1 Samuel 9
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1 Samuel 9:1-25. (GIBEAH, RAMAH.)

1. The choice of the first king of Israel was made by Samuel, prophet and judge, as the highest authority under God in the nation; and it was afterwards confirmed by lot, wherein the Divine will was openly expressed (1 Samuel 10:21). "The history of the world cannot produce another instance in which a public determination was formed to appoint a king, and yet no one proposed either himself or any other person to be king, but referred the determination entirely to God" (Scott).

2. In making choice of Saul, Samuel believed that he would be acceptable to the people, and fulfil the purpose for which they had desired a king, in saving them out of the hand of the Philistines (1 Samuel 9:17) and the children of Ammon (1 Samuel 12:12); and he appears to have expected that he would be faithful to the principle of the theocracy, and rule in obedience to the Divine will. He did all that lay in his power that this expectation might be realised; he entertained a strong affection for Saul; and it was only when the latter proved utterly unfaithful to his trust that he reluctantly and sorrowfully abandoned him to his fate.

3. His choice was directed by a higher wisdom than his own, which saw the end from the beginning. Whilst the Divine King of Israel sanctioned what was good in their desire, he fulfilled it in such a manner as to convince them of what was evil in it, and to accomplish far reaching purposes which the prophet himself did not foresee.

"The ken your world is gifted with descends
In the everlasting justice as low down
As eye doth in the sea, which though it mark
The bottom from the shore, in the wide main
Discerns it not; and, nevertheless, it is,
But hidden by its deepness"

(Dante, 'Purg.') Saul is not selected by them, but given to them; whom they adopt and embrace they know not why; and who, whether or not he is able to guide and govern them, proves to be a faithful representative of their own state of mind, a very type and embodiment of that character and those habits of mind which they themselves are exhibiting (Maurice). "The theocratic principle was more fully developed in the reaction than could have happened had the king been truly pious, so that we may say that Saul was chosen by God, because in his omniscience he foresaw that he would not turn to him with his whole heart. Saul and David are in necessary connection. On the threshhold of royalty God first shows in Saul what the king of Israel is without him; then in David what the king is with him. Both are types or representatives. The events which befell them are actual prophecies, which first of all passed into fulfilment in the history of the Israelitish monarchy, and then through the whole history of the world." (Hengstenberg). The following chapters record, the development of the successive stages of the Divine method according to which the popular desire was gratified and corrected. The man destined for king was -


1. His family relationship. He was the son of Kish, of the family of Matri (1 Samuel 10:21), of the tribe of Benjamin; his cousin (or perhaps uncle - 1 Chronicles 8:33) being Abner, afterwards "the captain of his host" (1 Samuel 14:51); his name - Saul = asked - being "an omen of his history." Kish was a man of wealth and good social position, a fact which would gain for his son general respect; he appears to have been an affectionate father (ver. 5; 1 Samuel 10:2); and he resided at Gibeah (1 Samuel 10:26), "a hill," formerly a place of notorious profligacy (Judges 19.), and subsequently the seat of Saul's government, but was buried at Zelah (2 Samuel 21:14). Of him nothing more is known. Benjamin was the smallest of the tribes of Israel (ver. 21), but the most warlike of them (Genesis 49:27). The selection of a king from it, therefore, would not be likely to excite the jealousy of the other tribes, whilst he would doubtless prove an able leader of their armies. There was in Saul "the strange union of fierceness and of gentleness which rim, as hereditary qualities do often run, through the whole history of that frontier clan" (Stanley).

2. His personal appearance. He was in the prime of manhood, and of lofty stature and great warlike beauty (ver. 2; 1 Samuel 10:23, 24). "Great stress is laid upon this, because his distinguished stature, with the impression of bodily prowess which it conveyed, helped much to recommend him to the choice of the people. When, after a long peace, there was no man of distinguished renown among them, and when in battle much less depended upon the military skill than upon the bodily prowess of the chief in single combats, or in the partial actions with which most battles commenced, it was natural enough that the people should take pride in the gigantic proportions of their leader, as calculated to strike terror into the enemy and to inspire confidence in his followers; besides that, it was no mean advantage that the crest of the leader should, from his tallness, be seen from afar by the people" (Kitto).

3. His mental and moral characteristics. He was possessed of little mental culture. He had not been instructed in the schools of the prophets (1 Samuel 10:11). His life had been spent in retired, rustic occupation, in which he was so absorbed that he was less acquainted with the political and religious movements of his time than his own servant (ver. 6). He was obedient to his father (ver. 4), tenderly concerned about his feelings (ver. 5), persevering in labour and ready to take advice even from one beneath him (ver. 10). He exhibited a courteous, modest, and humble bearing (ver. 21; 1 Samuel 10:21). He was, in his earlier career, capable of prudent reserve (1 Samuel 10:16, 27); patriotic, zealous, fearless, energetic (1 Samuel 11:6), resolute, and magnanimous (1 Samuel 11:13); and he had a strong sense of the value of religion and religious institutions. But underneath these qualities there lay others of a different nature, which his subsequent course revealed, viz., waywardness, rash and fiery impulses, impatience, the love of display, pride and self-will, and morbid tendencies to distrust and jealousy; and instead of overcoming them by the aid of Divine grace, he yielded to them, until they gained the entire mastery over him, choked the good seed which was sown in his heart (Matthew 13:22), and caused his ruin. God sees the latent as well as the manifest dispositions of men, and adapts his dealings toward them accordingly.

II. GUIDED BY SPECIAL PROVIDENCE (vers. 3-14). These verses furnish a practical commentary on what was said by Hannah concerning the operations of Providence (1 Samuel 2:7, 8). In leaving his home in Gibeah, at the direction of his father, in search of the lost asses, travelling through the hill country of Ephraim, the land of Shalisha, of Shalim, and of the Benjamites, to the land of Zuph (1 Samuel 1:1), and going in search of the "seer" (roeh), Saul acted freely, and according to his best judgment; but his three days' journey and all connected with it - his lack of success, his desire to return, his servant's advice, his destitution of food, his servant's possession of a coin for a present, his meeting with "young maidens going out to draw water," his presence in the city at a certain time - were ordered by God to the attainment of an end of which he had no conception. "All these incidents and wanderings were only preparations and mediate causes by which God accomplished his design concerning Saul." His providence -

1. Often makes insignificant events productive of important results. It is truly astonishing how the very greatest things depend upon events which are generally regarded at the time of their occurrence as of little account. Of this the lives of individuals and the history of nations afford innumerable illustrations. "What is it that we dare call insignificant? The least of all things may be as a seed cast into the seed field of time, to grow there and bear fruits, which shall be multiplying when time shall be no more. We cannot always trace the connections of things; we do not ponder those we can trace, or we should tremble to call anything beneath the notice of God. It has been eloquently said that where we see a trifle hovering unconnected in space, higher spirits can discern its fibres stretching through the whole expanse of the system of the world, and hanging on the remotest limits of the future and the past" (Kitto, 'Cyc. of Bib. Lit.,' first ed., Art. 'Providence;' Knapp's 'Theology').

2. Makes accidental circumstances subservient to a prearranged plan. "The thread of every life is entangled with other threads beyond all reach of calculation. Those unforeseen accidents which so often control the lot of men constitute a superstratum in the system of human affairs, wherein, peculiarly, the Divine providence holds empire for the accomplishment of its special purposes. It is from this hidden and inexhaustible mine of chances - chances, as we must call them - that the Governor of the world draws, with unfathomable skill, the materials of his dispensations towards each individual of mankind" (Isaac Taylor, 'Nat. Hist. of Enthusiasm').

3. Overrules human plans, in harmony with human freedom, for the fulfilment of Divine purposes (Proverbs 16:9, 33).

III. INDICATED BY DIVINE REVELATION (vers. 15-25). Such revelation -

1. Was primarily and directly given to one who lived in closest fellowship with God. Samuel was like the lofty mountain peak, which catches the rays of the morning sun long ere they reach the valleys below. On the day before Saul came to the city (of Ramah), the prophet, ever watching and listening for the indications of the Divine will concerning the future king, was fully instructed therein by "the word of the Lord" (1 Samuel 3:21), which contained

(1) a promise of sending him (ver. 16),

(2) a direction to anoint him,

(3) a statement of the purpose of his appointment, and

(4) an expression of commiseration for the need of the people.

Nothwithstanding they had rejected God, he had not rejected them, but still calls them "my people," and in wrath remembers mercy. The long suffering of God toward transgressors should teach his servants forbearance, and incite them to renewed efforts for their welfare. It appears to have been after Samuel had received the Divine message that he invited the people (perhaps the elders who had formerly waited upon him) to a sacrificial feast, and arranged for the worthy entertainment of his chief guest (ver. 24). The displeasure which he previously felt at their request (1 Samuel 8:6) has now given place to disinterested and earnest desire for its fulfilment.

2. Harmonised with, and was confirmed by, the operations of Providence. Samuel is expecting the fulfilment of the promise given to him, and already is on the way from his own house in the city to offer sacrifice on the height (the loftier of the two hills on which Ramah was situated), when he sees the towering form of Saul, a stranger to the place, who has come up into the midst of the city according to the direction of the maidens at the foot of the hill, and the inner voice with which he is so familiar says to him, "Behold the man," etc. (ver. 17). There is nothing in the simple dress of the prophet to indicate his dignity; and as he passes onward Saul "draws near to him in the gate," and in reply to his inquiry concerning the seer's residence, receives the answer, "I am the seer." Seldom has the meeting of two persons shown more clearly the cooperation of the revealed word with the guiding providence of God or the unity of the purpose by which both are pervaded, or been followed by more momentous results.

3. And its communication required a gradual preparation on the part of him to whom it chiefly pertained, in order that it might be received aright. This Samuel sought to effect -

(1) By awakening in Saul new and elevated thoughts and hopes (vers. 19, 20); directing him to go up before him, as a mark of respect, inviting him to be his guest, telling him that he would "reveal to him his innermost thoughts," setting his mind at rest from lower cares, and assuring him of the highest dignity. "For whom is every desirable thing in Israel?" (ver. 20).

(2) By giving him honour in the presence of others (vers. 22-24); appointing to him the chief place among his thirty guests, appropriating to him the best portion of the meal, and intimating that the honour had been reserved for him in foreknowledge of his arrival.

(3) By holding confidential and prolonged conversation with him (ver. 25), pertaining "not to the royal dignity, but surely to the deep religious and political decline of the people of God, the opposition of the heathen, the causes of the impotency to oppose these enemies, the necessity of a religious change in the people, and of a leader thoroughly obedient to the Lord (O. von Gerlach). In this manner Saul was prepared for the more definite indication given on the following morning. A gradual preparation of a somewhat similar kind is often needed by men when about to receive a Divine commission. - D.

1 Samuel 9:9. (RAMAH.)
Peradventure he can show us our way. Here is a picture of a young man perplexed about his way. Consider -

I. THE OBJECT OF HIS PERPLEXITY. It is a common thing for a young man to be uncertain and anxious with reference to -

1. The ordinary business of life. He knows not, it may be, the particular vocation for which he is most fitted, or which affords the best prospect of success. Leaving his father's house,

"The world is all before him, where to choose
His place of rest, and Providence his guide."

But he is doubtful whither to direct his steps. He meets with disappointment in his endeavours. "The bread is spent" (ver. 7), and he has no money in his purse. Under such circumstances many a one has first awoke to a sense of his dependence on God, and his need of his guidance, or has sought him with a fervour he has never displayed before. His loneliness and distress have been the occasion of spiritual thought and high resolve (Genesis 28:16, 20; Luke 15:18).

2. The chief purpose of life. As each vocation has its proper end, so has life generally. It is something higher than the finding of strayed asses, the recovery of lost property, or "buying and selling and getting gain." Even the dullest soul has often a feeling that it was made for a nobler end than the gratification of bodily appetites, or the supply of earthly needs. But "what is the chief end of man?" Alas, how many know not what it is, nor the means of attaining it; miss their way, and wander on "in endless mazes lost!"

3. The true Guide of life. Who shall tell thee "all that is in thine heart" (ver. 19) - declare its aspirations, and direct them to their goal? Where is he to be found, and by what means may his favour be obtained? Books and teachers abound, and to them the young man naturally turns for instruction; but how often do they leave him in greater perplexity than ever. "Where shall wisdom be found?" (Job 28:12). "To whom should we go?" "We must wait patiently [said Socrates] until some one, either a god or some inspired man, teach us our moral and religious duties, and, as Pallas in Homer did to Diomede, remove the darkness from our eyes" (Plato). "I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things" (John 4:25). "Sir, we would see Jesus" (John 12:21).

II. THE METHOD OF HIS PROCEDURE. The course which it behoves him to take is that of -

1. Diligent inquiry concerning the object of his desire. It exists, and a firm belief in its existence is the first condition of such inquiry. There may be healthy doubt about its nature, but absolute scepticism is destruction. Inquiry is the way to truth. It must be pursued with quenchless zeal and ceaseless perseverance. And if so pursued it will not be vain (Proverbs 2:4, 5).

2. Ready reception of light, from whatever quarter it may come. Truth often comes from unexpected sources. The true inquirer is reverent and humble, and willing to receive information from the most despised (vers. 10, 11).

"Seize upon truth, where'er tis found,
Amongst your friends, amongst your foes,
On Christian or on heathen ground;
The flower's Divine, where'er it grows."

3. Faithfully acting up to the light he possesses. "Well said; come, let us go." Inquiry alone is insufficient. The duty that lies plainly and immediately before us must be performed.


1. He is brought face to face with the best Guide. "I am the seer" (ver. 19). The best service that men and books, including the Scriptures themselves (John 5:39, 40), can render is to bring us into direct communion with the Prophet of Nazareth, "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Our perplexity ends only when he manifests himself to us and says, "I that speak unto thee am he." "Master, where dwellest thou? Come and see" (John 1:38).

"And what delights can equal those
That stir the spirit's inner deeps,
When one that loves, but knows not, reaps
A truth from one that loves and knows?"


2. He rises into a higher region of thought and feeling, and receives all the direction that he really needs. His anxiety about earthly affairs is relieved (Matthew 6:32). The true purpose of life is shown him (Matthew 6:33). He has "an unction from the Holy One, and knows all things" (1 John 2:20). He is "turned into another man," and "God is with him" (1 Samuel 10:6, 7).

3. He attains great honour and power. Saul is not the only one who has gone forth in the performance of lowly duty and found a kingdom, or to whom a temporary loss has been an occasion of permanent and invaluable gain. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." - D. (A SACRAMENTAL ADDRESS.)

1 Samuel 9:13. (RAMAH.)
- "For the people will not eat until he come, because he cloth bless the sacrifice; and afterwards they eat that be bidden." This language refers to a feast provided on the high place of the city where Samuel dwelt.


I. THE SANCTION GIVEN BY THE LORD TO SAUL'S ELEVATION. Instances may easily be adduced in which the writers of the Old Testament ascribed to the Lord directly what was only indirectly recognised or permitted by him; but in the present case there is obviously more than Divine allowance. Jehovah pointed out Saul to the prophet Samuel, and commanded that he should be anointed captain, or king. We account for this on that principle of Divine government which allows to men that which they most wish for, in order that they may learn wisdom from the result. The people of Israel had not asked the Lord for such a king as he might see fit to choose and appoint. They had asked the prophet for a warlike chief like the kings of the nations and tribes around them, and the Lord saw meet to let them have what they desired; the young giant Saul was just the style of man they sought, cast in the very mould they admired, and one that would teach them some painful lessons through experience. Therefore, though the Lord foresaw the disappointing career of Saul, he authorised Samuel to anoint him privately, and afterwards sanctioned his public selection and elevation to the royal dignity. Here was a leader to suit the fancy of the people - strong, impetuous, valiant. Let them have Saul for their king. Such is the way of the Lord to this day, and in individual as well as national life. He admonishes and corrects us by letting us have our own way and be filled with our own devices. We are apt to complain in our disappointment at the result, that God himself sanctioned our course. No. We did not ask him to show us his way, that we might do his will; but took our own way, did our own pleasure; and he allowed, nay, facilitated our desire. Let the issue teach us to be more wary and more humble in time to come.


1. The manner of his entrance on the page of history. How different from the first mention of David, faithfully keeping the sheep before he was anointed to be the royal shepherd of Israel, is the first appearance of the son of Kish in search of his father's stray asses, and visiting the venerable prophet Samuel with no higher thought in his mind than to learn, if possible, where those asses were! He did not even know Samuel by sight, though he lived but at a short distance. He seems to have been an unreflecting rustic youth, with none of those premonitions of greatness which come early to the wise, and tend to give them seriousness of purpose and elevation of aim.

2. Indications of a fitful mind. We read nothing of Saul's bearing before Samuel when informed of the destiny before hint. Probably he was stunned with surprise. But so soon as he left the prophet new currents of thought and feeling began to flow through his heart. A mood of mind fell on him more grave and earnest than had appeared in him before. The Old Testament way of saying it is, that "God gave him another heart;" for the change which passes on a man under the consciousness of a high vocation suddenly received is none the less of God than it is evidently born of the occasion, he sees things in a new light, feels new responsibilities; new springs of feeling and new capacities of speech and action reveal themselves in him. But Saul took every influence by fits and starts. He quickly gained, and as quickly lost. There was in him no steady growth of conviction or principle. When he fell in with men of religious fervour he was fervent too When he met the prophets chanting Jehovah's praise he caught their rapture, and, joining their procession, lifted up his voice also in the sacred song. But it was a mere fit of piety. Of course Saul had been educated in the religion of his fathers, and in that sense knew the God of Israel; but it seems evident, from the surprise occasioned by his appearance among the prophets, that he had never shown any zeal for the glory and worship of Jehovah; and the sudden ecstasy at Gibeah, having no foundation of spiritual principle, came to nought. Alas! men may sing spiritual songs with emotion who have no enduring spiritual life. Men may catch the infection of religious enthusiasm, yet have no moral health or soundness. Men's faces may glow with a fine ardour, and yet soon after be darkened by wicked passion. Pulses of high feeling and moods of noble desire may visit minds that yet are never moved by Divine grace, and therefore are liable to be mastered, after all, by evil temper and base envy. Occasional impulses are not sufficient. "Ye must be born again." - F.

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