A. Saul searches for his father’s donkeys.
1. (1-2) Kish, the father of Saul, and his son Saul.
There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bechorath, the son of Aphiah, a Benjamite, a mighty man of power. And he had a choice and handsome son whose name was Saul. There was not a more handsome person than he among the children of Israel. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.
a. A mighty man of power: Kish, the father of Saul, was a wealthy and influential man in Israel. Saul came from a prestigious family and was born to wealth and influence.
b. A choice and handsome young man: Saul was noted for both his family and his appearance. He was tall (taller than any of the people) and good-looking. In fact, there was not a more handsome person than he among the children of Israel. Saul looked like a great king. If being king over Israel was all about image and appearances, Saul was the man – the king from central casting.
i. The name “Saul” means, “asked of God.” Israel asked for a king and Saul was indeed the one “asked of God.”
c. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people does not mean Saul had an extremely long neck and head. It means he was “head and shoulders” taller than anyone else.
i. What is not mentioned in these first two verses is God. Saul came from a wealthy, influential family and was good-looking. But nothing is said about his relationship with the God of Israel. There is nothing said because there was nothing to say.
ii. Saul reflected the spiritual state of the whole nation of Israel. They may have presented a spiritual image, but their heart was far from where God wanted it to be.
2. (3-14) Saul and his servant search for his father’s donkeys and meet Samuel the prophet.
Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, were lost. And Kish said to his son Saul, “Please, take one of the servants with you, and arise, go and look for the donkeys.” So he passed through the mountains of Ephraim and through the land of Shalisha, but they did not find them. Then they passed through the land of Shaalim, and they were not there. Then he passed through the land of the Benjamites, but they did not find them. When they had come to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant who was with him, “Come, let us return, lest my father cease caring about the donkeys and become worried about us.” And he said to him, “Look now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is an honorable man; all that he says surely comes to pass. So let us go there; perhaps he can show us the way that we should go.” Then Saul said to his servant, “But look, if we go, what shall we bring the man? For the bread in our vessels is all gone, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What do we have?” And the servant answered Saul again and said, “Look, I have here at hand one fourth of a shekel of silver. I will give that to the man of God, to tell us our way.” (Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he spoke thus: “Come, let us go to the seer”; for he who is now called a prophet was formerly 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. As they went up the hill to the city, they met some young women going out to draw water, and said to them, “Is the seer here?” And they answered them and said, “Yes, there he is, just ahead of you. Hurry now; for today he came to this city, because there is a sacrifice of the people today on the high place. As soon as you come into the city, you will surely find him before he goes up to the high place to eat. For the people will not eat until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward those who are invited will eat. Now therefore, go up, for about this time you will find him.” So they went up to the city. As they were coming into the city, there was Samuel, coming out toward them on his way up to the high place.
a. Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, were lost: Israel’s first king will be led to the throne by three lost donkeys. We have no idea how God will use the seemingly normal and annoying circumstances of life.
i. There are two mistakes people make regarding God’s guidance through circumstances. One mistake is to think every event of life is heavy with meaning from God. This is wrong, because though nothing happens by accident, not everything happens for a great purpose. The second mistake is to ignore the moving of God in our lives through circumstances. God wanted to use this situation to guide Saul, and God will often use circumstances in our lives the same way. We need to trust in God’s goodness and in His ability to make all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).
b. They did not find them…. they were not there…. they did not find them: This frustrated Saul. Yet God worked out His plan through the lost donkeys in a way Saul couldn’t even imagine.
i. Those donkeys could have gone anywhere, but they went exactly where God wanted them to go. They submitted themselves to what God wanted. We often speak of “dumb animals,” but these donkeys were smart enough to submit to God.
c. Look now, there is in this city a man of God…. perhaps he can show us the way we should go: The suggestion of Saul’s servant shows something about these two men – they weren’t men of much spiritual character. They seem to be men who wouldn’t think to come to the prophet Samuel for real spiritual guidance, but they did think, “Hey! Maybe he can help us find the donkeys!”
i. Yet, their words are a great credit to Samuel. His reputation was well known: A man of God…an honorable man…all that he says surely comes to pass. Every believer should have such a reputation.
d. There is no present to bring the man of God: Out of respect for Samuel, Saul did not want to approach him empty-handed. But it is wrong to think that Samuel charged a fee for his “prophetic services.” Samuel was a great prophet of the living God, not a fortune-teller.
i. “The word seer, roeh, occurs for the first time in this place; it literally signifies a person who sees; particularly preternatural [supernatural] sights. A seer and a prophet were the same in most cases; only with this difference, the seer was always a prophet, but the prophet was not always a seer.” (Clarke)
ii. “When consulting a prophet, it was common courtesy to bring a gift (Amos 7:12), whether modest (1 Kings 14:3) or lavish (2 Kings 8:8-9).” (Youngblood)
e. Hurry now; for today he came to this city: It “just happened” that Saul and his servant came looking for their donkeys on the same day Samuel was in town. God is guiding through these circumstances.
i. Jewish legends say that it was because Saul was so good-looking that the young women wanted to talk to him.
B. Samuel and Saul meet.
1. (15-17) God tells Samuel that Saul is the man who will be king.
Now the LORD had told Samuel in his ear the day before Saul came, saying, “Tomorrow about this time I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him commander over My people Israel, that he may save My people from the hand of the Philistines; for I have looked upon My people, because their cry has come to Me.” So when Samuel saw Saul, the LORD said to him, “There he is, the man of whom I spoke to you. This one shall reign over My people.”
a. Now the LORD had told Samuel in his ear the day before: Saul had no relationship with the LORD, so God spoke to Saul through lost donkeys. But Samuel knew and loved the LORD, so God spoke to Samuel in his ear.
i. The LORD had told Samuel in his ear is literally, “had uncovered his ear.” The same phrase is used in Ruth 4:4. “The phrase is taken from the pushing aside of the headdress in order to whisper, and therefore means that Jehovah had secretly told Samuel” (Smith). It doesn’t mean Samuel heard an audible voice from God.
b. Tomorrow about this time: God gave the prophet Samuel specific guidance regarding future events. Samuel received this guidance wisely and looked for the fulfillment of the words to confirm God’s choice of a king. But Samuel also wisely refused to manipulate circumstances to “make” what God said come to pass. Samuel felt that if this was God’s word, He was able to make it happen.
c. I will send you: Even though Israel rejected the LORD as their king (1 Samuel 8:7), God was still in control. He didn’t step off His throne just because Israel asked Him to. He would indeed give them a king, but He sent a flawed king to a flawed Israel.
d. That he may save My people from the hand of the Philistines: Though there were many problems with the reign of Saul, no one should think it was a total disaster. Saul led Israel to many military victories and greater independence from the Philistines.
e. And when Samuel saw Saul, the LORD said to him: The day after God told Samuel about the coming of the new king, God specifically identified the man to Samuel. God’s speaking one day will be confirmed by His speaking another day.
2. (18-21) Samuel and Saul meet.
Then Saul drew near to Samuel in the gate, and said, “Please tell me, where is the seer’s house?” 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 tomorrow I will let you go and will tell you all that is in your heart. “But as for your donkeys that were lost three days ago, do not be anxious about them, for they have been found. And on whom is all the desire of Israel? Is it not on you and on all your father’s house?” And Saul answered and said, “Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak like this to me?”
a. You shall eat with me today: Saul must have been amazed. He looked for a noted prophet, and the first man he asked about the prophet was the prophet. Then, the man of God invited Saul to dinner. Finally, he heard the words many fear to hear from a prophet: tomorrow I will let you go and will tell you all that is in your heart.
b. As for your donkeys that were lost three days ago: With this, Samuel proved to Saul that he was a true prophet from God. He showed Saul he knew things that he probably could not have known unless it was revealed to him supernaturally.
c. On whom is all the desire of Israel? Is it not on you: With this, Samuel hinted at Saul’s destiny. All Israel desired a king, and Saul will become the answer to that desire.
d. Why then do you speak like this to me? This was a genuinely humble response from Saul, even if it wasn’t completely honest. Saul could not figure out why the prophet said God wanted him to be king.
i. Saul’s statement and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin is more an example of his modesty than his truthfulness. Saul’s father and family were prominent (1 Samuel 9:1).
ii. “This speech of Saul is exceedingly modest; he was now becomingly humble; but who can bear elevation and prosperity?” (Clarke)
3. (22-24) Samuel makes certain that Saul is honored at the feast.
Now Samuel took Saul and his servant and brought them into the hall, and had them sit in the place of honor among those who were invited; there were about thirty persons. And Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the portion which I gave you, of which I said to you, ‘Set it apart.’” So the cook took up the thigh with its upper part and set it before Saul. And Samuel said, “Here it is, what was kept back. It was set apart for you. Eat; for until this time it has been kept for you, since I said I invited the people.” So Saul ate with Samuel that day.
a. Had them sit in the place of honor: In that culture the seating arrangement at dinner had a special protocol. The seat of honor was always on a particular side next to the host. It was a great honor to be seated in this place next to the prophet Samuel.
b. It was set apart for you: Saul was also given the special portion. In that culture every meal had a special portion to be given to the one the host wanted to honor. Saul was especially honored at this meal.
i. We may speculate that Samuel was interested to see how Saul reacted when honored. This often shows what kind of person we really are. If we receive honor humbly, without regarding it too much or becoming proud about it, it says something good about us. If we show a false humility or a proud heart in the way we receive honor, it shows something bad in our character.
4. (25-27) Samuel and Saul talk together through the night.
When they had come down from the high place into the city, Samuel spoke with Saul on the top of the house. They arose early; and it was about the dawning of the day that Samuel called to Saul on the top of the house, saying, “Get up, that I may send you on your way.” And Saul arose, and both of them went outside, he and Samuel. As they were going down to the outskirts of the city, Samuel said to Saul, “Tell the servant to go on ahead of us.” And he went on. “But you stand here awhile, that I may announce to you the word of God.”
a. Samuel spoke with Saul on the top of the house: No doubt, Samuel told Saul all about Israel’s desire for a king and how he had to be a good king for Israel.
i. We can imagine Samuel saying: “Look, Saul, you have a lot going for you. You have the image, you are a humble man, and you will have the support of the people. But if you don’t give your heart to serving God, and submit to Him as your king, you will never be a fit king for Israel.”
ii. Queen Victoria reigned over Great Britain for 64 years. When she was 11 years old, her governess showed her a list of the kings and queens of England with her name added at the end. When she understood what it meant she burst into tears. Then she controlled herself and said solemnly, “I will be good.” Here, Samuel gave Saul the opportunity to say with his heart, “I will be good.”
b. That I may announce to you the word of God: Samuel dramatically introduced the official anointing as king he will give to Saul.