The Lord had sent Saul to Samuel to be anointed king over Israel. “Tomorrow about this time I will send thee a man out of the land of Benjamin,” the Lord had said to His servant, “and thou shalt anoint him to be captain over my people.” That the Lord sent Saul to Samuel means that the entire chain of events by which, unbeknown to himself, Saul was led step by step into Samuel’s presence, had been sovereignly designed by God in His counsel and forged into actuality by His providence. The straying of the asses from the estate of their owner; Kish’s instructing Saul to seek the lost beasts with the aid of a servant; the conducting of the search in the regions indicated by the text; the suggestion of the servant that the seer be consulted; the loquacious maidens giving copious information;—all came to pass according to the direction of God. And each preceding event in the chain was casually related to the following. The straying of those asses had called for the search; and because the search was in vain, the servant insisted that the seer be consulted; and as informed by the maidens the two of them hastened into the city and there ran into Samuel. For Saul had to be anointed king. But he meant it not so; but it was in his heart to enquire after some lost property of his father. This motive, too, was of God; and He was using’ it for the accomplishment of His purpose. All was of the Lord. It was He who sent Saul to Samuel to be appointed captain over the people of Israel; and in anointing him Samuel transacted for God.
That had now to be abundantly proved to Saul, both that the Lord had sent him to Samuel and that in Samuel he truly dealt with the Lord. The question is pertinent why that was necessary. For such was not the way of God with David. Samuel came to Bethlehem, and having anointed David in the midst of his brethren, he returned to Ramah. As far as can be determined from the sacred narrative, not one word had passed between the two. Not one sign was given David to indicate that in anointing him Samuel had followed divine instructions. But Saul, as we shall see, received several such indications. There could be but one reason. David was a believer in God and he loved God’s prophet and had faith in him. Hence, he was not in the need of signs to tell him that in pouring upon his head the sacred oil Samuel had acted under the necessity of a divine command. But Saul was an unbeliever. Once in the throne, he would insist in his heart that Samuel was a self-appointed seer and would rule without him and thus without God. Hence he had to be supplied with copious evidence of Samuel’s prophetic calling, thus of the fact that Samuel transacted for God in order that Saul in his rebellions and self-will might be without excuse.
Firstly, Samuel bade Saul to go up before him to the high place; “for ye shall eat with me today”. Samuel had planned on this—such is plainly the implication of these words—and therefore knew of Saul’s coming long before Saul and his servant even had decided to consult Samuel. Hence, the source of that knowledge of Samuel could have been none other than the Lord. Next Samuel told Saul that on the morrow “I will let thee go, and will tell thee all that is in thine heart.” Samuel could thus speak only because the thoughts of Saul’s heart had been revealed to him by the Lord, who alone knows man’s heart. The evidence of the genuineness of Samuel’s prophetic calling continued to accumulate. Said Samuel to Saul, “And as for thine asses that were lost three days ago, set not thy mind on them; for they are found.” Samuel had learned all about those asses from the Lord and not from any man. Then Samuel put to Saul that enigmatical question by which it was revealed to him that the Lord had selected him for the kingship, “And for whom is all that which is desirable in Israel? Is it not for thee and for thy father’s house?” By the expression, “all that is desirable in Israel,” must doubtless be understood the kingdom as including the kingship, the true Israel according to the election, and even the very soil of Canaan. All would be Saul’s but only in the way of his fearing God with all his heart and ruling God’s people as His vicar. Saul fearing the Lord, the God-fearing in Israel would serve him in love and thus the kingdom would be his as a gift of Jehovah. But Saul feared not God. Therefore the kingdom was taken from him and bestowed upon David, the man according to God’s heart.
Saul plainly perceived the implication of Samuel’s enigmatical statement, perceived that the Lord had selected him for the kingship. He replied, “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?” As was stated, Saul was in earnest, it may be believed. With a man like him, objections such as he was raising would have real weight.
Instead of answering Saul, Samuel took him and his servant “and brought them into the parlor and made them sit in the chief place among them that were bidden, which were about thirty persons.” They were a select number of thirty men of note, who had been invited to the festival, and had taken their places in the room provided for that purpose. Saul was given the uppermost, that is, the chief place as the place of honor. “And Samuel said unto the cook, Bring the portion, which I gave thee, of which I said unto thee, Set it by thee.” “And the cook took up the shoulder, and that which was upon it, and set it before Saul. And said—namely Samuel said—Behold that which is left! It is set before thee, eat: for unto this time has it been set before thee since I said, I have invited the people.” This is a difficult verse. Yet its purpose seems clear. It informed Saul that the piece that was offered was one that had been set aside for him when the feast was in the first stages of preparation or immediately after the invitations had been sent out, thus long before Saul’s arrival in the city. That was so much more evidence of Samuel’s prophetic foresight. It compelled Saul again to conclude that in Samuel he had to do with one with whom were the secrets of the Lord.
“So Saul did eat with Samuel that day. And when they were come down from the high place into the city, Samuel communed with Saul upon the top of the house.” It was at this time that Samuel told Saul all that was in his heart. Of all the evidence of Samuel’s prophetic calling thus far given, this perhaps was the most conclusive. What was in Saul’s heart is not revealed to us. It shows that it is not important that we should know. Any attempt on our part to conjecture accurately what was in Saul’s heart must end in failure. For only God knows the heart. It would follow from the nature of matters that Saul was occupied in his mind and heart with his elevation to the throne. That much is certain. What Samuel said to Saul is not revealed. It must have referred to the royal dignity, the religious decline of the people, their groaning under the yoke of foreign dominions, the necessity of their return to the Lord, and of a leader with the fear of God in his heart.
After a conversation that could not have been protracted, considering the character of Saul, the three of them—Saul and his servant and Samuel—lay them down to sleep. This certainly is implied in what is next related, “And they arose early: and it came to pass about the spring of the day, that Samuel called Saul to the top of the house, saying, “Up, that I may send thee away”. Thus the first to awake from sleep and to arise was Samuel. For the narrative continues, “And Saul arose, and they went out both of them, he and Samuel abroad.”
It is plain that Samuel had not invited Saul to the sacrificial feast for the express purpose of honoring him. True, he did make Saul sit in the chief place among them that were bidden. But this was simply proper, seeing that Saul was to be king. Yet, Samuel refrained—for what purpose we shall see presently— from disclosing this to the guests and to anyone. The text does not even bring out that Samuel revealed Saul’s identity. Yet, he may have. If so, Saul was simply Saul, the son of Kish, a Benjamite, to the other guests. It all goes to show that the real purpose of Samuel’s having invited Saul, and prepared for him a place at the festive board and reserved for him the choice piece, was to provide Saul with the indisputable evidence that it was the Lord who had directed his steps to Samuel and that Samuel truly was God’s prophet. Saul was now in the possession of that evidence. If soon he would consciously and deliberately deny these things, it would be in the awareness that he sinned against better knowledge.
Now followed the anointing, it having been proved to Saul that Samuel was God’s prophet. “As they were going down to the end of the city, Samuel said to Saul, Bid the servant pass on before us (and he passed on), but stand thou still awhile, that I may show thee the word of God. Then Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it upon his head, and kissed him and said, Is it not because the Lord hath anointed thee to be captain over his inheritance ?” Samuel’s bidding Saul to stand still a while (Hebrew, today), “that I may shew thee the word of God” must not be taken to mean that the actual anointing was preceded by another prolonged conversation in which Samuel, as some interpreters have it, for the first time revealed to Saul that he was to be elevated to the throne. Samuel, certainly, had already revealed this to Saul, first by that enigmatical rhetorical question that he had put to Saul, and later in his conversation with him on the roof. It is rather absurd to suppose that now for the first time, after all those transactions, Saul learned from Samuel that he was to be king. If this had not already been told him, what could have been the subject matter of that conversation between the two on the top of the roof? And how, on the basis of such a view, is Saul’s reactions to that enigmatical question to be explained? He had replied to it and what he said betokens surprise, amazement. But when Samuel finally took a vial of oil, and poured it upon Saul’s head, he held his peace, the reason being, certainly, that he had been prepared for his anointing. Samuel’s declaration “I will show thee the word of God” has reference to the actual anointing of Saul and to the words that Samuel thereupon spake to him.
As was said, Samuel refrained from disclosing to the assembled guests that the stranger, whom he had made to occupy the chief place among them was to be the king. Nor did Samuel want the servant of Saul to know. For he instructed Saul to bid the servant to pass on before them; and subsequently Saul is anointed in the servant’s absence. No one, except the two directly involved, Samuel and ‘Saul, witnessed that anointing. Hence, no one besides these two knew of it. When again in his place, Saul even refused to tell his inquisitive uncle and this in obedience, it must be, to Samuel’s instructions that he tell no one. Saul’s anointing, his elevation to the throne, was purposely being kept a secret. Why was this? The answer lies with the three prophecies to which Samuel gave utterance, when he had anointed Saul. For though it is true that in their fulfillment these prophesies formed the signs that were given Saul in confirmation to him that he was now by divine anointing really Israel’s king, yet it must not be overlooked that we deal here in the first instance with prophecies. We must therefore have regard to these prophecies.
The first prophecy, verse 2: “When thou art parted from me today,” said the seer to Saul, “thou shalt find two men by Rachel’s sepulcher in the border of Benjamin at Zelzah and they will say unto thee, The asses which thou wentest to seek are found: and, thy father hath left the care of the asses, and sorroweth for you, saying, What shall I do for my son?” This was pure prediction; it thus formed that much more evidence to Saul of Samuel’s prophetic calling. However, had Saul’s anointing become a matter of common knowledge among the people, there would be point to the reasoning—a reasoning that Saul would be certain to have used—that, seeing he was known to have been elevated to the throne, the behavior of the men of Samuel’s prediction, the deep regard for Saul and Kish that their tiding exhibits, was a strictly normal reaction, that anyone with a knowledge of the facts in the case, would have foreseen and thus could have foretold.
This was especially true of the second prophecy, verse 2, 3: “Then shalt thou go forward from thence, and thou shalt come to the plain of Tabor, and there shall meet thee three men going up to God to Bethel, one carrying three kids, and another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a bottle of wine: and they will salute thee, and give thee two loaves of bread; which thou shalt receive of their hands.” Seeing that these men were totally ignorant of the high honor that had been bestowed on Saul, their giving him those gifts was a truly remarkable phenomenon. Saul’s anointing being known to no one, it formed still another clear and unmistakable indication of Samuel’s prophetic calling.
The third prophecy in its fulfillment is no less remarkable in this respect; or perhaps it forms the most telling evidence of all. “And after that thou shalt come to the hill of God, where is the garrison of the Philistines: and it shall come to pass, when thou art come thither to the city, that thou shalt meet a company of prophets coming down from the high place with a psaltery, and a tabret, and a pipe, and a harp before them; and they shall prophesy: And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man, ” verses 5, 6. This prophecy concerns directly God. It sets forth what He will do. He will lay hold on Saul by His Spirit; and Saul will prophecy and be turned into another man. All in all, the evidences to Saul that the secrets of God were with Samuel, were overwhelming. Yet that precisely is what Saul denied. In the face of all the evidence given him, that Samuel was sent of God, Saul was determined to rule without him and thus without God. That was his sin; it marks him a man thoroughly obdurate in heart.
As was stated, Samuel’s three prophecies in their fulfillment were signs, and as such they only added to the testimony already given Saul that God had directed his footsteps to Samuel and that Samuel was God’s prophet. The statement of the two men that the asses had been found doubtless implied a divine mandate to the effect that Saul must detach his thoughts from the common pursuits of life and concentrate on and be wholly consecrated to the duties of the office of king to God’s glory and the true advancement of the interests of His people. That the tidings of the two men formed a sign by which God spake to Saul followed from the circumstance that, without their being aware of it, they uttered their tiding by divine direction as was also evident to Saul from the fact that the entire occurrence in all its detail had been foretold by Samuel.
The sign of the three men on the way to God to Bethel and bestowing on Saul two loaves of bread from their sacrificial gifts had special meaning for him. The law of Moses placed the people of Israel under the obligation of providing in the material necessities of the priests and the Levites. The tenths of all the people’s increase belonged to these ministers of God. In the language of the law, it was their everlasting possession from which they could not be deprived with impunity. For Israel’s king, however, the law made no provision. But the speech of this sign was to the effect that in future the Lord in His mercy would inspire His people to consecrate the wealth of their land, of which He was absolute owner and which His people held as a trust—they were but stewards in God’s house—also to the support of the king.
The third sign was that of Saul’s prophesying in the moment of his contacting that procession of prophesying prophets coming down from the high place with the four kinds of musical instruments indicated in the text. The prophesying of Saul had stupendous significance not by itself, to be sure, but as an unmistakable and undeniable sign that the Spirit that qualified for the duties of the office had come upon him and that accordingly he truly was called of Samuel and therefore of God Himself to the office of king. To say that the Spirit came upon him is equivalent to saying that he was called. The one statement is implied in the other. For without exception all who were called received the Spirit. And therefore they also prophesied. Saul prophesied. Thus he could deny that he was called of God only as militating against the testimony of the Spirit in His heart that he had been seated in the throne by God. For that he was called means that in his conscious mind necessity was laid upon him to rule God’s people in the fear of God and according to God’s Word, and that woe was unto him if he did not so rule. Saul therefore was not his own as king; he was God’s. He was not king by his own choice but by the election and command of God. This exactly he denied, once in the throne. For he wanted to be his own master. That was his sin.
Saul, as seized by the Spirit, was “turned into another man. Further on the text reads that God “gave him another heart (Hebrew, turned him another heart). According to the Scriptures, the heart is the ethical center of the whole inward life, the point of divergence of all the issues of the inward man. Yet the meaning of the Scripture last quoted is not that Saul underwent a real spiritual-ethical change and renewal of the foundation of his life. The divine working in him was not of such a character that it resulted in his being born again from above. He was and remained a man dead in sin. Nor could the work of the Spirit have consisted in His increating in Saul new natural powers and talents but rather in the production of a hitherto latent or slumbering side of his being,—latent powers of mind and will. The bashful, unassuming and humble Saul was transformed into a mighty man of valor.
The company of prophets of which the text makes mention was a congregation or union of prophets founded by Samuel and under his direction. These unions were the fruit of Samuel’s labors and their bond was the life of faith that his prophesying had awakened. They had gathered on the high place for common worship and prayer. They nourished religious feeling by sacred music. When Saul entered their company they were singing and speaking under the impulse of the Spirit’s inspiration to the glory of God. Saul was not able to withstand the influence of their prophesying. The Spirit seized him and he, too, prophesied among them to the amazement of all who knew him there in his place of residence. The text reads, “And it came to pass, when all that knew him before times saw that, behold, he prophesied among the prophets, then the people said one to another, What is this that is come unto the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” Are we to make of this that Saul was known in the place where he dwelt as a man in whom there was little or no religion and that this explains the people’s amazement. That may be. It is impossible to say just how the surprise of the people is to be interpreted. This much is certain that Saul was not known as a man given to religious exercises.