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And when Samuel saw Saul, the LORD said unto him, Behold the man whom I spake to thee of! this same shall reign over my people. 

I Samuel 9:17

God has a way of giving to his people exactly what they desire, and quite frequently it does not turn out as wonderfully as they had expected. This was what happened to Israel in the days of Samuel. 

Israel wanted a king and asked of Samuel that God provide one. This in itself was not so very wrong, for already through Moses such a king had been promised. The thing is that they did not want a king to lead them in the service of God, they did not want a king who would be to them a spiritual leader; what they wanted was a king like the other nations about them, a king that would establish them before the world. And so that was exactly what they got. 

Neither was it that God did not warn them. He told Samuel to set before the people exactly what kind of a king it was that they were asking for and exactly what kind of a king they would get if their request was granted. It was not a pleasant picture, the picture of a tyrant who would misuse them all down the line. But to the people it made no difference. So often people say when evil comes upon them, “If only we had known that this would happen.” But here, as so frequently in Scripture, we are shown that once people have their hearts set upon sin, they will not turn back no matter how clearly they are warned of the results that it will gender. Israel’s only answer to Samuel was, “Nay; but we will have a king over us.” 

So it was that God selected a king to rule over Israel, exactly the kind of king that Israel wanted. 

Neither was it as though the Lord spitefully gave to them an evil and perverse man to be their king, a man of tyrannical nature or one of such inferior abilities that he could not possibly have ruled the nation aright. No, God’s choice as king for Israel was an excellent young man of admirable quality, he had every characteristic that the people themselves would 1 have required. He was a handsome man with fine features, a tall stature and a powerful body; he was a courageous man with a strong loyalty to his people and country, ever ready to go forth into battle; he was a man of kind disposition who could become very concerned about the needs and hardships ,of the people; he was an intelligent man with wisdom and discretion; he was of good family and background raised in the traditions of Israel and himself always careful to live according to them; he was a modest man without inclination to force himself upon others; he was an Israelite among Israelites, ideal in every respect. There was only one thing he lacked, and that was what the children of Israel wanted too, he was not sensitive and alive to the Word of God; and in the end, it was that which made the difference. 

The story of Saul begins with a rather homely incident which nonetheless serves to bring out some of his more desirable characteristics. Saul’s father, a fairly wealthy man it seems, of some reputation and influence, had lost some asses. When thereupon he called Saul to him and commanded him to take a servant and undertake the none too desirable task of trying to find the asses, Saul complies without a complaint. Even more in this search, he proved himself to be thorough, going systematically from place to place pursuing his task; he proved himself to be a man of perseverance as he refused to become discouraged even after a rather lengthy search; he proved himself to be a congenial companion to the servant rather than an overbearing master, and he proved himself to be considerate in his final concern for the worries of his father. There was nothing crude or rude about Saul; he was in every respect a man of appealing personality. 

It was not until Saul and his servant were approaching a city in which Samuel was living at the time that a rather disturbing feature began to show itself, and then it seems to have been so small that we are hardly apt to notice it. 

It came about when, after an extensive and unsuccessful search, Saul said to the servant, “Come, and let us return; lest my father leave caring for the asses, and take thought for us.” 

This reasoning the servant surely understood. It was just that he, as Saul himself, was not one that liked to return from a task that was not successfully completed. Thus it was that in one last desperate effort he answered Saul, “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 shew us our way that we should go.” This was indeed a strange suggestion. The servant seemed to think that, because, Samuel was a prophet, they could go to him and ask him about something as mundane as whether they should continue to look for the asses, and where to look, and Samuel would tell them. It was the voice of ignorance. Samuel surely did not spend his time and use his prophetic powers merely to tell people how to go about finding lost possessions and the like. The servant had very likely heard from someone that the prophet could predict the future with accuracy and saw no reason why they shouldn’t be able to turn that power of his to their own advantage. 

But it is not the naiveté of the servant that bothers; it is the answer of Saul. He does not reprove the man; he apparently did not even find the idea shocking, although it may not be that he took it very seriously either. Possibly just to humor the servant, he answered him, “But, behold, if we go, what shall we bring the man? for the bread is spent in our vessels, and there is not a present to bring to the man of God: what have we?” Saul very evidently knew nothing at all about Samuel either as to what he actually did or for what considerations he did them. It is this complete ignorance on the part of Saul which we find so difficult to understand. 

We may be sure that the ignorance of Saul was not due to the limitations of Samuel’s circle of activity and influence. There were those judges who labored in only a certain part of Israel and whose reputation did not spread much beyond. But Samuel was not one of these. Samuel was the last and the greatest of the judges. From his youth he was also a prophet and the recipient of special revelations. This was very generally known. Besides, particularly after the death of Eli, he was the consultant of the leaders of the whole nation. The whole spiritual life of the nation pivoted in a very real way upon him. 

Here was exactly the trouble, however; Saul was not really a part of Israel’s spiritual life. He was part of the nation to be sure, a choice specimen of its young men, but from a secular, not from a spiritual point of view. Here was one of the sad results of the history of the judges. Through it there developed a class of people in Israel who had no real spiritual feelings: spiritually they were dead. They were Israelites to be sure. From a political point of view they were very good Israelites with consideration for and loyalty to their nation. They were often nice people and made good neighbors. In fact, they would often take part in the religious ceremonies as a valid part of the tradition of their nation. The only thing was that God really meant nothing to them. They felt no need of Him. They gave Him no worship. They really didn’t even bother to know about Him. It was to this group that Saul belonged. 

Thus it was that when Saul’s servant suggested to Saul that they consult with Samuel on their problem, he caught Saul completely unprepared. Although he no doubt knew of Samuel’s existence, he knew next to nothing about him. It was not as though he had any objections against going to Samuel. If they could get something useful out of him, it would be worth while; and if not, it would be an interesting diversion after so many days of futile hunting through the wild. The only thing he felt was that as a matter of decency, if they were going to ask the services of the prophet, they had better be ready to give some small gift in return. And the few small coins the servant happened to have with him were enough. Good-humoredly Saul went along to meet this strange prophet. 

What Saul did not realize was that Samuel was already awaiting his coming. The people had asked for a king that they might be like the other nations; and a king like the other nations God would give them, a king without feeling for God. Not that God would give them a man who was poor, bungling and inept. No, God would give them the choice, the finest of Israel’s purely secular men. Saul was that man. God in His providence was guiding Saul’s feet; and He had warned Samuel the day before that Saul was coming. Samuel had prepared a feast with which to welcome him, and thirty witnesses were there to observe that Saul had been with Samuel even if they did not recognize the importance of it yet. 

There was a reason why God wanted Saul to meet with Samuel well before he was actually selected and pointed out to the people generally. That reason was deep within the nature of Saul himself. Because Saul was a purely secular man at heart, he would always be inclined to ascribe whatever happened to him to mere natural considerations. If God had waited until the public drawing of lots to let Saul know that he was to be king, Saul would have been the first to ascribe it to mere chance or good fortune. In fact, as time went on he would be unable to resist the temptation to consider it to be due to some personal excellence on his own part. Thus before it came to pass, God would make it perfectly clear to Saul that there was only one real reason why he received the royal office—it was appointed to him by God. God would give him every reason to know that he should be thankful to God for everything he received and obedient as unto a benefactor. 

When, therefore, Saul entered the gates of that city, God was there waiting for him. Casually he asked some young girls who were drawing water where they could find the prophet; and, when they lifted their eyes and looked around, Samuel was already there walking toward Saul. All the girls had to do was to identify him. To the heart of Samuel meanwhile, God said, “Behold the man whom I spake to thee of I this same shall reign over my people.” Even Samuel did not realize yet that God was preparing one of the most remarkable confrontations of His own greatness over against unbelief. Saul represented the very best of the secular world, the finest that it could put forth. God did nothing to discourage him; In fact, God gave to Saul every possible reason to do only that which was right. But one thing Saul lacked—that was the grace of God in his heart. Without it, in spite of his earthly qualifications, he could only be the tyrannical man of wickedness which Samuel had predicted.