonites. This quells the dissension and makes him acceptable to all (1 Samuel 11:1-13).
5). Having been fully established as the right candidate Saul is then acclaimed as king at Gilgal before YHWH (1 Samuel 11:14-15).
6). Samuel resigns his judgeship and YHWH expresses His anger at the people’s decision with a storm at harvest time (1 Samuel 12:1-25).
By these means the acceptability of Saul as king was established, both among the prophets and throughout all the tribes. This would ensure that there would only be minimal dissension in the future, because Saul was now seen as ‘YHWH’s anointed’. All recognised that Samuel had selected him, that YHWH was pleased with him, that the lot had confirmed his acceptability to God, that he had proved himself a suitable war-leader (a most necessary qualification in those days), and that he had been finally and officially crowned and acclaimed.
The whole subsection may be analysed as follows:
a Samuel judges Israel faithfully and well (1 Samuel 7:15-17).
b Samuel’s sons prove unworthy and the people call for a King (1 Samuel 8:1-6).
c The manner of the King that they will receive (1 Samuel 8:7-22).
d Saul is brought to Samuel by God and is revealed and greeted by him as the new king (1 Samuel 9:1-21).
e Saul is feasted and then secretly anointed, and learns that the asses have been found (1 Samuel 9:22 to 1 Samuel 10:2).
f The signs of Saul’s acceptance and his coming enduing with the Spirit of YHWH (1 Samuel 10:3-7).
g Saul is to go to Gilgal and wait seven days for Samuel to come in order to offer offerings and sacrifices and to show him what he is to do (1 Samuel 10:8).
f The promised signs are fulfilled and the Spirit of YHWH comes on Saul (1 Samuel 10:9-13).
e Saul returns to his uncle and informs him that Samuel had told him that the asses had been found, but maintains the secret of the kingship (10:14-16).
d Saul is brought before the people, revealed as their king by lot and greeted by them as the king (1 Samuel 10:17-24).
c Samuel records ‘the manner of the kingship’ and writes it in a book (1 Samuel 10:25-27).
b YHWH delivers His people from the Ammonites through Saul and the kingship is finally confirmed at Gilgal (1 Samuel 11:1-15).
a Samuel hands back the judgeship to the people and charges the people to be faithful to YHWH (1 Samuel 12:1-25).
Saul Is Brought To Samuel By God And Is revealed And Greeted By Him As The New King (1 Samuel 9:1-21 ).
We are not told how long after the previous chapter this incident occurs, but it was clearly long enough for the Philistines to have again invaded the land and to have established a garrison there (1 Samuel 10:5). They had probably heard of what they saw as a rift between the people and the ageing Samuel whom they knew to have been aided by the dreaded YHWH, and saw it as their opportunity to regain lost ground.
In view of the attitude of the people towards YHWH, the hand of YHWH (1 Samuel 7:13) had clearly been withdrawn. YHWH was no longer ‘with them’. They had wanted a king. They would now have to depend on their king. It would be up to him to keep them safe.
The author, however, takes great care to make clear to us that He has not forsaken them altogether. Saul is to be appointed under the express guidance of YHWH, and it is specifically with defence against a recent incursion by the Philistines in mind (1 Samuel 9:16). It is because in spite of their attitude He has heard their cry. And the purpose of the detailed introduction is in order to indicate what a fine ‘young man’ God’s appointee is. Outwardly at least Saul is an ideal choice.
The seeking of missing animals was always an arduous task, but Saul is seen to have set about it willingly, and to have pursued the matter to the end. He reveals that he cares for his father’s asses. We can compare with this David’s concern for his sheep in the matter of the lion and bear (1 Samuel 17:34). Both candidates were thus seen to be dedicated carers of their animals, and as such, good candidates for kingship. Furthermore he is revealed as having consideration for his father’s feelings. He is clearly a man of integrity and honour.
From the subsequent history we are probably intended to gather that YHWH’s original purpose had been to introduce kingship in David. But the disobedience of the Israelites had forestalled His plan. This helps to explain why He provided them with Saul, a man who was outwardly a good choice, but was finally a disaster. Certainly outwardly they could have had no complaint. Humanly speaking at least the choice was a good one, and to begin with Saul unquestionably behaved in an exemplary fashion and was a great success (1 Samuel 14:47-48). But as with the people the problem would finally lay with his disobedience. They had wanted a king like all the nations, and that was precisely what they got. He had all the qualities, both good and bad, that such a king would have. Thus both Saul and the people are to be allowed to suffer together as a consequence of their joint disobedience, while at the same time the people are learning a lesson about what having a bad king means, and David is being prepared for his future role as God’s chosen king. In Saul God is bringing together all the strands of justice and mercy.
If we ask why God gave them a man like Saul who would become what he became we have to remember that it was not within a plan of His choosing. The people had rejected His methods. Now He had to provide for them from the material that was available. For what Saul became was not inevitable. It resulted from the pathway that he chose to follow.
So we should note that in both cases each chose their own path. In neither case did YHWH interfere to make things go the way that they did. He did not have to. He knew that He could trust the human heart to do that for Him. Certainly, however, we are to see in it that YHWH was sovereign over all, and that He had a lesson for His people to learn, and that lesson was that without God even the one who seemed most outwardly suitable would let them down in the end. They should have been patient and have waited for YHWH to act.
a Now there was a man of Benjamin, whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah, the son of a Benjaminite, a mighty warrior (man of valour or wealth) (1 Samuel 9:1).
b And he had a son, whose name was Saul, a young man and well-fashioned (goodly), and there was not among the children of Israel a sturdier (goodlier) person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people (1 Samuel 9:2).
c And the asses of Kish, Saul’s father, were lost. And Kish said to Saul his son, “Take now one of the servants with you, and arise, go seek the asses.” And he passed through the hill-country of Ephraim, and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they found them not, then they passed through the land of Shaalim, and there they were not, and he passed through the land of the Benjaminites, but they found them not. When they were come to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant that was with him, “Come, and let us return, lest my father leave off caring for the asses, and be anxious for us” (1 Samuel 9:3-5).
d And he said unto him, “Behold now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is a man who is held in honour, all that he says always comes about. Now let us go there, there. Perhaps he can give us information concerning the journey on which we go.” Then Saul said to his servant, “But, look, if we go, what shall we bring the man? For the bread is spent in our vessels, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. what have we got?” And the servant answered Saul again, and said, “See, I have in my hand the fourth part of a shekel of silver. I will give that to the man of God, to tell us the way that we should take.” (Previously in Israel, when a man went to enquire of God, thus he said, “Come, and let us go to the seer,” for he who is now called a Prophet was previously called a Seer). Then Saul said to his servant, “Well said. Come, let us go.” So they went to the city where the man of God was (1 Samuel 9:6-10).
e As they went up the ascent to the city, they found young unmarried women going out to draw water, and said to them, “Is the seer here?” And they answered them, and said, “He is. Behold, he is before you. Hurry now, for he is today come into the city, for the people have a sacrifice today in the high place. As soon as you are come into the city, you will immediately find him, before he goes up to the high place to eat, for the people will not eat until he come, because he blesses the sacrifice. Afterwards those who are bidden eat. Now therefore get yourselves up there, for at this time you will find him.” And they went up to the city, and as they came within the city, behold, Samuel came out towards them, to go up to the high place (1 Samuel 9:11-14).
f Now YHWH had revealed to Samuel a day before Saul came, saying, “Tomorrow about this time I will send you a man out of the land of Benjamin” (1 Samuel 9:15).
g “And you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel; and he will save my people out of the hand of the Philistines, for I have looked on my people, because their cry is come to me” (1 Samuel 9:16).
f And when Samuel saw Saul, “YHWH said to him, “Look, the man of whom I spoke to you! this same will have authority over my people” (1 Samuel 9:17).
e Then Saul drew near to Samuel in the gate, and said, “Tell me, I pray you, where the seer’s house is” (1 Samuel 9:18)
d And Samuel answered Saul, and said, “I am the seer. Go up before me to the high place, for you will eat with me today, and in the morning I will let you go, and will tell you all that is in your heart” (1 Samuel 9:19).
c “And as for your asses which were lost three days ago, do not set your mind on them, for they are found. And for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you, and for all your father’s house?” (1 Samuel 9:20).
b And Saul answered and said, “Am not I a Benjaminite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel?” (1 Samuel 9:21 a).
a “And my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak to me in this way?” (1 Samuel 9:21 b).
Note that in ‘a’ we are given Saul’s family tree and in the parallel Saul emphasises its unimportance (with typical Near Eastern humility). In ‘b’ Saul is the son of a Benjaminite and is tallest among Israelites, and in the parallel he argues that the tribe of Benjamin is the smallest in Israel. In ‘c’ the asses are lost and Saul goes to seek them, and in the parallel the asses are found. In ‘d’ they venture to approach the seer, and in the parallel they discover the seer. In ‘e’ they enquire after the seer and are told that they will find him as soon as they enter the city, and in the parallel they enquire after the seer as soon as they are in the city and discover that they have found him. In ‘f’ YHWH had said that on the morrow he would send a man to Samuel, and in the parallel says, ‘This is the man’. Centrally in ‘g’ the man is to be anointed as war-leader over Israel to save them from the Philistines because He has heard His people’s cry.
The Man Chosen To Be King (1 Samuel 9:1-2 ).
1 Samuel 9:1
‘ Now there was a man of Benjamin, whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah, the son of a Benjaminite, a mighty warrior (man of valour).’
We note that as with Samuel in 1:1 we are first introduced to his father. We learn that Saul’s father was of sound lineage and had been a great warrior. Just the kind of man who would produce a worthy war-leader. The Hebrew could also mean a ‘wealthy man’ as well as ‘a great warrior’, and he was that as well, but in the light of the context ‘great warrior’ seems to be the more important emphasis. We might, however, accept both and paraphrase as ‘a successful man both in war and in wealth’. The contrast with Elkanah and Hannah is significant. What had made them stand out was their godliness and piety. What made Saul’s father stand out was his military prowess and his wealth. There is in this a hint of what was to come.
1 Samuel 9:2
‘And he had a son, whose name was Saul, a young man and well-fashioned (goodly), and there was not among the children of Israel a better built (goodlier) person than he. From his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.’
This worthy man had a son whose name was Saul. He was a stout young man, well built, and towering above his contemporaries, and among the children of Israel there was ‘none better’. At least in appearance and build it was clear that he would make an ideal king.
A question that does arise here is as to how old Saul was at this time. The answer is probably that he was nineteen (see below), or possibly in his early twenties. This is suggested by a number of factors:
1). If his reign lasted roughly forty years (Acts 13:21) it would mean that if he was nineteen when he commenced he was still fighting Philistines in his late fifties (1 Samuel 31:1-7). That is feasible. Anything older than that would not fit in with the picture that we have there.
2). He had a number of sons, one of whom was Jonathan (compare1 Samuel 14:49; 1 Samuel 14:49) who must have died at around forty years of age, at which point David was around thirty (2 Samuel 5:4). This would tie in with the fact that Saul’s fourth son Ishbaal (Ishbosheth) died at roughly 42 years of age (2 Samuel 2:10), which would mean that he was approximately 35 years of age when Saul died. (Note. In the early days the use of ‘baal’ which means ‘lord’ was used in names in order to indicate YHWH. Later writers changed it to ‘bosheth’ which means ‘shame’ because it was connected with the Canaanite god Baal)
3). Jonathan had a son who was five years old when he died (2 Samuel 4:4). His name was Meribaal (Mephibosheth). 1 Chronicles 8:34; 1 Chronicles 9:40 seem to suggest that Meribaal was his only son. This might therefore suggest that Jonathan was even younger than forty when he died.
4). The writer tells us that Saul was ‘one year old’ when he became king. In ancient terminology that would translate as not yet quite having reached maturity (see introduction to 1 Samuel 13:0). This would indicate that Saul was fairly young when he became king, possibly less than twenty years old (the age at which an Israelite became liable for conscription). See Exodus 38:26; Leviticus 27:3; Leviticus 27:5; Numbers 1:3 ff; Numbers 14:29; Numbers 26:2). Reigning for ‘two years’ would on the same basis suggest that he did not reach the ‘third age’, which would be 60. The practise continued through the ages and in the last century anthropologists cite the case of an old man in Malacca who when asked his age proudly stated that he was ‘three years old’. What he meant was that he was in the third stage of life.
The Quest For The Asses (1 Samuel 9:3-5 ).
The quest for the asses, and its consequence in Saul and his servant meeting up with Samuel, seems to describe just an everyday incident, but it is in fact made quite clear that their movements were guided by God in commencing the process of Saul’s appointment as war-leader (nagid).
1 Samuel 9:3
‘ And the asses of Kish, Saul’s father, were lost. And Kish said to Saul his son, “Take now one of the servants with you, and arise, go seek the asses.” ’
Saul is depicted as being obedient to his father and as caring of his animals, so that when some she-asses were lost his father had no hesitation in sending him after them. He was clearly a man to be admired and respected. In the Ancient Near East asses were seen as very valuable animals, which along with the family having servants, serves to bring out that Saul’s father was a rich man.
1 Samuel 9:4
‘ And he passed through the hill-country of Ephraim, and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. Then they passed through the land of Shaalim, and they were not there. And he passed through the land of the Benjaminites, but they did not find them.’
The diligence of Saul comes out here. He did not give up at the first hurdle, but persevered in his quest. First he went through the hill-country of Ephraim, then through the region of Shalishah (see 2 Kings 4:42), then through the region of Shaalim, and then through the land of the tribe of Benjamin. Note the initial ‘he’ which turns to ‘they’. The initial emphasis is on Saul. We are intended to gain respect for him in everything that he does. We are to see that this man will make a king indeed.
1 Samuel 9:5
‘ When they had come to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant who was with him, “Come, and let us return, lest my father cease worrying about the asses, and be anxious for us.” ’
However, by the time that they arrived in the land of Zuph Saul recognised that his father might shortly begin to worry about them. So he suggested to the servant that it was time that they returned home. Another of his attributes is added to the list. He is revealed as a considerate, caring and thoughtful young man. Nothing appears to be missing in his make-up. He is seen as a son to be proud of.
They Go To Seek Help From The Prophet Whom The Servant Knows About (1 Samuel 9:6-13 ).
1 Samuel 9:6
‘ And he said to him, “Look now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is a man who is held in honour. All that he says always comes about. Now let us go there. Perhaps he can give us information concerning our journey on which we are bent.”
Meanwhile the servant had had a God given inspiration. He was aware that in the city close by was a man of God who had an amazing reputation, a man held in honour by all. He may possibly have just gained the information about Samuel’s presence from a passing traveller, for we are not told which city this was. It may not have been Ramah, and the indications are that it was not, otherwise why does the writer not mention it and why does he avoid saying that he dwelt there. The anonymity may suggest that the writer did not in fact know which city it was.
Indeed, the servant pointed out, he was such a man that all that he forecast always came about (compare 1 Samuel 3:19). Surely then if they went to see him he would be able to aid them in their quest.
The fact that Saul seemed to be unaware of Samuel’s reputation is not really surprising. It has made some argue that the writer is depicting a small time seer of only local fame. But that idea is not in line with the servant’s description, (the servant clearly had a very high regard for Samuel) and it is quite likely that if Saul was still a youth working hard on his father’s estate he would not have had any reason for gaining much knowledge about Samuel, or about where he lived. After all Samuel was by now at the end of his long career and his main exploits had happened a long time before. He was no longer the latest thing on everyone’s lips. There was therefore no reason why Saul should have any detailed knowledge about him.
1 Samuel 9:7
‘ Then said Saul to his servant, “But, see, if we go, what shall we bring the man? For the bread is spent in our containers, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What have we got?” ’
It was recognised that prophets were always open for people to visit them. It was seen as an essential part of their ministry to be ever open to the people of God who sought them out, whether for large reasons or small. Thus there was no problem about going to see him. Saul, however, foresaw a problem. They had nothing to take him as a gift. The idea of the giving of presents to prophets is well evidenced (1 Kings 14:3; 2 Kings 5:15 ff; 2 Kings 8:8-9). It was seen as a courteous thing to do, and Saul had been well brought up.
1 Samuel 9:8
‘ And the servant answered Saul again, and said, “Look, I have in my hand the fourth part of a shekel of silver. I will give that to the man of God, to tell us the way that we should take.”
The servant had, however, thought of that. He pointed out that he had a fourth part of a shekel which he would give to the man of God in return for his help in guiding them.
1 Samuel 9:9
‘ (Previously in Israel, when a man went to enquire of God, thus he said, “Come, and let us go to the seer,” for he who is now called a Prophet was previously called a Seer).’
We have here an interesting note that explains the meaning of ‘seer’, stressing the ‘ancient’ nature of the source being used. It simply indicated the equivalent of a ‘prophet’. By the time that Solomon came to the throne the word ‘seer’ had fallen out of use. Apart from in this chapter it occurs only in 2 Samuel 15:27; Isaiah 30:10 and in Chronicles (whose writers liked to revive ancient words). It thus indicates that the final compilation took place during or after the reign of Solomon. The word for ‘prophet’ (nabi) is very ancient, being found in the Ebla tablets of 2300 BC in the form nabi’utum.
1 Samuel 9:10
‘ Then Saul said to his servant, “Well said. Come, let us go.” So they went to the city where the man of God was.’
Saul reveals his gratitude and confirms his agreement with his servant’s suggestion. So they both go together to the city where the man of God was.
1 Samuel 9:11
‘ As they went up the ascent to the city, they found young unmarried women going out to draw water, and said to them, “Is the seer here?”
On the way up to the city they come across a young unmarried woman who was going to draw water, accompanied by others, and they asked ‘them’ whether the seer was in town. The spring or well would be on the lower ground below the city. Cities were always built near a water source.
1 Samuel 9:12
‘ And they answered them, and said, “He is. Behold, he is before you. Hurry now, for he is today come into the city, for the people have a sacrifice today in the high place.” ’
“He is before you” may signify that all that they have to do to find him is go straight up, or may be an indication that he has arrived before them. The latter would then suggest that they saw the two travellers as having been invited to the celebrations but as being a little late. So they tell them to hurry, as the seer had already arrived and a sacrifice was to be offered that very day on the high place.
Ii is clear that in view of the lack of a Tabernacle and of a High Priest Samuel had made provision for the offering of offerings and sacrifices through himself, and possibly through other priests, at well known high places, of which one was to be found in Ramah (compare 1 Samuel 7:9; and note 1 Samuel 6:14; 1Sa 10:5 ; 1 Samuel 14:35; 1 Samuel 15:21), another in Mizpah (1 Samuel 7:5-9), and another in Gilgal 1 Samuel 13:7-11. It should, however, be noted that a high place was not necessarily on a hill top. High places could be erected in cities. It is because later they became syncretistic and associated with specifically Canaanite worship, that they were later so condemned. Once the Tabernacle was re-erected and the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH was restored, they became unnecessary, and even divisive.
1 Samuel 9:13
“ As soon as you are come into the city, you will immediately find him before he goes up to the high place to eat. For the people will not eat until he arrives, because he blesses the sacrifice. Afterwards those who are bidden eat. Now therefore get yourselves up there, for at this time you will find him.”
A feast for specially invited guests was being held in the city, and this necessarily involved the sacrificing of freewill and thanksgiving sacrifices from which the meat would come. It would appear that other priests would sacrifice the sacrifices but that Samuel would bless the sacrificial meal, at which point all would be able to eat. So if that was why they had come seeking the seer they would find him there and needed to hurry so as to be there in time for the sacrifices and blessing.
They Meet Samuel Who Is Informed By YHWH That This Is The Man Of His Choice To Be Permanent War-leader Of Israel (1 Samuel 9:14-17 ).
1 Samuel 9:14
‘ And they went up to the city, and as they came within the city, behold, Samuel came out toward them, to go up to the high place.’
So they continued up to the city, and on entering the gateway (1 Samuel 14:18) met up with Samuel, whom they did not recognise, coming towards them on the way to the high place, which was seemingly on a hill outside the city.
1 Samuel 9:15-16
‘ Now YHWH had revealed to Samuel a day before Saul came, saying, “ Tomorrow about this time I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you will anoint him to be prince (nagid) over my people Israel, and he will save my people out of the hand of the Philistines. For I have looked on my people, because their cry has come to me.”
We now learn that on the previous day YHWH had revealed the fact of Saul’s coming to Samuel, informing him that a Benjaminite would arrive whom he was immediately to anoint as war-leader (nagid) over His people Israel, in view of the recent Philistine invasion. It was he now who would save the people out of the hands of the Philistines, and was being provided immediately because YHWH had heard His people’s cry. We note that here he is to be anointed as war-leader and not king. It would yet be some time before he would be established as king (1 Samuel 11:15). YHWH was proving by this that if only they had trusted in Him He could have provided them with a suitable war-leader when necessary, one who would prove himself against Nahash, king of Ammon (1 Samuel 11:1-13). But in spite of this they would still insist on a king (1 Samuel 12:12).
1 Samuel 9:17
‘ And when Samuel saw Saul, YHWH said to him, “Look, the man of whom I spoke to you! This same will have authority over my people.” ’
So when Samuel saw Saul YHWH said to him, “look, here is the man of whom I spoke to you. He will be able to have authority over My people.” (There is at this stage no mention of him as king. The hope was that once they had seen Saul in action the people would withdraw their request for a king. Just as the hope had been that they would do so when they had heard what having a king would be like in 1 Samuel 8:11-20. God was giving them every opportunity to change their minds before it was too late).
To His Surprise Saul Is Treated As The Guest Of Honour At The Festival That Is Taking Place (1 Samuel 9:18-24 ).
1 Samuel 9:18
‘ Then Saul drew near to Samuel in the gate, and said, “Tell me, I pray you, where the seer’s house is.” ’
Meanwhile Saul, unconscious of all this, approaches the unknown man (whom we know as Samuel) in the gateway and asks him where the seer’s house is.
1 Samuel 9:19
‘ And Samuel answered Saul, and said, “I am the seer. Go up before me to the high place, for you shall eat with me today, and in the morning I will let you go, and will tell you all that is in your heart.” ’
To his pleasant surprise the unknown man reveals himself as Samuel, and he declares that he is the seer and that they must both precede him to the high place, where they will both eat with him that very day. This was possibly because it would be an act of courtesy to Samuel for them to arrive before him, something expected by all the other guests, or it may have been with the aim of emphasising Saul’s importance (something that Samuel will certainly do at the feast). Then in the morning he will let Saul go, once he has revealed to him what is in his (Saul’s) heart. It is not unlikely that such a powerful young man, son of a well known warrior, would have been dreaming about what he could do against the Philistines if only he got the chance. And it is that which Samuel wishes to speak to him about.
1 Samuel 9:20
“ And as for your asses which were lost three days ago, do not concern yourself about them for they have been found. And for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you, and for all your father’s house?”
Samuel then relieves his mind about his father’s asses, informing him that they have been found, thereby revealing to him Samuel’s own supernatural knowledge. And then he informs him that ‘all that is desirable in Israel’ is for Saul and for his father’s house. In other words because of the position that he will shortly hold he will no longer in the future have to worry about a few asses, because everything that is desirable in Israel will be his. He will be able to have his choice of anything. We are not, of course, expected to apply this too literally. Clearly he would be expected to choose sensibly and reveal discretion. It is rather a description of the superabundance that will now be available to him as compared with a few asses.
1 Samuel 9:21
‘ And Saul answered and said, “Am I not a Benjaminite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? And my family the least of all the families of the sub-tribes of Benjamin? Why then do you speak to me in this way?”
Saul is understandably confused. ‘Why are you saying these things to me?’ he asks. ‘I come from the smallest tribe in Israel, and my family is the least of all the tribes in Benjamin.’ In the chiasmus this is in parallel to the fact that he was the tallest man in Israel. So this is to be seen as typical Near Eastern modesty. In those days it was polite to deprecate yourself and your background. No one was expected to believe it. It is, of course, true that Benjamin was probably the smallest tribe in Israel after the battering that they had received in Judges 20-21, but they were fierce and experienced warriors. Saul’s words, however, are not intended to be taken literally. We can compare them with what Gideon said of himself in Judges 6:15, and in his case his father was a leading elder in the town. What he was modestly saying was that he was not really deserving of what Samuel is suggesting. He felt completely at a loss to understand what Samuel was getting at. And we can appreciate why he might be doubtful about the acceptance by the large tribes of a Benjaminite as war leader. (However, Ephraim would not have accepted a permanent war-leader from Judah, nor would Judah have accepted one from Ephraim. So actually a Benjaminite was a good choice. All recognised the warlike potential of Benjaminites. None were jealous of them).
Samuel Honours Saul At The Feast And Then Explains To Him Privately What It Is All About (1 Samuel 9:22-26 ).
To the astonishment of Saul and his servant they now found themselves as guests of honour at the sacrificial meal, were seated in the chiefest place, and received the honoured portion.
a And Samuel took Saul and his servant, and brought them into the guest-chamber, and made them sit in the chiefest place among those who were bidden, who were about thirty persons (1 Samuel 9:22).
b And Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the portion which I gave you, of which I said unto you, Set it by you.” And the cook took up the thigh, and what was on it, and set it before Saul (1 Samuel 9:23-24 a).
c And Samuel said, “Look, that which has been reserved! Set it before you and eat, because it been has kept for you until the appointed time, for I said, I have invited the people” (1 Samuel 9:24 b).
b So Saul ate with Samuel that day (1 Samuel 9:24 c).
a And when they were come down from the high place into the city, he conversed with Saul on the housetop. And they arose early, and it happened about the spring of the day, that Samuel called to Saul on the housetop, saying, “Up, that I may send you away.” And Saul arose, and they went out both of them, he and Samuel, from the house (literally ‘abroad, outside’) (1 Samuel 9:25-26).
Note that in ‘a’ Samuel takes Saul and his servant to the high place and into the guest chamber, and honours him, and in the parallel they leave the high place and Saul learns what it means before being sent away. In ‘b’ the special portion is set before Saul and in the parallel Saul eats with Samuel the prophet of YHWH indicating the special, bond between them. Centrally in ‘c’ the significance of the act is revealed.
1 Samuel 9:22
‘ And Samuel took Saul and his servant, and brought them into the guest-chamber, and made them sit in the chiefest place among those who were bidden, who were about thirty persons.’
Then Samuel led Saul and his servant into the guest-chamber at the Sanctuary, and gave them the highest place among all the guests. There were about thirty distinguished persons there (they would almost certainly have been distinguished in order to be invited into the special guest-chamber, and especially so as Samuel had invited them there to meet God’s appointee), and no doubt they were dressed in their finest. Saul and his servant must have felt a little uncomfortable, even though they would have groomed themselves ready to meet the seer. But this was no ordinary situation. Samuel’s aim was the presentation and exaltation and of Saul before important people.
1 Samuel 9:23
‘ And Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the portion which I gave you, of which I said unto you, Set it by you.” ’
Then Samuel sent to the cook for the special portion which he had specifically set aside for YHWH’s expected appointee. Saul was receiving royal treatment.
1 Samuel 9:24
‘ And the cook took up the thigh, and what was on it, and set it before Saul. And Samuel said, “Look, that which has been reserved! Set it before you and eat, because it been has kept for you until the appointed time, for I said, I have invited the people.” So Saul ate with Samuel that day.’
The thigh was the special portion reserved for the sacrificing priests and their guests (Leviticus 7:32). Thus to receive a portion of the thigh was a special honour. And this was set before Saul with the words, ‘Look, this has been reserved for you. Set it before you and eat.’ Then Samuel added, ‘It has been kept for you until the appointed time’. This was deliberately in order to bring out that this was Saul’s moment of destiny as determined by YHWH. It was not only for Saul’s sake but for the sake of the guests. Samuel knew that it was most important that the right impression be made among these important guests, for their support would be vital for Saul’s acceptance. We can, however, imagine how the young man’s head must have been spinning. A few hours before he had been on the trail of his father’s asses. Now here he was being feted as the guest of honour and prospective war-leader in the presence of some of the most important people in Israel.
“For I said, I have invited the people.” We should probably paraphrase this as meaning ‘since the time when I said, I have invited the people.’ The emphasis is on the fact that all this had been made ready beforehand from the very moment that Samuel had sent out the invitations to these important men in readiness for the one whom YHWH would send to them when he came at the appointed time.
“So Samuel ate with Saul that day.” To eat together was to indicate friendship and welcome. Thus by this Samuel is welcoming Saul into a special relationship with himself as the prophet of YHWH.
1 Samuel 9:25
‘ And when they were come down from the high place into the city, he conversed with Saul on the housetop.’
The meal over they returned from the high place to Samuel’s house, and once they were there Samuel took Saul onto the flat roof to talk with him. We must assume that there he revealed all that YHWH had said to him, and possibly a great deal more. No doubt he used his long experience to try and put Saul at ease about what was to be expected of him. It was a lot for the young man to take in. Verse 26 reveals that this was also where Saul would sleep. At certain times of the year it was preferable to sleeping inside, and as the honoured guest the privilege was given to Saul.
1 Samuel 9:26
‘And they arose early, and it happened about the spring of the day, that Samuel called to Saul on the housetop, saying, “Up, that I may send you away.” And Saul arose, and they went out both of them, he and Samuel, from the house (abroad).’
Rising early was common practise among busy men, and thus as the day dawned all would rise from their beds and prepare for the day. Then Samuel called up to Saul to prepare to leave for home, because it was now time that he returned. Then they both left the house together because Samuel still had something that he wanted to do which required privacy.
Samuel Anoints Saul With Oil As The One Who Has Been Set Apart By YHWH As Permanent War-Leader (Nagid) Of Israel (1 Samuel 9:27 to 1 Samuel 10:1 ).
1 Samuel 9:27
‘ As they were going down at the end of the city, Samuel said to Saul, “Bid the servant pass on before us (and he passed on), but you stand still first, that I may cause you to hear the word of God.” ’
When they reached the extremity of the city Samuel asked Saul to bid his servant to go on ahead. The servant would have been aware that something unusual was going on from the fact that they had been honoured guests at the feast) although he clearly did not know exactly what. But he must have recognised that some special honour was being conferred on Saul. However, the point was that Samuel wanted to have a private word with Saul so that he could communicate to him what God had determined.
1 Samuel 10:1
‘ Then Samuel took the vial of oil, and poured it on his head, and kissed him, and said, “Is it not that YHWH has anointed you to be war-leader over his inheritance?” ’
The servant having moved on ahead Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him. Pouring oil on the head of guests was quite usual, as was the kiss of greeting, although usually it would have been expected to happen before this. However, if the servant saw anything he would probably assume that it was simply a farewell nicety. But Samuel explains to Saul the significance of what he is doing. He is anointing him because YHWH has ‘anointed him as war-leader over His inheritance.’
The idea of anointing was of dedication to YHWH’s exclusive service. The person so anointed was made holy to YHWH (Leviticus 8:12). It would not necessarily include the idea of enduement. The priests were anointed but they received no special enduement of power. It was also the general practise in those days to anoint kings (Judges 9:8), probably also as an indication that they were directly in submission to their gods.
The kiss may have included the idea of submission to the new war-leader (Psalms 2:12), but it is probable in this case that it was rather a sign of his acceptance and welcome by God.
“Over His inheritance.” Compare Deuteronomy 4:20; Deuteronomy 9:26; etc. It was mainly the people who were His inheritance.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 9". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
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