I Samuel 9
1. There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bechorath, the son of Aphiah, a Benjamite, a mighty man of power.
Now we are introduced to a new character, a man of the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin meant “Son of My Right Hand.” He was the son of Israel by his intended wife Rachel, and the younger brother of Joseph, the firstborn. Benjamin, while he had been a favorite of Jacob, had fallen on hard times since Israel had become a nation. In the book of Judges, we read of some wicked men in Benjamin whom the Benjamites refused to give up to the wrathful armies of the rest of the tribes of Israel. The result was that Benjamin was all but wiped out by the other tribes, and still in the days of Samuel remained a much smaller and less powerful tribe than the others. Due to their proximity to the large and mighty tribe of Judah, Benjamin seemed like little more than a minor sidekick to their much more important neighbor. Yet now, the LORD has made choice of one from Benjamin, and their power as a tribe will from this time on be greatly increased.
The man from the tribe of Benjamin whom we are introduced to is named Kish, which means “Bent.” He does not seem to have been a man with a very good reputation, so perhaps it was his character that was bent. He is the son of a man named Abiel, which means “El (God) is my Father.” His grandfather is Zeror, which can mean “Bundle,” “Bag,” or “Little Stone.” Zeror’s father was Bechorath, which means “Firstborn,” and Bechorath’s father was Aphiah, which means “I Will Rekindle,” “I Will Refresh,” or “I Will Make to Breath.” Kish was a Benjamite, we read again, and a powerful man in that tribe, though of course his power was nothing like that which a king would have. Remember too that to be powerful in Benjamin, a small and less influential tribe, would not have counted for as much as to be powerful in one of the bigger and more powerful tribes.
2. And he had a choice and handsome son whose name was Saul. 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.
Kish had a son named Saul, which means “Desired.” Indeed, this man was the kind of man Israel desired to have for their king. He was choice and handsome, we read. People always want their rulers to be good looking, and this is just what Saul was. Moreover, he was tall. Moreover, he was not just a tall man, but was taller than any of the rest of the people. In fact, he was so tall that the tallest man among them would just come up to his shoulders. We are likely to think of this as meaning the top of the shoulders, but really this word means the bottom of the shoulders, or what we would call the armpit. So the tallest man in Israel next to him would just come up to his armpit. Saul was a kingly figure indeed!
3. Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, were lost. And Kish said to his son Saul, “Please take one of the servants with you, and arise, go and look for the donkeys.”
A crisis arises in the family of Kish. Their donkeys are lost. These reliable beasts of burden were an important part of any household in Israel. How exactly these had gotten lost is hard to say. Perhaps a break in their pen allowed them to get out and wander away, and this was not noticed for quite some time. At any rate, Kish decides to send Saul his son with one of his servants to go and look for them. This was not just a random turn of events, but was Jehovah’s doing, to bring about His will and bring Saul to Samuel.
4. So he passed through the mountains of Ephraim and through the land of Shalisha, but they did not find them. Then they passed through the land of Shaalim, and they were not there. Then he passed through the land of the Benjamites, but they did not find them.
Saul starts his search for these donkeys with the servant he chose. First they look in the mountains (or hill country) of Ephraim. Ephraim was that powerful tribe in the northern part of Israel that we have already read of several times in Samuel, whose name means “Doubly Fruitful.” From there they pass through the land of Shalisha, which means “Thirds.” This land is mentioned only here, and so all we really know about it is that it was near the hill country of Ephraim. Then, not finding the donkeys there, they pass through the land of Shalim, which means “Foxes.” Then, not finding them there, they go south into the land of the Benjamites, Saul’s own tribe. There too they fail to find the donkeys.
5. When they had come to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant who was with him, “Come, let us return, lest my father cease caring about the donkeys and become worried about us.”
Now they come to the land of Zuph, which means “Honeycomb.” Obviously, Samuel the author of this book is intimately familiar with the local place names of these territories at that time, though we do not know them any more in our day. They do not find the donkeys there either, and Saul starts to worry that their search has gone on too long. He is afraid his father will worry about them more than about the donkeys.
6. And he said to him, “Look now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is an honorable man; all that he says surely comes to pass. So let us go there; perhaps he can show us the way that we should go.”
The servant has a different idea. He knows there is a city nearby in the land of Zuph where there is a man of God. What the servant calls “a man of God” is what we would call a prophet. Both names were given because he represented God by speaking God’s words. The servant speaks highly of this man of God, noting that he is honorable, and that all he says surely comes to pass. We find out from the rest of the narrative that he is speaking of Samuel. Yet this is interesting, for notice that Saul’s family knows little of the affairs of state that surrounded Samuel. Here Samuel was the judge assigned by God to rule the nation, and yet this servant believes he has to explain to Saul who he even is. Imagine someone in the United States having to explain to another adult person from this country that the President is a powerful ruler with much authority in the government! Of course, we cannot imagine this happening. This shows us that a judge was a very informal ruler indeed.
7. Then Saul said to his servant, “But look, if we go, what shall we bring the man? For the bread in our vessels is all gone, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What do we have?”
Saul believes it is customary to offer a gift to the man of God when asking counsel. Perhaps he knew more about this sort of thing than the servant thought he did. Saul points out that they have been gone from home so long that they have used up all their food, and that they have no other present that they are carrying with them that is fit to offer the man of God for his advice.
8. And the servant answered Saul again and said, “Look, I have here at hand one-fourth of a shekel of silver. I will give that to the man of God, to tell us our way.”
The servant is ready for this question, it seems. Perhaps he has been thinking about this plan for a while. He has some money, which they can offer to the man of God to tell them which way to go to find the donkeys. The money he has is one-fourth of a shekel. This means nothing to us, of course, since we do not use shekels. A shekel was actually a unit of weight, not of money, and so what he mentions is a certain weight of silver. According to The Companion Bible, this would be about 10 drams, or 5/8 of an ounce, since there are 16 ounces in a dram. This would make it 5/128 of a pound, or 0.039 pounds (or 18 grams).
9. (Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he spoke thus: “Come, let us go to the seer”; for he who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.)
It seems the customs in Israel changed between when Saul and his servant were having this conversation and when the book of Samuel was completed. The traditional name for a man of God used to be a “seer,” but it later became a “prophet.” This word “seer,” the Hebrew ra’ah, is used of three men in the Bible: Samuel the judge, Zadok the priest in the days of David, and Hanani in the days of Asa. These three men are called “seers.” Seers are also mentioned in Isaiah 30:10 as being another name for prophets, though no one specifically is called a “seer” there. So it seems the word did not disappear after the days of Samuel, but became much less common, the word “prophet” being the one that became commonly used.
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 agrees to the plan now that he knows they have payment to offer the seer. So he and his servant do not head home, as Saul suggested, but instead head to the city where the man of God was.
11. As they went up the hill to the city, they met some young women going out to draw water, and said to them, “Is the seer here?”
The city was apparently built on a hill. As they head up this hill, they meet some young women coming out to draw water, probably from the town well. It was the women’s job to draw water according to the customs in that part of the world. They would typically do this either early in the day or late in the day, avoiding the hottest part of the day, and the time when the sun would shine directly into the pots on their heads and heat up and evaporate more of the water as they carried it back. So Saul and his servant meet them, and ask them if the seer is in the city at the time. As we have seen, Samuel did not remain in just one city, but traveled from town to town in a circuit.
12. And they answered them and said, “Yes, there he is, just ahead of you. Hurry now; for today he came to this city, because there is a sacrifice of the people today on the high place.
It seems that Samuel came to the city just that day for a sacrifice. In fact, these women had seen him passing into the city just ahead of Saul and his servant. They advise them to hurry and catch up with him. This was no coincidence that Samuel had just arrived. No, God was guiding this meeting.
We might wonder why they would be having a sacrifice in some random city, rather than in the city where God chose to place His name, as Deuteronomy 12:5-7 commands. To understand this, we need to realize that there was no such city at this time. The city chosen at first had been Shiloh, as we see from Joshua 18:1.
1. Now the whole congregation of the children of Israel assembled together at Shiloh, and set up the tabernacle of meeting there. And the land was subdued before them.
However, it seems that during the Philistine invasion back in I Samuel 4, the victorious Philistine army had pillaged and destroyed Shiloh. Samuel was silent about this, but we read about it in other places in the Bible, like in the words of Asaph in Psalm 78.
58. For they provoked Him to anger with their high places,
And moved Him to jealousy with their carved images.
59. When God heard this, He was furious,
And greatly abhorred Israel,
60. So that He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh,
The tent He had placed among men,
61. And delivered His strength into captivity,
And His glory into the enemy’s hand.
Jeremiah speaks of the same thing in Jeremiah 7:12-15.
12. “But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My name at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. 13. And now, because you have done all these works,” says the LORD, “and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you, but you did not answer, 14. therefore I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to this place which I gave to you and your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. 15. And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren—the whole posterity of Ephraim.
Here, we see the LORD uses the example of Shiloh to illustrate what is going to happen to Jerusalem and its temple in the days of Jeremiah. Therefore, as we noted back in chapters 4 and 5, though we cannot read of the sacking and destruction of Shiloh in the book of Samuel, we can piece together what must have happened. God’s wrath against the family of Eli started to be carried out at this time, as we know, when both he and his two sons died. However, that continued to the city of Eli as well, where the Philistines came and destroyed the city, no doubt killing many of the inhabitants as they did so.
As we mentioned before, this raises the interesting question as to how the holy articles stored at Shiloh came to be rescued. We know from the record of I Samuel 4-6 how the ark of the covenant came to be captured and how it faired in the land of the Philistines. Yet the tabernacle of the LORD and the holy instruments that went along with it were also stored at Shiloh. Yet these were apparently not captured by the Philistines, but remained with the Israelites and were transported to a different town. The best guess we can put forward, as suggested by Blaikie in his commentary on The First Book of Samuel, is that Samuel himself was warned by the LORD of the upcoming catastrophe and therefore arranged to have the holy things of God transported to a safe location, escaping himself at the same time. How the young servant of Eli the priest may have accomplished this we cannot say, yet this remains the best explanation for the rescue of these things.
Yet the destruction of Shiloh meant that there was no one place for offering sacrifices. In this case, the only rules they had to follow were those set forth in Exodus 20 for making an altar to the LORD.
22. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘You have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. 23. You shall not make anything to be with Me—gods of silver or gods of gold you shall not make for yourselves. 24. An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you. 25. And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it. 26. Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.’
So when there was no one chosen place where God had placed His name, they could build an altar in other places and worship the LORD thereon, as long as they followed these rules for building it.
Yet what can be said about the fact that this sacrifice was being made on the “high place” of the city? We know that the LORD had commanded the people to destroy the high places of the people of the land when they came in to possess it, as we read in Numbers 33:51-53.
51. “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you have crossed the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 52. then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their engraved stones, destroy all their molded images, and demolish all their high places; 53. you shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land and dwell in it, for I have given you the land to possess.
Yet this only demanded that they destroy the high places of the inhabitants of the land, where they had worshipped their false gods. It did not specifically command the Israelites never to worship the LORD on high places, at least, not as long as there was no place where the LORD had chosen to place His name instead. For that matter, the temple itself was on the top of Mount Moriah, so it was technically a “high place!”
The rightness of what they were doing here perhaps cannot be demonstrated better than by the fact that Samuel, God’s faithful prophet, was involved with it. Samuel is one of those rare figures in Scripture who never is presented in a negative light. If we looked really hard, we could charge Samuel with being slow to repeat the LORD’s message to Eli in I Samuel 3:15, with failing to raise honest sons in I Samuel 8:1-5, with weeping too long for Saul, as the LORD chides him in I Samuel 16:1, and with being too impressed with the outward appearance of Eliab, Jesse’s firstborn, in I Samuel 16:7. Yet compared to the infractions of some of the LORD’s other favorites like David, these minor infractions seem hardly worth mentioning. They assure us Samuel was a man like us and not perfect, but still they make it clear that Samuel was a servant who was faithful to his God from the time he met him in I Samuel 3 to his death. Indeed, this man Samuel was a most commendable servant to God. Moreover, God used him to write part of this book of Samuel, and he may have been the author of Judges as well, and perhaps Ruth, though we might guess David as a more likely author for that book.
So Samuel’s loyalty to his God and adherence to His commands cannot be questioned, and yet he was willing to participate in the sacrifices made at this city. This alone is enough to assure us that this sacrifice is proper, for the LORD’s prophet would not have had anything to do with it otherwise.
13. As soon as you come into the city, you will surely find him before he goes up to the high place to eat. For the people will not eat until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward those who are invited will eat. Now therefore, go up, for about this time you will find him.”
These young women assure Saul and his servant that they will surely find the seer Samuel when they come into the city, since he will be on his way to go up to the high place to eat with the people of the city. They know this because the people of the city will not eat before he comes, since Samuel as God’s representative had to bless the sacrifice before they ate it. They would not eat without God’s blessing, which was indeed a good policy. So Saul and his servant were there just at the right time to catch Samuel before he went up.
14. So they went up to the city. As they were coming into the city, there was Samuel, coming out toward them on his way up to the high place.
So they go up to the city, which apparently was on a higher elevation than they were when they were talking to the women. As they come into the city, we find that what the young women said was indeed accurate, for they meet Samuel coming the other way to go up to the high place. This must have been something that happened in the city quite regularly, since the women knew exactly what would be taking place. Apparently, this happened every time there was a sacrifice, and Samuel was quite punctual. Yet there was also a Divine hand of guidance in this, seeing to it that they arrive just in time to meet Samuel as he is heading toward the high place. God wanted this meeting to take place, and so worked it out so it would happen.
15. Now the LORD had told Samuel in his ear the day before Saul came, saying,
Here we have a very interesting glimpse into just how Jehovah would talk to His prophets. Oftentimes we simply read that He spoke to the prophet, but we are not told how He did this. Yet here we are told: he spoke into Samuel’s ear, so that Samuel and he alone would hear it. Imagine having God speak in your ear and tell you what to do! This would be a great privilege indeed. Yet this will be the privilege of all who dwell in Jerusalem in the Kingdom of God to come, for we are told in Isaiah 30:21:
21. Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,
“This is the way, walk in it,”
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left.
Indeed, I believe this will be the privilege of all who dwell in the kingdom of God to come, though that is not specifically stated here. God will be guiding men, even as He guided Samuel. That will be a glorious time indeed!
16. “Tomorrow about this time I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and 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.”
These were the words that Yahweh had spoken in Samuel’s ear the day before. Yahweh assured Samuel that the next day He would send him a man from the land of the tribe of Benjamin whom he should anoint as king of Israel. Yahweh will use this man to save his people from the power of the Philistines. He assures Samuel that He has seen them in their troubles and heard their cries because of the oppression of this cruel neighbor of theirs. Therefore, this king would graciously be given to rescue them.
So Samuel knew this meeting with Saul would happen since he was told about it the day before. God had worked this meeting out in advance, though Saul didn’t know it. All he was thinking about was his father’s donkeys. Yahweh had a much bigger matter in mind, however, as Saul was about to learn.
17. So when Samuel saw Saul, the LORD said to him, “There he is, the man of whom I spoke to you. This one shall reign over My people.”
Now when Samuel sees Saul, the LORD speaks to him again and lets him know that this man is the one He was talking about. The LORD didn’t force Samuel to guess. Notice therefore that it was God, not Samuel, Who chose Saul. This is an important thing for us to remember as we consider the record after this: the LORD always chooses Israel’s true king.
18. Then Saul drew near to Samuel in the gate, and said, “Please tell me, where is the seer’s house?”
As Saul draws near to Samuel in the gate, he does not recognize anything about him that would lead him to believe this is the one he is seeking. Indeed, God’s greatest servants tend to have nothing special or striking about their appearance, but look just like ordinary men. In our day, the appearance of the great leaders of our country are well known to all through our media. Yet before information technology, or televisions, or even print media, it could well be that many of the people of a country would not even know the leader of their country by sight. Moreover, Samuel does not even appear to have had the reputation for being the leader of the country. Saul’s servant only identified him as a man of God. Judges were such informal rulers that it could well be that only the tribal chiefs or those involved with government would even have a very good idea of who the judge was. So Saul, when he encounters Samuel, has no idea that he has met anyone but an average citizen of the town.
So Saul asks the very one he was searching for for guidance to the seer’s house, not realizing that he need not continue his search for the seer, since the seer has found him.
19. 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 tomorrow I will let you go and will tell you all that is in your heart.
Samuel identifies himself to Saul as the seer. Yet he does not give Saul a chance to introduce the business that has brought him there. Instead, he immediately invites Saul to the feast at the high place. Tomorrow will be soon enough for them to deal with important business, and then Samuel will commune with him regarding all that is in his heart.
Now what Samuel meant by this last statement, it is very hard to say. It could be that Saul was one who looked on all the oppression Israel was suffering under and groaned in his heart over their trials. It could be he longed for a strong leader to arise over the country and to help them win back their independence and drive the oppressing nations from their land. At any rate, we do know for certain that Samuel promised him that on the next day they would discuss business that was important for Saul to hear and know.
20. But as for your donkeys that were lost three days ago, do not be anxious about them, for they have been found. And on whom is all the desire of Israel? Is it not on you and on all your father’s house?”
Samuel right away clears up for Saul the fact that the things he was going to speak to him about on the next day, the things that were in his heart, do not simply have to do with his lost donkeys, for he assures him that they have been found. This revealed to Saul Samuel’s true character as a prophet, for remember the only words he had spoken to Samuel were, “Please tell me, where is the seer’s house?” He had mentioned nothing of his business with the seer. Yet Samuel shows him he knows exactly what his business was, and yet there is more important business yet to deal with.
Now Samuel tells Saul that all Israel has set their desire on him! Of course, they had not yet set their desire on Saul specifically, for as yet they did not know him. But they had set their desire on having a king, and by God’s choice Saul was the king they were looking for. Saul’s family, too, were the ones they were looking for, the family that would take charge and act to free Israel from the yoke of their enemies. Indeed, as we study Saul’s history, we see how many of his family joined with him in his government, and aided him in his reign over Israel. This was not only the man, but also the family they were looking for!
21. And Saul answered and said, “Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak like this to me?”
Saul knows right away that Samuel is talking about the kingship. This must have been quite a shock to him! But he responds as any of us might have done in similar circumstances, and starts to come up with excuses as to why this could not possibly be so. It is certainly hard to change one’s picture of oneself from a typical, private man to king of the nation! Excuses are the first defense against such an unexpected alteration.
Saul’s first excuse is that he is a Benjamite. We might not understand this, for to us Benjamin was one of the better tribes, and was the tribe Paul came from, which is a fact he boasts in. Yet at the time of Saul, this tribe was not a tribe of honor. If we had been following the story from the book of Judges, we would realize why this was so. In Judges 19, a terrible wickedness was done by certain Benjamites in Gibeah. This wickedness was eerily similar to that we read of in Sodom in Genesis 19. The rest of Israel had been appalled at this, and gathered their army together to punish the wicked men who had dared to do such a thing. They sent messengers to the leaders of the tribe of Benjamin and demanded that the wicked men of Gibeah be turned over to them for punishment. Instead of doing this, the tribe of Benjamin had rallied behind the men of Gibeah, and therefore had been wiped out in their punishment. All but six hundred men of the Benjamites had been wiped out, according to Judges 20:46-48. From this little group of men the tribe had been restored, but it was still much smaller than any other tribe in Israel, and carried the terrible stigma of that event, which it must have felt was almost impossible to live down. That the king of Israel should be chosen from Benjamin must have seemed like an empty dream to the men of that tribe.
Moreover, Saul argues, his family wasn’t important even in that little tribe. If Benjamin was to be chosen at all, certainly it would be from some more important Benjamite family than his. Why, then, has Samuel spoken to him this way? For surely the kingship of Saul is completely impossible.
22. Now Samuel took Saul and his servant and brought them into the hall, and had them sit in the place of honor among those who were invited; there were about thirty persons.
Samuel does not seem to have answered Saul’s protests at this point, leaving him instead time to think over his own words. What he does do is bring Saul and his servant into the hall where the sacrifice is taking place, and he honors them both with the most important seats at the feast which follows.
23. And Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the portion which I gave you, of which I said to you, ‘Set it apart.’”
Samuel knew that he would meet the one who was to be the king of Israel today, and so he had had a special meal prepared and set apart for him, which he now commands the cook to bring and set before Saul. God can do this: prepare a table before us even before we know we are coming to it ourselves.
24. So the cook took up the thigh with its upper part and set it before Saul. And Samuel said, “Here it is, what was kept back. It was set apart for you. Eat; for until this time it has been kept for you, since I said I invited the people.” So Saul ate with Samuel that day.
Saul is given the choicest cut of meat. This symbolized what God was about to give him: the rule over His chosen people. Samuel presents this to him with these words. His coming here today was no chance coincidence. This meal had been prepared for him in advance, and set apart against his arrival from the time when the guest list first was prepared. Surely this staggering fact gave Saul something to think about as he ate this meal with Samuel. Perhaps, by the time the meal was over, he might have been wondering if this idea of him being king might actually be from the LORD after all.
25. When they had come down from the high place into the city, Samuel spoke with Saul on the top of the house.
That evening, Samuel brings Saul as a guest into the house where he himself was staying. This verse seems to mean that Samuel made Saul and his servant a bed on the roof, and that he discussed these matters further with him there.
26. They arose early; and it was about the dawning of the day that Samuel called to Saul on the top of the house, saying, “Get up, that I may send you on your way.” And Saul arose, and both of them went outside, he and Samuel.
The next day they are both out of bed early. Indeed, we might wonder how well Saul slept after the momentous news he had the day before! So it is only about dawn when Samuel calls Saul on the top of the house to get up and come down so he can send him off. Both Saul and his servant obediently get up and follow Samuel outside.
27. As they were going down to the outskirts of the city, Samuel said to Saul, “Tell the servant to go on ahead of us.” And he went on. “But you stand here awhile, that I may announce to you the word of God.”
As they are heading toward the outskirts of the city, Samuel has Saul send the servant ahead so he can speak to him alone. Once he has done this, Samuel and Saul stop walking so that Samuel can deliver to Saul the message God has for him. We can certainly guess at the contents of that message, but we will see what it was and how Saul responded to this momentous news in our next chapter.