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Deeper Commentary


1Sa 9:1 There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjamite, a mighty man of valour-
The Hebrew phrase "might man of valour" is usually employed about military prowess. Kish had presumably got a name for himself in previous conflicts with the Philistines; "Kish" means "bow" so perhaps he was famed as an archer. The relevance to the exiles was that the "mighty men of valour" had not saved Jerusalem and had been taken into captivity (s.w. 2 Kings 24:14), because they had not learned the lesson taught by Samuel's mother Hannah, that the valour of the mighty is brought down before God, and the humble and weak exalted (s.w. 1 Sam. 2:4).     

1Sa 9:2 He had a son whose name was Saul, an impressive young man; there was not among the people of Israel a more impressive person than he. From his shoulders and upward he was taller than any of the people-
The name "Saul" means "asked for"; for the people had asked for him (1 Sam. 8:10). It is very similar to "Samuel", "asked of God" (1 Sam. 1:20). Samuel was called to be a prophet, priest and anointed king (see on 1 Sam. 2:10), but he apparently failed to live up to this potential and was potentially replaced by Saul. He too failed, as did David and Solomon later, with all the potentials only coming finally true in the Lord Jesus. 

It was as if God understood the spirit of what the people wanted, and gave it to them. All confirmation that we are given the essence of what we really desire, no matter how well or not we verbalize it. So the essence is to watch our desires. "Impressive young man" is literally "a chosen young man", and indeed he had been chosen by God, exactly in accordance with their desires. The word is used about David (Ps. 89:19). God's potential plan for Saul was transferred to him. And from thence to Solomon and finally to the Lord Jesus. This is how God works to this day, transferring potentials from one to another when the first option fails.   

1Sa 9:3 The donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, were lost. Kish said to Saul, Take now one of the servants with you and go to look for the donkeys-
Donkeys were the animal of nobility at the time (Jud. 5:10; 10:4; 12:14 cp. Zech. 9:9). The idea may be that Kish too had had the potential to be a leader but lost / failed it. Or that Saul was unconsciously seeking to be king but couldn't find it in his own strength. Yet the donkeys were found by God for Saul, even though he himself failed to find them. The idea may be that Saul was indeed lacking in spiritual qualification to be king, but Yahweh was prepared to make up for this, because He wanted Saul to realize the potentials He had given him. See on :6.  

1Sa 9:4 He passed through the hill country of Ephraim and the land of Shalishah, but they didn’t find them. Then they went through the land of Shaalim and they weren’t there; he went throughout the land of the Benjamites, but they didn’t find them-
If as suggested on :3 the donkeys were a symbol of leadership or kingship, Saul was being taught that finding them was to be of God's grace or gift, and not any amount of human strength. "Shalishah" is literally 'the land of threes', and tripilisms were to occur throughout Saul's subsequent experience. Three signs, three men meeting him, etc. were all to be signs to him that God was working with him quite separate to his own qualification or human strength in seeking for it. See on :13.

1Sa 9:5 When they reached the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant who was with him, Come, let us return, lest my father stop caring about the donkeys and be anxious for us-
This indicates at least some humanity in Saul. He is presented as a secular, unspiritual man who has all the same not a bad person. Out looking for lost animals, he was met by God and called. He was encountered by God without previously searching for Him, just as he was when he returned from working in the fields and found Jabesh under attack (1 Sam. 11:5). The call of God comes in the midst of everyday life. Just as the disciples were casting their net into the sea, the Lord Jesus called them. Simon of Cyrene was coming out of the fields when he was pressganged into carrying the Lord's cross, and likely came to faith in Him because of it. The call of God is presented here as being of Divine grace alone. It's not that these men were searching for God, but rather He was in search of man. It's not so much that we know God, but rather than we are known of Him (Gal. 4:9). Nowhere is God's personal grace clearer than when we reflect upon our calling; and that is especially true for those who were called through being born into a believing family.

1Sa 9:6 The servant said, Look now, in this city there is a man of God, and he is a man who is held in honour. All that he says comes true. Now, let us go there; perhaps he can tell us which way to go-
There is quite a theme of servants bringing blessings or good news (1 Sam. 9:6; 16:16; 25:14 cp. Gen. 41:10; 2 Kings 5:3). This may be to reflect God's interest in the significance of the lowly. The servant doesn't even know Samuel's name, and Saul is ignorant completely about the presence of any man of God, nor did it occur to him to go there. We note the extensive search for the donkeys and the concern to find out their fate from a man of God. See on :7. This would be understandable if as suggested on :3 they were symbols of leadership or even kingship. "Which way to go" could imply they were lost.  

1Sa 9:7 Then Saul said to his servant, But if we go, what shall we bring the man? For the food is finished from our bags and there is no gift to bring to the man of God. What do we have?-
Again we see Saul's unspirituality. He assumed that one had to pay a man of God before getting a consultation. They were still far from home and were now without food. As noted on :6, this reflects the earnestness of Saul's desire to find the donkeys; see on :3.

1Sa 9:8 The servant replied, I have a quarter of a shekel of silver. I will give that to the man of God to tell us our way-
The need to be told their way, when they had given up searching for the donkeys, could mean that they were actually lost. Most people didn't travel far from their birthplaces. This is the same phrase as in :6, and it only recurs in the Bible in Jer. 42:3, where the Jews after the captivity ask Jeremiah to ask God to show / tell them the way to go. But when told, they refused to walk in it. This confirms our frequent observation that these historical records were rewritten for the instruction of the exiles.   

1Sa 9:9 (In earlier times in Israel when a man went to inquire of God he would say, Come and let us go to the seer, for he who is now called a prophet was before called a seer)-
This clarifying note would be appropriate if as I have suggested these records were rewritten during the exile. Perhaps too the record is clarifying that a "man of God" or prophet was a seer of Divine visions, and not a person caught up in cultic, ecstatic "prophecy" as known amongst the Gentiles. 

1Sa 9:10 Then Saul said to his servant, Good. Let us go. So they went to the city where the man of God was-
There is a strange repetition here of Samuel's command that Israel were to "go" to their own "cities" (1 Sam. 8:22 s.w.). It's as if Saul obeyed this by going to Samuel.

1Sa 9:11 As they went up the hill to the city they found young girls going out to draw water and they asked them, Is the seer here?-
The water may have been necessary for the religious service Samuel was doing there. In 1 Sam. 7:6 he had used the drawing and pouring out of water to symbolize the pouring out of hearts in repentance, and it cannot be coincidence that drawing water is again featuring in his work. We note that Saul was not present at such gatherings. In this case he was being asked himself to pour himself out to Yahweh in repentance.

1Sa 9:12 They answered, He is. Look, he is ahead of you. Hurry now, for he has come today into the city because the people have a sacrifice today in the high place-
This implies that Saul was ignorant of the sacrifices. Samuel travelled on a circuit, enabling the people to come and sacrifice. He acted as a priest although he was not a Levite and was a prophet. So Saul would later surely realize it had been of God's providence that he happened to be in the town when Samuel was there running a feast.  

1Sa 9:13 As soon as you have come into the city you will immediately find him, before he goes up to the high place to eat. The people will not eat until he comes, because it is he who blesses the sacrifice. Afterwards, those who are invited eat. Now therefore go up, for at this time you should find him-
Their language was to make the point that Saul had not found the donkeys (:3 s.w.), but instead he had found Samuel; and through Samuel, God had found him. Although Saul knew nothing about these things, he was to find that he was in fact amongst those invited (:22,24). "Invited" is the common word for "call". The whole account here is a parade example of God's calling of men, always taking the initiative, and bursting into the lives of otherwise secular people. Standing on a street distributing New Testaments, we are the vehicles for that same call of God into the lives of men and women on the street.

1Sa 9:14 They went up to the city. As they came into the city, Samuel came out toward them, to go up to the high place-
The old Yiddish verse came powerfully true: "And going out to meet Him / I met Him coming toward me". But we note that Samuel is presented as coming toward them, on his way up to the high place. The impression therefore is that somehow they were walking away from the high place. And Samuel met them head on, and they turned around and followed him.

The Lord Jesus called men, arresting them with His radical call in the very midst of daily life, just when they were throwing a net into the sea, at the most utterly inconvenient moment, even the most humanly inappropriate moment- such as being on the way to your father’s funeral. The Son of God was actually acting as His Father had done. Gideon was called whilst in the middle of threshing wheat in a time of famine (Jud. 6:1), Saul whilst he was out looking for lost cattle (1 Sam. 9:10) and again whilst he was coming home from work one evening (1 Sam. 11:5); David whilst he was looking after the sheep; Samuel whilst he was asleep; Amos whilst he was leading the flocks to water (Am. 7:14); and see too 1 Kings 11:29; 19:16; 2 Kings 9:1-13,18. In other words, the call of God comes to us right in the midst of ordinary, mundane life. Of this there can be no doubt. And the Lord Jesus called men in just the same way.

1Sa 9:15 Now Yahweh had revealed to Samuel a day before Saul came, saying-
What we hear in the ear, that we must preach on the housetops (Mt. 10:27). This is built on the language of 1 Sam. 9:15,25, where God speaks in Samuel’s ear, and then he speaks that word to Saul on the housetop. The Lord is saying that in essence, we are all in Samuel’s position; we hear the word of this world’s salvation, the word about “the Kingdom” as it was for Saul, and that very fact is in itself the imperative to overcome our natural reservations and share it with those for whom it is intended- even if, as with Saul, we consider them unlikely and unspiritual hearers.

"Revealed" in 1 Sam. 3:7,21; 9:15 is the word used of how Yahweh had revealed Himself to the tribe of Levi and called them to be His priests (1 Sam. 2:27), and Eli as it were was in the loins of his father Levi, according to the principle of Heb. 7:10. But the line of Levi and Eli had potentially been rejected because of Eli's apostasy. The Divine intention was to replace them with Samuel as a prophet-priest and perhaps king (1 Sam. 2:10), revealing Himself to him, although he was not a Levite. But this potential was only partially fulfilled by Samuel, and despite possibilities in David and Solomon, it only came to full term in the person and work of the Lord Jesus.

1Sa 9:16 Tomorrow about this time I will send you a man out of the land of Benjamin, and you must anoint him to be prince over My people Israel, and he will save My people out of the hand of the Philistines, for I have looked on My people, because their cry has come to Me-
Their request for a human king was, as God Himself mightily demonstrated to them, an utter rejection of Him, and He grieved because of it. And yet when God gave them a King, He expresses His decision in quite a different tone; as if He had compassion upon their humanity, their wrong desire to have a human king. He is indeed compassionate to us even in moral failure, and here exhibits amazing understanding of the human condition. And that is even more enhanced through the work and mediation of His Son. Here God speaks as if the gift of Saul was akin to the provision of Moses, to save poor Israel from their unwarranted persecution. For God looking upon His people because of their cry is the language of His gracious deliverance of His weak, idolatrous people from Egypt. Actually, Saul was slain by the Philistines- in His foreknowledge, the Almighty knew all about Saul. But in His pure grace, He doesn't reflect this in the way He speaks at this time.

1Sa 9:17 When Samuel saw Saul, Yahweh said to him, Here is the man of whom I spoke to you! He will have authority over My people-
Saul didn't recognize Samuel when they met (:18), so Samuel might have been disappointed that the chosen man was not one of his various protégés amongst the people he ministered to. But he would have recalled the chilling prophecy he had given Israel of the kind of man this was, or would become. It would have been hard for Samuel to be civil to him, especially seeing he so strongly disagreed with Israel having a king. But presumably he was also aware that God was going to try to work through this man, and that his words of prediction need not come true if the man repented.

1Sa 9:18 Then Saul came near to Samuel in the gate and said, Please tell me where the seer’s house is-
It is unclear whether this means that they were in Ramah, Samuel's home, or whether this was one of the towns which Samuel visited on his circuit. If indeed it was Ramah, then this was only 5 miles from Gibeah of Saul. That Saul didn't know anything much about Samuel nor did he recognize him when they met... is all a tacit reflection of his lack of interest in spiritual things.

1Sa 9:19 Samuel answered Saul, I am the seer. Go up before me to the high place, for you shall eat with me today. In the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is in your heart-
"Let you go" reflects how Saul was somehow under arrest by God, as it were detained before Yahweh. When he was earnestly seeking to now get home to his worried family as quickly as possible. It was the offerers who ate of their own sacrifices after Samuel's blessing. Saul had not sacrificed and yet he was invited to eat of the meat offered. This was only done by the Levites, and Saul was a Benjamite. All through, he is being shown God's grace, although sadly he refused to be permanently convicted by it. And perhaps he is being invited to act as a Levite, as Samuel did, although he was not from the tribe of Levi. In this case, the hope was that he would become a king-priest. For Saul to go in front of Samuel to the high place would have been a mark of extreme respect, perhaps implying that Saul was to replace Samuel's role as a non-Levitical priest. So much potential was lost by Saul, as it is in the lives of so many. Wasted potential is the tragedy of the cosmos. 

1Sa 9:20 As for your donkeys which were lost three days ago, don’t worry about them; they have been found. To whom has all the desire in Israel turned? Is it not to you and all your father’s house?-
This could equally be translated to mean that all that is desirable in Israel is for Saul and his father's house, and so he therefore need not worry about losing a few donkeys. Saul was being shown that God knew all about his situation; and knew how long he had been searching. The implication may be that Samuel had found the donkeys (hence Samuel later he insists he never stole donkeys, 1 Sam. 12:3); on :3 I suggested they represented kingship or leadership. They had been found by Samuel, by God, and were now being given to Saul.

1Sa 9:21 Saul answered, Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? And is not my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak to me like this?-
Benjamin was indeed the smallest of the tribes according to Gen. 49:27, but that tribe had been made even smaller and humiliated within Israel by the fairly recent events of Jud. 19-21. This could be genuine humility, or the standard expression of 'humility' which almost goes with the territory of being given a great promotion. Kish is introduced as a mighty man of valour (:1), and I suggested on :3 that the donkeys had significance as the animals of leadership or even kingship. These questions are left open by the record, to exercise our thinking. Was Saul initially humble, or only on a surface level?

1Sa 9:22 Samuel took Saul and his servant and brought them into the guest room, and made them sit in the best place among the guests, about thirty people-
We see reflected here the very small scale of Samuel's efforts. He came to this town to enable the people to offer peace offerings; after he blessed the offering, the offerers then ate their own offering. But only 30 people did this, and as with Hannah and Elkanah, it is likely that there were married couples amongst those 30. For many years Samuel made his circuits, encouraging the people in their devotion to Yahweh. But only 30 [at the most] offered peace offerings. The impression from the record is that most of Israel were far gone in idolatry and secularism, at least until they faced a real crisis from their neighbours.

1Sa 9:23 Samuel said to the cook, Bring the portion which I gave you, telling you to set it aside-
Samuel clearly had been told that the king to be anointed was coming to him, and he absolutely believed this, to the point of making very detailed plans. "The cook" is literally the slaughterer. We get the impression that although Samuel was not a Levite, in practice he pretty much took over from Eli as high priest, and this "cook" who dealt with the sacrifices was effectively his Levite, an assistant with the sacrifices.

1Sa 9:24 The cook took up the thigh and what was on it and set it before Saul-
AV "the shoulder and that which was upon it". This is the imagery of Is. 9:6; 22:22 "The government shall be upon his shoulder", again hinting that Saul was to be king.

Samuel said, Here is what has been kept for you! Eat it because it has been kept for you for this occasion since I said, ‘I have invited guests’. So Saul ate with Samuel that day-
This could be an intensive plural for the one great guest. 

1Sa 9:25 When they had come down from the high place into the city, he talked with Saul on the housetop-
What we say to the Lord Jesus in His ear in the bedroom in the darkness, will be openly spoken by the Lord Jesus at the judgment (Lk. 12:2,3). God dwells in darkness (Ex. 20:21; 1 Kings 8:12). Speaking in the bedroom in secret with the knowledge we will be openly rewarded is the language of prayer (Mt. 6:6). Our private relationship with the Lord now, praying to Him in our bedroom, meditating about Him there, will then be spoken out loud. But there is a related statement from the Lord: What we hear from Him in the ear, we must speak openly (Mt. 10:26,27; after the pattern of Isaiah in Is. 22:14). Putting these passages together, we get the picture of us speaking to God through Christ, talking in His ear, as one might whisper something very personal into a friend's ear, in the darkness of our bedroom. And then the Lord whispers back in our ear, i.e. His revelation to us (through the word) is very personal and not perceived by others; but we must openly, publicly act upon it. And this private relationship we have with the Lord in our prayer life will then be revealed openly at the judgment. God told Samuel " in his ear" about Saul's future, and although the message must have been hard to relay to Saul, Samuel did so, on the housetop (1 Sam. 9:15,25). The similarities with the Lord's words are too close to be accidental. Surely He saw each of us as passing through the essential experience of Samuel.

1Sa 9:26 They arose early, at daybreak, and Samuel called to Saul on the housetop, Get up, that I may send you away. Saul arose, and they went outside together-
"Called" translates the same Hebrew word used for "invited" in :25. Consistently we have the language of Divine calling. Saul is presented as being absolutely obedient to Samuel and the Divine calling- at this stage.

1Sa 9:27 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 did so), but you stay here first, so that I may tell you the message of God
"Message" translates the standard Hebrew dabar for "word". "Tell you" is better "make your hear / be obedient". The same phrase is used of how Israel at Sinai were made to hear the word of God (Dt. 4:10) as a condition for entering covenant with Him. The subsequent activity of God's Spirit upon Saul was indeed to potentially make him hear / be obedient to the word of God to him. Only the day before he had been out looking for lost donkeys, with not a real thought for Yahweh. And now God was seeking to make him obedient to the word of the Kingdom. But as Saul's subsequent life demonstrates, although God through His Spirit does seek to make us obedient to His word, He will never ultimately force us.