Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 9 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/15/2015 in Novato, CA.
1 Samuel 9
“Taller Than Any of the People”
Who chose Saul to be the first king of Israel? This chapter shows the complexity of that answer. In one sense, the people were responsible for this choice of Saul. On the other hand, we see here God playing an active role in his selection as king. And so today we will consider the choosing of Saul to be king. And we will also consider what Saul’s future as king has in store for him. And in considering these things, we’ll see the gracious way God shepherds his people. Here he will give the people what they ask for, even though it’s not what is best for him. But in this we’ll see God teaching them and caring for them. And certainly then there are similar lessons for us in this too.
So, let’s begin to answer the question about who chose Saul by considering the people’s involvement. This brings us first back to last chapter. Recall that it was the people who had asked for a king. Recall that God was not pleased with this, because God said it represented them rejecting himself as their king. Specifically, the people asked for a king like the nations. This is said twice by them, in 8:5, and 8:20. They wanted a king like all the other nations. And so their request was for a specific kind of king. They didn’t want God up in heaven to be their king. They wanted a human king, similar to the kinds of kings like all the surrounding nations had. They further described the kind of king they wanted in 8:20 as one who would go out before them into battle and fight all their battles for them. In other words, the sense you get in hearing their request for a king is that they had these grandiose visions of some outwardly glorious king. They don’t want God as their king, nor do they describe a king in terms of his righteousness or his love for God. Rather they seem to envision a king from a rather worldly perspective. As a side note, this is a struggle for us today. What do we desire? Do we desire the things God says we should desire? Or are our desires the same things that the unbelieving world has?
Well, Israel’s desired a kind of king that the world would choose. And that’s what they seem to get. To be fair, they don’t specifically pick Saul as their king. But the text subtly shows us here that he’s the kind of king they were looking for. We see this particularly in verse 2. Describing Saul, verse 2 says that he was “choice and handsome”. It goes on to say, “There was not a more handsome person than he among the children of Israel. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.” So, Saul looked like a king of the nations. He stood out in his outward appearance. Not only was he choice and handsome, but frankly he was well taller than the rest. Israel wanted an outwardly glamorous king like all the nations, and that means they wanted someone very much like Saul.
Similarly, we see in verse 1 a bit of Saul’s family tree. It gives a bit of his genealogy and says that he is the son of someone named Kish. Well, look at what verse 1 tells us about Kish. Kish was a mighty man of power. In other words, Saul came from a rather influential family at that time. Now, let me clarify verse 20 though. Saul himself responds to a rather complimentary statement by Samuel with an expression of commendable humility. In verse 20 he says he is from the smallest tribe of Benjamin, and that his family is least among the tribe of Benjamin. Well, in light of verse 1, Saul’s words are clearly an effort by him to be humble, though they seem a bit of exaggeration. Because the reality is that he comes from a family obviously of some wealth to have donkeys and servants. And verse 1 tells us in no uncertain terms that Saul’s father is a very powerful man, probably a reference to his influence and nobility among Israel. And so not only does Saul himself individually look like a king. But he also comes from a family of influence and power too. Again, from a worldly perspective, this makes him look like just the kind of king the people wanted.
We see this one last time in verse 20. Samuel asks Saul, “And on whom is all the desire of Israel? Is it not on you and on all your father’s house?” This rhetorical question just confirms everything we’ve been saying. Saul is exactly the kind of person the people would choose as king. Though they are not the ones overtly selecting specifically Saul to be king, they told God the kind of king they wanted, and that person is Saul, and so in that regard they are responsible for the choosing of Saul as king.
Well, this all being said, simultaneously acknowledges the other fact we’ve said. As much as the people chose Saul, they weren’t overtly the ones to choose him. God was. And God used his prophet Samuel to bring this about. So, notice how God brought it all about to choose Saul as king. It begins with the providential circumstances of some lost donkeys. The chapter starts out by recounting how these lost donkeys resulted in Saul and his servant searching all over for the family’s lost donkeys. When you read verses 4 and 5 it sounds like quite a tedious and futile search. They look one place after another, and still no donkeys. Finally, Saul is ready to give up his search. But in verse 5, Saul’s servant points out how their search had brought them to the town where a prophet was, who we see is Samuel. The servant suggests to Saul that they could go to the prophet and see if he could help them find the donkeys. The thought, evidently, is that they could get divine help through the prophets for finding the donkeys. Saul at first puts up an objection that they don’t have any gift to give the prophet, but the servant comes up with some money and says he’ll offer it to the prophet. So Saul agrees, and they go to find the prophet. My point then is to observe how in a rather strange set of providential events, God brings Saul to Samuel. We are supposed to recognize God’s providential arrangement and divine appointment in this.
Well, that’s from Saul’s perspective. Meanwhile, we then learn that God at the same time engages Samuel on this mission. We see it was even the day before, per verse 15, that God mobilized Samuel on this. Then look at verse 17. When Samuel then finally sees Saul, God tells him that this is the one. This is the man he will anoint as king. That again makes me think of John the Baptist, by the way. I keep mentioning ways that Samuel’s ministry is somewhat reflective of John’s. John was the one sent by God to identify the Messiah King, but he too was sent not knowing at first who it was. But God revealed to John that Jesus was the promised Messiah when he saw the Spirit descending upon him and remaining upon him at Jesus’ baptism. But I digress. The point is that God’s use of Samuel in this process is further demonstration how God is active in the choosing of Saul as king.
We further see God’s involvement in the process through Samuel’s interactions with Saul. For example, when Samuel meets up with Saul, before they can even ask about the donkeys, Samuel assures them that they have been found, verse 20. How did Samuel even know about the donkeys and that they had been found? Well, the answer is obvious. As a prophet, he surely received divine revelation about all of this. In the same way, we see that when Saul and his servant arrive, that they are told to come to this banquet, with some thirty people in it. This apparently was a banquet associated with the sacrifice; certain sacrifices involved eating the sacrificed meat together; we saw that with Hannah and Elkanah, for example, at the start of this book. Well, Saul and his servant were then even given the place of honor in the banquet. And Samuel orders that the thigh meat be brought and given to Saul. That was typically the portion of the sacrifice that was to belong to the priest, but Samuel honors Saul by giving it to Saul instead. And what again especially amazes me in all this is that from verse 24 we see that this was all planned ahead of time with Samuel. Imagine, planning a big banquet with a lot of people in the honor of someone whom you have never met, who you wouldn’t even be able to recognize on your own, who you will have to trust will show up into town up at the right time. But it all worked out. Why? Because God was the real organizer of it all. In some extraordinary providence, he brought all the things together so that Samuel could meet Saul and ultimately anoint him as king.
So my second point here is to see that as much as Saul was the kind of king that the people wanted, that God was also heavily involved in the selecting of Saul. Now, what becomes more and more clear is that God’s choice of Saul was selecting a king that the people would choose, not the kind the he would choose. God gave them the kind of king they wanted, not the kind of king that he thought best for them. This is truly a rather amazing but gracious concession of God. But in God’s overall plan we see it expresses God’s kindness to his people, but also a way in which he teaches the people about the kind of king that they actually should want to have.
And so we’ve observed some of the tension in the selecting of Saul as King. In one sense he’s the choice of the people, and another sense a choice of God. I’d like to now in our third point think about what the future holds for this king. What kind of king will Saul be? We see some of his future mentioned prophetically in verse 16. God tells Samuel that he will use Saul in a positive way. Verse 16, God says to Samuel about Saul, “You shall anoint him commander over My people Israel, that he may save My people from the hand of the Philistines; for I have looked upon My people, because their cry has come to me.” What a wonderful statement about God’s giving of the people of Saul. Though we know God’s reservations about a king like Saul, he at the same time will not only anoint him as king, but will use him to be an agent of deliverance for God’s people. God will use Saul to bring deliverance from the Philistines. God will do this because he’s heard their cry for help. Even though their cry for help in a human king contained some incorrect motives too, God graciously still hears their cry, and still graciously gives them a king, and will still graciously use that king of the people’s choice for bringing them relief and deliverance.
What I mean is that even though Saul was not the kind of king God would have chosen for them, he, nonetheless, seems to give Saul a real chance at doing things right. God doesn’t just grudgingly install Saul as king, with no real opportunity for Saul to succeed. No, God takes this all seriously, and calls Saul to be the kind of king God would have him to be. This is seen well in chapter 10 when God finally declares to the people that Saul is the king. There God has Samuel explain to the people how the king was to behave and has him record it in a book and lays it up before the Lord. So, even though we know the greater story, that Saul will later mess up badly, and show himself as not the king of king God would choose, God doesn’t treat him like that. In other words, it’s not like God from the start treats him as a failure, or sets him up to fail. Rather, God treats him through Samuel with all the proper treatment of a new king in Israel.
And what is especially amazing to me is something that we then later see Samuel tell King Saul after King Saul presumptuously offers a sacrifice to God when he of course is not a priest. Listen to how Samuel rebukes Saul in this. 1 Samuel 13:13-14, “And Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you. For now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” Clearly these words look ahead to King David, that king of God’s choosing, a man after God’s own heart. But when Samuel tells this to Saul, the idea is that God had essentially offered this first to Saul. Saul hypothetically could have ruled according to God’s laws, and hypothetically could have seen his kingdom established forever, instead of that coming to David. Let me clarify further. This language about how Saul could have had his kingdom established forever, is the language that God would use later with David when God promises to send the Messiah through King David’s dynasty. And so it’s essentially saying that if Saul had acted differently, he could have had the Messiah come from him. But of course that wasn’t to be. But it is nonetheless amazing to see how God seems to give a genuine opportunity to Saul to do the right thing. As much as Saul wasn’t the kind of king God would have chosen, he graciously gives him a “fighting chance”, so to speak, to do the right thing as king. There’s a bit of mystery in all this, knowing that God is in control, and has foreordained all things that come to pass. We know that things ultimately wouldn’t have gone any other way than how they went; yet God still says that Saul had at least a hypothetical way in which he could have rightly reigned over the people and saw his kingdom established. But of course that didn’t happen. He was the people’s choice of a king, and not the kind of king God would choose for them. And so Saul does ultimately fail.
And so God would, again in his graciousness, replace Saul with a king after his own heart. Yes, he most immediately would replace him with King David. But ultimately he would bring forth Jesus as the king of God’s choosing. And it’s in Jesus, that God establishes a kingdom forever. And I love the contrast between Saul and Jesus. Saul is handsome and tall, outwardly beautiful. But listen to what Isaiah 53:2 says about Jesus: “He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him.” Jesus didn’t look like Saul did. Jesus didn’t look like the kind of king that the people themselves would have chosen. In fact, we are not surprised then when the people sadly rejected Jesus as their king, crying out “Crucify him!” Jesus didn’t come in outward beauty or glory, thus the people largely didn’t choose him for their king. But God chose him. Jesus was the king of God’s choosing, truly a man after God’s own heart. Jesus came in righteousness and truth speaking the words from his heavenly Father. Jesus came with a beauty and glory that ran far deeper than mere externals.
And yet it seems that this was all part of the plan. Think about it. God could have had Jesus be born handsome and taller than everyone else. But by having Jesus come into the world without such physical attractiveness, it confronted the people with the same challenge of today’s passage. Would they receive Jesus as God’s choice for a king? Would they finally realize that God knew best about what kind of king and kingdom the people needed? Or would they again reject God’s leadership and demand a king of their own choosing? Sadly, they chose again their own way. This is exemplified by their choice to choose to free Barabbas over Jesus when Pilate gives them the offer. Jesus refused to advocate a mission to outward military glory in overthrowing the Romans. Barabbas on the other hand was involved in some kind of insurrection or rebellion, presumably against the Romans (Mark 15:7). Again, Barabbas sounds like the kind of outwardly glorious ruler that the people wanted to gravitate to; then, and in our passage for today. And it’s the same kind of temptation today. The world doesn’t see Jesus as the kind of king for them. Too often, people want outwardly good-looking leaders, and I don’t just mean in terms of their physical appearance. But they want the outwardly glorious type of leader. But Jesus in his kingship came in great meekness and without outward glory, riding on a donkey. He came that way, to put to the test if the people would receive a king with the right kind of qualities or not. And when they didn’t, in God’s extraordinary providence, he used their rejection of Jesus as king to result in the cross. That Jesus could accomplish the atonement as a result of the people not choosing the right kind of king. How very fitting.
And so today, we now have heard the proclamation that Jesus is truly the king of God’s choosing. By the Spirit of God, our eyes have been opened to finally realize that this is indeed the kind of king that we need. And yes, we acknowledge by the promise of Scripture that there will be a day when King Jesus does return in outward glory. But in the mean time, he calls us to join him in following him in the way of the cross. As we live in this world, we don’t go forth in outward, worldly, prosperity and power. But we go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit, bearing the riches of his grace at work within us. We go forth trusting in the power of his Word to accomplish great things through us, as we live as salt and light in this world. And so if there are any here today that have not submit their lives to King Jesus, do so today. Bow before him today. Kiss his hand. Repent of your sins and turn to him in faith. Call out to him to be pardoned of your sins for the sake of the cross. And you will be saved. And then follow your king!
So then, servants of Christ, I hope the application is clear from this passage. Too often, even as Christians, we can gravitate to external appearances and outward glory. But God calls us to look deeper than that. To the heart. And to be concerned with righteousness over the externals. Or in a similar way, too often we can be drawn to the wisdom of the world in making choice about our lives. But God calls us to seek his wisdom for our choices. Let us recognize the beauty that God sees. Let us see the beauty in God’s Word and in his will for us. And let us then seek those things.
Sometimes we get this and choose God’s way in the first place. That is great. Sometimes we don’t. And yet as we saw in this passage, when God allows us to make the wrong choice, it can be a way to teach us. Let us be thankful for how God as a loving father, disciplines us and teaches us even in our bad choices. And so if you make a choice, and realize afterward that it wasn’t the choice God would have had you made, learn from it. Confess it to God, repent of it, and seek God’s way. And then thank God for teaching you through it. There is forgiveness and grace in such things. This is part of God’s way of shepherding us.
So then, until Christ comes in glory, we will be faced with choices of many things. Let us look to choose those things God would have us to choose. And when we realize a wrong choice that we made, turn from it and thank God for teaching your through it. And in all this, use the Word of God to teach you what God would have you to choose in any given circumstances. Such choices so often may not bring you outward glory in this life. But we look forward to the King of Glory’s return when indeed he will usher us into our eternal reward. Praise the Lord for his marvelous grace! Amen.
Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.