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Commentary on SAMUEL (or 1 & 2 Samuel) 3

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

Chapter 9.

Saul Is Brought To Samuel By God And Is revealed And Greeted By Him As The New King (9.1-21).

We are not told how long after the previous chapter this incident occurs, but it was clearly long enough for the Philistines to have again invaded the land and to have established a garrison there (10.5). They had probably heard of what they saw as a rift between the people and the ageing Samuel whom they knew to have been aided by the dreaded YHWH, and saw it as their opportunity to regain lost ground.

In view of the attitude of the people towards YHWH, the hand of YHWH (7.13) had clearly been withdrawn. YHWH was no longer ‘with them’. They had wanted a king. They would now have to depend on their king. It would be up to him to keep them safe.

The author, however, takes great care to make clear to us that He has not forsaken them altogether. Saul is to be appointed under the express guidance of YHWH, and it is specifically with defence against a recent incursion by the Philistines in mind (9.16). It is because in spite of their attitude He has heard their cry. And the purpose of the detailed introduction is in order to indicate what a fine ‘young man’ God’s appointee is. Outwardly at least Saul is an ideal choice.

The seeking of missing animals was always an arduous task, but Saul is seen to have set about it willingly, and to have pursued the matter to the end. He reveals that he cares for his father’s asses. We can compare with this David’s concern for his sheep in the matter of the lion and bear (1 Samuel 17.34). Both candidates were thus seen to be dedicated carers of their animals, and as such, good candidates for kingship. Furthermore he is revealed as having consideration for his father’s feelings. He is clearly a man of integrity and honour.

From the subsequent history we are probably intended to gather that YHWH’s original purpose had been to introduce kingship in David. But the disobedience of the Israelites had forestalled His plan. This helps to explain why He provided them with Saul, a man who was outwardly a good choice, but was finally a disaster. Certainly outwardly they could have had no complaint. Humanly speaking at least the choice was a good one, and to begin with Saul unquestionably behaved in an exemplary fashion and was a great success (14.47-48). But as with the people the problem would finally lay with his disobedience. They had wanted a king like all the nations, and that was precisely what they got. He had all the qualities, both good and bad, that such a king would have. Thus both Saul and the people are to be allowed to suffer together as a consequence of their joint disobedience, while at the same time the people are learning a lesson about what having a bad king means, and David is being prepared for his future role as God’s chosen king. In Saul God is bringing together all the strands of justice and mercy.

If we ask why God gave them a man like Saul who would become what he became we have to remember that it was not within a plan of His choosing. The people had rejected His methods. Now He had to provide for them from the material that was available. For what Saul became was not inevitable. It resulted from the pathway that he chose to follow.

So we should note that in both cases each chose their own path. In neither case did YHWH interfere to make things go the way that they did. He did not have to. He knew that He could trust the human heart to do that for Him. Certainly, however, we are to see in it that YHWH was sovereign over all, and that He had a lesson for His people to learn, and that lesson was that without God even the one who seemed most outwardly suitable would let them down in the end. They should have been patient and have waited for YHWH to act.

Analysis.

  • a Now there was a man of Benjamin, whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah, the son of a Benjaminite, a mighty warrior (man of valour or wealth) (9.1).
  • b And he had a son, whose name was Saul, a young man and well-fashioned (goodly), and there was not among the children of Israel a sturdier (goodlier) person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people (9.2).
  • c And the asses of Kish, Saul’s father, were lost. And Kish said to Saul his son, “Take now one of the servants with you, and arise, go seek the asses.” And he passed through the hill-country of Ephraim, and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they found them not, then they passed through the land of Shaalim, and there they were not, and he passed through the land of the Benjaminites, but they found them not. When they were come to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant that was with him, “Come, and let us return, lest my father leave off caring for the asses, and be anxious for us” (9.3-5).
  • d And he said unto him, “Behold now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is a man who is held in honour, all that he says always comes about. Now let us go there, there. Perhaps he can give us information concerning the journey on which we go.” Then Saul said to his servant, “But, look, if we go, what shall we bring the man? For the bread is spent in our vessels, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. what have we got?” And the servant answered Saul again, and said, “See, I have in my hand the fourth part of a shekel of silver. I will give that to the man of God, to tell us the way that we should take.” (Previously in Israel, when a man went to enquire of God, thus he said, “Come, and let us go to the seer,” for he who is now called a Prophet was previously called a Seer). Then Saul said to his servant, “Well said. Come, let us go.” So they went to the city where the man of God was (9.6-10).
  • e As they went up the ascent to the city, they found young unmarried women going out to draw water, and said to them, “Is the seer here?” And they answered them, and said, “He is. Behold, he is before you. Hurry now, for he is today come into the city, for the people have a sacrifice today in the high place. As soon as you are come into the city, you will immediately find him, before he goes up to the high place to eat, for the people will not eat until he come, because he blesses the sacrifice. Afterwards those who are bidden eat. Now therefore get yourselves up there, for at this time you will find him.” And they went up to the city, and as they came within the city, behold, Samuel came out towards them, to go up to the high place (9.11-14).
  • f Now YHWH had revealed to Samuel a day before Saul came, saying, “Tomorrow about this time I will send you a man out of the land of Benjamin” (9.15).
  • g “And you shall 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 is come to me” (9.16).
  • f And when Samuel saw Saul, “YHWH said to him, “Look, the man of whom I spoke to you! this same will have authority over my people” (9.17).
  • e Then Saul drew near to Samuel in the gate, and said, “Tell me, I pray you, where the seer’s house is” (9.18)
  • d And Samuel answered Saul, and said, “I am the seer. Go up before me to the high place, for you will eat with me today, and in the morning I will let you go, and will tell you all that is in your heart” (9.19).
  • c “And as for your asses which were lost three days ago, do not set your mind on them, for they are found. And for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you, and for all your father’s house?” (9.20).
  • b And Saul answered and said, “Am not I a Benjaminite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel?” (9.21a).
  • a “And my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak to me in this way?” (9.21b).

Note that in ‘a’ we are given Saul’s family tree and in the parallel Saul emphasises its unimportance (with typical Near Eastern humility). In ‘b’ Saul is the son of a Benjaminite and is tallest among Israelites, and in the parallel he argues that the tribe of Benjamin is the smallest in Israel. In ‘c’ the asses are lost and Saul goes to seek them, and in the parallel the asses are found. In ‘d’ they venture to approach the seer, and in the parallel they discover the seer. In ‘e’ they enquire after the seer and are told that they will find him as soon as they enter the city, and in the parallel they enquire after the seer as soon as they are in the city and discover that they have found him. In ‘f’ YHWH had said that on the morrow he would send a man to Samuel, and in the parallel says, ‘This is the man’. Centrally in ‘g’ the man is to be anointed as war-leader over Israel to save them from the Philistines because He has heard His people’s cry.

The Man Chosen To Be King (9.1-2).

9.1 ‘Now there was a man of Benjamin, whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah, the son of a Benjaminite, a mighty warrior (man of valour).’

We note that as with Samuel in 1.1 we are first introduced to his father. We learn that Saul’s father was of sound lineage and had been a great warrior. Just the kind of man who would produce a worthy war-leader. The Hebrew could also mean a ‘wealthy man’ as well as ‘a great warrior’, and he was that as well, but in the light of the context ‘great warrior’ seems to be the more important emphasis. We might, however, accept both and paraphrase as ‘a successful man both in war and in wealth’. The contrast with Elkanah and Hannah is significant. What had made them stand out was their godliness and piety. What made Saul’s father stand out was his military prowess and his wealth. There is in this a hint of what was to come.

9. 2 ‘And he had a son, whose name was Saul, a young man and well-fashioned (goodly), and there was not among the children of Israel a better built (goodlier) person than he. From his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.’

This worthy man had a son whose name was Saul. He was a stout young man, well built, and towering above his contemporaries, and among the children of Israel there was ‘none better’. At least in appearance and build it was clear that he would make an ideal king.

A question that does arise here is as to how old Saul was at this time. The answer is probably that he was nineteen (see below), or possibly in his early twenties. This is suggested by a number of factors:

  • 1). If his reign lasted roughly forty years (Acts 13.21) it would mean that if he was nineteen when he commenced he was still fighting Philistines in his late fifties (31.1-7). That is feasible. Anything older than that would not fit in with the picture that we have there.
  • 2). He had a number of sons, one of whom was Jonathan (compare 14.49) who must have died at around forty years of age, at which point David was around thirty (2 Samuel 5.4). This would tie in with the fact that Saul’s fourth son Ishbaal (Ishbosheth) died at roughly 42 years of age (2 Samuel 2.10), which would mean that he was approximately 35 years of age when Saul died. (Note. In the early days the use of ‘baal’ which means ‘lord’ was used in names in order to indicate YHWH. Later writers changed it to ‘bosheth’ which means ‘shame’ because it was connected with the Canaanite god Baal)
  • 3). Jonathan had a son who was five years old when he died (2 Samuel 4.4). His name was Meribaal (Mephibosheth). 1 Chronicles 8.34; 9.40 seem to suggest that Meribaal was his only son. This might therefore suggest that Jonathan was even younger than forty when he died.
  • 4). The writer tells us that Saul was ‘one year old’ when he became king. In ancient terminology that would translate as not yet quite having reached maturity (see introduction to chapter 13). This would indicate that Saul was fairly young when he became king, possibly less than twenty years old (the age at which an Israelite became liable for conscription). See Exodus 38.26; Leviticus 27.3, 5; Numbers 1.3 ff; 14.29; 26.2). Reigning for ‘two years’ would on the same basis suggest that he did not reach the ‘third age’, which would be 60. The practise continued through the ages and in the last century anthropologists cite the case of an old man in Malacca who when asked his age proudly stated that he was ‘three years old’. What he meant was that he was in the third stage of life.

The Quest For The Asses (9.3-5).

The quest for the asses, and its consequence in Saul and his servant meeting up with Samuel, seems to describe just an everyday incident, but it is in fact made quite clear that their movements were guided by God in commencing the process of Saul’s appointment as war-leader (nagid).

9.3 ‘And the asses of Kish, Saul’s father, were lost. And Kish said to Saul his son, “Take now one of the servants with you, and arise, go seek the asses.” ’

Saul is depicted as being obedient to his father and as caring of his animals, so that when some she-asses were lost his father had no hesitation in sending him after them. He was clearly a man to be admired and respected. In the Ancient Near East asses were seen as very valuable animals, which along with the family having servants, serves to bring out that Saul’s father was a rich man.

9.4 ‘And he passed through the hill-country of Ephraim, and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. Then they passed through the land of Shaalim, and they were not there. And he passed through the land of the Benjaminites, but they did not find them.’

The diligence of Saul comes out here. He did not give up at the first hurdle, but persevered in his quest. First he went through the hill-country of Ephraim, then through the region of Shalishah (see 2 Kings 4.42), then through the region of Shaalim, and then through the land of the tribe of Benjamin. Note the initial ‘he’ which turns to ‘they’. The initial emphasis is on Saul. We are intended to gain respect for him in everything that he does. We are to see that this man will make a king indeed.

9.5 ‘When they had come to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant who was with him, “Come, and let us return, lest my father cease worrying about the asses, and be anxious for us.” ’

However, by the time that they arrived in the land of Zuph Saul recognised that his father might shortly begin to worry about them. So he suggested to the servant that it was time that they returned home. Another of his attributes is added to the list. He is revealed as a considerate, caring and thoughtful young man. Nothing appears to be missing in his make-up. He is seen as a son to be proud of.

They Go To Seek Help From The Prophet Whom The Servant Knows About (9.6-13).

9.6 ‘And he said to him, “Look now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is a man who is held in honour. All that he says always comes about. Now let us go there. Perhaps he can give us information concerning our journey on which we are bent.”

Meanwhile the servant had had a God given inspiration. He was aware that in the city close by was a man of God who had an amazing reputation, a man held in honour by all. He may possibly have just gained the information about Samuel’s presence from a passing traveller, for we are not told which city this was. It may not have been Ramah, and the indications are that it was not, otherwise why does the writer not mention it and why does he avoid saying that he dwelt there. The anonymity may suggest that the writer did not in fact know which city it was.

Indeed, the servant pointed out, he was such a man that all that he forecast always came about (compare 3.19). Surely then if they went to see him he would be able to aid them in their quest.

The fact that Saul seemed to be unaware of Samuel’s reputation is not really surprising. It has made some argue that the writer is depicting a small time seer of only local fame. But that idea is not in line with the servant’s description, (the servant clearly had a very high regard for Samuel) and it is quite likely that if Saul was still a youth working hard on his father’s estate he would not have had any reason for gaining much knowledge about Samuel, or about where he lived. After all Samuel was by now at the end of his long career and his main exploits had happened a long time before. He was no longer the latest thing on everyone’s lips. There was therefore no reason why Saul should have any detailed knowledge about him.

9.7 ‘Then said Saul to his servant, “But, see, if we go, what shall we bring the man? For the bread is spent in our containers, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What have we got?” ’

It was recognised that prophets were always open for people to visit them. It was seen as an essential part of their ministry to be ever open to the people of God who sought them out, whether for large reasons or small. Thus there was no problem about going to see him. Saul, however, foresaw a problem. They had nothing to take him as a gift. The idea of the giving of presents to prophets is well evidenced (1 Kings 14.3; 2 Kings 5.15 ff; 8.8-9). It was seen as a courteous thing to do, and Saul had been well brought up.

9.8 ‘And the servant answered Saul again, and said, “Look, I have in my hand the fourth part of a shekel of silver. I will give that to the man of God, to tell us the way that we should take.”

The servant had, however, thought of that. He pointed out that he had a fourth part of a shekel which he would give to the man of God in return for his help in guiding them.

9.9 ‘(Previously in Israel, when a man went to enquire of God, thus he said, “Come, and let us go to the seer,” for he who is now called a Prophet was previously called a Seer).’

We have here an interesting note that explains the meaning of ‘seer’, stressing the ‘ancient’ nature of the source being used. It simply indicated the equivalent of a ‘prophet’. By the time that Solomon came to the throne the word ‘seer’ had fallen out of use. Apart from in this chapter it occurs only in 2 Samuel 15.27; Isaiah 30.10 and in Chronicles (whose writers liked to revive ancient words). It thus indicates that the final compilation took place during or after the reign of Solomon. The word for ‘prophet’ (nabi) is very ancient, being found in the Ebla tablets of 2300 BC in the form nabi’utum.

9.10 ‘Then Saul said to his servant, “Well said. Come, let us go.” So they went to the city where the man of God was.’

Saul reveals his gratitude and confirms his agreement with his servant’s suggestion. So they both go together to the city where the man of God was.

9.11 ‘As they went up the ascent to the city, they found young unmarried women going out to draw water, and said to them, “Is the seer here?”

On the way up to the city they come across a young unmarried woman who was going to draw water, accompanied by others, and they asked ‘them’ whether the seer was in town. The spring or well would be on the lower ground below the city. Cities were always built near a water source.

9.12 ‘And they answered them, and said, “He is. Behold, he is before you. Hurry now, for he is today come into the city, for the people have a sacrifice today in the high place.” ’

‘He is before you’ may signify that all that they have to do to find him is go straight up, or may be an indication that he has arrived before them. The latter would then suggest that they saw the two travellers as having been invited to the celebrations but as being a little late. So they tell them to hurry, as the seer had already arrived and a sacrifice was to be offered that very day on the high place.

Ii is clear that in view of the lack of a Tabernacle and of a High Priest Samuel had made provision for the offering of offerings and sacrifices through himself, and possibly through other priests, at well known high places, of which one was to be found in Ramah (compare 7.9; and note 6.14; 10.5; 14.35; 15.21), another in Mizpah (7.5-9), and another in Gilgal 13.7-11. It should, however, be noted that a high place was not necessarily on a hill top. High places could be erected in cities. It is because later they became syncretistic and associated with specifically Canaanite worship, that they were later so condemned. Once the Tabernacle was re-erected and the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH was restored, they became unnecessary, and even divisive.

9.13 “As soon as you are come into the city, you will immediately find him before he goes up to the high place to eat. For the people will not eat until he arrives, because he blesses the sacrifice. Afterwards those who are bidden eat. Now therefore get yourselves up there, for at this time you will find him.”

A feast for specially invited guests was being held in the city, and this necessarily involved the sacrificing of freewill and thanksgiving sacrifices from which the meat would come. It would appear that other priests would sacrifice the sacrifices but that Samuel would bless the sacrificial meal, at which point all would be able to eat. So if that was why they had come seeking the seer they would find him there and needed to hurry so as to be there in time for the sacrifices and blessing.

They Meet Samuel Who Is Informed By YHWH That This Is The Man Of His Choice To Be Permanent War-leader Of Israel (9.14-17).

9.14 ‘And they went up to the city, and as they came within the city, behold, Samuel came out toward them, to go up to the high place.’

So they continued up to the city, and on entering the gateway (verse 18) met up with Samuel, whom they did not recognise, coming towards them on the way to the high place, which was seemingly on a hill outside the city.

9.15-16 ‘Now YHWH had revealed to Samuel a day before Saul came, saying, “ Tomorrow about this time I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you will anoint him to be prince (nagid) 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.”

We now learn that on the previous day YHWH had revealed the fact of Saul’s coming to Samuel, informing him that a Benjaminite would arrive whom he was immediately to anoint as war-leader (nagid) over His people Israel, in view of the recent Philistine invasion. It was he now who would save the people out of the hands of the Philistines, and was being provided immediately because YHWH had heard His people’s cry. We note that here he is to be anointed as war-leader and not king. It would yet be some time before he would be established as king (11.15). YHWH was proving by this that if only they had trusted in Him He could have provided them with a suitable war-leader when necessary, one who would prove himself against Nahash, king of Ammon (11.1-13). But in spite of this they would still insist on a king (12.12).

9.17 ‘And when Samuel saw Saul, YHWH said to him, “Look, the man of whom I spoke to you! This same will have authority over my people.” ’

So when Samuel saw Saul YHWH said to him, “look, here is the man of whom I spoke to you. He will be able to have authority over My people.” (There is at this stage no mention of him as king. The hope was that once they had seen Saul in action the people would withdraw their request for a king. Just as the hope had been that they would do so when they had heard what having a king would be like in 8.11-20. God was giving them every opportunity to change their minds before it was too late).

To His Surprise Saul Is Treated As The Guest Of Honour At The Festival That Is Taking Place (9.18-24).

9.18 ‘Then Saul drew near to Samuel in the gate, and said, “Tell me, I pray you, where the seer’s house is.” ’

Meanwhile Saul, unconscious of all this, approaches the unknown man (whom we know as Samuel) in the gateway and asks him where the seer’s house is.

9.19 ‘And Samuel answered Saul, and said, “I am the seer. Go up before me to the high place, for you shall eat with me today, and in the morning I will let you go, and will tell you all that is in your heart.” ’

To his pleasant surprise the unknown man reveals himself as Samuel, and he declares that he is the seer and that they must both precede him to the high place, where they will both eat with him that very day. This was possibly because it would be an act of courtesy to Samuel for them to arrive before him, something expected by all the other guests, or it may have been with the aim of emphasising Saul’s importance (something that Samuel will certainly do at the feast). Then in the morning he will let Saul go, once he has revealed to him what is in his (Saul’s) heart. It is not unlikely that such a powerful young man, son of a well known warrior, would have been dreaming about what he could do against the Philistines if only he got the chance. And it is that which Samuel wishes to speak to him about.

9.20 “And as for your asses which were lost three days ago, do not concern yourself about them for they have been found. And for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you, and for all your father’s house?”

Samuel then relieves his mind about his father’s asses, informing him that they have been found, thereby revealing to him Samuel’s own supernatural knowledge. And then he informs him that ‘all that is desirable in Israel’ is for Saul and for his father’s house. In other words because of the position that he will shortly hold he will no longer in the future have to worry about a few asses, because everything that is desirable in Israel will be his. He will be able to have his choice of anything. We are not, of course, expected to apply this too literally. Clearly he would be expected to choose sensibly and reveal discretion. It is rather a description of the superabundance that will now be available to him as compared with a few asses.

9.21 ‘And Saul answered and said, “Am I not a Benjaminite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? And my family the least of all the families of the sub-tribes of Benjamin? Why then do you speak to me in this way?”

Saul is understandably confused. ‘Why are you saying these things to me?’ he asks. ‘I come from the smallest tribe in Israel, and my family is the least of all the tribes in Benjamin.’ In the chiasmus this is in parallel to the fact that he was the tallest man in Israel. So this is to be seen as typical Near Eastern modesty. In those days it was polite to deprecate yourself and your background. No one was expected to believe it. It is, of course, true that Benjamin was probably the smallest tribe in Israel after the battering that they had received in Judges 20-21, but they were fierce and experienced warriors. Saul’s words, however, are not intended to be taken literally. We can compare them with what Gideon said of himself in Judges 6.15, and in his case his father was a leading elder in the town. What he was modestly saying was that he was not really deserving of what Samuel is suggesting. He felt completely at a loss to understand what Samuel was getting at. And we can appreciate why he might be doubtful about the acceptance by the large tribes of a Benjaminite as war leader. (However, Ephraim would not have accepted a permanent war-leader from Judah, nor would Judah have accepted one from Ephraim. So actually a Benjaminite was a good choice. All recognised the warlike potential of Benjaminites. None were jealous of them).

Samuel Honours Saul At The Feast And Then Explains To Him Privately What It Is All About (9.22-26).

To the astonishment of Saul and his servant they now found themselves as guests of honour at the sacrificial meal, were seated in the chiefest place, and received the honoured portion.

Analysis.

  • a And Samuel took Saul and his servant, and brought them into the guest-chamber, and made them sit in the chiefest place among those who were bidden, who were about thirty persons (9.22).
  • b And Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the portion which I gave you, of which I said unto you, Set it by you.” And the cook took up the thigh, and what was on it, and set it before Saul (9.23-24a).
  • c And Samuel said, “Look, that which has been reserved! Set it before you and eat, because it been has kept for you until the appointed time, for I said, I have invited the people” (9.24b).
  • b So Saul ate with Samuel that day (9.24c).
  • a And when they were come down from the high place into the city, he conversed with Saul on the housetop. And they arose early, and it happened about the spring of the day, that Samuel called to Saul on the housetop, saying, “Up, that I may send you away.” And Saul arose, and they went out both of them, he and Samuel, from the house (literally ‘abroad, outside’) (9.25-26).

Note that in ‘a’ Samuel takes Saul and his servant to the high place and into the guest chamber, and honours him, and in the parallel they leave the high place and Saul learns what it means before being sent away. In ‘b’ the special portion is set before Saul and in the parallel Saul eats with Samuel the prophet of YHWH indicating the special, bond between them. Centrally in ‘c’ the significance of the act is revealed.

9.22 ‘And Samuel took Saul and his servant, and brought them into the guest-chamber, and made them sit in the chiefest place among those who were bidden, who were about thirty persons.’

Then Samuel led Saul and his servant into the guest-chamber at the Sanctuary, and gave them the highest place among all the guests. There were about thirty distinguished persons there (they would almost certainly have been distinguished in order to be invited into the special guest-chamber, and especially so as Samuel had invited them there to meet God’s appointee), and no doubt they were dressed in their finest. Saul and his servant must have felt a little uncomfortable, even though they would have groomed themselves ready to meet the seer. But this was no ordinary situation. Samuel’s aim was the presentation and exaltation and of Saul before important people.

9.23 ‘And Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the portion which I gave you, of which I said unto you, Set it by you.” ’

Then Samuel sent to the cook for the special portion which he had specifically set aside for YHWH’s expected appointee. Saul was receiving royal treatment.

9.24 ‘And the cook took up the thigh, and what was on it, and set it before Saul. And Samuel said, “Look, that which has been reserved! Set it before you and eat, because it been has kept for you until the appointed time, for I said, I have invited the people.” So Saul ate with Samuel that day.’

The thigh was the special portion reserved for the sacrificing priests and their guests (Leviticus 7.32). Thus to receive a portion of the thigh was a special honour. And this was set before Saul with the words, ‘Look, this has been reserved for you. Set it before you and eat.’ Then Samuel added, ‘It has been kept for you until the appointed time’. This was deliberately in order to bring out that this was Saul’s moment of destiny as determined by YHWH. It was not only for Saul’s sake but for the sake of the guests. Samuel knew that it was most important that the right impression be made among these important guests, for their support would be vital for Saul’s acceptance. We can, however, imagine how the young man’s head must have been spinning. A few hours before he had been on the trail of his father’s asses. Now here he was being feted as the guest of honour and prospective war-leader in the presence of some of the most important people in Israel.

‘For I said, I have invited the people.’ We should probably paraphrase this as meaning ‘since the time when I said, I have invited the people.’ The emphasis is on the fact that all this had been made ready beforehand from the very moment that Samuel had sent out the invitations to these important men in readiness for the one whom YHWH would send to them when he came at the appointed time.

‘So Samuel ate with Saul that day.’ To eat together was to indicate friendship and welcome. Thus by this Samuel is welcoming Saul into a special relationship with himself as the prophet of YHWH.

9.25 ‘And when they were come down from the high place into the city, he conversed with Saul on the housetop.’

The meal over they returned from the high place to Samuel’s house, and once they were there Samuel took Saul onto the flat roof to talk with him. We must assume that there he revealed all that YHWH had said to him, and possibly a great deal more. No doubt he used his long experience to try and put Saul at ease about what was to be expected of him. It was a lot for the young man to take in. Verse 26 reveals that this was also where Saul would sleep. At certain times of the year it was preferable to sleeping inside, and as the honoured guest the privilege was given to Saul.

9. 26 ‘And they arose early, and it happened about the spring of the day, that Samuel called to Saul on the housetop, saying, “Up, that I may send you away.” And Saul arose, and they went out both of them, he and Samuel, from the house (abroad).’

Rising early was common practise among busy men, and thus as the day dawned all would rise from their beds and prepare for the day. Then Samuel called up to Saul to prepare to leave for home, because it was now time that he returned. Then they both left the house together because Samuel still had something that he wanted to do which required privacy.

Samuel Secretly Anoints Saul With Oil And As A Result Of Three Signs And The Coming Of The Spirit Of YHWH On Him Saul Becomes A New Man, But Keeps What It All Means In His Heart (9.27-10.16).

On being anointed by Samuel and leaving him Saul is given three signs which will reveal the truth of what Samuel has done, the first that he will learn that the asses have been found, the second that he and his servant will be provided with bread by pilgrims, and the third that he will meet a company of prophets, and that when he does so the Spirit of YHWH will come on him. But when he arrives home he keeps his anointing secret.

At the same time Samuel gives him clear instructions as to how in the future he is to know the mind of God. It will be by going to Gilgal and waiting there seven days before YHWH, until Samuel comes to him and offers up burnt offerings and sacrifices, at which point he will receive the mind of YHWH and learn what he has to do (10.8). The purpose of this was clearly in order that Saul might constantly remember that his future success must wholly depend on YHWH.

Analysis.

  • a As they were going down at the end of the city, Samuel said to Saul, “Bid the servant pass on before us (and he passed on), but you stand still first, that I may cause you to hear the word of God.” Then Samuel took the vial of oil, and poured it on his head, and kissed him, and said, “Is it not that YHWH has anointed you to be war-leader over his inheritance?” (9.27-10.1).
  • b “When you have departed from me today, then you will come across two men by Rachel’s sepulchre, in the border of Benjamin at Zelzah, and they will say to you, ‘The asses which you went to look for are found, and, lo, your father has ceased caring for the asses, and is anxious for you, saying, “What shall I do for my son?” ’
  • c “Then shall you go on forward from there, and you will come to the oak of Tabor, and there will meet you there three men going up to God to Beth-el, one carrying three kids, and another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a bottle of wine, and they will salute you, and give you two loaves of bread, which you will receive from their hand” (10.3-4).
  • d After that you will come to the hill of God, where the garrison of the Philistines is, and it will come about that when you are come there, to the city, that you will meet a band of prophets coming down from the high place with a psaltery, and a timbrel, and a pipe, and a harp, before them, and they will be prophesying” (10.5).
  • e “And the Spirit of YHWH will come mightily on you, and you will prophesy with them, and will be turned into another man” (10.6)
  • f “And let it be, when these signs are come to you, that you do as occasion shall serve you, for God is with.” (10.7).
  • g “And you shall go down before me to Gilgal, and, behold, I will come down unto you, to offer burnt-offerings, and to sacrifice sacrifices of peace-offerings. Seven days shall you tarry, till I come to you, and show you what you will do” (10.8)
  • f And it was so, that, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart, and all those signs came about that day (10.9).
  • e And when they came there to the hill, behold, a band of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God came mightily on him, and he prophesied among them (10.10).
  • d And it came about that, when all who knew him previously saw that, “behold, he prophesies with the prophets”, then the people said one to another, “What is this that is come to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” ’And one of the same place answered and said, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (10.11-12).
  • c And when he had made an end of prophesying, he came to the high place (10.13).
  • b And Saul’s uncle said to him and to his servant, “Where did you go?” And he said, “To look for the asses, and when we saw that they were not found, we came to Samuel.” And Saul’s uncle said, “Tell me, I pray you, what Samuel said to you.” And Saul said to his uncle, “He told us plainly that the asses were found” (10.14-16a).
  • a But concerning the matter of the kingship, of which Samuel spoke, he did not tell him (10.16b).
Note that in ‘a’ Saul is secretly anointed as ‘war-leader’ over YHWH’s inheritance and in the parallel he says nothing about the kingship. In ‘b’ he will learn that the asses were found, and in the parallel Samuel had told him that the asses were found. In ‘c’ he meet pilgrims going to a high place and partakes of their food, and in the parallel he himself comes to a high place. In ‘d’ they are to meet a band of prophets who will be prophesying, and in the parallel all know that Saul has been prophesying among the prophets. In ‘e’ it is promised that the Spirit of YHWH will come mightily on him, and in the parallel the Spirit of YHWH comes mightily on him. In ‘f’ these signs are to come to him, and in the parallel the signs have come to him. Centrally in ‘g’ he is given the key to his future understanding of the mind of YHWH.

Samuel Anoints Saul With Oil As The One Who Has Been Set Apart By YHWH As Permanent War-Leader (Nagid) Of Israel (9.27-10.1).

9.27 ‘As they were going down at the end of the city, Samuel said to Saul, “Bid the servant pass on before us (and he passed on), but you stand still first, that I may cause you to hear the word of God.” ’

When they reached the extremity of the city Samuel asked Saul to bid his servant to go on ahead. The servant would have been aware that something unusual was going on from the fact that they had been honoured guests at the feast) although he clearly did not know exactly what. But he must have recognised that some special honour was being conferred on Saul. However, the point was that Samuel wanted to have a private word with Saul so that he could communicate to him what God had determined.

10.1 ‘Then Samuel took the vial of oil, and poured it on his head, and kissed him, and said, “Is it not that YHWH has anointed you to be war-leader over his inheritance?” ’

The servant having moved on ahead Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him. Pouring oil on the head of guests was quite usual, as was the kiss of greeting, although usually it would have been expected to happen before this. However, if the servant saw anything he would probably assume that it was simply a farewell nicety. But Samuel explains to Saul the significance of what he is doing. He is anointing him because YHWH has ‘anointed him as war-leader over His inheritance.’

The idea of anointing was of dedication to YHWH’s exclusive service. The person so anointed was made holy to YHWH (Leviticus 8.12). It would not necessarily include the idea of enduement. The priests were anointed but they received no special enduement of power. It was also the general practise in those days to anoint kings (Judges 9.8), probably also as an indication that they were directly in submission to their gods.

The kiss may have included the idea of submission to the new war-leader (Psalm 2.12), but it is probable in this case that it was rather a sign of his acceptance and welcome by God.

‘Over His inheritance.’ Compare Deuteronomy 4.20; 9.26; etc. It was mainly the people who were His inheritance.

Samuel Indicates Certain Signs That Saul Will Receive That Will Demonstrate That It Is As He Has Said (10.2-8).

Matters were not just to be left there. A deliberately private anointing having taken place it was now necessary for Saul to be assured that God was with him and that Samuel’s assurances could be accepted as being from Him. Samuel was aware of how huge a step this was for the young man Saul. It was one thing to have come of military stock. It was another to be appointed commander-in-chief over all the hosts of Israel, especially at so early an age, and to be able to call on them at need.

Thus prior to his appointment being confirmed before all Israel, it was necessary that Saul himself have his confidence boosted. And even then he would be overwhelmed at the thought of what was to happen to him (verse 22). He was still only a young man.

The assurances given to him are briefly as follows:

  • 1). He will learn that Samuel’s supernatural knowledge about the finding of the lost asses was true (9.20), and this is backed up by a further supernatural revelation of where he will meet his informants (10.2).
  • 2). He will be met by men who are going to a high place who will provide him and his servant with necessary provisions, demonstrating that God is able to meet his needs at all times, and to feed His people, and that he must therefore look always to YHWH’s provision (10.3-4).
  • 3). He will meet up with the band of prophets and will at that stage become another man because the Spirit of YHWH will come mightily on him. And he will himself prophesy revealing to all that the Spirit of YHWH is with him, thereby demonstrating to the spiritual in Israel that he is truly God’s man (10.5-6).

10.2 “When you have departed from me today, then you will come across two men by Rachel’s sepulchre, in the border of Benjamin at Zelzah, and they will say to you, ‘The asses which you went to look for are found, and, lo, your father has ceased caring for the asses, and is anxious for you, saying, “What shall I do for my son?” ’

The first sign that is given to Saul in order to confirm what Samuel has told him, will be that he will learn about the recovery of the lost asses, (a recovery which Samuel has already miraculously told him about - 9.20), from two men whom he will find by Rachel’s sepulchre in the border of Benjamin at Zelzah. The site of Zelzah is unknown. Rachel’s sepulchre was somewhere on the road from Bethel to Bethlehem (Genesis 35.19) which passed through Benjamin’s territory. They will also inform him that his father has now become worried about him. ‘Two men’ represent a true witness.

The reference to Rachel’s sepulchre may have in mind a tradition that Rachel wept for her people when they were in trouble (see Jeremiah 31.15). They were certainly in trouble now with a Philistine invasion in progress (9.16). To learn near Rachel’s sepulchre that the lost asses had been found would be an encouragement concerning the greater problem.

(If the city they had visited was Ramah, and if the sepulchre of Rachel was the one pointed out by us to today, this would have involved Saul and his servant in going a long way out of their way. However neither of the above facts are certain. There is in fact no indication that the city was Ramah).

10.3-4 “Then shall you go on forward from there, and you will come to the oak of Tabor, and there will meet you there three men going up to God to Beth-el, one carrying three kids, and another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a bottle of wine, and they will salute you, and give you two loaves of bread, which you will receive from their hand.”

The second sign will be that at the oak of Tabor he will be met by three men going up to God to Beth-el (or ‘to the house of God’), one carrying three kids (presumably for sacrifice), and another carrying three loaves of bread. The third will be carrying wine. These men will greet Saul and his servant and will give them two loaves of bread, presumably after chatting with them and discovering that they are short of food, which they are to accept. To ‘salute’ a man on the way meant to stop and talk together, and often share food together. Compare how Jesus told his disciples to salute no one on the way because they were in a hurry (Luke 10.4). He was not saying in that case do not even acknowledge them.

This reception of necessary provisions in this way would be an indication for Saul in the future that God could provide all that he needed, and that his eyes must therefore be continually on YHWH.

10.5 ‘After that you will come to the hill of God, where the garrison of the Philistines is, and it will come about that when you are come there, to the city, that you will meet a band of prophets coming down from the high place with a psaltery, and a timbrel, and a pipe, and a harp, before them, and they will be prophesying,”

After that they would come to the hill (gib‘eah) of God ‘where the garrison of the Philistines is’. This need not mean that the Philistine soldiers were still there. It may simply have been a local landmark called ‘the garrison of the Philistines’ because they had once had a garrison there. But see 1 Chronicles 11.16 where the Philistines did have an actual garrison in that vicinity. That could, however, simply indicate that they had by then reoccupied it. On the other hand we do in fact know from 9.16 that there had recently been a Philistine incursion so that it is possible that there was an actual occupied garrison there. The point to bear in mind is that a peaceful gathering of Israel at Mizpah (10.17) would have been very unlikely if the Philistines had been in the vicinity in any force. In that situation Gilgal would have been a better choice. Thus the question is an open one.

On arrival at the neighbouring city (possibly the Gibeah of Benjamin (Judges 19; 20; 1 Samuel 13.2) which was Saul’s home and headquarters - 10.26; 11.4) they will be met by a band of prophets coming down from the high place, playing music, singing and prophesying (praising God under inspiration, compare 1 Chronicles 11.16). This would suggest that they had been taking part in festal activities.

The psaltery and harp were stringed instruments, the pipes a kind of flute, and the timbrel possibly a hand drum or tambourine.

10.6 “And the Spirit of YHWH will come mightily on you, and you will prophesy with them, and will be turned into another man.”

And then the Spirit of YHWH would come mightily on Saul, and he too would prophesy and would be turned into another man. The purpose of the Spirit of YHWH coming mightily on a man has been especially brought out in the book of Judges 15.14; compare 3.10; 6.34; 11.29. It was in order that he might ‘judge’ and deliver God’s people. Thus this indicates that Saul was to become the instrument of the Spirit of YHWH in deliverance, and had he remained faithful to God, or had he learned to repent like David did, he would have been wholly successful.

‘And will be turned into another man.’ That is one who is given the power to accomplish the purpose that YHWH has for him, an inspired leader of men.

10.7 “And let it be, when these signs are come to you, that you do as occasion shall serve you, for God is with you.”

Then once all these signs have come to him he has to hold himself in readiness for doing whatever God requires of him. ‘Do as occasion shall serve you’ (literally ‘do what your hand shall find’) signifies seizing the opportunities that God offers when they come.

10.8 “And you shall go down before me to Gilgal, and, behold, I will come down unto you, to offer burnt-offerings, and to sacrifice sacrifices of peace-offerings. Seven days shall you tarry, till I come to you, and show you what you will do.”

Once the signs had been fulfilled Saul was to go down before Samuel to Gilgal. Gilgal was one of Samuel’s three main venues (7.16) and furthest from the Philistine menace, being in the Jordan rift valley (the Arabah). Samuel seems regularly to have offered sacrifices there. Saul was to go down to the Sanctuary there and wait before God for seven days, possibly partaking in a seven day festival of worship and praise following the pattern of the regular feasts (compare 9.13). This suggests that Gilgal was seen as the equivalent in those times of the old Tabernacle, as the place where Israel were to meet for their regular feasts. Then at the end Samuel would come to him and show him what he had to do.

There is nothing here to suggest that Samuel sees this as something to be delayed. It is totally out of place if it is seen as directly referring to 13.18 for too much intervenes. The impression that we are given here was that Saul was to do it fairly promptly. It is not unusual in Scripture for a command to be given and the assumption then made that it has been fulfilled without mentioning it in detail. Thus when we learn that ‘he came to the high place’ in verse 13 that may be intended to indicate his immediate fulfilment of this command. Note how this is then followed by the casting of lots at Mizpah, which is followed by the deliverance from the Ammonites, which is followed by a visit to Gilgal for the renewal of the kingship. It would therefore appear strange if this clear command had not been fulfilled before then.

It seems very probable therefore that the writer, knowing what he is going to say in 13.18, introduces this statement knowing that it was fulfilled earlier, while wanting readers also to connect it with 13.18, and to recognise that this was to be Saul’s regular approach when seeking the mind of YHWH about his planned actions. It may well be therefore that 10.13 is to be intended as indicating that that was when it was initially fulfilled without over-emphasising the fact.

It would seem from this verse that Samuel regularly required Saul to experience a similar seven days of waiting on God before he gave him God’s instructions, having the aim in mind of keeping Saul’s heart set firmly on YHWH. The point is that Saul is not to see himself as his own master but very much as the appointed servant of YHWH. Thus 13.18 gives us one instance of when he does this. In other words Samuel wanted Saul continually to recognise that he must wait before God prior to the coming to him of the prophetic word which would give him final instructions. In order to receive that word his heart must be in readiness to receive it. Samuel was doing his best to keep Saul on the right track. Israel had two annual seven day feasts, the feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Tabernacles. But no mention is made of those feasts in connection with this command to Saul, and Samuel would have been present at those from the beginning. Thus Samuel’s point may have been that whenever the tribes were assembled for battle the same procedures had to be followed as at the feasts, seven days of sacrificing and waiting on God, after which he would always come to them to reveal the mind of YHWH. That is why when Saul did not wait it was so unforgivable. He had over-ridden YHWH.

We may certainly see that the regular feasts did provide Saul with a pattern as to what he should do during the seven days of waiting. But this seven day wait was to be a time of preparation of heart. Naturally to a war-leader such waiting could be a bit of a trial. But to Samuel it was important, because it ensured that the war-leader recognised his responsibility to look in faith to YHWH and that in the end the glory was to go to YHWH.

All The Signs That Samuel Gave Him Are Fulfilled (10.9-13).

We now learn that all the signs promised were fulfilled. The only detail given is of the last one, bringing out how important it was.

10.9 ‘And it was so, that, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart, and all those signs came about that day.’

What God had promised came about. Each sign was fulfilled ‘that very day’, and God gave Saul ‘another heart’. To Israelites the heart was the centre of a man’s will, mind and emotions. To be given another heart meant that he was given new resolution and inner strength for the task that lay before him.

10.10 ‘And when they came there to the hill, behold, a band of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God came mightily on him, and he prophesied among them.’

As Samuel had told him, when he came to the hill (or ‘to Gibeah’?) the band of prophets met him and ‘the Spirit of God came mightily on him and he prophesied.’ Note that where Samuel had spoken of the Spirit of YHWH the writer uses the term Spirit of God. He was emphasising that he was to go forward in heavenly power. The importance of this experience is demonstrated by the fact that the fulfilment is given in more detail and not just included with the other signs.

10.11 ‘And it came about that, when all who knew him previously saw that, “behold, he prophesies with the prophets”, then the people said one to another, “What is this that is come to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” ’

We know from what would one day happen to Jesus at Nazareth how important it was that ‘those who knew him previously’ should be made aware that Saul had now become important in the purposes of God. And once they had seen him prophesying with the prophets they knew that something unusual had happened to him, and that it was connected with God. This made them ask themselves what it meant. Was Saul now also a Spirit-inspired man?

10.12a ‘And one of the same place answered and said, “And who is their father?”

One of the wise among them supplied the answer. ‘Consider,’ he said, ‘who the father of the prophets is.’ He was probably here referring to Samuel. In other words he was saying, ‘this is the doing of the prophet Samuel. Samuel has incorporated Saul among the prophets for some special purpose.’ Later events would illuminate them as to what that purpose was. Alternately ‘their father’ may refer to God in which case he is saying, ‘This surely means that God has some special purpose for him’. Either way it was marking Saul out as a man of the Spirit. They could not see the enduement of power that had come on him, but they could see its manifestation in prophecy, and thus they now knew that he was set apart from among them.

10.12b ‘Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” ’

As these things will this eventually produced a proverb. In this case it was ‘ is Saul also among the prophets?’ Presumably it came to be used whenever anyone was seen to be acting outside his usual way of life. It is used in a slightly different way in 19.24.

And it is here that we expect to find some reference to Saul’s visit to Gilgal as Samuel had instructed.

10.13 ‘And when he had made an end of prophesying, he came to the high place.’

Once Saul had finished prophesying he came to ‘the high place’ (bamah). A high place in Samuel’s time was one of the sites used as a Sanctuary. Thus this may be intended to indicate Saul’s fulfilment of Samuel’s requirement that he go to the Sanctuary at Gilgal once the signs have been fulfilled. Alternately it may simply mean that he continued on to the high place from which the prophets had descended (verse 5). Possibly in view of the vagueness of the statement (why is he seen as going to the high place without explanation?) we are to see both, the idea being that having prophesied he carried his dedication through to the end, both by a visit to the local high place, and then a visit to Gilgal as Samuel had said. For as the signs have been fulfilled we would actually at this stage have expected some reference to his visit to Gilgal to meet Samuel, possibly at one of the regular feasts.

Saul’s Uncle Asks Him About His Search, But As Samuel Had Clearly Wanted, He Says Nothing About What He Has Been Told About The Kingship (10.14-16).

This incident could have taken place either at Gibeah, or it could have taken place at a regular feast where all the male members of the family would be present. Its point is to bring out the fact that Saul kept all that he knew to himself.

10.14 ‘And Saul’s uncle said to him and to his servant, “Where did you go?” And he said, “To look for the asses, and when we saw that they were not found, we came to Samuel.” ’

Saul’s uncle seems simply to be asking a casual question. ‘I had noticed your absence, where have you been?’ For Saul explains that he had been out looking for lost asses, and that this had brought them in contact with Samuel.

10.15 ‘And Saul’s uncle said, “Tell me, I pray you, what Samuel said to you.” ’

Being aware of the rumours of what had happened to Samuel among the prophets this appears to have aroused his uncle’s interest, and he enquires as to what Samuel had said to him.

10.16 ‘And Saul said to his uncle, “He told us plainly that the asses were found.” But concerning the matter of the kingship, of which Samuel spoke, he did not tell him.’

But Saul was keeping matters to himself, especially in view of the fact that that was how Samuel seemed to have wanted it, and he simply informed him that Samuel had told them that the asses had been found. He said nothing about the matter of the kingship. That was a private matter between him and Samuel.

Samuel Publicly Demonstrates Whom YHWH Has Chosen To Be Their King by Using The Sacred Lot, And Saul Is Acclaimed As King (10.17-25).

The private preparation of the young man Saul for his role as war-leader and king of Israel has now taken place. Samuel is now sure that Saul is God’s choice, and the rather diffident Saul has been given a number of signs which have demonstrated the same to him, and has received a secret anointing, followed by an empowering for the task. It was now felt that it was time for Israel also to become convinced of this fact.

All the tribes of Israel would now also have to be persuaded as to who should be king, and given the jealousy between the tribes and the determination of the prominent ones that their rights should not be overlooked, and that their rivals should not gain any advantage over them, it was not going to be easy.

It would certainly be made easier by the fact that Saul was impressive, and came from a small tribe of minor significance politically, but it was still necessary for all to be convinced and come to agreement. And this was now to be done by using the age-old method of casting lots (compare Joshua 7.16-19; 14.2). For all believed, in the words of Proverbs, that ‘the lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing of it is of YHWH’ (Proverbs 16.33).

Analysis.

  • a And Samuel called the people together to YHWH to Mizpah (10.17).
  • b And he said to the children of Israel, “Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all the kingdoms that oppressed you, but you have this day rejected your God, who himself saves you out of all your calamities and your distresses” (10.18-19a).
  • c “And you have said to him, “No, but set a king over us.” Now therefore present yourselves before YHWH by your tribes, and by your families (thousands)” (10.19b).
  • d So Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken. And he brought the tribe of Benjamin near by their families, and the family of the Matrites was taken, and Saul the son of Kish was taken, but when they sought him, he could not be found (10.20-21).
  • e Therefore they asked of YHWH further, “Is there yet a man to come here?” And YHWH answered, “Behold, he has hid himself among the baggage wagons” (10.22).
  • d And they ran and fetched him there, and when he stood among the people, he was higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upward. And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom YHWH has chosen, that there is none like him along all the people?” (10.23-24a).
  • c And all the people shouted, and said, “Long live the king” (10.24b).
  • b Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingship, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before YHWH (10.25a).
  • a And Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house (10.25b).

Note than in ‘a’ Samuel gathers the people together, and in the parallel he sends them back home. In ‘b’ he describes the manner of the old Kingship, and in the parallel he describes the manner of the new kingship. In ‘c’ the people ask for a king, and in the parallel they cry ‘long live the king’. In ‘d’ Saul is chosen but cannot be found, and in the parallel he is found and declared to be the chosen one. Centrally in ‘e’ YHWH declares that the chosen king is to be found among the baggage.

10.17 ‘And Samuel called the people together to YHWH to Mizpah.’

In order to carry out the process of choosing by lot Samuel gathered the tribes at Mizpah. It is clear from the fact that he was able to do so that the Philistines were not in the vicinity in any force. Had they been so they would unquestionably have intervened, especially in view of the purpose of the gathering. Mizpah was one of the high places were sacrifices could be offered, and was the place where Samuel had gathered the people together in his younger days when they had defeated the Philistines (7.5-11). But it was vulnerable to Philistine attack (whereas Gilgal was much safer). Indeed’ the fact that Samuel gathered them there in order to determine the kingship must be seen as indicating that he had no fear of Philistine suspicion and intervention, simply because the Philistines were still to be seen as contained (7.13-14).

10.18-19 ‘And he said to the children of Israel, “Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all the kingdoms that oppressed you, but you have this day rejected your God, who himself saves you out of all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, “No, but set a king over us.” Now therefore present yourselves before YHWH by your tribes, and by your families (thousands).’

Samuel began by making it clear that he did not approve of what was happening. He pointed out how YHWH had delivered them in the past from both Egypt and all those who had oppressed them. He had been their King. But now they had rejected this saving God and had said, ‘No, set a king over us.’ So it was not so much the desire for a king, but the kind of king that they desired which was in question. Had they been willing to accept simply a war-leader appointed by YHWH, which was what he had been trying to persuade them to accept, it might have been acceptable. But they kept on insisting on a full-blown king.

That being so he called on them now to present themselves before YHWH by their tribes and by their wider families. Here we have a clear case where the word for ‘thousands’ means ‘wider families’. The idea was that choice would then be made by lot. We do not know exactly what method was used.

10.20-21 ‘So Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken. And he brought the tribe of Benjamin near by their families, and the family of the Matrites was taken, and Saul the son of Kish was taken, but when they sought him, he could not be found.’

The first lot cast determined which tribe had been chosen. This might have been by means of tossing down twelve sticks, or some similar method, and determining the lot by how they fell. And the lot fell on Benjamin. The next lot determined which wider family should be chosen which was the Matrites. The process is then abbreviated because the next lot (or the next but one), which is not mentioned, would be concerning households. Finally the lot would be cast over individuals. And by that lot Saul, the son of Kish was chosen as both Samuel and Saul knew would happen. But when they looked around for Saul he could not be found. Like the asses in 9.3 he had wandered off and would have to be sought.

10.22 ‘Therefore they asked of YHWH further, “Is there yet a man to come here?” And YHWH answered, “Behold, he has hid himself among the baggage wagons.”

Puzzled by the fact that no one was there who answered to Saul’s name the question was then put to YHWH as to whether there should have been someone else there. And YHWH replied that the person in question had hidden himself, either by standing among the piles of baggage which would have been fairly large considering the numbers present, or among the baggage wagons holding the baggage. The fact that the idea is central in the chiasmus suggests that this is to be seen as significant. Note also that these are the only words that YHWH actually ‘speaks’. They had wanted a king like all the nations, had they? Well, he was to be found among the baggage. He was not like YHWH Who walked amidst the camp (Deuteronomy 23.14). He was an accessory.

Again we do not know the method used to obtain the answer (unless the question was put through Samuel who would receive a prophetic illumination), although it may have been by a process of elimination, either by receiving ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers by lot, or by dividing up the camp per lot and discovering which lot was revealed.

His purpose in hiding could not have been in order to avoid being chosen because he was well aware that Samuel had already determined that he was to be the new war-leader. It would seem therefore that it was due to modesty, because he did not wish to give the impression of actually seeking the position. Alternately it might have been his hope that if he was out of sight and not among the congregation he might be excluded from the results of the lot. It is strange how often people think that they can hide from God. But like Saul they will discover that they cannot.

10.23 ‘And they ran and fetched him there, and when he stood among the people, he was higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upward.’

Recognising that YHWH had revealed the man who was to be their king the people ran to the baggage area and discovered Saul there, and when he came out among them they saw his great stature, and that he was taller than anyone else..

10.24 ‘And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom YHWH has chosen, that there is none like him along all the people?” And all the people shouted, and said, “Long live the king.” ’

Samuel then pointed him out as the chosen of YHWH and drew attention to his magnificent bearing, stressing that there was none other like him. Enthusiastically the people gathered round and cried ‘May the king live’, or as we would say it, ‘long live the king’. Saul was thus now made king by popular acclamation. God had previously appointed him in secret through Samuel, something which had been necessary to prepare Saul for this moment, and now men had appointed him under God’s direction by public acclamation. Both were necessary, firstly so that he would be deeply aware of his need to serve God only, and then secondly so that he might be acceptable to all the tribes, and the people who were connected with them.

10.25 ‘Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingship, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before YHWH. And Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house.’

Samuel then told the people what manner of kingship this would be. Saul would be their war-leader but it would be under God and subject to the advice of His prophet. He may well have patterned the detailed requirements on Deuteronomy 17.12-20. This was then written in a book and ‘laid up before YHWH’, that is, it was placed in the Sanctuary. The ‘laying up of the book before YHWH’ would suggest that this took place in Gilgal where the main Sanctuary seems to have been (11.14; 13.4). This is to be seen to be fulfilling the promise and command made in 10.8, a fulfilment also hinted at in 10.13. Having provided the detail the writer would see no reason to repeat it.

Saul Returns Home And Bides His Time, Finally Proving Himself By Defeating The Ammonites And As A Result Being ‘Made King Before YHWH’ (10.26-11.15).

Saul now returned home accompanied by those who would be his faithful supporters, and when others questioned his appointment he said nothing but bided his time. It was not to be long in coming, for the king of the Ammonites was determined to bring shame on Israel because of what he saw as past insults (see Judges 11.12-28), and saw in this period of turmoil the opportunity of attacking them in Transjordan.

The Ammonites, and their Moabite allies (they usually acted together led by whichever had the strongest king at the time) recognised that Israel were in turmoil and being kept busy by the Philistines, and that Samuel was now ageing, with the result that Israel had no strong military leader. They therefore took advantage of the opportunity to invade the territory of Reuben and Gad in Transjordan.

This feud between the Ammonite-Moabite alliance and Transjordanian Israel was of longstanding. It had been there ever since they had made it difficult when Israel were passing through their territory and Moab had called on Balaam to curse Israel. It had also burst out twice in Judges, first in the time of Ehud when the threat had been very serious, even reaching over the Jordan into the western side of the Jordan rift valley and possibly beyond (Judges 3.12-30), and then in the time of Jephthah when it had threatened the whole of Transjordan, including Gilead (Judges 11.4-33). In both cases Israel had finally triumphed after initial periods of misery. Thus to the people of Ammon/Moab Israel’s present turmoil now seemed a good time to take revenge, by both shaming Israel and gaining spoils and tribute.

The Ammonites were a fierce tribal people, and only semi-sophisticated. (See Amos 1.13. They can be placed somewhere between the more sophisticated Moabites and the even wilder Amalekites). They had quite probably been driven out of the land that was now occupied by Reuben and Gad, by Sihon and his Amorites, for they always saw that land as theirs by right (Judges 11.13), and considered that it should have been given back to them. Thus whenever the opportunity arose they sought to take it back.

Analysis.

  • a And Saul also went to his house, to Gibeah, and there went with him the host, whose hearts God had touched (10.26).
  • b But certain worthless fellows said, “How will this man save us?” And they despised him, and brought him no present. But he held his peace (10.27).
  • c Then Nahash the Ammonite came up, and encamped against Jabesh-gilead, and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a covenant with us, and we will serve you.” ’
  • d And Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “I make it with you on this condition, that all your right eyes be put out, and I will lay it for a reproach on all Israel” (11.2).
  • e And the elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days’ respite, that we may send messengers to all the borders of Israel. And then, if there be none to save us, we will come out to you” (11.3).
  • f Then the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, and spoke these words in the ears of the people, and all the people lifted up their voice, and wept (11.4).
  • g And, behold, Saul came following the oxen out of the field, and Saul said, “What troubles the people that they weep?” And they told him the words of the men of Jabesh (11.5).
  • h And the Spirit of God came mightily on Saul when he heard those words, and his anger was greatly stirred up (kindled) (11.6).
  • g And he took a yoke of oxen, and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the borders of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come forth after Saul and after Samuel, so will it be done to his oxen” (11.7a).
  • f And the dread of YHWH fell on the people, and they came out as one man, and he numbered them in Bezek, and the children of Israel were three hundred military units, and the men of Judah thirty military units’ (11.7b-8).
  • e And they said to the messengers who came, “Thus shall you say to the men of Jabesh-gilead, Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you will have deliverance.” And the messengers came and told the men of Jabesh, and they were delighted. Therefore the men of Jabesh said, “Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you shall do with us all that seems good to you” (11.9-10).
  • d And it was so on the morrow, that Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch, and smote the Ammonites until the heat of the day (11.11a).
  • c And it came about that those who remained were scattered, so that not two of them were left together’ (11.11b).
  • b And the people said to Samuel, “Who is he who said, Shall Saul reign over us? Bring the men, that we may put them to death”. And Saul said, “There shall not a man be put to death this day, for today YHWH has wrought deliverance in Israel” (11.12-13).
  • Then said Samuel to the people, “Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingship there.” And all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before YHWH in Gilgal, and there they offered sacrifices of peace-offerings before YHWH, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly (11.14-15).

Note that in ‘a’ Saul returns to his home having been hailed as king, accompanied by ‘the host’ whose hearts God had touched, and in the parallel he is ‘made king’ to the delight of all Israel. In ‘b’ certain churlish people despised him, but Saul holds his peace, and in the parallel the people want to put the dissenters to death, but Saul will not allow it. In ‘c’ Nahash encamped with his people against Jabesh Gilead, and in the parallel all the camp were scattered so that not even two were left together. In ‘d’ Nahash’s aim was to lay a reproach on Israel, and in the parallel the opposite occurs. In ‘e’ the people of Jabesh Gilead said that they would come out to Nahash if they received no assistance, and in the parallel they say that they would come out to him on the morrow. In ‘f’ all the people of Gibeah wept at the news from the messengers, and in the parallel all the people of Israel gather in response to the appeal of messengers. In ‘g’ Saul is following oxen out of the field, and in the parallel he slaughters oxen and sends portions among the tribes. Centrally in ‘h’ the Spirit of YHWH comes mightily on Saul. This was central to what happened.

10.26 ‘And Saul also went to his house, to Gibeah, and there went with him the host, whose hearts God had touched.’

The people having been sent home Saul returned to his house at Gibeah, along with a large crowd of supporters who acted as a guard of honour to honour his new status. These were men whose heart God had touched so that they might be Saul’s mainstay among the people. Some may even have remained with him, for he probably lived in a large household.

10.27 ‘But certain worthless fellows said, “How will this man save us?” And they despised him, and brought him no present. But he held his peace.’

But there were also some dissenters who were not happy with the selection, and who muttered, ‘How shall this man save us?’. They despised him and refused to give him the gifts that a newly appointed king could expect from his subjects, a sign that they rejected his authority. They wanted it to be quite clear what their position was. Perhaps they had partly been put off by the way that he had remained out sight and among the baggage carts during the selection process. Or perhaps they did not like Benjaminities. This does serve to bring out why the process was being so long-winded. Not only was Saul himself having to be assured and given confidence that it really was YHWH Who was calling him to this huge responsibility, but a people of divided loyalties also had to be convinced that the man chosen was indeed the right choice, both YHWH’s choice and one that they could support. Until there was a widespread feeling of general satisfaction about things a coronation could not take place. As it happened that was not to be long in coming.

We should, however, note that these steps in Saul’s acceptance were not all that different from the steps usually required by kings in those days, even when they were following in their father’s footsteps, for there would often be rival claimants to the throne. First there would be a proposal that he be king which would come from people of authority acting privately among his own supporters, then there would often be the need to demonstrate his credentials by military action (often against a rival claimant), then there would be the presentation of the king for more general acceptance with the hope of having him acclaimed, and then, once that had been accomplished there would be the coronation.

‘But he held his peace.’ He was not particularly seeking the throne, and he no doubt felt that if YHWH was really behind it matters would get sorted out. He was not going to begin his stint with a show of aggression, and he probably recognised that a huge change like this took time to be fully accepted..

11.1 ‘Then Nahash the Ammonite came up, and encamped against Jabesh-gilead, and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a covenant with us, and we will serve you.” ’

Nahash, King of Ammon (12.12) took the opportunity presented by Israel’s supposed present state of weakness to invade Israel in Transjordan, and in the process besieged Jabesh-Gilead, one of the leading cities of the area. Jabesh-Gilead has been identified as Tell abu-Kharaz, which is to the west of, and slightly lower (more southerly) than, Ramoth Gilead. It is clear from this that Nahash had occupied a good swathe of the tribal region in that area. We must not confuse him with the Nahash who was a friend of David’s, who was probably his son or his grandson (2 Samuel 10.2).

The inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead were probably still recovering from the mauling that they had received when they broke their covenant with the tribal league (Judges 21.8-12). So not wanting to experience a similar situation again (conquerors were always harder on cities that did not surrender immediately, compare Deuteronomy 20.10-15) they were prepared to surrender and pay tribute. They therefore offered to enter into a treaty with Nahash whereby they submitted to him as their overlord immediately in return for clemency.

11.2 ‘And Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “I make it with you on this condition, that all your right eyes be put out, and I will lay it for a reproach on all Israel.” ’

Nahash replied that he would make such a treaty on one condition, and that was that it included a stipulation that all the men of Jabesh Gilead should have their right eyes gouged out. His main aim in doing this was as a reprisal against Israel’s past shaming of Ammon, with the aim of in return bringing shame on them. For a man to be so disabled in those days was seen as rendering him unsatisfactory to the gods, and therefore a thing of shame. In Israel it would prevent entry into the court of the Tabernacle. Thus if Israel did not prevent this happening all Israel would be shamed.

The other reason behind the blinding of men in the right eye was in order to hinder their ability to make war, whether with sword or bow. Thus it would ensure (as far as it was possible to do so) that in future they did not rebel against Nahash. It was not therefore as unusual a stipulation as it sounds to us (compare Judges 1.6-7).

11.3 ‘And the elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days’ respite, that we may send messengers to all the borders of Israel. And then, if there be none to save us, we will come out to you.” ’

The elders of Jabesh recognised Nahash’s motives and thought processes and replied by seeking a seven day respite period for consideration of the terms. During this period they would send out messengers to the whole of Israel seeking assistance. If they were refused help, or no one came to help them, then they would submit to the terms laid down. As long as Nahash agreed they would not thereby be looked on as having ‘resisted’.

We may wonder why Nahash would accept such terms. But we must remember that it was in his interests to know what kind of retaliation Israel could make if he did enforce his terms and ‘shame’ Israel, and he would know that it would add to the shame being piled on Israel if they made no response (which was his expectation). As his aim was to humiliate an Israel that he considered was in no position to resist him, at least in Transjordan, this might well have been seen by him as a way of adding to their humiliation. After all if his plan succeeded he both shamed Israel for being unwilling to fight, and gained Jabesh without any further fighting, while if he refused he could not be sure that Jabesh would not decide to hold out longer and thus hinder the progress of his invasion. And they could then be depended on to get messengers through the siege-lines calling for help anyway, because they would keep on trying until one did, and it was always impossible to totally prevent it. Thus he had little to lose.

11.4 ‘Then the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, and spoke these words in the ears of the people, and all the people lifted up their voice, and wept.’

The messengers arrived at Gibeah of Saul. They may have known about Saul’s appointment, but in view of the fact that they did not ask for him it seems unlikely, or they may have been directed there, or it may just have been that they approached Gibeah as they made their rounds of the leading cities of Israel. And when they informed the people of Gibeah why they had come, the people of Gibeah responded by going into public (and loud) mourning. Not to have done so would have been a grave insult, especially as Benjaminites had close ties with the people of Jabesh-Gilead (Judges 21.6-12).

11.5 ‘And, behold, Saul came following the oxen out of the field, and Saul said, “What troubles the people that they weep?” And they told him the words of the men of Jabesh.’

The fact that Saul was following the oxen from the field need not mean that Saul was doing the actual manual labour. He may well have been overseeing the ploughing. But it is quite probable that as a young man he took his part in it, and either way it illustrates the rustic nature of his kingship. He had not set up a court and tried to exalt himself with grandiose ideas. Rather he had remained satisfied with his lot. And even later, when he became more established, his ‘palace’ at Gibeah was very unsophisticated, and more in the nature of a fortress, as archaeology has revealed. He had made no attempt to set himself up as king in the grand manner. he had seemingly accepted Samuel’s view that he was primarily a war-leader.

Hearing the cries of mourning he was obviously interested in what troubles had caused it, and the townsfolk informed him of the message that had come from Jabesh.

11.6 ‘And the Spirit of God came mightily on Saul when he heard those words, and his anger was greatly stirred up (kindled).’

Immediately Saul recognised that it was now his responsibility to do something, and ‘the Spirit of God came mightily on Saul --- and his anger was greatly stirred up (literally kindled like a flame)’. No outward sign would have been visible. The work of the Spirit is revealed in what followed (as was always the case with the Judges). The Holy Spirit’s enabling and power was given at time of need.

11.7 ‘And he took a yoke of oxen, and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the borders of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come forth after Saul and after Samuel, so will it be done to his oxen.” And the dread of YHWH fell on the people, and they came out as one man.’

He then followed what was probably the regular procedure when the tribes had to be called on to fulfil their responsibility under the covenant to provide warriors for the defence of one of the tribes. He took a yoke of oxen (possibly his own), cut them in pieces (a task farmers were quite used to), and sent them throughout all Israel to their very borders. The messengers would explain what the need was, and at the same time give the warning that was probably always given in similar words, although personalised for the occasion.

“Whoever does not come forth after Saul and after Samuel, so will it be done to his oxen.” The threat was that if they refused the call of Saul and Samuel (note how Saul does not do it just on his own authority. At this stage some might have refused. But all recognised Samuel’s authority) then they would be punished by having all their own most valuable possessions taken from them, symbolised in terms of their oxen being slain. Tribal vengeance would be taken on them. (Ironically we can compare this punishment with that on Jabesh-gilead in Judges 21.9-11). We can also compare with the method used here the grisly method used by the Levite in order to gain vengeance for his concubine (Judges 19.29). The sending out of some symbol to call treaty-members to fight has been a regular method through the ages (see also 1 Kings 11.29-31). We can compare how the Scottish highlanders used to send out the fiery cross to all the clans for the same purpose.

The response was immediate and in some cases must have been by forced march. The ‘dread of YHWH’ fell on them. This may well have been a technical term for the adrenalin that this symbol always pumped up when it was received. It was a sacred symbol. Few would question it. And the result was that Israel gathered as one man.

11.8 ‘And he numbered them in Bezek, and the children of Israel were three hundred military units, and the men of Judah thirty military units.’

Once the tribes had gathered they were organised and counted. From the children of Israel had come three hundred military units, each unit probably representing a clan or larger family (the same Hebrew word is used for ‘thousand’, ‘military unit’, or ‘clan’). From the men of Judah came thirty such military units, again made up of sub-tribal units. This distinction of Judah from Israel is carefully worded. It is ‘the men of Judah’ not ‘the children of Judah’. They were thus distinct, and yet still part of the children of Israel. Judah always saw themselves as being distinctive among the tribes. They were a large tribe and had settled the south (along with Simeon). It will be noted that they had not been called on by Deborah, and that no blame had been placed on them for not responding, possibly because it was recognised that with the Philistines pressing they could not spare men for northern battles. Thus they had developed their independence. But the main reason for the differentiation here was probably that the northern tribes assembled together as they arrived and formed up in their units, while the men of Judah arrived separately from the south.

‘Bezek.’ Possibly modern Ibzik, half way between Shechem and Bethshan, and seven miles west of the Jordan.

11.9a ‘And they said to the messengers who came, “Thus shall you say to the men of Jabesh-gilead, Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you will have deliverance.” ’

The army being amassed messages were sent to Jabesh-gilead in order to inform them that help was on the way. The message was simple. ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you will have deliverance.’ In other words they would be attacking early next morning.

11.9b ‘And the messengers came and told the men of Jabesh, and they were delighted.’

Perhaps not surprisingly when the messengers arrived with the good news the men of Jabesh were delighted. They must have been awaiting the messenger with some dread. Who could be sure that the tribes would respond?

11.10 ‘Therefore the men of Jabesh said, “Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you shall do with us all that seems good to you.” ’

The men of Jabesh then attempted to make the attack on the morrow a total surprise for Nahash. It would make things easier for Israel if their forces arrived unexpectedly and took the Ammonites by surprise. So they sent Nahash a message to say that at some time on the morrow they would come out and surrender without fighting, and that Nahash could then do what seemed good to him.

Their hope was that this would keep the focus of Nahash and his men firmly fixed on the besieged city. Indeed they might have hoped that the Ammonites would also feel able to indulge in a little celebration beforehand, and might even relax their guards and call in their scouts, all of which would be of benefit to the approaching Israelites.

There was, of course, a double entendre behind their words. They would indeed come out to him. But the consequences would not be pleasant for him.

11.11 ‘And it was so on the morrow, that Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch, and smote the Ammonites until the heat of the day. And it came about that those who remained were scattered, so that not two of them were left together.’

True to his word Saul arrived during ‘the morning watch’ (roughly the equivalent of 2.00 am to 6.00 am) as daylight was approaching, and dividing his forces into three companies, he attacked the Ammonite camp from three sides just before dawn, seemingly taking them completely by surprise. The battle continued all morning, and resulted in the Ammonites who did escape fleeing in ones and twos. They were totally routed.

All Opposition To Saul’s Kingship Now Having Been Put To Shame, Saul Is Officially Crowned as King of Israel (11.12-15).

The returning Saul arrived back in triumph and the vast majority of the people acknowledged that he had proved himself and determined to deal with the murmurers against him (10.27) by putting them to death. This was the recognised way of dealing with obdurate opponents to a regime. But to his credit Saul would have none of it. Then with his position established Saul was officially confirmed as king at Gilgal.

11.12 ‘And the people said to Samuel, “Who is he who said, Shall Saul reign over us? Bring the men, that we may put them to death.”’

The exuberant returning troops would now look on Saul with a new light. It was one thing to have a war-leader appointed by lot, it was quite another when you have followed him into battle and been hugely victorious. None of them doubted him now. Thus they approached Samuel who would have been awaiting their return and called for all who opposed Saul to be put to death. In view of the fact that it was expected that they would have brought presents to the new king they were possibly mainly older men who through tribal loyalty could not bear the thought of being ruled over by a Benjaminite.

11.13 ‘And Saul said, “There shall not a man be put to death this day, for today YHWH has wrought deliverance in Israel.”

To his great credit Saul stepped in and forbade it. This was not a a day for slaying Israelites, it was a day for rejoicing, for on this day YHWH had wrought deliverance for Israel. We should note in view of what follows that in these early days Saul was revealed as someone totally worthy of the kingship. The initial choice was shown to be a good one.

11.14 ‘Then said Samuel to the people, “Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingship there.” ’

Meanwhile Samuel saw the opportunity to finally seal the kingship question. With all the tribes gathered together (probably moreso than at Mizpah earlier in the nature of the circumstances of a general levy), and with them all in agreement, he suggested that all repair to the Sanctuary at Gilgal in order to renew the kingship. Some see this as indicating the renewal of the Kingship of YHWH, others see it as referring to the finalisation of Saul’s coronation. Both may be included for it is then said that Saul was ‘made king before YHWH’.

11.15 ‘And all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before YHWH in Gilgal, and there they offered sacrifices of peace-offerings before YHWH, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.’

It is interesting that no mention is made of Samuel being at Gilgal with the people, nor of him offering a burnt-offering, or indeed any offering (contrast 7.6-9), nor of him being involved in the ceremony. (LXX in fact recognises this and amends the text). It seems inconceivable if Samuel was there initially that there was no burnt-offering, and that if he was there his part in the ceremony was not described. It is true that at some stage he must have arrived, but it may well be that he waited seven days, as he had previously said to Saul (10.8), in order to avoid being directly involved in the ‘renewal of the kingship’. It is quite possible that he felt that he had already done his part in authenticating Saul and now wanted to leave it to the people (he was not very enamoured of the kingship anyway), only arriving in order to finalise the situation. The writer may well have expected us to remember 10.8 and see his words in that light.

Thus it is very possible that Samuel was not present at the celebrations and merely appeared at the end in order to finalise things with his farewell speech as Judge of Israel. He may well genuinely have felt that his time for acting as Judge had passed and that the renewal of Saul’s confirmation as king was best left out of his own hands and in the hands of ‘all the people” and of the priests at Gilgal. This would explain why he deliberately delayed until the seventh day, at which point he would arrive to give Saul his final instructions from his standpoint as a prophet (10.8) and make his final farewell speech as Judge. This would indicate that he was acknowledging publicly that his time for interfering in the question of rule over Israel had passed and that now it was between Saul and the people. We must remember that being an old man it would take him some time to get to Gilgal, and the people in their enthusiasm would not necessarily have waited for him, which would explain why no burnt-offering is mentioned, simply because one was not offered until he did finally arrive.

The making of Saul as king ‘before YHWH’ again suggests that Gilgal was being seen as the Central Sanctuary, and the offering of sacrifices of peace-offerings in celebration and thanksgiving for their victory would be by the priests at Gilgal. It was a time of festival and rejoicing, but not one of the regular festivals. Once Samuel arrived he would no doubt take it on himself as the adopted son of Eli to offer burnt-offerings, an important type of dedicatory offering not mentioned above, but described in 10.8 and therefore assumed here on that basis. There appears at this stage still to have been no acceptable candidate for the High Priesthood. Such a candidate will appear in 14.3.

Samuel Withdraws From His Position Of Authority (12.1-25).

Now that Samuel could see that Saul’s position was secure he wanted to make clear that as far as he was concerned it was the end of his own rulership over Israel. He indicated that he would continue to be YHWH’s prophet on their behalf, but that they must recognise once and for all that the civil authority now lay in the hands of Saul. This clear break was very wise, for it was important to avoid possible future divisions in the kingdom. No nation could have two masters.

This desire to make a clean break explains why he so openly gave account of his stewardship. It was in order to make abundantly clear to the people that, this account having been made, he bore no further responsibility. He stressed that as a prophet he would certainly continue to pray for them, and that he would instruct them and the king in the right way. But from now on he would not interfere in the rulership.

This was an important moment in Israel’s history. It was the end of the period of judgeship during which leaders were appointed by YHWH, and the beginning of a full scale kingship which was intended to lead to a dynasty. Gideon had been a petty king, but that had only been over a small part of Israel, and any dynastic ambitions collapsed. But now Saul had been appointed over all Israel as king, and it will be noted that from now on Israel’s fortunes will be closely tied in with their king’s fortunes. When the king does what is right in YHWH’s eyes things will go well. When the king does not do right in YHWH’s eyes things will go badly. This will be evidenced in the life of David, and it was the price of having a king.

However, before handing over Samuel will seek to bring home to them the sinfulness and folly of what they had done. He describes how right from the time when Jacob had taken Israel into Egypt God had been their king, raising up deliverers and war leaders whenever His people sought His face. But now they had rejected God’s direct rule. From now on they would have a king, with all the consequences that would result from it. And he wants them to know that while God had graciously acceded to their request, He was not pleased about it. For He recognised it for what it was. Rejection of His hand being directly over them.

Samuel Makes A Clean Break From His Civic Responsibilities (12.1-5).

In his farewell speech Samuel begins by making clear that he is now free from all civil responsibility for Israel. He wants them to know without any shadow of doubt that from now on he will act only as YHWH’s prophet. The deliberate detail in which he does this emphasises the cleanness of the break. As far as he is concerned once the people have given him clearance he ceases his duties. From now on they must look to the king whom they have chosen to watch over their interests in all civil matters. He will no longer be their ‘Judge’.

Analysis.

  • a And Samuel said to all Israel, “Look, I have listened to your voice in all that you said to me, and have made a king over you. And now, see, the king walks before you, and I am old and grey-headed, and look, my sons are with you, and I have walked before you from my youth to this day” (12.1-2).
  • b “Here I am. Witness against me before YHWH, and before his anointed, Whose ox have I taken? Or whose ass have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or of whose hand have I taken a ransom with which to blind mine eyes? And I will restore it you.” (12.3).
  • b And they said, You have not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, nor have you taken anything of any man’s hand” (12.4).
  • a And he said to them, “YHWH is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” And they said, “He is witness” (12.5).

Note that in ‘a’ he points out that he has made a king over them and has walked before them openly since his youth, and in the parallel he charges them in the sight of YHWH and the king to bear witness that he has not failed them in any way. In ‘b’ he sets out the charges that might possibly have been laid against him, and in the parallel the people refute them.

12.1-2 ‘And Samuel said to all Israel, “Look, I have listened to your voice in all that you said to me, and have made a king over you. And now, see, the king walks before you, and I am old and grey-headed, and look, my sons are with you, and I have walked before you from my youth to this day.”

He begins by pointing out that he has listened to their voice and made a king over them. He wants them to be absolutely clear that it was their choice and not his. Let them recognise that he had not wanted them to have a king over them. He had wanted YHWH to be their King. But they have gone their own way and chosen a king.

How much we all like a king (whether it be a pastor, or a youth leader, or some other person in authority). It is so much easier to have someone who will tell us exactly what to do so that no blame might be laid at our door. And we then hope that he will not make too many demands on us. But what we really do not want to have to do is look to God directly for guidance, and to commit our way totally to Him. For we know that, in His case, any demands that He makes on us will be absolute, and that such a walk requires faith and obedience. It is a call to full surrender.

Then Samuel stresses that their king walks before them (and he could have added ‘in the prime of life’) for he contrasts the king with himself, old in years and grey-headed, with grown up sons who live among them. And he stresses that from his youth he has walked openly before them and served them. But that is now over. Now they must look for their young king to serve them.

12.3 “Here I am. Witness against me before YHWH, and before his anointed, Whose ox have I taken? Or whose ass have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or of whose hand have I taken a ransom with which to blind mine eyes? And I will restore it you.”

So he then calls on them to bear witness concerning him in the sight of YHWH, and of the one whom YHWH has ‘anointed’. For the latter see 10.1; and compare 2.10, 35. The anointing indicated someone totally separated to God, and they could see in each one who was anointed by YHWH the potential future coming king who was described in 2.10. But, alas, one by one each one of them, even David, would prove a disappointment.

And he asks the people whether, in the sight of these two, YHWH and His representative, they are able honestly to accuse him of any misdemeanour? Has he taken their oxen or asses (deprived them of their most valued possessions)? Has he ever defrauded them? Has he ever oppressed them? Has he ever accepted a bribe which has made him close his eyes to the truth (compare Exodus 23.8; Deuteronomy 16.19; and contrast 8.3)? If they can rightly accuse him of any of these things he will recompense them now, restoring to them what they claim that they have lost.

12.4 ‘And they said, You have not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, nor have you taken anything of any man’s hand.” ’

Their reply is that he is clear of any of those things. They recognise that he has been honest and true in all things.

12.5 ‘And he said to them, “YHWH is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” And they said, “He is witness.” ’

He then asks them to confirm the fact in front of YHWH and in front of the one whom He has anointed, with both of them acting as witnesses. They reply by affirming that YHWH Himself is witness, and as the Greater includes the lesser, so also is His anointed. Thus Samuel has a twofold witness that he has not failed them in any way. And having sworn to his innocence they now know without any doubt that Samuel’s long watch over them as Judge is over. They can no longer look to him to act in civil affairs. From now on they must look to Saul.

Samuel Now Explains How They Have Offended YHWH And Calls On YHWH For A Sign Which Will Demonstrate To Them What They Have Done, After Which He Promises That As Their Prophet He Will Continue To Pray For Them (12.6-25).

His oration can be divided into two halves, the first dealing with how they have offended YHWH, as the people did of old. And the second part looking at what is required for the future, accompanied by a portentous sign of YHWH’s displeasure, and his assurance that he will pray for them. For he wants them to appreciate that they are still accountable to YHWH.

Analysis.

  • a And Samuel said to the people, “It is YHWH who appointed Moses and Aaron, and who brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt” (12.6).
  • b “Now therefore stand still, that I may plead with you before YHWH concerning all the righteous acts of YHWH, which he did to you and to your fathers” (12.7).
  • c “When Jacob was come into Egypt, and your fathers cried to YHWH, then YHWH sent Moses and Aaron, who brought forth your fathers out of Egypt, and made them to dwell in this place” (12.8).
  • d But they forgot YHWH their God; and he sold them into the hand of Sisera, captain of the host of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab, and they fought against them” (12.9).
  • e “And they cried to YHWH, and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken YHWH, and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, and we will serve you’. And YHWH sent Jerubbaal, and Bedan, and Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you dwelt in safety” (12.10-11).
  • f “And when you saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when YHWH your God was your king” (12.12).
  • g “Now therefore see the king whom you have chosen, and whom you have asked for, and see, YHWH has set a king over you” (12.13).
  • h “If you will fear YHWH, and serve him, and listen to his voice, and not rebel against the commandment of YHWH, and both you and also the king who reigns over you be followers of YHWH your God, then it will be well with you. But if you will not listen to the voice of YHWH, but rebel against the commandment of YHWH, then will the hand of YHWH be against you, as it was against your fathers” (12.14-15).
  • g “Now therefore stand still and see this great thing, which YHWH will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call to YHWH, that he may send thunder and rain” (12.17a).
  • f “And you will know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of YHWH, in asking for yourselves a king.” So Samuel called to YHWH, and YHWH sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared YHWH and Samuel (12.17b-18).
  • e And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to YHWH your God, that we do not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king” (12.19).
  • d And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid. You have indeed done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following YHWH, but serve YHWH with all your heart, and do not turn aside, for then would you go after vain things which cannot profit nor deliver, for they are vain (12.20-21).
  • c For YHWH will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased YHWH to make you a people for himself” (12.22).
  • b “Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against YHWH in ceasing to pray for you, but I will instruct you in the good and the right way” (12.23).
  • a “Only fear YHWH, and serve him in truth with all your heart; for consider how great the things that he has done for you. But if you shall still do wickedly, you will be consumed, both you and your king” (12.24-25).

Note that in ‘a’ they are reminded that it was YHWH Who appointed both Aaron and Moses, and delivered their fathers, and in the parallel they are warned that if they do not obey YHWH they will not be delivered, but both they and their king will be consumed, (as in fact Moses and Aaron were for disobedience). In ‘b’ he pleads with the people before YHWH concerning His righteous acts towards His people, and in the parallel he assures them that he will not sin against YHWH by ceasing to pray for them. In ‘c’ he declares how previously YHWH had delivered His people through Aaron and Moses in response to His people’s prayers (making them a people for himself), and in the parallel he confirms that YHWH will not forsake them, because He has made them a people for Himself. In ‘d’ their ancestors had forgotten YHWH and been sold into the hands of their enemies, and in the parallel they are not to turn aside and go after unprofitable vain things. In ‘e’ their ancestors had cried to YHWH because they had sinned, and they sought deliverance, and in the parallel the people ask Samuel to pray for them that they dies not, admitting their sins. In ‘f’ when they saw Nahash coming against them they demanded a king, and in the parallel because they had demanded a king they would experience thunder and rain. In ‘g’ they are ‘now’ (‘atah) to see and behold the king that they have chosen and asked for, and in the parallel they are ‘now’ (gam ‘atah) to stand still and see the great thing which YHWH will do before their eyes. In ‘h’ and centrally they are to fear YHWH and serve Him, both they and their king, and are warned what will happen if they do not listen to Him.

Samuel First Briefly Recounts The History of YHWH’s Goodness In Appointing Deliverers In Order To Deliver Them (The Way In Which He Has Chosen To Rule Them), And Yet Even Then They Have Continually Failed To Respond To Him, Something Which Has Finally Come To A Head In Their Replacing YHWH With An Earthly King (12.6-12).

The people having borne witness to his faithfulness and integrity before YHWH as their witness, he now turns the tables on them and bears witness to their faithlessness and lack of integrity in the eyes of God when God acted as their Judge, first of their fathers, and then of themselves. For after He had delivered them from Egypt they had failed Him constantly. And yet even so they had also constantly depended on Him when they were in trouble, and at such times He had appointed Saviours for them. And He had done this even to the last, in appointing Saul as their present war-leader and deliverer, and in doing so He had tried to point them in the way of making him only their war-leader (nagid), and continuing in the old way. But they had refused and had rather chosen to make him their full-blown king.

12.6-7 ‘And Samuel said to the people, “It is YHWH who appointed Moses and Aaron, and who brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt. Now therefore stand still, that I may plead with you before YHWH concerning all the righteous acts of YHWH, which he did to you and to your fathers.” ’

The one ‘on trial’ has suddenly become the accuser. He reminds them of God’s method of saving and ruling His people, that when they were in bondage in Egypt it was YHWH Who had appointed Moses and Aaron to be His people’s deliverers and bring them out of the land of Egypt. YHWH had not failed them then. And he asks them to stand and listen while he goes on to demonstrate before YHWH concerning all the righteous things that YHWH has done for them and their fathers, after which he lists some of YHWH’s appointments in terms of the names of the ones whom He sent.

12.8 “When Jacob was come into Egypt, and your fathers cried to YHWH, then YHWH sent Moses and Aaron, who brought forth your fathers out of Egypt, and made them to dwell in this place.”

First, when Jacob had brought the people into Egypt they had cried to YHWH in the time of bondage that had resulted from this, and He had then sent Moses and Aaron who had brought their fathers out of Egypt into this very place that they now were. That they were there at all was due to YHWH.

12.9 “But they forgot YHWH their God; and he sold them into the hand of Sisera, captain of the host of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab, and they fought against them.”

But they had then forgotten YHWH their God, and so He had, as it were, sold them as slaves into the hand of Sisera, captain of the host of Hazor (Judges 4-5), and into the hand of the Philistines (Judges 3.31), and into the hand of Moab (Judges 3.12-30), and they had come and fought against them. Note that Samuel here lists them in reverse order as compared with the Book of Judges, while after verse 10 the next three will be listed forwards. This deliberately centres all the emphasis on their failure described in verse 10, pointing to it like an arrow from both sides.

12.10 “And they cried to YHWH, and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken YHWH, and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, and we will serve you’.”

Here was the crunch of the matter. Each time they had forsaken YHWH and had served other gods. But when they were in distress and those gods could not help them they had called on YHWH, and had admitted their sin and idolatry, and had then prayed for deliverance and had promised to serve Him. And each time YHWH had heard them.

12.11 “And YHWH sent Jerubbaal, and Bedan, and Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you dwelt in safety.”

And the result of their pleas was that YHWH had sent Jerub-baal (Gideon - Judges 6-8), Bedan (‘Abdon - Judges 13.13? or Barak - Judges 4-5?), Jephthah (Judges 11-12) and Samuel, and each time He had delivered them from the hands of their enemies so that they dwelt in safety. The mention of Samuel’s own name may suggest that he was figuratively ticking off the names of the Judges on a mental list with which the people were familiar, possibly one cited at the annual feasts. It was, of course, important that his name be mentioned because it brought the deliverances right up to date. And yet the citing of his name suggested that he wanted to avoid making it personal.

Jerub-baal was an alternative name given to Gideon (Judges 6.31-32; 7.1). Bedan (bdn meaning ‘corpulent’) may have been a well known judge and deliverer, known to all Israel and not to us (otherwise he is out of order). It may have been a variant of ‘Abdon (‘bdn) who had seventy offspring who rode on seventy asses (Judges 12.13-14). Or it may be a humerous twisting of the name of Barak (in the Hebrew Bedan and Barak look fairly similar) possibly because Barak was remembered in the tradition as corpulent (this thus being given as a nick name, ‘fatty’). However, against the idea that it refers to Barak is the fact that the earlier judges, of which he was one, have already been dealt with previously without being named. Or it has even been suggested that it could be an abbreviation of ben-Dan (son of Dan) referring to Samson, but it seems unlikely. Jephthah we know of from Judges 11-12.

12.12 “And when you saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when YHWH your God was your king.”

And when they had seen Nahash, the king of the children of Ammon, coming against them they had been provided with Saul as a war-leader (nagid - 9.16), but had demanded rather that they might have him as a king, even though YHWH their God was their King. (This verse presents what has been said previously, in abbreviated form). So the line of deliverers right up to the present day had ended in the rejection of YHWH as their King.

Samuel Then Stresses That YHWH Has Graciously Given Them Their Desire And Calls On Them To Respond In Like Manner (12.13-15).

Samuel now stresses that, in spite of their attitude towards Him, it is still YHWH Who has set over them this king whom they had demanded, and have now chosen. Therefore if both they and their king will continue to hear His voice and obey Him then all will go well with them. But if they refuse to listen to His voice and do not obey Him and His commandments, than they must rather expect that it will go ill with them. Thus although their choosing a king other than YHWH will make if more difficult for them to continue looking to YHWH, how it eventually turns out will depend on them and them alone.

12.13 “Now therefore see the king whom you have chosen, and whom you have asked for, and see, YHWH has set a king over you.”

He presents Saul to them as the one that they have themselves chosen. Notice the emphasis on the fact that it is their choice which has been effective (even though guided by him and approved by lot), which suggests again that Samuel has been keeping himself in the background during the confirmation of kingship. And he stresses they have chosen him as a result of the fact that they had first asked for him. All the responsibility for these actions thus lies on them. And it is because of all this that YHWH had set him as king over them.

(What the people had done should be a reminder to us of how often we manoeuvre God into doing our will, something to which He responds out of His compassion for us, and then we blame Him when things go wrong, whereas if only we had really listened to His voice in the first place, it would never have happened).

12.14 “If you will fear YHWH, and serve him, and listen to his voice, and not rebel against the commandment of YHWH, and both you and also the king who reigns over you be followers of YHWH your God, then it will be well with you.”

The new situation need not turn out badly. It is up to them. For the appointment of a king has not altered YHWH’s basic requirements, nor has it let the people off from obedience. It is still required of them that they fear YHWH, and serve Him, and listen to His voice. Both they and the king must be followers of YHWH. And the implication is that if they do this, it will be well with them. (‘Then it will be well with you’ is not expressed in the Hebrew, but is the implication to be read in).

12.15 “But if you will not listen to the voice of YHWH, but rebel against the commandment of YHWH, then will the hand of YHWH be against you, as it was against your fathers.”

On the other hand if having a king results in their not listening to His voice, but in their rebelling against the commandments of YHWH, then the hand of YHWH will be against them, as it was regularly against their fathers when they also neglected God.

We may ask, what difference then would having a king make? And the answer is that it would insulate them from God so that they did not have to deal with God directly. That would be left to the king. And the inevitable result of that would be that the trust of most of them would be in the king and not in God. And when things went wrong it would be the king that they blamed, rather than their own state before God.

Samuel Then Calls On YHWH To Witness From Heaven The Fact Of Their Sinfulness By Sending Thunder And Rain At The Time Of The Wheat Harvest (12.16-19).

Then, lest the people begin to think that perhaps their action has not been so bad after all, Samuel gives them a sign from God of His displeasure. It was the time of the wheat harvest, the time in Israel when the sky was daily blue and cloudless, and when rain was something far away from their minds because it was not expected for at least a few months, so Samuel calls on YHWH to do the ‘impossible’, to bring thunder and rain at Samuel’s request. And when He does so the people are filled with awe and fear and ask Samuel to pray for them that they might not die, for they recognise now the greatness of their sin and folly in asking for a king.

12.16 “Now therefore stand still and see this great thing, which YHWH will do before your eyes.”

Samuel faces the people and tells them to stand where they are, for in that very place they will see the great thing that YHWH will do before their eyes.

12.17 “Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call to YHWH, that he may send thunder and rain, and you will know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of YHWH, in asking for yourselves a king.”

And then he informs them what it will be. At this very time of wheat harvest (May and June) when the weather was always hot and sunny (as it always is in Palestine at this time of year, without a cloud in the sky), he will call on YHWH to send thunder and rain so that they might recognise and see that their wickedness was great in asking for a king for themselves, something which they had done before the very eyes of YHWH.

Control of the weather was always recognised as being in YHWH’s hands, and the sending of rain at the right time was to be seen as one of the evidences of His blessings on His people, whereas a shortage of rain indicated His displeasure. But rain and thunder had regularly been a means by which God had revealed His judgment on His people’s enemies (7.10; compare Judges 5.20-21). Thus this rain and thunder, coming at this time, could only indicate to the people that God was angry with them. Indeed rain in harvest was seen as something of such rarity that it was as rare as the possibility of a fool receiving honour (Proverbs 26.1).

The parallel in the chiasmus also indicates something further. It suggests that the rain and thunder were symbolic of coming judgments. Because they had chosen their own king rather than being in full submission to YHWH they would experience future judgments. And as we move on into Saul’s reign we discover that that is precisely what did happen. Indeed had God in His mercy not provided a David it would have been very much worse. But He tempered justice with mercy.

12.18 ‘So Samuel called to YHWH, and YHWH sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared YHWH and Samuel.’

Samuel then carried out his proposal and called on YHWH, and YHWH sent thunder and rain ‘that very day’, and the result was that the people realised just how much they had angered both God and Samuel, and they were filled with fear before both of them (compare Exodus 14.31 for a similar situation). Samuel was not, of course, simply seeking to terrify them. In his heart he was doing it for their good so that they might learn a lesson for the future. He wanted them to recognise that this manipulation of the weather was something that their new king would not be able to do for them. And he did not want them to forget YHWH.

12.19 ‘And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to YHWH your God, that we do not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” ’

The display of divine power made the people realise how foolish they had been, and they begged Samuel, on whom they had always depended in the past, to pray for them to YHWH his God that they might not die in the terrible storm, for they now recognised that they had added to all their previous sins this evil, that they had sought for themselves a king. Most of them would forget it once the storm was over. But for the present it was mightily effective.

Samuel Promises Them That He Will Not Forget His Responsibility Towards Them as Their Prophet, Assures Them That He will Pray For Them And Continue To Teach Them The Right Way, And Warns Them Again Of The Necessity Of Being Faithful To YHWH (12.20-25).

While they are in this state of remorse Samuel takes the opportunity to stress what they must do in the future. He assures them that he will not fail in his responsibilities of praying for them and teaching them in the future, and in return they are to ensure that they do not turn aside from following YHWH, but are to follow Him faithfully, serving Him with all their heart, and not turning after what is vain and cannot profit them or deliver them.

12.20-21 ‘And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid. You have indeed done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following YHWH, but serve YHWH with all your heart, and do not turn aside, for then would you go after vain things which cannot profit nor deliver, for they are vain.” ’

Samuel seeks to comfort them and assure them that for now at least YHWH intends them no harm. He accepts that they have done great evil, both in the past and in their present decision, but calls on them not to turn aside from following YHWH. Rather they are to serve Him with all their heart. For if they do turn aside it will only be to go after vain things (i.e. false gods who are nothings - compare the same word in Isaiah 41.29; 44.9, and see 1 Corinthians 8.4) which can neither profit them nor deliver them. There really is no sound alternative from YHWH.

12.22 “For YHWH will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased YHWH to make you a people for himself.”

In return he guarantees that YHWH will never finally forsake His people. He reminds them that He has been pleased in His unmerited love to make them a people for Himself (see especially Deuteronomy 7.6-11), and that He will therefore, for His own Name and reputation’s sake, be faithful to His promises. Compare Moses’ argument in Exodus 32.11-13.

Note the unconditional nature of God’s faithfulness. It is because of what He has determined and brought about in His sovereign will that He will be faithful to them. And that faithfulness continued throughout all Israel’s unfaithfulness, until it finally resulted in the new Israel founded on Christ through His Apostles of which all believers become a part, and to which God will be everlastingly faithful. God is faithful to Israel still.

12.23 “Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against YHWH in ceasing to pray for you, but I will instruct you in the good and the right way.”

Samuel guarantees that he also will be faithful to them. To sin against YHWH by ceasing to pray for them is something that is far from his heart. Rather they can be sure that he will continue faithfully to instruct them in the good and the right way, the way of YHWH. If they fail it will not be because he has failed.

Thus they are assured that whatever they have done, their faithful prophet who has watched over them for so long, will continue to look after their spiritual interests.

12.24 “Only fear YHWH, and serve him in truth with all your heart; for consider how great the things that he has done for you.”

So what they must do in response is walk before YHWH in the fear of God, and serve Him in truth as they consider all the great things that He has done for them.

12.25 “But if you shall still do wickedly, you will be consumed, both you and your king.”

On the other hand, if they do still behave sinfully, then they will be consumed, both them and their king. Thus their responsibility towards God is still the same. They cannot hide behind their king.

And with these exhortations, promises and pleas he relinquished his civic authority over them into the hands of Saul. From now on he would only have responsibility for their spiritual lives, and that only if they sought God with all their hearts.

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Further free Bible articles and commentaries

Commentary on Samuel - Contents

1 Samuel 4.1b-8.22 The Movements of the Ark of God and the Judgeship of Samuel

1 Samuel 13.1-15.35 The Downfall of Saul

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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH--- ESTHER--- PSALMS 1-50--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS