THE RIVER OF GOD IN FULL FLOW. (A DAY IN THE LIFE)
I see that man! I see those donkeys! I see! I see! I see!.
(1 Samuel 9:1–10; 16)
After all this, there are several, “major interest” questions burning a hole on my cerebral ROM (apart from, “How on earth is Samuel going to find a king?”). What I want to know is how did our prophet spend his days? What did he do in his “spare” time? If he had any. How did he earn an income and feed the family?
In the context of the chronology of our story, he is now a “golden ager;” a “senior citizen: a man from “an older generation.” That was one of the reasons proffered for the “popular” request of a king, a request that disturbed Samuel’s deepest psyche. There were no buses, no “Away Day super Savers,” for travelling to find a king, no state pension, no home helps, no social services, and no helpline 0800 numbers to find out how to handle life as an OAP in a gruesomely violent society. So what was the man of God up to living a prophet’s life in this ancient context?
Wonder no more! The bible actually gives us a chapter and a half that allows us to, “home video” him over a single complete twenty four hour period – or thereabouts. This is a genuine, BBC Panorama documentary of Samuel at his best and most productive. Some might refer to it as an episode of “You’ve Been Framed,” or even a special edition of “Candid Camera,” watching one of God’s greatest through an important moment in Jewish history. Not that the epithet “Jew,” had yet evolved. At this point of time they were still “Israel, children of.” We are talking heavy duty prophetic ministry, and Samuel caught red-handed (or red mouthed) in the delivery. Perhaps the ultimate prophet – next to Jesus Himself, in a routine “day at the office” with Samuel ben Elkanah Ministries. He answers both our question about the king, as well as his routine, and a there is a tiny hint as to how he had an income.
Here we see the original Hebrew prophet in Israel, to Israel in full mature flow. We are about to gain insight into how Samuel’s own prophetic spirit, under the Spirit of God, flowed in personal words, familial assurances and messages of national importance. We can also see how the mind of our magnificent old hero was constantly engaged. His critical faculties and spiritually sensitive mind was chisel sharp ever at the age of …..Whatever age he was.
It starts as the first verse of the ninth chapter of First Samuel. Samuel is living under the pressure of having been asked to appoint a king. It was not the terrible pressure it would have been to most people. Samuel had given it to the Lord to sort out, and so all he had to do was hear what God was saying then do what he was told. Easy eh? And you call this work? The secret is to wait till you hear. The enigma is to stay still, and not to do anything until you genuinely hear. Nothing to it! (Pardon me while I cough and splutter as I type those words).
To explain the story chronologically, we must glance at occurrences over three successive days at different locations several miles apart. So; let’s just nip on over to a place called Gibeah.
“Now 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”. He may have been a man of power, but the fact that he had a certain son is the only reason we know of him in scripture.
Who was the son? “He had a son, whose name was Saul, a choice young man, and a goodly; there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he; from his shoulders and upwards he was higher than any of his people”. Note that Saul is introduced in connection with his ancestry; and by means of the lesser duties of life. This account throws light on Saul’s younger, domestic character. Saul was a, “choice,” young man. The word involves the idea of exceptionality. It was that, “choiceness,” that caused God to select him. Yahweh was about to give the people the sort of king they wanted. A man after the peoples own heart.
A great writer has said that it is possible for us to be good for nothing in history, except as a warning for all who live after. Sadly, knowing the end of the story, Saul stands in history as nothing but a warning. No matter how the power of God demonstrates His choice to a person, and the nation at large, as well as the wherefores of his specific and particular choice of that person, there is still a development needed in that calling, together with whatever gifting one is called with. Let Him that boasts, boast in the Lord Himself, not in the nature of his calling, or the facets of his gifting.
The whole point of this account is that God heard the peoples’ cry and was giving them what they wanted as opposed to a man after His own heart which was what God would have wanted if He had required a king at this point of history. Under the scrutiny of an agenda laid down by men, Saul was perfection itself.
“And the asses of Kish, Saul’s father, were lost.” God has not yet spoken to Samuel about anything, but he has activated His plan. Lost asses! Not thunder and lightning? No burning bush or Red Sea opening? No Angelic visitation? No! Just three silly asses lost in the neighbourhood. I wonder where”! “And Kish said to Saul, his son, “take now one of the servants with you, and arise, and go and seek the asses”.”
A thing to notice about Saul is his filial piety. There is no duty more forcefully demanded or taught in scripture than parental obedience. With this concept the bible associates the highest rewards for its obedience and the severest punishments for its lack. These rewards pertain to this life as well as eternity. Saul acted in such a way as to suggest that the reverential regard he professed for his father was genuinely felt. He was, at the time we first meet him, always willing to submit his own inclinations to those of his dad. Put plainly; Saul was an obedient son.
Is this where the Seer lives?
Saul was not so particular as to the sort of work that was given him’ he was no idler. Saul was a persevering and patient son. He set off and looked for three days. Saul was a considerate son. He might have thought of the asses and nothing else, instead he later thinks and looks to the worries of his father. In this we see the secret of his alacrity and early stature. When the disciples of Jesus went to look for an ass, they did not give a thought to the meanness of the duty, but of the dignity of the Master who had sent them, and although it was a lesser master that sent Saul, the same principle accrues. Saul ended up worrying about his father more that the asses. Good boy, Saul !
Oh the mysterious power of God that guides our lives! Events cause us to only see one side of the tapestry of life; events that seem trivial, like the loss of threes asses. Farm life went on by the hand of the other servants. Saul went in search. Everything nice, casual and easy. Events that occur at critical moments have a kind of divine predestination about them. How Yahweh links the points of life! He joined the loss of silly asses to Israel’s desire for a king, and made the one event subservient to the other. I vaguely perceive a divine smile in the search. The spiritually lost silly asses that asked for a human good looking king in place of Yahweh, would get what they asked for by means of three equine asses being temporarily lost.
But it’s not only events. It’s people. Believe it or not, Saul had never heard of the man, or the prophet, or the man of God whose name was Samuel, or even of Ramah (Short for Ramathaim Zophim). The unknowing choice of travelling companion swayed things too! It was a knowledgeable servant who was chosen to accompany him; knowledgeable in a way that influenced Saul in possibly the most important key moment of his life. The servant not only had heard of,”the man of God,” but knew where he lived. In thinking of seeking Samuel for guidance to find the asses, little did this servant know he was leading Saul upwards to the throne of the kingdom of Israel? But there is God at the epicentre of all these dealings. God breathes upon Samuel, the asses, the servant, Kish and all, to get Saul where he wants him to be. All the results of which were previously whispered to Samuel … ah! … but we jump ahead of ourselves. All these bits of trivia carried with them spiritual implications for the destiny of the nation forever hereafter. They had profound ramifications on the social life of the people of Israel and their children in the present also.
All this proves, that if God wants even a king, he knows where to get one. Obedient sons are the more likely to be chosen. It demonstrates how God uses the everyday, workaday occasions to build his purpose and kingdom. It reveals also the same principle of Jesus calling most of the disciples while hard at work.
Samuel meets Saul.
Let us learn and observe that Divine blessings descend upon us all fully inclusive of the package of life’s trivia and mundane issues. Could there be a greater trivia than searching for lost asses? Could there be a more mundane pastime than travelling miles and miles throughout the countryside, filled with livestock and asses, looking for a particular three that belonged to one’s own father? Yet, in the midst of this tedium was the building and establishment of a throne. The study of this story demands that we consider the issues of trivial incidents in all aspects of life. It must be acknowledged that matters, which in themselves, and separately considered, appear inconsequential, can turn out, in their connection and subsequence, to be most momentous. It is the way with God to associate the most important results with that which, in its origin, appears most insignificant
These incidents were not only trivial, but they possessed, in combination with this characteristic, another feature – they were of a class of incident that is commonly referred to as, “accidental.” Some theologians shout, “Unclean!” at the very usage of the word. The chart of the Divine cartographer is gradually unfolding blessing and good, but the measure and the manner of that unfolding we must leave in the hands of the Master contriver Himself. God is in absolute total charge of all that is good. Of all the possible, or probable events which might have happened to Saul, that of becoming King would most certainly have been set down by himself and by others that knew him as the least likely ever to occur. Saul in the pursuit of a lesser-good, met with the offer and promise of a crown, as well as the gift of a new heart. To man, it was sheer chance and, “accident.” To God it was planned and set before the foundation of the world.
For this sort of thing to happen to us, it behoves us generally to have diligence and fidelity in meeting the claims of our present condition, whatever those situations may be. The habit of working from principle will ever be found to be the best aid to perseverance, because it stands against all random excitement. The moral of the story? Be busy and accepting in your present lot, and a throne may well pass your path, if not, at least a prophetic word on your life.
“And he passed through Mount Ephraim….” This means he went through the Ephraimite land, a chain of mountainous peaks and slopes that runs southward into the territory of Benjamin in which was not only Gibeah, Saul’s home town, but Ramah where Samuel lived. This is the area of Saul’s patrimonial home as explained in the rest of the book of Samuel. “….And passed through the land of Shalisha.” Shalisha is not on any map I can find – and I have found a lot of them. The word interpreted means, “Land of the three.” It is thought that is was so called because three valleys join into one, or vice versa. It is believed to be the equivalent of Baal Shalisha (2 Kings 4:42). “…But they found them not;” So here is Saul and his servant, going further and further afield, and no asses are found. On the grounds of the entire text we believe that they arrived across the valley from Ramah on the third day.
Saul and his servant meet Samuel
So; in an attempt to stay true to the chronology of the story we here break in on Samuel for a few moments during the second day of Saul’s search. We have here an interpolation that is actually explained later in the biblical text. “Now the Lord had told Samuel in his ear (The Hebrew states, literally, that God, “uncovered Samuel’s ear”) a day before Saul came, saying, “Tomorrow about this time I will send you a man out of the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be captain over my people Israel, that he may save my people out of the hand of the Philistines’ for I have looked upon my people, because their cry is come to me.”
There are unwritten teachings, as well as inferences and suggestions in this wonderful statement. Firstly, God came to Samuel, as opposed to Samuel seeking God. That is; Samuel received a Word that he was not looking for. Secondly, God uncovering Samuel’s ear suggests a private and secretive sharing of the facts yet to occur. “Shall God do anything without revealing it to His servants the prophets?” (Amos 3:7) Thirdly, it suggests to me that God was breaking the principle of not telling the human race what was going to happen in the personal future, for a special reason. I suspect the reason was, that, after having met with him, Samuel would not have anointed him if God had not revealed the situation to him in the striking manner that He did. Fourthly, although the Philistines had been subdued during all the active years of Samuel, the divine sharing suggests that the five city states of the Philistine empire were asserting themselves again to the detriment of Israel. Possibly the deterioration of energy and physical capabilities of Samuel in old age meant that Israel were not having as much success in subduing their enemy, as they had been enjoying for the previous generation.
My use of the word, “generation,” gives us another clue. As always happens with the progress of time, a new set of elders and leaders were arising, many of whom would never have mentally imaged or pictured Samuel in his prime. There were no videos, no cinemas or Newspaper clippings to let the new generation know of how Samuel had laboured for two decades immediately following the fall of Shiloh and the taking of the Ark of the Covenant. There was no photographs or TV documentaries to explain how Samuel prayed at Mizpah some thirty to forty years previous to the time we are now discussing, and by the very power of God, in answer to his prayer, the angels of the Lord sent the Philistines running, while the soldiers of Israel were given the, “easy” task, of mopping up after God’s great act of deliverance. There were no public libraries lending tomes of exciting true stories of Samuel’s lifetime of circuit judgements and spiritual leadership, revealing how he maintained Passovers, and initiated the schools of the prophets, and started keeping booty from the nation’s victorious battles, to store away, ready to be utilised in the building of a glorious Temple to the Lord which would be built, “someday” in their future. There were no Pathe News documentaries showing Samuel in his early prime and manhood that would have made him an awesome hero and role model for the new youth arising.
Saul at the feast with 30 guests.
Although the epoch at which we are gazing was remarkable in maintaining the integrity of oral traditions, some of these things are only deduced by a constant exposure to statements made in later books of the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew memory was clinically selective. A generation of leaders had arisen that knew Samuel, but were only acquainted with, “Samuel the Aged.” “Samuel the Younger”, as usual, was inconceivable when the old statesman – prophet was studied by the new emerging leaders. So with the re-emergence of the Philistines, there needed to be a reassertion of Israel, with a new assertive leader. Perhaps, if the people had not asked for a king, God would have raised up another prophet of a similar ilk to Samuel. More than probable, that is exactly what Samuel had in mind when he commenced the prophetic schools.
However, the quantum leap as to this hypothetical other, “time continuum,” if “this” had not occurred, or if “that” had not happened, is fruitless. A king they had asked for. A king they were told they would get. And after an undisclosed period of time Yahweh pulled back Samuel’s head covering, to whisper that the man that was to be king, himself was to arrive on his doorstep, “about this time tomorrow,” and that he would help dispose of the shackles of that giant nation of the Philistines. It would be a man, the like of which, was exactly what the nation had asked for.
In retrospect, having read the story to the end, we have here a classic example of how God’s positive inspiring prophetic word must have faith exercised by its participants in its fulfilment, or the very opposite of the good promise will occur. The application of this principle is plainly seen in Saul’s fall from walking in grace, and the upper hand gained in Saul’s lifetime by the Philistines over the nation of Israel.
Yahweh’s statement in Samuel’s ear is awesome proof, as if any were needed, that He answers prayer, and remembers what is asked for. He had heard the people’s cry, and this man approaching Samuel’s domicile, and yet, still unseen, was the answer to that prayer. Whether or not God mentioned the asses to Samuel at this time, we are not told. All we know by this interpolation of scripture is that Samuel acted in practical down to earth faith as to the word he had received. The prophet arranged a meal. The “kingmaker” had a special portion of the meal set apart for the, “king to be,” in readiness, and told the chef to keep if for the man he would give it to. This was a step of humility by Samuel, giving the nation’s “leadership” portion to the, “new kid on the block.” Samuel also showed his implicit trust in the word received, by standing at the gate waiting for the arrival of the mysterious future Monarch.
Whether or not he told anybody else of the full contents of his revelation is debatable. I rather fancy he did, but how much he revealed is pure conjecture. The whole point of this exercise was that god would reveal to Samuel, and thereby to Saul, what His intentions were. If Samuel let a few of the elders of Ramah in on the revelation around a meal with the guest present, and then, thereafter, with a national lottery, choose the new King, the Divine interference and choice would be substantiated. Samuel’s personal prophetic word to Saul, and his welcoming among the Ramah elders would enforce Samuel’s insights as a “genuine prophetic word,” when, of all the people in the land of Israel, Saul would be chosen (even if he chose to hide himself and shy away from the high profile position which was destined to be his later lifestyle).
Samuel anoints Saul
But all of those things could have happened without necessarily revealing the fact that the special guest at Ramah was to be their future king. He could have sensibly presented Saul to the crowd with a, “Watch this space, and watch this face,” announcement. Samuel definitely knew all; excepting the character and face of the man concerned. Saul unknowingly follows the predestined plan and purpose without the slightest interference of his own free will choice of things. How awesome is God!
“…And when they were come to the land of Zuph,” i.e.; Samuel’s district, “Saul said to his servant that was with him, “come and let us return’ lest my father leave caring for the asses, and take thought for us” His laudable tenacity comes to termination point. His conversational style with his servant and the obvious disposition to allow the reasoning of the servant to change his mind says something for the “King elect.” We here make particular observations of young Saul’s modest disposition, a startling trait when compared to how he turned out later.
Many leaders have been known to start out with such characteristics which when damaged by time, fame and experience, were subdued, and the virtues they had replaced with vices quite opposite in nature to what they had begun with. The prize is to those who run with character on the marathons of life, not on the sprint of naiveté. When George Washington rose to reply to an eloquent and flattering speech, expressive of the thanks of his country for his services in the French and Indian wars, he blushed, stammered, and then sat down in utter confusion, drawing from the speaker the further compliment that his modesty was equal to his valour. It is said that Virgil, the “Prince of Latin Poets,” could not bear to be stared at in the streets. He would sometimes ask for shelter in shops from the demonstration of his admirers. Oh to maintain integrity through life’s battles, and especially in the midst of human flattery.”
A word of caution, however! Do not go too far on this principle, later exhibited by Saul, of hidden humility, “hiding among the stuff”! Moans and groans of missed opportunities are often the cant by which indolent and irresolute men seek to lay their want of success at the door of the public. Well matured and well disciplined talent is always sure of a market, provided it exerts itself; but it must not cower at home, and expect to be sought for. The road to honour is often long and hard. Many men have to endure the discipline of disappointment before they can carry the reward of success.
With the succeeding verses, we have to set the geographical backdrop to the two men discussing, “What to do next”? By God’s gracious influence on the heart and mind of the son of Kish, he stubbornly refused to let up on the search for the asses until he stood across the valley staring at the very city where Samuel lived, and Saul did not even know Samuel, much less which city he lived in. The more knowledgeable servant asserts a thought that, to us as time travellers, is perceived to be of absolute divine inspiration.
“…And he said unto him, “See now” There is in this city a man of God, and he is an honourable man. All that he says, surely comes to pass. Let us go there, peradventure he can show us the way that we should go.” As for God we cannot but marvel how silently, secretly and often slowly he works out His purpose. In the day of difficulty and loss, Saul’s servant wants the man of God. Timing is perfect to the absolute second.
Observe the public image of the man of God, Samuel. Firstly he is known as a man of God. That in itself was a powerful statement in the backslidden times of that age. They knew he was honourable. How could a man of God be a man of God, without being a man of honour. But Samuel stood out in the follow up generation that witnessed the weakness of Eli, and the wickedness of Hophni and Phinehas, as a man of honour. He is also known as a true prophet. “All he says comes to pass.” The straightforward starkness of the servant’s statement is enough to suggest the depth of Samuel’s character as perceived by the masses. With the absolutes put in place in the psyche of the two donkey searchers, immediately after the clear statements of Samuel’s person and character follows the variable question. Based on the presuppositions just mentioned, the servant suggests, “Let’s call and see if he can direct us.” The approachability of Samuel was taken for granted. The fact that no issue was too small for God, or Samuel, was the issue here. “Peradventure” suggests that it was a matter of Samuel’s discretion – not that God wouldn’t know where the donkeys are.
God’s providence is a wonderful scheme; a web of many threads, woven with awesome and imaginative skill. The meeting of two convicts in an Egyptian prison is a vital link in the chain of events that makes Joseph Governor of Egypt. A young lady coming for her daily bathe in the river preserves the life of Moses, thus securing the escape of the Israelites some eighty years after. The thoughtful regard of a father for the comfort of his older sons in the army brings David into face to face contact with Goliath, thus preparing the route for his elevation to the throne. The beauty of Esther, a Hebrew girl, fascinating a Persian King, saves the entire Hebrew race from massacre and extermination. As it was and ever has been, so it is in the passage here before us. The straying of three asses from the field of a Hebrew farmer brings together the two men, of whom the one was the old ruler, and the other the ruler “to be” of a brave new world.
But note especially, with all this amazing pinpoint accuracy of the times and places and dispositions of all these people, the free choice of them all is no way interfered with. Thus do the two things wonderfully entwine together; God’s divine predestined and foreordained plan, and the trivial “chance” choices resulting from man’s free volitional faculty. The whole thing is too miraculous and marvelous for words.
Notice also Saul’s independent and generous spirit. In search of the asses, he comes near to the town where the prophet Samuel resided, the servant suggests to him that he should consult the seer about the strayed equine trio. The idea seemed good. The scripture continues, “Then said Saul to his servant, “but see, if we go, what shall we bring the man? For the bread is used in our bags, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What have we?” Here was a way out of difficulty. “But what shall we give the man?” Saul, it seems was a gentleman. Do not even suggest that this was an eastern custom and demean his attitude of grace. Saul respected the spiritual heritage of his fathers. To everybody, he seemed to walk in the paths of righteousness. God complained through Samuel, at a later stage of Saul’s biography, that he had turned his back on following Him. This tells us that at least at one time, previous to that statement, Saul was walking according to the Divine will and purpose. He simply lacked depth and persistence.
We must be cautious while considering Saul’s ignorance of Samuel. The ignorance begins with Saul’s father and mother. We never actually read of Saul’s mother: but what kind of father could Kish have been? We, and all the nation of that time, know all about Samuel. “All Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord.” All Israel, it seems, excepting Kish and Saul that is! Yes! We should have thought that the name of Samuel would have been as familiar to all the people as that of (at the time of writing) Queen Elizabeth II to the people of Great Britain, or Nelson Mandela to the world at large. Does this indicate a family living outside of all spiritual, ceremonial and religious connections, and entirely immersed in secular things, caring nothing about godly people, and hardly ever even pronouncing God’s name? There is definitely some suggested ignorance about Kish and his son, an ignorance that perplexes us and throws us out at the very opening of the son’s sad history.
Saul would stagger us and throw us out, till we look at ourselves and at the men round about us, and then we soon see what had before been unknown to us. We observe that our inborn and indulged tastes, liking and dispositions, inclinations and pursuits rule us also, shape us, occupy us and decide for us the men we know and the life we lead. Josephus says that Samuel had an inborn love of justice. But Saul had inherited from Kish an inborn and an absorbing love of cattle, sheep and asses; and until they were lost, he had no errand to Samuel’s city. Why hold up our hands at Saul’s ignorance of Samuel? We have the same inclinations intrinsic to ourselves to people we should treasure better.
Note, however, that Saul’s servant knew and revered Samuel. It was the servant who guided Saul to the word of God, and the kingdom. Saul needed assistance and guidance all the way from farmyard to throne.
So there was Saul, about to ask a favour of Samuel, but with this preliminary question in his mind. Absurd indeed is the idea of giving anything to the man of God for his services. What Samuel wants is an income to live on. It was only a little, what Saul had, but with a full heart, it was all he had at the moment, and he gladly gave it. God asks gifts from the heart. Such offerings are given in faith, though they be limited by one’s poverty. It was discussed and arranged before they entered into the presence of Samuel. It was a mutually free decision
“And the servant answered Saul again, and said, “Behold I have here at hand the fourth part of a shekel of silver. That will I give to the man of God to tell us our way.” According to several theologians and historians they seem to take it for granted that they used silver coin shaped pieces that were roughly stamped and quartered with a cross, and snipped into certain proportions when so desired. Its value in the latter days of Samuel is impossible to determine, apart from the observation that, “silver was rare,” in those days. “Then said Saul to his servant, “Well said! Come let us go!” So they went into the city where the man of God was.”
Going back to verse nine we must remark on another interpolation. An aside by the writer to, “fill us in,” on some snippet of information that he, or at least the editor, imagined the reader to be asking for, after reading verse eleven. Namely: What is the difference between a “prophet” and a “seer”? “Before time in Israel when a man went to enquire of God, he spoke like this: “Come and let us go to the seer.” He that is now called a prophet was before time called a seer.” At a later date, “seer,” meant anybody who had any spiritual visions or dreams. Demonic mediums, at the time that First Samuel was actually written, were called seers, but the writer of first Samuel wants us to know that in the days of the narrative, the word still meant, “prophet of the Lord.” Such remarks are important in any generation. Only thirty years ago a, “gay person,” was one who had a zest for life and was quite happy in his outlook and lot of life. At the beginning of the twenty first century it has commonly come to be accepted as something quite different.
“And as they went up the hill to the city, they found young maidens going out to draw water, and said unto them, “Is the seer here?”” They seem to be very affable and chatty young maidens. No doubt the hormones and pheromones were at work with two young men amongst two young maidens. The chatting was much more than what they asked for. They were given a full account of the entire background to the meal that was taking place, as well as the customs of the city concerning the great prophet that lived there. The sociology of the day is opened to us by their unsolicited detail. Samuel is undoubtedly revered. Religious feasting was an issue required by the people to have Samuel’s presence and blessing. This was not, it would seem, a regular calendared feast. The words of Samuel, (or was it the cook) when Saul was finally accepted into the tent of feasting later, suggests that Samuel had received the revelation the previous day, and then quickly called the feast and invited the townsfolk. The words of the maidens suggest that the prophet had arisen that day with this purpose in mind. The fact that naive young maidens are aware of the proceedings suggests that the whole town was abuzz with the issue.
Having received the word picture of what was happening in Ramah, the two men continue upwards. “And they went up into the city, and when they were come up into the city, behold Samuel came out against them, for to go up to the high place.” This meeting was, for Saul, one of the absolute hinges of his life. It was a turning point, a pivotal swing in his fortunes and direction. He arrives at the walls of the city and finds an elderly gentleman that looks nothing like what he was expecting, for then there would have been no need to say what he did. “And when Samuel saw Saul, the Lord said to him. “See the man whom I spoke to you of! This same man shall reign over my people.”” The prophet was told of Saul before the man had even spoken to him. The prophetic word can arrive at any moment. For those who have ears to hear, at any moment heavenly Father may whisper and reveal things of import uncalculated. Samuel was undoubtedly staring at the man pointed out to him by the word of God, when Saul noticed the eyes of the aged person upon him, and he asks the expected question. Again the ease of access that God dialogues with Samuel ben Elkanah is wonderful. Samuel had “the ear.” Was it trained? Or was he born with it? Is it nature? Or was it nurture?
“Saul drew near to Samuel in the gate and said, “Tell me, I pray you, where the seer’s house is?” It is at this stage I close my eyes and find myself travelling into the sanctuary of what I hope is a sanctified imagination. What did Samuel look like? Whatever he looked like, he was not the sight Saul expected, or the question would not have been asked. Samuel answered Saul, and said, “I am the seer. Go before me to the high place. You shall eat with me today, and tomorrow I will let you go, and will tell you all that is in your heart. And as for your asses that were lost three days ago, set not your mind upon them; for they are found. And on whom is all the desire of Israel? Is it not on you and 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 in the tribe? Why then do you speak this way to me?”
The mystery was set. Nobody knew what was really happening apart from Samuel and the Lord. A new day was about to dawn and the key figure had arrived. Though Samuel had before him the future king of Israel, and he was about to be deposed from his position of national supremacy, yet he communicates to Saul intelligence concerning his lost assess. And hints at his promotion. We see Samuel’s authority in simply ordering the Benjamite what to do. We see Samuel’s decisiveness: He will not let Saul go until the following day. We see Samuel’s confidence in his prophetic gifting and God’s heart towards the new king. “I will tell you all that is in your heart.” We see a word of assured knowledge, “as for your asses, they are found.” We see Samuel’s reading of the situation: “and on whom is the desire of all Israel?” What was occurring here was a meeting and a redirectioning of national importance and that is without considering the soteriological impact that concerns us today. We see Samuel’s reading also of what kingship will do to the family of Kish: “Is the desire of the nation, not towards you and your father’s house?” A more accurate translation would be, “And who is the best and most treasured asset of Israel?” This makes Samuel’s words even more enigmatic to Saul. Or again, in plain language, “The nation has desired a king.You are to be that king. Isn’t it true that the entire nation’s desire is towards you?”
The facial expressions of both must have been classic, if the servant saw them both. Samuel in the most beautifully exercised authority and knowledge, and Saul in the most beautiful naiveté, and ignorance. “Am I not a Benjamite? Etc.” He is perplexed as to how even (or especially) a man of God could speak to him in this tone. “Does this prophet not know who I am? I am a nobody, from nowhere. Why do you speak to me like this?”
“I will tell you all that is in your heart.” The following day, after Samuel had got to know the youth a little, he was to reveal things of a major Divine revelation. He was to make disclosures of things hitherto held secret between God and Samuel. And Saul, in his new role was to be the recipient of truths, facts, and revelations which, frankly, it would seem he did not, at first, know what to do with. But the statement of Samuel is that he would verbally reflect to Saul on what his character was and what he was thinking and aspiring to. Samuel was to manifest his ministry as a “Seer” in the most literal way. Samuel saw in the most vivid terms, issues that were mere conceptual to most. He tells him enough, at that very moment, to put his mind at rest, in order to free him to think on weightier matters. The asses are found, and he is to think no more of them. The fact that it was “miraculous,” and indicative of divinely given insight that he knew anything of the asses at all, was to be enough to predispose Saul to the thought that if the former statement was to his knowledge factual, the prophetic statement must also be accurate.
The writer is convinced that Samuel’s appearance, demeanour and general deportment impacted Saul greatly, making the strange apocalyptic words even more powerful to his mental and spiritual receptors. We know that Saul knew nothing of Samuel prior to the meeting at this moment. The character picture drawn by the servant was enough. This man Samuel was perceived by an entire nation to hold God’s ear. He was known to say things that always happened. His words concerning the future, the destiny of Israel, and the spiritual and temporal circumstance of people were whispered in his ear by the Almighty. The ultimate in spirituality could safely be conceived around the person of Samuel, almost to a point of infallibility in the minds and perceptions of the Israeli masses. And here he was, promising a throne to a man that didn’t even know he existed until his servant had mentioned him just a few minutes before they met. The fact that Samuel hadn’t, “looked like,” a prophet at the first, made his words even more impacting.
This is Rachel’s tomb where Saul passed on his way home after being anointed by Samuel.
Saul’s’ query must have been spoken with a sense of deep surprise, if not shock. But Samuel is not recorded as having even answered Saul’s perplexity. From this moment Samuel treats Saul as royalty, because that is exactly what God said he was. “And Samuel took Saul and his servant, and brought them into the guest room, and had them sit in the chief place among the thirty persons who were invited.” There would have been undoubtedly other guests outside the guest room at the high place. The room is conjectured by many authorities to probably have been a tent raised on the high place where sacrifice was made. The guests were already waiting while Saul had been discussing payment for the seer with his servant outside the city and across the valley. How wonderful to see Samuel participating and partaking of Gods foreknowledge with such sanity and sobriety. The famous and well received man of God was giving place to this, “unknown,” and treating him as if he were his moral and spiritual equal, if not superior. Did the invited guests have a clue as to what was happening? Just what was whispered among the people as they sat, and as the awe inspiring Samuel gave precedence to this youth and his servant? (If tradition is correct in suggesting that Saul’s servant was Doeg the Edomite, this was also his first foretaste of royal treatment and high office). They obviously knew that Saul was somebody important in God’s economy, but did they know he was to be king?
And Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the portion which I gave you, of which I said, set it aside.” So the cook brought out the shank and what pertains to it and placed it before Saul. Samuel said “See, you are being served what was set aside for you! Eat; even before I invited the people, it was reserved for you until the appointed time.” Thus did Saul eat that day with Samuel?” That is all that happened as per the translation of most popular versions. The purpose of this section is to entrench it all in our heads that the entire proceedings of the day was known beforehand and catered for by Samuel. He saw everything before it had happened. Even the trivial side issues of the day were foreseen and prepared.
Many commentators assume that Samuel told the people that, “This man will be king.” Whereas my own opinion is that he did not. If he did, why wait until they were alone on the following morning to anoint him with oil? If he told them, why is it not recorded that he told them plainly? Also, if he told them and it was plainly and publicly mentioned, why hold the lottery later on to select the king? I am convinced that Samuel told them of the celebrity status of the Benjamite, but mentioned nothing of the nature of what comprised his celebrity.
“Then they came down from the high place, and he conversed with Saul on the roof.” The meal it would seem lasted the whole day. Not only was it common to put favoured guests up on the flat roof of one’s home, but it was always the privileged and esteemed guest who was offered the favour. It was here that the prophet had a long and, undoubtedly, in depth dialogue with the divinely elected Saul. Samuel’s secret and lengthy discussion with the newly chosen man would have been wonderful to know.
What did they discuss? The decline of Israel? The purpose of God to make Israel the head and not the tail in local international relations? The need for Israel’s leadership to be a spiritual one? Because of the nature of his actions and words the following morning, I cannot see Samuel discussing the office of King per se, or the dignity of the call. It would seem that after the revelation from God, and the fulfilment of the word he received, he was wanting to tutor and encourage the future monarch in all things spiritual, as much as he could. He would have undoubtedly taught Saul the evils of idolatry and witchcraft, for he banished the practice of both during his reign. He would have talked of the dire necessity of Israel and its leaders being true to the revelation and covenant give by Yahweh, and those instructions that Samuel would give him from time to time being followed literally and completely.
As Saul, it seems, previously lived outside of all religious and spiritual circles, so he seems to have been entirely wanting in that great quality that was needed for a king of Israel i.e. undying loyalty to the Heavenly King. It was here that the difference between Saul and Samuel was so galactically huge. Loyalty to God and to God’s nation was the rock solid foundation of Samuel’s existence. Anything that even vaguely resembled self seeking was alien to Samuel’s psyche. It was this characteristic that injected so much solidity into the prophet’s character. In these aspects of character, however, Saul seems to have been somewhat lacking. Words of counsel, and questions that would discover the makeup of the man from Gibeah, would have been the purpose of the night’s discussion. If the future rule of the Benjamite was discussed, Samuel would surely have pressed the point that the prophets bring the word, and the monarchy is to perform the word given. The delivery of the word to Israel, and the performance of the word were the roles of prophet and King respectively. Not for Samuel’s word to have pre-eminence, but for the word that he delivered to have pre-eminence. That was surely one of the reasons Samuel created the schools of the prophets.
Was Samuel pleased with what he saw and heard? We shall never know. Whether or not his response was positive, he had received his instructions from heaven, and so he followed them, to the letter. The intense and consistent godliness of Samuel was probably the characteristic that, in the perception of the public, was what they loved him for the most. Saul’s worldliness, however, attracted the masses more when he became a famous and publicly known figure. Yet it was the godliness of Samuel that had delivered them from the Philistines, and it was the handsome, “film-star-ish” Saul, that was to lead them back into bondage to their, now, long-time, foes. But we jump ahead of the chronology.
They arose at the spring of the day. Samuel called to Saul on the roof. “Up and I will start you on your way.” So Saul got up and together they went out, he and Samuel. The time was to the day what spring is to the annual calendar. I imagine Samuel seeking God further during the night while Saul slept. It doesn’t say so, but the language suggests that Samuel had a further revelation to impart to Saul, that, for some reason, Samuel had not imparted during the nights conversation
As they reached the city limits. Samuel said to Saul, “Tell the servant to go on ahead of us,” and he went on, “but you stand still here, and I will acquaint you with God’s message.” This was Samuel’s third recorded interview with the goodly youth. This time he spoke intimately with personal application of the very word of God whispered in his own ear. Samuel actually accompanied the two out of the city. He sent away the servant that he might whisper things for no other ears but Saul’s. Samuel spoke to the young man’s inmost soul. Samuel’s heart was in each syllable of each word. And if it was ever true – and it was always true- that God never allowed Samuel’s words fall to the ground, here was the greatest example of economic use of prophetic and inspired verbosity. I hear his tone, his drawing of breath as he speaks. I hear love and yearning toward the young man. It was the prophet’s passion for his nation, for God’s word and instruction, and for the man that God had chosen..
Likewise with myself and my readers. “Bid the servant pass on.” Stop all your activities and stop awhile to hear what God would say. Let the servant move on, but you, also,“Stand still.” God also wants to speak to you about a kingdom in which he wishes to elevate you to kingship. The word of God was seen by an anointing. The word of God predicted a new heart if obeyed and submitted to. When a man is about to commence an office for which Jehovah has especially appointed him, he needs to hear the word of God. I don’t think Saul stood still often. That’s why Samuel made such an issue. “I want to acquaint you with God’s message”, meant , “the sum total of all this palaver for the last twenty four hours is summed up in what I am about to impart.”
“Then Samuel took a flask of oil, poured it upon his head and kissed him. He said “Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over His possessions?” The message was an act as well as a statement. There is such a thing as a Word encounter; a power encounter; and/or an allegiance encounter. This moment was, I believe, all three. Only two people are present at this moment of destiny. The utter simplicity of the scene would seem to be contradictory. It would even seem unauthenticated. There was no human witness apart from the two parties concerned. The only guarantee Saul had was Samuel’s reputation, and his subjective experience of what happened to him while Samuel was talking to him, i.e.’ the reception of a new heart. It is my opinion that many knew, at the end of the feast, that God had something special for Saul. It is also my opinion that nobody, not even the servant knew what that “something” was. This was the moment of revelation for Saul.
The suggestion of election was delivered as an interrogation. The word was confirmed by predicted occurrences that were not in themselves wordless. The asses were found. He had been told that the previous day by Samuel. He was to learn by others that same news. The news was also told, prior to normal means of intelligence, that his father was worrying for him. His route home was foretold, although that in itself is nothing to marvel. It could have been Samuel’s instructions to take a certain route. The nature of his casual meetings as he went were then revealed in advance. The prophetic guild, of which I am convinced that Saul knew next to nothing, was in his pathway, and the Spirit of God was to take him, involuntarily almost, to speak the word of God. Saul’s jaw must have dropped.
“When today you have left me, you will meet two men near Rachel’s tomb on the Benjamin border at Zelzah. They will tell you that the donkeys you searched for are found, and that your father has ceased thinking about the matter of the donkeys, his concern is about you. He says “what shall I do about my son?” Life is full of tombs that we need to pass to get home; it is strange that Jeremiah 31:15 also links Ramah with Rachel. Nobody knows where Zelzah is. The deaths of the past and the losses of the past are to be reduced to insignificance. When seen in the light of Samuel’s announcement to the young country farmer, the history that surrounded Rachel’s tomb, the history of the search for the asses, and his father’s present concern for his “lost” son would seem insignificant, simply because the encounter was foretold him, while the previous holy anointing oil of kingship was running down his face. The experience of consciously, intelligently doing what comes naturally and have it it all foretold must have been stunning to the spiritual perception of Saul. A place mentioned; men mentioned that probably hadn’t even yet arisen from their beds, and the information they would carry. This was too, too much to take in. The ultimate message was this: The temporal things of farming and family are not now your priority and will look after themselves, but thoughts of destiny and national parenthood should assume high-power as with Rachel, whose tomb he was passing as the prophecy was fulfilled. He was from now on more a national figure than a family member.
“As you go on and get near the Tabor Oak, three men will meet you on their way to God at Bethel, one carrying three kids, another three loaves of bread, and a third bottle of wine. They will greet you as friends and give you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from them.” Life is full of hospitality, both given and received. The message to be imbibed was that these men who had ground the wheat and made the bread particularly for the purpose of offering it to God, were about to cream off some of the devoted substance for him. It was to be a matter of daily experience for the future. The tree is thought by some to be the very oak under which Deborah; the nurse of Rachel was buried. These men, on their way to meet with God, would gladly be interrupted to share with Saul. Yet again it was a foretaste of things to come.
After that you will come to the hill of God, where the Philistine station is garrisoned. On entering the town you will meet a group of prophets coming down the hill, before them Lyre, flute, tambourine and harp and prophesying with ecstasy. The company of prophets were singing contemporary music that would be facilitating the spirit of God falling upon them, or perhaps rising within them. The lesson to be learned by the, “monarch to be,” was that the Spirit of God which would fall upon him and influence him so suddenly and unexpectedly, could just as quickly depart. Obedience was a key issue for the stability of his future. These were possibly the subjects of the discussion that he had had with Samuel the previous evening. The place should best be translated the “Gibeah of God.” Samuel sited one of his schools of the prophets here obviously. The high sited sacrificial spot in or near this town made it ideal for the school of the prophets to conduct their meetings, or seminars, or whatever it is they conducted. “Then the Spirit of the Lord will grip you, and you will share the ecstatic prophesying; you will become a different person.” It was also to be imbibed that Saul would only be different, and a man with a new heart, because of this anointing of the Spirit of the Lord. The oil was a physical manifestation of what was actually taking place in the realm of the invisible. Saul was to join the ranks of the prophets. These schools of the prophets inaugurated by Samuel were to be key components in the making of the future of Israel. The King of Israel was to be subject to the Spirit of prophecy, either through himself, or by some other prophet, but God’s word was paramount. Israel was to be a, “Theocratic Monarchy,” if it isn’t a paradox. Yes they had a visible, human king, but THE ruler was Yahweh, and it was He that really reigned over the human King. He is after all, the King of Kings.
“As you experience these signs, do as the occasion requires, for God is with you.” To my own petty understanding, this remark is what is the most astounding of all Samuel’s prophetic words. What he virtually said was, “Don’t feel hemmed in by what I say Saul. Do whatever you feel is right. Do whatever turns you on, but these three things will happen as sure as anything.” The fulfilment of truly divinely authorised predictive prophecy needs no artificial aiding to fulfil itself.
It is at this point that something strange happens with Samuel’s word to the son of Kish. The three signs were foretold as about to happen on that very day. But then in the same breath, Samuel utters a predictive word that was not fulfilled until the narrative reaches 2 Samuel 13:4-15, undoubtedly several, if not, many years later. Yet in the turn of phrase and the flow of words, there is nothing to even infer such a time gap. “Go in advance of me to Gilgal and take note, I will come down to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings! Wait for me seven days until I join you and let you know what you are to do.” All this was told Saul to impress upon him that his elevation to kingship was not a mere whim of “good fortune.” Both Saul and the people must see the king as the chosen of God in plan and purpose. The king must know something of the supernatural intervention of God that put him in office and therefore conclude that it would naturally be the same power that would sustain him in such a position. His heart was to be impressed with the very fear of God that would motivate him to rule and govern according to His plan. It was thus fitting that Saul would be made fully aware of God’s choosing him. No doubt was to be entertained in his kingliness, and appropriateness for the position.
Saul’s must have been on an emotional high after all this. Confused too! He must have been in an electrical storm of thought and projection of images. He was probably in need of some physical outlet to express his feelings as to what was closing in on him. He wanted to shout, scream, and dance – do something to let the tension work itself out and thus relax again. The other side of human circumstance would dominate also, i.e. the very thought that Almighty God had deigned to choose him in kingship. Rachel’s tomb, the plain of Tabor and the neighbourhood of Gibeah now became symbols of the fact that God knew his uprising and his downsitting. The “chance” meetings were all of His choosing and His Heavenly planning, and yet there was still the freedom for him to do whatever he felt was right, meaning that not for one second were his critical faculties to be suspended.
I believe it is more than likely that Saul had never had such high thoughts of God’s practicality as these previous to this moment. But how transitory was it all to him! It just didn’t last. How true it is that inspiration is a light year away from regeneration. If Balaam and his hard worldly cynicism can be a vehicle of divine truth, why not Saul? Elevated concepts of God, and ardent enthusiasm on sacred subjects may just as easily dwell in a heart of ice and stone. What a shocking and dreadful anomaly! Our maimed and dislocated nature has lost the power of integral interior transmission. We need to grasp the fact that sunlight can shine on the understanding, while chilly darkness curls up nestling in the heart. The lines of providence are convergent and divergent indeed! All the chronology of Saul’s life, as ours, is in the hands of the Anointed One and His anointing.
We know what happens next, don’t we? Samuel being Samuel, the obvious has to be stated: “This then happened: As he turned around to leave Samuel, God changed his heart. All the signs mentioned came true that day.” The prophetic word ministered so expertly and adroitly brought release to the recipient, just as it should. So after all this, God gave him not greater intelligence, not more money, not additional personal stature, not a miraculous sign in the sky telling him of his election. God gave Saul nothing but another heart. Saul’s own purposes were broken off. His heart must have been very big with hope when he received the Divine anointing, and in pursuing his later course of disobedience, he no doubt, thought to win renown for himself and Israel, which surely could have been better won following Yahweh’s words more fully. Self aggrandisement was the internal purpose in much of his disobedience, and then to his son Jonathan, whom he made a general in his army, as a father, he must have cherished elevated purposes for him. He, who serves God first, is in so doing taking the best way to serve himself.
Saul later sinned beyond the possibility of repentance. Youthful sin lays a foundation for aged sorrows. No man lives unto himself. What blight did Saul’s sin bring upon the hopes of Samuel? Saul too, blasted the purposes of his family. Saul had another heart after the anointing. He was a new man. One cannot understand what happened in this twenty four hour period, and the whys and wherefores of Saul’s end.
Remember Isaiah prophesied the atoning death of Christ, but so did Caiaphas. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jesus at the Jordan, but he came also on Samson at Dan, and, what is more, upon Balaam at the side of the altar of Baal. Saul had no longer the heart of a farmer, concerned only with corn and cattle, dairy and donkeys. He has now the heart of a statesman concerned with crowds and cities. But no matter how radical the change of heart, that change needs to be continually re-enforced, such is the fickleness of the human constitution. If God advances you to another station, he will give you another heart. But by all means, cultivate the heart that is given. Saul did not do this. He knew less of God than he did of Samuel, and he knew nothing of Samuel. Some say Saul was acting profanely. But one must know what is holy before one can act profanely. Saul had no such concept. He had never heard of Samuel prior to that day. God had suddenly made a break through into the ungodly and heathenish way of life of the family of Kish. So much so, that Saul, for the moment, was almost persuaded to become an Israelite indeed.
The rest of this section in First Samuel is to inform us what we already know, i.e. that Samuel was a prophet, and man of God, par excellence. His words never fell to the ground. His insights were correct. The voice of Yahweh was known so well by Samuel, that he heard the most intimate secrets of the Almighty. It’s a millennium or three to late to shout, “Long live Samuel,” but if I was there, I would have done -, and he did. Live long, that is.What would Israel have been without him?