The Life And Times Of Samuel The Prophet
(1 Sam. 9)
WE have in the chapter before us the person chosen to succeed Samuel as first magistrate in the land and ruler of God's people Israel. Naturally we should be eager to see what kind of man he was in order to be able to judge what sort of bargain they had made by their exchange.
We notice, first, his natural or external advantages, or those that could be readily discerned by those who judged after the flesh, by the "outward appearance." These were not inconsiderable; he was "of the tribe of Benjamin;" the apostle Paul speaks of it twice, as a thing to his natural advantage, that he was a descendant of this tribe (Rom. 11:1; Phil. 3: 5).
"Little Benjamin " (the diminutive of endearment rather than of numbers), in the blessing of Psalm 68: 27, is mentioned first, before the three important tribes of Judah, Zebulon and Naphtali, and in Psalm 80: 2, Benjamin is mentioned with Ephraim and Manasseh as those that followed the "Shepherd of Israel," as symbolized in the ark. They were descended from Rachel, Jacob's beloved wife. Benjamin (son of my right hand) was a type of Christ exalted to the right hand of God in glory; and his place, in the blessing of Moses, is one of special nearness and protection.
He is there called "the beloved of the Lord" (Deut. 33: 12). They were a tribe not lacking in valour, as witness their determined and heroic, though mistaken, defence of their brethren in guilty Gibeah (Judg. 20: I5-21). Their inheritance was small - only about 14 miles in breadth by 28 in length, in its widest parts; but what it lacked in size it made up in dignity, for it contained not only "the city of the Great King," Jerusalem, but also such notable places as Bethel, Mizpeh, and Ramah, the dwelling - place of Samuel.
Then his father was a "mighty man of power," or wealth, as Boaz (Ruth 2: 1). The tribe, having been reduced (Judg. 20: 47), each remaining individual would have much more land to his share than those of other tribes. So Kish, his father, was probably a large landed - proprietor. This added wealth to his distinction, a valuable asset before the eyes of men.
Another advantage he had in the eyes of his countrymen was his great stature; he stood head and shoulders above his fellows. The world is apt to look for "big" things, and found it in Saul. He had youth also to his advantage - he was "a young man." The complaint of the people against Samuel (the only one they made, really) was his age. "Behold, thou art old," they say. They shall have no ground for complaint here in Saul, for he was young and carried with him all the vigour and sprightliness of youth.
They could with admiring eyes behold in their chosen king all the energy and dash of young manhood. His person too was one of every excellence after the flesh; he was "a choice young man... there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people" - "Every inch a king!" the enthusiastic multitudes would admiringly exclaim, as they beheld him. They thought, no doubt, that they could be justly proud of him.
When God was about to choose "a man after His own heart" to be king over Israel, He said to Samuel, "Look not on his Countenance, or on the height of his stature... for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart;" for, as He said long centuries after, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways." No, indeed, else Saul would never have been rejected, or David chosen; neither would He have selected a nation of slaves to become the depositary of His truth on the earth, or the tribe of Judah, with its four Gentile women in the genealogy, to bring forth Messiah; nor unlettered fishermen to herald Him among His own and to the nations.
Coupled with the advantages enumerated above, Saul was possessed with commendable traits of character, as witness his hiding "among the stuff" (if it was not a feigned humility). He was magnanimous, too, for in the day of his initial triumph, when some were crying for the blood of those that had at first refused him, he said, "There shall not a man be put to death this day: for to-day the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel."
The above-mentioned advantages and distinctions caused short-sighted Israel probably to look upon Saul as qualified for kingship. But let us look beneath the surface, and with the hints afforded us at the very outset of his career, let us seek to analyse his moral character. It is not so easily read, perhaps, but the lineaments of the portrait are sketched by a master hand; and though the lines may be finer, they present the true character of the man in a manner unmistakable, if we but have eyes anointed to read what is given.
Saul is first introduced to us as the seeker of his father's asses, which, after all, he finds not. It seems to associate him with the unclean - with the natural man, which God's word puts alongside with the ass. (See Job 11: 12, with Exodus 13: 13.) For stalwart Saul, the son of Kish, a wealthy Benjamite, his hunt after the asses seems an unworthy occupation, as well as fruitless. In contrast, we see David, a youth of humble demeanour, yet a mighty defender of his father's sheep committed to his care, rescuing them from the lion's mouth and the paw of the bear.
Even in this seemingly unbecoming employment, Saul has no success; he labours in vain, for others found the objects of his pursuit. It was the same with his perverse hunt after David, though he pursued him "as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountains," and had an army, and spies, and the nation's resources at his command. Saul seems to have lacked in fortitude and the persevering qualities required in a leader. Wearied with his tramping, and apparently with little zeal for his father's interests, he proposes to his servant that they retrace their steps and went their way homeward.
In initiative, too, Saul is deficient; for it is his servant, not he, who suggests that they apply to the man of God for information concerning the whereabouts of the lost animals. "And he (the servant) said unto him, Behold now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is an honorable man; all that he saith cometh surely to pass now let us go thither; peradventure he can show us our way that we should go." Incidentally, we notice here how Samuel was "had in reputation," even by the " farm-hands," as we call them now. "A man of God and honorable," is a very good character to be given to any servant of the Lord. They, above all others, should give "none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully," but rather so to conduct themselves as to be in a preeminent sense, "epistles of Christ, known and read of all men."
That Saul was wanting in the quality of leadership is evident, else his father's servant would not have taken upon himself to say to his masters son, "Now let us go thither" thus leading rather than being led by Saul. He lacked dignity too, otherwise a mere servant would never have tendered his advice unasked. Contrast this with the respect and reverence with which David's band of followers always treated him; and the higher reverence with which the Lord was ever held by His disciples (2 Sam. 12: 18, 19 ; Luke 9: 45, etc.) Neither was Saul possessed with generosity - without which no one becomes a successful leader of men." There is not a present to bring to the man of God: what have we?" he says. Was the son of opulent Kish without money on a journey? It is his servant again who comes to the front, and says, "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." Saul was not even acquainted with the man of God, for soon after, when face to face with Samuel himself, he does not know him, as we read;
"Then Saul drew near to Samuel in the gate, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, where the seer's house is. And Samuel answered Saul, and said, I am the seer."
This is all the more remarkable when it is remembered that Gibeah of Saul was not above twenty miles from Samuel's headquarters at Ramah.
It argues how very little interest Saul took at that time in public affairs, or in the welfare of Israel, in which every godly Hebrew would be profoundly interested. Saul seems devoid of patriotism, without which no man is fit to govern. But most serious of all, Saul was not possessed of piety. This may be` gathered from his unacquaintance with the prophet. Had he been concerned in spiritual matters, surely he would have known something of the man of God who went about in circuit, who was well known even among the servant - class. The prophet had never been entertained in the house of Kish, as he travelled his rounds about the country, judging and instructing the children of Israel in the knowledge of Jehovah. He did not keep open house, nor have a "prophet's chamber," where he might lodge the man of God in his itinerations. Disregard for sacred things seems to have been a family trait. "Is Saul among the prophets!" indicates that his want of interest in matters spiritual was notorious.
This lack of piety was the fatal defect in Saul's character, and accounts in large measure for what follows in his melancholy history as king of Israel. He had little or no concern for God and His people; he minded earthly things, and not those which pertain to eternity, Even the maid-servants of the city, the common "drawers of water," shame him in this, for they are able to give him minute and explicit directions where and how to find the prophet.
"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? And they answered them, and said, He is. Behold, he is before you; make haste now, for he came to-day to the city; for there is a sacrifice of the people to-day in the high place As soon as ye be come into the city, ye shall straightway find him, before he go up to the high place to eat: for the people will not eat until he come, because he doth bless the sacrifice: and afterwards they eat that be bidden. Now therefore get you up; for about this time ye shall find him" (vers. 11-13).
Let us pause a little here. What a lesson can these maidens teach us all. They, though in humble and laborious employment, are well acquainted with God's servant. They know all about the coming sacrificial feast; the time of its commencement; the customs in connection with its celebration; when the prophet was expected to arrive, etc. Yes, ye lowly children of toil, ye know the ways of Jehovah better than those given to sensual leisure, gaiety, frivolity, and fashion. The holy things of God are subjects that occupy your thoughts and hearts; therefore your mouth speaks of your happy hearts' abundance. So these maidens, in their lowly service, can show the way to Samuel and the house of God. Oh that, like them, we may be occupied in "drawing water" from the wells of salvation, filled with the things of the Spirit, ready and able to point others to the Saviour, to show the way to heaven as readily and clearly as did these Hebrew maidens the way to Samuel and the sacrifice.
Having looked at the under-side of the tapes try and portrait of Saul, we know better what manner of man he was. Knowing this, we can better understand him, while we see him secretly chosen and anointed by Samuel before his public manifestation to Israel.
"Now the Lord had told Samuel in his ear a day before Saul came," etc. Samuel had before this rehearsed all the words of the people" in the ears of the Lord," and now the Lord speaks in the ear of this man of prayer, His servant Samuel. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him," and He "will show them," not only "His covenant," but also His purposes, His plans, His will in that which concerns us, or in that which is necessary or good for us to know. It is the men of prayer that He makes His partners in the working out of His purposes of grace on earth; they rehearse in His ears their thoughts and feelings, their hopes and fears, and He will in turn make them His confidants, so to speak, as here with Samuel. Oh, that we, all of us, believers in Christ, might imitate Samuel in his communing with his God, and so be favoured as he was with the revelation of His mind concerning ourselves and His people.
God now says to Samuel:
"Tomorrow about this time I will send thee a man out of the land of Benjamin, and thou shalt 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 unto Me " (ver. 16).
God still calls them "My people," though the mass of them were "stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart." And though He had told them in the plainest terms, through Samuel, that when groaning under the oppression of their self-chosen king they would cry out in their distress, He would not hear them (8: 18), yet here He says, "Their cry is come unto Me." The first was in government, and they most bitterly reap what they had wilfully sown: this is in grace, and He looks upon His people's misery, and purposes to deliver them. Their sufferings under His government were caused by a scourge from within - from Saul their king; their groanings that called forth the compassion of His grace came from without - from the uncircumcised Philistines, and He is quick to hear and ready to relieve. Behold, Christian reader, is this an example of the working out of His grace and government, "the goodness and severity of God," always evenly balanced in Scripture. Let us take heart, and be encouraged by the grace, and be warned and put on our guard by the government.
When Saul and Samuel meet, God says to Samuel, "Behold the man whom I spake to thee of I This same shall reign over my people!" "Behold the man!" Pilate said of Christ, long after this -not of a man of failure and a disappointment to His people, but of Him that "was born King of the Jews," to whom no failure could attach, and of whose "kingdom there shall be no end." The Roman governor spoke the words in derision, but God in His Word everywhere points Him out with infinite delight and satisfaction. But Saul, the picture of man in his best estate, stands in contrast to Jehovah's true Servant, of whom it is written, "Behold my Servant, whom I uphold; mine Elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my Spirit upon Him (was He not put upon Saul too?); He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles... a bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench: He shall bring forth judgment unto truth. He shall not fail or be discouraged (margin, broken, as was Saul), till He have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for His law" (Isa. 42: 1-4). And again - "Behold the Man whose name is The Branch, even He shall build the temple of the Lord; and He shall bear the glory (as Saul through his selfwill and pride could not do), and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and He shall be a priest upon his throne - and the counsel of peace shall be between them both "the Branch and Jehovah (Zech. 6: 12.13).
And yet again "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation, lowly and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass' (Zech. 9: 9) And to the sinner, the weary and the heavy laden, be he Jew or Gentile, His gracious gospel call is "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11 : 28). Well indeed and meet it is that God should thus introduce to us His beloved Son in the glorious character He bore in His humiliation, with this exclamation, BEHOLD!
From an expression used by Samuel to Saul, it seems intimated that the people had been casting about in their rinds (as they very naturally would do), for some suitable candidate for the coming regal honor. They may have had this same "goodly and choice young man" of Benjamin in their eye; for Samuel says, "And on whom is all the desire of Israel? Is it not on thee; and on thy father's house?" For Him who came in lowly guise and loving grace they were not ready when He came; nor even for His type and figure; David. Many a weary year and centuries of anguish and wandering have passed over Israel's head since they cried out, "Away with Him! Let Him be crucified! We have no king but Caesar;" and Caesar they have had ever since. How many times, alas; it has been Caesar at his worst, and with a vengeance.
But their day is coming; their repentance not far off; we can see the "fig tree" putting forth her leaves, and we know that Israel, and earth's, Summer time is near, and we cry in gladness for them and the nations, "Alleluia, for the Lord cometh, and He cometh to reign"!
There is a hint that Saul was not without some knowledge of this, and that there were the kindlings of ambition already in his breast; for Samuel says to him, "I will tell thee all that is in thy heart." Was it aspirations for the crown and kingdom? While it was God's choice in the setting apart of Saul (for He could read Saul's and the nation's thoughts), He gave them a "king in His anger," whom He afterwards "took away in His wrath." So He who makes "the wrath of man to praise Him," uses the folly and sin of Israel to further His purposes and plans to bring in at the last that other and abiding King, of whom David was but the imperfect shadow. "This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working!" (Isa. 28: 29). "Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the mighty ones? Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders ? " (Ex. 15 : 11).
It is beside our purpose to review all that transpired between Saul and Samuel at the feast. Everything went on according to custom. Saul, as the guest of honor, was seated "in the chiefest place, among them that were bidden." The special portion, set aside for him by Samuel from the day before (when God had spoken in his ear concerning Saul) was put before him; it was the shoulder, which speaks of power, not the breast, which speaks of the affections. Saul wielded power, but love for God and affection for His people was lacking. Saul could but disappoint and distress them. For what is power without love but tyranny and despotism? After the feast Samuel holds long and secret converse with Saul. What passed between them we are not told; but wise counsel is given and admonition imparted at their parting the next day, when Samuel tells Saul to bid the servant pass on, and says, "But stand thou still a while, that I may show thee the word of God."
In the chapter following we shall see the prophet formally and publicly installing Saul in power over the people, power which most men covet, but which Samuel (if consulting his own comfort) would doubtless be but too glad to resign.
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