Before we discuss 1 Samuel 8-10, a reminder–in this book we see the transition from the tribes living separately under the period of the judges into a nation under one king. Though they want to have a king like all the other nations, the Israelites do not know how to submit to one king, how to come together rather than thinking tribally; nor does the first king truly know how to be a king.
As a backdrop, it is important to keep Deuteronomy 17 in mind; YHWH had already revealed that they would ask for a king, and He detailed what it would be like. He also issued directives for the king–how to live such that his heart would cling to God and he could act in wisdom. Specifically, the king was to copy by hand the Law (first five books of the OT) and then read it daily. If a king truly understood God as He revealed Himself, and followed His ways, he would lead the nation in godly ways, and would prove to be a blessing to the people. And then the nation could live up to its potential in blessing all the nations.
Much time will pass before Hosea prophesies, but when he does we see that Israel is not too happy to have a king: Hosea 10:3 “Surely now they will say, ‘We have no king, for we do not revere YHWH. As for the king, what can he do for us?'” Hosea 13:10-11 Where now is your king that he may save you in all your cities, and your judges of whom you requested “Give me a king and princes”? I gave you a king in My anger and took him away in My wrath.
David Toshio Tsumura says in his commentary on 1 Samuel that this chapter is the most important in the historical books of the Old Testament. We see Israel demand a king, Samuel react, and God speak to Samuel. The scene opens with hearing that Samuel had appointed his own sons as judges, though these sons were not godly, nor had they been appointed by God. Judgeship was never hereditary, yet Samuel’s story is turning out a bit like Eli’s. Asking for a king was “displeasing in the sight of Samuel,” and it motivated him to pray. The LORD was gentle in His words, telling Samuel to:
Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being King over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day–in that they hav forsaken Me and served other gods–so they are doing to you also. Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them, and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them.
Samuel told the people what to expect, he did not paint a rosy picture. He even warned them that they would “cry out in that day because of the your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but YHWH will not answer you in that day.” Even still, they “refused to listen” and demanded a king who would fight their battles for them. As instructed by the LORD, Samuel appoints a king.
This chapter is the narrative of Saul being away from home, looking for his father’s donkeys. His servant advised him to seek help from the man of God–a phrase used of prophets. When they meet Samuel, he immediately tells them the donkeys have been found. Would this not reassure one who was truly seeking a word from the LORD that this man was truly a man of God, and that help was immanent? Verse 15 lets us know that God had prepared Samuel for this visit, and instructed him to “anoint him to be prince over My people Israel; and he will deliver My people from the hand of the Philistines…” Notice that God uses a different word here, not “king” but “prince,” ponder why God would want us to see the difference.
Saul’s response shows his timidity, he believed he could not really be appointed to anything great because he was from the tribe of Benjamin, a tribe that had been reduced greatly due to civil war (see Judges 20-21). The next day when Saul and his servant are ready to return home, Samuel instructs Saul to have his servant wait elsewhere, that Samuel might privately proclaim the word of God to Saul.
In this chapter Saul is both privately anointed king, and publicly proclaimed to be chosen by YHWH. Samuel anoints him with oil, and says “Has not YHWH anointed you a ruler over His inheritance?” Ruler, a term to describe kingship without using the term king. But notice who Saul will rule: God’s inheritance. God’s own people, a people for His own possession, His own inheritance.
10:3 you will meet three men going up to meet God at Bethel… see the remnant? God always has a remnant of those who have not given themselves over to Baal worship.
10:5 group of prophets…not the specially called, but the trained. 10:10, God came upon him mightily and he prophesied. If God does not move in this way, it is not true prophesy, no one speaks for God of his own initiative, it is as the Spirit moves and reveals to that one that he is then able to speak a word from God. This group however is one of those that sing and praise and honor God in song. It is not a group that continuously has a new word or new revelation, but one that works towards turning others’ hearts toward the One True God in worship.
10:7-8, Saul is given the freedom to go and “do for yourself” but also the command to wait for Samual at Gilgal (an important city to keep in mind!).
10:9 As Saul went God changed his heart, God worked in Saul’s heart–remember, unless He is at work, our hearts are dead…this is not a new heart, but a working to ushers Saul toward choosing His bidding. This is a great reminder to us of God’s Providence in all things. He is able to move a kings heart toward His will, and is able to use our evil devisings for His good will (as in the case of Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery). He is not the author of sin, but is mysteriously Sovereign over such that not a hair can fall from our head without His permission; just as Satan could not touch Job without permission. This is a good passage to reflect on, remembering that our Good and Loving Father is never absent or unable to act or intercede; He can change anyone’s heart to consider His good plans.
10:16 When Saul is home, and meets his uncle, why does he not tell of his anointing? Not humble, but he is keeping it secret until Samuel’s arrival, who told him to wait. After Samuel arrives, he tells all a brief history, as many prophets do, reminding them of the Exodus, and their historical rejection of God “who delivers you from all your calamities and your distresses…” Wow, consider who God is–and that He is that same God toward us, able and willing to deliver His people.
10:19 You have rejected God by asking… “By asking.” This narrative has so much to add to the discussion of those who think “sincerity” is all that matters, authenticity, my own truth. I can talk to God how I want, I can express all my thoughts because all my thoughts are good… No, beloved. This passage should remind us that there is an “asking” that is sin; He judges the intents of our hearts, He is the Great King who deserves honor. Do our requests honor Him, or ourselves? Do our hearts abide in Him and then ask, or are our intentions kept separate from Him?
They have rejected God by setting their hearts on an earthly king over the One True God who has delivered them from all their calamities and distresses. But God gives them the king they demand. And he looked the part–tall, strong. Yet timid, hiding amidst the baggage. When the people see Saul they cheer. Then as the people were dispersed to their homes, Saul went home, with a few valiant men “whose hearts God had touched.” This text does not show Saul doing anything “kingly” or even remotely national–he goes home to attend to his farm.
God is helping this man, though this man has done nothing to deserve it. There were a few who despised Saul and spoke against him, we will see next week how it turns out for them, even as we see Saul begin to spiral further away from the God who is helping him.