1 Samuel 9:1–27 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
“Samuel Will Anoint Saul as King”
In chapters 9–11, the writer has painted Saul as the ideal man — from a human point of view — to serve as king; both his family and his appearance are highlighted. But we first see Saul as a man from the tribe of Benjamin who's looking for his lost donkeys. He and a young boy are out searching for their missing beasts. Distressed, the boy tells Saul of a seer who could help them; the seer happens to be Samuel. As Saul and the boy travel to meet the seer, they meet some young women who inform them that the seer will be at the town's evening sacrifice that evening. How coincidental for everyone.
As a side note, the Bible describes Saul as not only being handsome but a head taller than everyone else. Being "a head taller" doesn't literally mean that Saul had an extremely long neck and higher head; it means he was "head and shoulders taller" than just about anyone else. The Bible seldom details its characters' physical descriptions. But such detailing will come into play later. He looked like a great king! If being king over Israel was all about image and appearances, Saul was the man — the "king from central casting." In last week's summary of chapter 8, the people of Israel had rejected the LORD God as King over Israel because they wanted a king who was similar to the kings of all the surrounding nations. What they really wanted was the image of a king. It's interesting to note that the name "Saul" means "asked of God." Israel was asking for a king, and Saul would indeed be the one "asked of God."
“Saul Will Become Israel’s King!” (9:1–17)
It should be clear that, while the events of this passage are for the benefit of Saul and all Israel, their primary benefit is for Samuel who, after all, at God’s instruction, has promised Israel a king, and now must discern just who's to become that king. The events connect Saul and Samuel in a way that allows Samuel the prophet to know with certainty that Saul is God’s choice as Israel’s first king.
Saul's father, Kish, a reputable Benjamite, was a man of standing and valor (v. 1). Clearly, Saul came from good stock. Although he hadn't yet established a reputation, he had physical qualities and attributes that put him in good stead in the eyes of the people. Despite the fact that he was "tall, dark, and handsome," it would take so much more for him to fulfill his calling as the king of Israel. However, Saul's concern for his father's peace of mind was commendable. It shows a sensitivity that would have been an asset for a king to have had (v. 5). Likewise his desire to give Samuel a present for his help was praiseworthy (v. 7). Saul also had some appreciation for social propriety. He was also humble enough to ask directions from women (vv. 11–14).
Let's dig deeper. Starting in v. 3, we learn that Father Kish's donkeys had wandered off and become lost. Kish sent his son, Saul, after the lost animals, instructing him to take a young servant with him to help. The two covered a lot of ground in three days, but their efforts were unsuccessful, which frustrated Saul. Yet, God was working out his plan through the lost donkeys, in a way Saul couldn't even imagine. As Charles Spurgeon wrote of this: "Saul went out to seek his father's asses, he failed in the search, but he found a crown."
Saul was ready to stop searching because his dad was likely more worried about him and his servant than the donkeys. But his young servant felt differently; he knew that they'd approached the place where “a man of God” lived (v. 6). Seemingly, neither of them had met this man of God, and that the servant knew much more about him than Saul did. The suggestion of Saul's servant shows something about both men: They weren't men of much spiritual character! They apparently wouldn't have thought to go to Prophet Samuel for real spiritual guidance but they thought, Hey! Maybe he can help us find our donkeys!
We're told that this man of God in the district of Zuph was a “seer,” a name formerly used to designate a prophet. The young servant knew the prophet, Samuel, by reputation, if not by name. He was a highly esteemed man whose words always came true, as true prophets document. Perhaps, they hoped, they could ask this prophet about their journey so they could learn the whereabouts of their lost donkeys. But they quickly realized that they had no requisite present to bring to the man of God. Out of respect for Prophet Samuel, Saul didn't want to approach the prophet of God empty handed. But please note: Samuel never charged a fee for his "prophetic services." He was a great prophet of the living God; he wasn't a fortune-teller. And, interestingly in ancient times, "a quarter of a shekel of silver" (v. 8) was a small gift that was nevertheless accepted and appreciated.
In v. 12, we learn that the day that the two men who were searching for their donkeys had met the women in town happened to be the very day that Samuel had arrived in that city. God orchestrated his timely plan through these circumstances. So, as Saul and his servant reached the town's outskirts, they met young women on their way to draw water, asking them if the seer was there. They told the men that indeed he was there and, if they hurried, they might catch him while he was still available, since he was about to bless a sacrifice and then celebrate the meal with a few invited guests.
As Saul and his servant approached the city, Samuel saw them coming. Remember: The day before, God had spoken to Samuel, indicating that he'd meet the new king the following day, a Benjamite who Samuel would anoint. The new king would be the gracious gift of a compassionate God, who'd heard his people's cries and was developing this man to deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. When Samuel looked up and saw Saul and his servant approaching, God assured Samuel that this was indeed the man. Samuel thus knew that the one coming to him was definitely God’s choice for Israel’s king.
The LORD had spoken into Samuel's ear the day before Saul came, saying, "About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over my people Israel; he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked on my people, for their cry has reached me." And when Samuel saw Saul, the LORD said to him, "This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people" (v. 17).
Saul had no relationship with the LORD, so all God could do effectively was speak to Saul through lost donkeys. On the other hand, Samuel knew and loved the LORD; so the LORD spoke into Samuel's ear. Note: The text in v. 16 doesn't literally mean that Samuel heard an audible voice from God. It means instead that "God had uncovered his ear." The same phrase is used in Ruth 4:4, where the phrase is taken from a "pushing aside of the headdress in order to whisper." It therefore means that "the LORD had secretly told Samuel something."
Samuel’s Words Are Spoken to Saul (vv. 18–21)
At the town's gateway, Saul came up to Samuel, asking him if he knew where the seer's house was. Samuel immediately revealed that he was, in fact, that seer. He gave preference to Saul by inviting him to go up before him to the high place to dine with him (v. 19). He then promised Saul that not only his lost donkeys, but all that was desirable in Israel, would soon come into his possession (v. 20). Saul's humble response to Samuel was admirable (v.21).
Having informed Saul that he was the seer, Samuel spoke words that Saul never dreamed he'd hear. He instructed Saul to go up ahead of him to the high place where the sacrifice and the sacrificial meal were about to be eaten. Saul was to eat with Samuel that day and then spend the night. The next morning, Samuel would tell him “all that was in his heart” and then send him on his way. Having said this, Samuel went on to say something that must have amazed Saul: “As for the donkeys you lost three days ago, do not worry about them; they have been found. And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?” (v. 20)
Saul must have been amazed when Samuel told him, You'll eat with me today. Saul had looked for a noted prophet; the first man he asked about being the prophet was that prophet! Then, that man of God invited Saul to dine with him. Finally, he heard the words that many would fear to hear from a prophet: "Tomorrow I will let you go and will tell you all that is in your heart."
And when Saul heard what Samuel told him about the donkeys, it was clear to Saul that Samuel was indeed a true prophet from God. He showed Saul that he knew things that he probably couldn't have known unless it was revealed to him supernaturally. With v. 20's words "And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?" Samuel hinted at Saul’s destiny. All Israel desired a king; Saul would become the answer to that desire. In response (v. 21), Saul inquired, "Why do you say such a thing to me?" This was a genuinely humble response from Saul, even if it wasn’t completely honest. Saul couldn't figure out why the prophet said God wanted him to be king.
Samuel Honors Saul at the Feast (vv. 22–24)
Samuel, Saul, and his young servant made their way up to the high place, where they were given the place of honor at "the head of all the invited guests" and received "a special portion of the meal." In that culture, the seating arrangement at dinner had a unique protocol. The seat of honor was always on one particular side, next to the host. It was a great honor to be seated in this place, next to Prophet Samuel. And when Samuel told the cook, "Bring the piece of meat I gave you, the one I told you to lay aside," Saul received that special portion. In that culture, every meal had a special portion to be given to the one whom the host wanted to honor. Saul was the specially honored guest at this meal.
Clearly, Samuel was a man of faith. When God informed him that the king would be revealed the following day (v. 16), Samuel made reservations for him to be the honored guest of the sacrificial meal (vv. 23–24). He had the cook set apart the choicest portion, telling him to serve it when instructed to do so (when the promised king appeared). When Saul and his servant were seated, Samuel instructed the cook to bring out the portion that had been set aside, in expectation of his arrival. Thus, the man who initially appeared to be as an unexpected drop-in was, in fact, very much expected. He was none other than the regal guest of honor.
The Two Talk Together through the Night (25–27)
Samuel spoke with Saul on the roof of the house: Although the topic(s) wasn't disclosed, it's likely that Samuel told Saul all about Israel’s desire for a king, that God had chosen him personally, and how he had better be a good king for the people of Israel.
Chapter 9 ends with something of a cliffhanger. Samuel dramatically gave Saul a hearty introductory prophecy that came directly from God. Come back next week to find out the value and importance of that official, God-breathed message.
Intro Video: “The First Book of Samuel”
† Watch this introductory video clip created by The Bible Project on bibleproject.com.
- Q. 1 What distinguishes a "man of God" (v. 6)?
- Q. 2 What's God's purpose for a king-to-be (v. 16)?