"Look," said the servant, "in this city there is a man of God who is highly respected; everything he says surely comes to pass. Let us go there now. Maybe he will tell us which way to go."
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
I. FITTED BY PECULIAR QUALIFICATIONS (vers. 1, 2). Notice -
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.
George Whitefield, when he had but a cow-heel for dinner, would have the frugal meal set out with as much care as if it had been a banquet. There are two ways of doing everything. It was but little that Saul had to give, yet he gave it of his own free will, and with all the grace of a natural king. We are not to pay mere prices for knowledge and direction in life; we are to give gifts of the heart, — such donations as are inspired by our love, though they may be limited by our poverty. It should be noted that this little arrangement was made before the lost travellers went into the presence of Samuel. It came of the spontaneous motion of their own hearts. The question was not, What dost thou charge? What shall we give thee? But a plan was laid beforehand, and Samuel was not subjected to the indignity of a commercial inquiry. Christian churches might learn a great lesson from this example. Modern gentlemen may learn something from the ancient aristocracy. A wonderful kingdom is the kingdom of God! Though Samuel had before him the future king of Israel, and he himself was about to be deposed from his own supremacy, yet he communicated to Saul intelligence of the lost asses! Doth anything escape the care of God? Doth not God care for oxen? Doth a sparrow fall to the ground without our Father's notice? If we give the great concerns of our life into the hands of God, nothing that belongs to us shall be accounted unworthy of His notice. A man should inquire what background he has when a voice like Samuel's sounds in his ear. Saul was informed that on him was set all the desire of Israel: under such an announcement it was natural and proper that he should look to his antecedents, that, so to speak, he should gather himself up, and take correct measure of his manhood. A word of caution must be spoken here. Inquiry into our antecedents and resources should never be made with a fear of evading duty and difficulty. A very subtle temptation assails us from this side. Spurious modesty may reduce to the uttermost poverty and insufficiency, in order that by so doing it may lure us from paths of difficulty and hard service. When humility is saved from degenerating into fear, it becomes a source of strength. Moses complained that he was a man of slow speech; he desired that God would send His word by some other messenger, because of his incapacity and unworthiness. Jeremiah urged in response to the call of God, that he was but a little child. Saul declared that he was of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and sought to escape the duty of the hour through a sense of personal inadequacy to fulfil its demands. There is a medium between spurious self-depreciation and presumptuous boastfulness. That medium is reliance upon the sufficiency of God. Whom God calls He also qualifies. Observe, not increased intelligence, not additional personal stature, not any outward sign and proof that he was elected to be king of Israel; God gave him another heart. The question of life is often a question of feeling. What you want is another heart. Your life requires to be sob on fire with the love of God. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." "Son, give me thine heart!" Thou wilt be saved because thou hast cast thy whole heart at the feet of the Saviour of the world, who came to teach men the love of God. The cry arose amongst the people, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" We may, by increasing our devotion, by multiplying our beneficent labours, by courageous service in the kingdom of God, excite a surprise which shall indicate that we are no longer amongst those who live only for this world, "whose god is their belly, and who glory in their shame."
And he said unto him, Behold now, there is in this city a man of God.
1. As it regards God, we cannot but see how silently, secretly, often slowly, yet surely, He accomplishes His purposes. There are certain rivers in nature that flow so gently, that when looking at the water only, the eye of the spectator is unable to discern any movement at all. Often the ways of God resemble such rivers. Looking at what is going on in common life, it is so ordinary, so absolutely quiet, that you can see no trace whatever of any Divine plan. And yet, all the while, the most insignificant of them is contributing towards the accomplishment of the mighty plans of God. Men may be instruments in God's hands without knowing it. When Cyrus was moving his armies towards Babylon he little knew that he was accomplishing the Divine purpose for the humbling of the oppressor and the deliverance of His oppressed people. And in all the events of common life, men seem to be so completely their own masters, there seems such a want of any influence from without, that God is liable to slip entirely out of sight. And yet, as we see from the chapter before us, God is really at work.
2. But again, there is a useful lesson in this chapter for directing the conduct of men. You see in what direction the mind of Saul's servant moved for guidance in the day of difficulty. It, was toward the servant of God. And you see likewise how, when Saul and he had determined to consult the man of God, they were providentially guided to him. To us, the way is open to God Himself, without the intervention of any prophet. Let us in every time of trouble seek access to God.
(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
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