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David Guzik :: Study Guide for 1 Samuel 9

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God Leads Saul to Samuel

A. Saul searches for his father's donkeys.

1. (1Sa 9:1-2) 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 notable, not only for his family, but also for his appearance. Saul was tall (taller than any of his 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.

i. In 1 Samuel 8, the people of Israel had just rejected the LORD God as king over Israel, because they wanted a king like all the surrounding nations had. What they really wanted was the image of a king, because God gave them the substance of a king better than any man could. Saul was exactly the type of king that the people wanted. He was the king from central casting. God is giving Israel the kind of leaders they wanted and deserved!

ii. The name Saul means "asked of God." Israel was asking for a king, and Saul would indeed be the one "asked of God."

c. What is not mentioned in these first two verses is God. Saul came from a wealthy, influential family and was good looking. But there is nothing said about his relationship with the LORD God of Israel. There is nothing said because there was nothing to say!

i. Saul reflected the spiritual state of the whole nation of Israel. There may have been some spiritual image present, but the heart was far from where God wanted it to be.

d. 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 just about anyone else.

2. (1Sa 9:3-14) 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: Look at how God opens one of the most important chapters of Israel's history! A 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 our lives 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 … did not find them: This was frustrating to Saul. Yet, God was working 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 them to do. We often speak of "dumb animals," but these donkeys were smart enough to submit to God. Are we that smart?

ii. Saul had no idea he was being guided by God, but he was. The same is true in our lives. God has a plan and a purpose for you right where you are at, and you should submit to God and get in with His plan. "It is important for us to learn that the smallest trifles are as much arranged by the God of providence as the most startling events. He who counts the stars has also numbered the hairs of our heads." (Spurgeon)

iii. "Saul went out to seek his father's asses, he failed in the search, but he found a crown." (Spurgeon)

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 do 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. What do people think about you? When they are looking for a man or a woman of God, would anyone ever come your way?

d. There is no present to bring the man of God: Out of respect for the prophet Samuel, Saul did not want to approach the prophet of God empty handed. But it is wrong to think that Samuel had some type of 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 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)

iii. Poole admits that one fourth of a shekel of silver is a small gift. But he comments: "in those ancient times it was certainly of far more worth, and better accepted than now it would be, when the covetousness, and pride, and luxury of men have raised their expectations and desires to far greater things."

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. (1Sa 9:15-17) 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." And 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 has no relationship with the LORD, so all He can do is speak to Saul through lost donkeys. But Samuel knows and loves the LORD, so the LORD can speak 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, Pulpit Commentary) It doesn't mean Samuel heard an audible voice from God.

b. Tomorrow about this time: God gave the prophet Samuel very 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 was also wise in not manipulating circumstances to "make" what God had 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 had rejected the LORD God 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 would send 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 identifies the man to Samuel. God's speaking one day will be confirmed by His speaking another day.

2. (1Sa 9:18-21) Samuel and Saul meet.

Then Saul drew near to Samuel in the gate, and said, "Please tell me, where is the seer's house?" And Samuel answered Saul and said, "I am the seer. Go up before me to the high place, for you shall eat with me today; and 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: All this must have seemed amazing to Saul. He is looking for a noted prophet, and the first man he asks is the prophet. Then, the man of God invites Saul to dinner. Finally, he hears 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. At the same time, Samuel proved to Saul that he was a true prophet from God. He did this by showing Saul he knew things that he probably could not have known unless it was revealed to him supernaturally (But as for your donkeys that were lost three days ago …).

c. On whom is all the desire of Israel? Is it not on you? With this, Samuel hints at Saul's destiny. All of Israel desired a king, and Saul would be the answer to that desire.

i. "Saul understood this as implying that he was chosen to be king." (Clarke)

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 would say 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 actually prominent men (1 Samuel 9:1).

ii. Saul's humility was one reason God chose him to be king. But as he was lifted up as king, his humility left him. So why did God ever raise up Saul? Why does God raise one up to a place of prominence, and not raise up another? We sometimes think it is because one is more spiritual, or more holy, or better than another is. Or, we think that it is because one is more talented or usable or has more faith than another is. These things may or may not be the case. God has raised up many to prominence who were less deserving than others. Probably the biggest mistake we can make is to think that we can figure out all of God's reasons for raising one and keeping another low. Many of these reasons are bound up in the unsearchable wisdom of God. What we should never do is assume that just because God is using a man, that he deserves it!

iii. "This speech of Saul is exceedingly modest; he was now becomingly humble; but who can bear elevation and prosperity?" (Clarke)

3. (1Sa 9:22-24) Samuel makes certain that Saul receives the seat and portion of honor 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, any dinner had a special seating 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 that would be given to the one the host wanted to honor. Saul was specially honored at this meal.

i. We might imagine that Samuel was very interested to see how Saul would react when he was honored this way. Often, the way one reacts when they are honored shows what kind of person they really are. If they receive the honor humbly, without regarding it too much or becoming proud about it, it says something good about them. But if they show a false humility or a proud heart in the way they receive the honor, it shows something bad in their character.

c. Clarke makes an interesting, though doubtful point: "Why was the shoulder set before Saul? Not because it was the best part, but because it was the emblem of the government to which he was now called. See Isaiah 9:6: And the government shall be upon his SHOULDER."

4. (1Sa 9:25-27) 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: How we wish we could have listened to this conversation! 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 just 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. But 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 introduces the official anointing as king he will give to Saul.

i. Through an amazing set of circumstances, God had brought Saul to this place. Some people see God move in such remarkable ways, and think, "If God moves in such remarkable ways, I can just sit back and if God wants to reach me, He will arrange it and force Himself on me." No. Though God may deal in special ways with certain people, He has commanded us to seek Him with all our hearts.

ii. "Suppose, now, it were known that the events of a certain battle would depend entirely on the skill of the general. The two armies are equally balanced, and everything must depend on the tact of the commander; would the soldiers therefore conclude that they needed not to load, or fire, or draw a sword, because everything depended on the commander? No, but the commander works, and his soldiery work together with him. So it is with us. Everything depends on God, but we are his instruments." (Spurgeon)

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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