Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
(1Samuel 10:1-27) Saul is anointed King by Samuel. The Divine Signs given to him. The Election of King Saul.
Then Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it upon his head, and kissed him, and said, Is it not because the LORD hath anointed thee to be captain over his inheritance?(1) Then-Samuel took a vial of oil.—The vial was a narrow-necked vessel, from which the oil flowed in drops. It was, of course, no common oil which the prophet used on this momentous occasion, but the oil of holy ointment, the sacred anointing oil which was used at the consecration of the priests, and also of the Tabernacle and the sacred vessels. (See Exodus 29:7; Exodus 30:23-33, &c.) The solemn anointing took place in the ceremony of consecration in the case of some, but not of all, the Hebrew sovereigns. We hear of it at the accession of David, Absalom, Solomon, Joash, Jehoahaz, And Jehu. In cases of regular succession the anointing was supposed to continue its effect—that is, the regular succession needed no new anointing. Hence it is that only the above named kings are mentioned as having been anointed, all founders of dynasties or irregularly advanced to the throne. (See Erdman in Lange here.)
And kissed him.—Rather as a customary sign of reverential homage than as a mark of affection, which at that early date of their acquaintance it was hardly possible to assume that the old man felt for the younger. (Compare Psalm 2:12 : “Kiss the son, lest he be angry”: that is, “Do homage, O ye kings of the earth, to Him who is your anointed King.”)
The Lord hath anointed thee.—Samuel replies to the look and gesture of extreme astonishment with which the young Saul received the anointing and the kiss with these words: “Do you mutely ask me why I pay you this formal homage? why I salute you with such deep respect? Is it not because you are the chosen of the Eternal? Are you still incredulous respecting your high destiny? See now, as you go on your way home, you will meet with three signs; they will prove to you that what I do, I do not of myself, but in obedience to a higher power.”
When thou art departed from me to day, then thou shalt find two men by Rachel's sepulchre in the border of Benjamin at Zelzah; and they will say unto thee, The asses which thou wentest to seek are found: and, lo, thy father hath left the care of the asses, and sorroweth for you, saying, What shall I do for my son?(2) When thou art departed from me to day, then . . .—Here follows Samuel’s careful description of the three signs which should meet the future king as he went from Ramah to his father’s home in Benjamin. Each of these tokens, which were to strengthen the young Saul’s faith, contained a solemn lesson, the deep meaning of which, as his life went on, the future sovereign would be able to ponder over. Each of the three signs from heaven met him at one of the sacred spots which were so plentifully dotted over these southern districts of Canaan, memorable for the life-stories, first of Abraham and the patriarchs, and then of the warrior-chieftains of the Israel of the conquest. The selection of localities famous as homes of prayer, or sacred as the resting-place of the illustrious dead, taught the eternal truth “that help comes from the holy place.” At the sepulchre of Rachel, the loved ancestress of the warlike tribe of Benjamin, to which the new king belonged, men should meet him on his homeward journey with the news that the lost asses which he had gone to seek were found again. This showed him that henceforth in his new life he was to dismiss all lower cares, and give himself up alone to higher and more important matters. A king must take counsel and thought for the weal of a whole people; he must put aside now and for ever all consideration for himself and his family, all anxiety for the mere ordinary prosperity of life. God, who had chosen him, would provide for these things, as He had now done in the case of the lost asses. Further on in his journey, when he reached the terebinth-tree of Tabor, three men on a pilgrimage to the great Beth-el sanctuary would meet him, and would offer him some of the loaves which they proposed offering at Beth-el. The signification of this peculiar gift was that some portion of the products of the soil, which had hitherto been appropriated exclusively to the service and support of the sanctuary, in future should be devoted to the maintenance of the anointed of the Lord. The third sign which he should perceive would meet him as he approached his home, which was situated near a famous holy place of prayer, known as the “Gibeah,” or “Hill of God.” A number of prophets belonging to one of the “schools” of the prophets founded by Samuel, coming from the altar on the “hill of God,” where sacrifice had just been offered, would meet him. They would be plunged in prophetic raptures, he would hear them chanting hymns to the Eternal, accompanied by the music of their instruments. A new and mighty influence, Samuel told the astonished Saul, would, as he met this company of singers, come upon him, and involuntarily he who evidently had never joined before in any of these solemn choruses would sing his part with the rest. The new influence, said the old seer, which would then come upon him would be the Spirit of the Lord, and from that moment he would be a changed man. Never in his after days of glory and might was the king to forget how, in a moment, the Divine power had swept down and given him—the ignorant shepherd, the humble vine-dresser, the heir to a few asses and sheep, to some fields of corn or vineyards—wisdom, power, and a mighty kingdom. He must remember that in a moment the same Divine power might wing away from him its solemn flight; that was the lesson of the third sign which was to meet him on his homeward journey.
(2) Thou shalt find two men by Rachel’s sepulchre.—This tomb of the loved wife of the patriarch does not thus appear to have been very far from Ramah, whence Saul started. The words of Jeremiah 31:15, which speak of the future massacre of the Bethlehem innocents by Herod, connects Ramah and Rachel’s tomb: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping: Rachel weeping for her children.”
At Zelzah.—This locality has never been identified. Some have supposed it was the same as Zela in Benjamin. the place where the bodies of Saul and Jonathan were eventually buried. The LXX. curiously render it as though it were a verb, “dancing (lit. springing) vehemently,” or, as Ewald would translate the Greek words, “in great haste,” of course, with reference to the two men who brought Saul the news of the recovered asses.
Then shalt thou go on forward from thence, and thou shalt come to the plain of Tabor, and there shall meet thee three men going up to God to Bethel, one carrying three kids, and another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a bottle of wine:(3) Thou shalt come to the plain of Tabor.—The accurate translation of the Hebrew is “to the terebinth or oak of Tabor.” There was evidently a history, now lost, connected with the “terebinth of Tabor.” Ewald suggests that “Tabor” is a different form for Deborah, and that this historic tree was the oak beneath which Deborah, the nurse of Rachel, was buried (Genesis 35:8).
Going up to God to Beth-el.—This since the old patriarchal days had been a sacred spot. Samuel used to visit it as judge, and hold his court there annually, no doubt on account of the number of pilgrims who were in the habit of visiting it. These men were evidently on a pilgrimage to the old famous shrine.
After that thou shalt come to the hill of God, where is the garrison of the Philistines: and it shall come to pass, when thou art come thither to the city, that thou shalt meet a company of prophets coming down from the high place with a psaltery, and a tabret, and a pipe, and a harp, before them; and they shall prophesy:(5) After that thou shalt come to the hill of God.—These words should be rendered to the Gibeah of God. The writer here is alluding to Saul’s own city, afterwards known as “Gibeah of Saul.” The name of Gibeah, or Hill of God, was given to it on account of a well-known high place or sacrificial height in or hard by the town. We know that this sacred place was chosen by Samuel as the site of one of his “schools of the prophets.”
Where is the garrison of the Philistines.—These warlike Phœnician tribes seem gradually, after their great defeat at Mizpeh, to have again established themselves in various stations of the land, whence they harried the Israelites. A parallel to these marauding soldiers, so long the plague of Israel, might be found in the countless freebooters’ strongholds which, in the Middle Ages, were the curse especially of Germany, the terror of the peaceful trading folk of the rich countries of Central Europe.
A company of prophets.—These evidently belonged to one of those seminaries termed “schools of the prophets,” founded by Samuel for the training of young men. The foundation of these schools in different parts of the country was one of the greatest of the works of this noble and patriotic man. These schools seem to have flourished during the whole period of the monarchy, and in no small measure contributed to the moral and mental development of the people. Some of the youth of Israel who received in these schools their training became public preachers of the Word; for after all, this, rather than foretelling future events, was the grand duty of the prophet’s calling.
It is a grave mistake to conclude that all, or even the greater part, of these young men trained in the “schools of the prophets” were inspired in the usual sense of the word. The aim of these institutions, beside high mental culture, seems to have been to train the youth of Israel to love, and then live, noble pure lives. Dean Payne Smith calls attention to the remarkable fact that at David’s court all posts which required literary skill were held by “prophets.” He considers that it was owing to these great educational institutions which Samuel founded that the Israelites became a highly trained and literary people. “Prophets,” in the awful sense of the word as used by us—men who, as compared with their fellows, stood in a different relation to the Most High, who heard things which other men heard not, and saw visions unseen by any save themselves—men before whose eyes the veil which hid the dark future now and again was raised—were, after all, even among the people of God, very rare. In the course of a generation, one or two, or perhaps three, appeared, and were listened to, and their words in many cases, we know, preserved. These, for the most part, we may assume, received their early training in the “schools of the prophets,” but these famous institutions were never, as has often been popularly supposed, established in the hope of training up and developing such men, but were founded and supported with the intention of fostering what we should call the higher education in Israel; and in this, we know from the outset, these schools were eminently successful.
Dr. Erdmann, in Lange’s Commentary, accounts for this especial mention of the music which we know, from this and other passages, was carefully cultivated in these seminaries of the sons of the prophets, by suggesting that in these societies religious feeling was nourished and heightened by sacred music. It would be a mistake to attribute to this carefully cultivated music and singing that condition of ecstatic inspiration into which some of these companies appear to have at times fallen. We understand and know, however, very little respecting this state of ecstasy—what produced it, and how it affected those who had fallen into this strange condition. The object of the musical teaching of the schools of the prophets was, no doubt, to enable those who had studied in the seminaries to guide and direct the religious gatherings of the people, into which—as we know from the subsequent Temple service, the model of all popular sacred gatherings for worship—music and psalmody entered so largely.
With a psaltery, and a tabret, and a pipe, and a harp, before them.—The four instruments here mentioned indicate that even in this—which is often termed a semi-barbarous age—music had been long and carefully studied. The psaltery (nevel) was a species of lyre with ten strings, in shape like an inverted delta v, and was played with the fingers. The tabret (toph) was a hand-drum—a tambourine. Miriam (Exodus 15:20) is represented as using it to accompany her triumph song. The pipe (chalil) was a flute of reed, wood, or horn, and seems to have been ever a favourite instrument among the children of Israel. The harp (cinnor) was a stringed instrument, like the psaltery, only apparently larger, and was played usually with a plectrum. David, however, is represented in several psalms as playing on the “cinnor” with his fingers.
And they shall prophesy.—In this case the company from the “School of the Prophets” were, no doubt, singing some hymns or psalms in praise of the Eternal to the accompaniment of their musical instruments. Saul, as he drew near his home at Gibeah, would meet these men coming down from sacrificing on the high place of God, and as he listened to the sweet pure sounds he would be sensible of a something indescribable taking possession of his whole being; new thoughts—high grand thoughts—would chase away the aspirations and hopes of the past. Through his heart (see 1Samuel 10:9) would flash the memory of what Samuel had told him when alone on the house-top at Ramah—of the glory and future of Israel; a conviction would steal over him that he was the man of the future chosen by the Eternal to work His will among His people. The Saul of the vineyards and the corn-fields of the farm on the Ephraim hills would die, and a new hero-Saul would be born; and although quite untrained and untaught in the elaborate music of the choirs of the sons of the prophets, the really inspired Saul would lift up his voice in the choruses singing before him, and join with a new strange power in their glorious hymn to the Eternal—would pour out his whole heart and soul in thanksgiving to his God. Thus would the Spirit of the Lord come upon him.
And let it be, when these signs are come unto thee, that thou do as occasion serve thee; for God is with thee.(7) When these signs are come unto thee.—When these varied circumstances have happened to thee, then be sure that the splendid and glorious life which I have foretold as thy lot will assuredly lie before thee in the immediate future. I will give thee no imperious directions by which thou art to shape thy course. Go bravely on; do well and truly whatever thy hand findeth to do, being confident that God will be with thee, and that His glorious Arm shall be thy guide along that road of honour and of peril which thou art destined to travel.
And thou shalt go down before me to Gilgal; and, behold, I will come down unto thee, to offer burnt offerings, and to sacrifice sacrifices of peace offerings: seven days shalt thou tarry, till I come to thee, and shew thee what thou shalt do.(8) And shew thee what thou shalt do.—Considerable doubt exists among expositors as to the exact meaning and reference of these words of Samuel. In 1 Samuel 13., 1Samuel 10:8 and following, a well-known and most important event in Saul’s life and reign is related, in which the circumstances strangely fit in with the words of the warning of Samuel. Only between this first meeting of the seer and the future king and the Gilgal meeting, described in 1 Samuel 13., two years—perhaps even a much longer period—elapsed (the dates of this age are most uncertain); besides which, that famous meeting at Gilgal was not by any means the first meeting of Samuel and Saul at that place. Yet, in spite of these difficulties, it seems best to refer to this meeting between the prophet and king at Gilgal, related in 1 Samuel 13, as the trial of faith especially looked on to by Samuel here. The solemn warning here given was, doubtless, repeated in a much more detailed form by the prophet some time before the appointed Gilgal meeting. So much for the reference; the signification of the warning is best explained in the following way:—Samuel had bidden the future king to advance along the paths of glory and difficulty which lay before him in all confidence and trust, acting in each emergency according to the dictates of his own heart—only in one thing he must be ever on his guard. In his future great work for the regeneration and advancement of Israel, he must, for the sake of the faith of Israel, be on his guard against infringing the sacred privileges of the religion of the Eternal. In the plenitude of his kingly power, the day would come when the temptation would assault him to disregard the ancient sanctity of the sacrifice, and to assume as king, functions which belonged alone to men like Samuel set apart for the sacred office, and thus publicly to dishonour the commandments of God, and by his reckless example of unbelief in revelation to weaken the faith of the people.
Such a temptation presented itself to Saul, we believe, some two or more years from this time, when, as related in 1 Samuel 13, a solemn assembly of the people was summoned to Gilgal, before the commencement of the war of independence. This great enterprise for the people of the Lord must necessarily be begun with solemn religious rites and sacrifices. These the king was forbidden to officiate at without the presence of the Divinely appointed seer. We shall see how King Saul acted under the temptation to set himself and his royal power above the prophet of the Lord and the direct command of God. Whether or no King Saul with his own hand offered the Gilgal sacrifice is uncertain; at all events, the great sin he seemed to have been guilty of having committed, is to have declined to wait for the presence of the prophet of the Lord, although publicly required by the word of the Lord to do so. (See Notes on 1 Samuel 13)
The “heart” is mentioned as changed by God, because, according to the conception of the Divine writings, the heart is represented as the centre of the whole mental and physical life—of will, desire, thought, perception, and feeling. It was one thing for Samuel the seer to put before the young Benjamite the brilliant destiny which lay before him, but it was another and different thing to transform one like Saul, brought up to merely agricultural pursuits, into a fit and worthy recipient of such honours and powers. We know how utterly incapable are all such things as wealth and rank and power in themselves of inspiring the heart with any noble patriotic aspirations, or with any high religious longings, or lofty patriotic aims; a higher influence is needed to awaken the heart, or to rouse it from merely earthly and sordid contemplations.
This is the work which God worked in the heart. of the young Saul as, in the early morning, he left “Ramah of the Watchers,” his ears tingling with the burning words of the great seer all through that day and many succeeding days. In quiet humility, and, no doubt, with many a silent prayer, he watched and waited; when he returned home there was no sign of exultation visible in the man, no mark of impatience. His lips were sealed; he seems to have whispered to no one what the prophet had told him; he made no sign even when events came crowding thick about him—such as the popular assembly for the choice of a king, presided over by the prophet-judge, whose mind Saul alone in Israel knew: the drawing of the lots: the narrowing of the fateful circle: the designation of his tribe, his family, then himself. We see, indeed, God had changed his heart. Was there not in these early days a promise of a noble king—a man after God’s own heart?
And all those signs came to pass that day.—Of the first two signs which were to meet him no further details are given; we are simply told that in the order predicted by Samuel Saul came across them. The third alone gives occasion for a special mention, because it had a great effect on the life of the future king.
And when they came thither to the hill, behold, a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.(10) To the hill.—“To the hill:” more accurately rendered, to Gibeah. This was the home of Saul; the estate of the house of Kish lay evidently in the immediate vicinity of Gibeah, henceforward to be known as Saul’s royal city, “Gibeah of Saul.” “As he walked, the Spirit of God came upon him,” we read. The coming of the Spirit of God upon him may be looked on as the sequel of that Divine gift of the new heart bestowed on him in the early morning, when he left Ramah. The changed heart was a fit home for that Divine Spirit which came on him in the eventide, as he drew near to his ancestral city.
And it came to pass, when all that knew him beforetime saw that, behold, he prophesied among the prophets, then the people said one to another, What is this that is come unto the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?(11) What is this?—The natural expression of extreme surprise at the sudden change which had come over one so well known at Gibeah as Saul evidently was, shows us that this was his home. The words, “What is this that is come unto the son of Kish?” seem to tell us that the life hitherto led by Saul was a life very different in all respects to the life led by the sons of the prophets in their schools. It need not be assumed that the youth and early manhood of the future king had been wild and dissolute, but simply that the way of life had been rough and uncultured—a life spent in what we should call “country pursuits,” in contradistinction to the pursuit of knowledge and of higher acquirements. It is evident from the statement here and in the following verse that a considerable respect for these schools had already grown up among the people.
Is Saul also among the prophets?—In 1Samuel 19:23 we again find Saul, but under changed circumstances, under the influence of a Divine and coercing power, and uttering strange words, and singing hymns as one trained in the prophets’ schools. It was probably this recurrence of the same incident in the king’s life which gave rise to the saying, or proverb, which expresses amazement at the unexpected appearance of any man in a position which had hitherto been quite strange to him. “Is Saul among the preachers of Christ? Was a question of wonder asked by the friends of St. Paul” (Galatians 1:23).—Wordsworth.
And one of the same place answered and said, But who is their father? Therefore it became a proverb, Is Saul also among the prophets?(12) Who is their father?—As an instance of the extreme surprise with which the association of Saul with the sons of the prophets was witnessed by the inhabitants of Gibeah—an association apparently very foreign to his old habits and to the manner of life of his family—a short dialogue between two of the citizens of Gibeah is here related: a conversation important, owing to the words uttered by the second citizen in reply to the amazed question, “What is this that is come unto the son of Kish?” The reply gives us some insight into the deep conviction entertained by the ordinary Israelite of the days of Samuel that the invisible God was ever present, working in the midst of His chosen people.
The reply of the second citizen has been well explained by Von Bunsen:—“Is the son of Kish, then, a prophet?’ asks the first citizen, surprised, apparently, that one so undistinguished, that one so unlikely to train up a “son of the prophets,” should have a son associated in this peculiar and sudden manner with a chosen band of scholars and teachers. To this question the second citizen replied—no doubt, pointing to the honoured group from the prophet schools of Gibeah—“Do you wonder that the son of so rough and uncultivated a man as Kish should receive the Divine gift which we all love so well and admire so greatly? Who,” pointing to the group singing on the hill-side, “who is their father?” They owe their power of persuasive speech, their gift of holy song, to no accident of birth. Surely Saul, like them, may have received the same power as a gift of the Eternal, not as a patrimony. Owing to this obvious meaning not having occurred to them, the LXX., “Vulgate, and Syriac Versions alter the original into, “Who is his (instead of their) father?” in other words, “Who is Saul? and who is his father, Kish?” But the Hebrew text and the English Version, as explained above, gives an admirable sense, and teaches besides a great spiritual lesson.
And when he had made an end of prophesying, he came to the high place.(13) He came to the high place.—After he had spent his fervour in the hymn, and probably ecstatic prayer, Saul, before he went to his home, we read, betook himself at once to the high place of Gibeah, whence the sons of the prophets had just come down when he met them on the hill-side. He went there, no doubt, because, conscious of the change that had passed over him, and aware of his new powers, he felt a desire for solitary communing in the quiet of a holy sanctuary with God, who had come so near him.
And Saul's uncle said unto him and to his servant, Whither went ye? And he said, To seek the asses: and when we saw that they were no where, we came to Samuel.(14) Saul’s uncle.—Most probably, this uncle was the subsequently famous Abner—so Ewald, Josephus, and others. Kish, the father of Saul, a quiet, plain man, evidently was quite content that his beasts were found, and that his son had returned in safety and so asks no curious questions about his son’s journey. Not so Abner, who was a restless, ambitious man, and who, very probably, had heard something already from the servant who accompanied Saul (traditionally supposed to have been Doeg) of the strange honours paid to his nephew by the great and revered judge of Israel, the famous Samuel, and also of the long private interview between them. Abner, the uncle of the future king, an observant man, might well have been struck with the change that had passed over his nephew since he had last seen him; hence his question, “Tell me what Samuel said unto you?”
And Saul said unto his uncle, He told us plainly that the asses were found. But of the matter of the kingdom, whereof Samuel spake, he told him not.(16) He told him not.—It has been suggested ingeniously that this reply was prompted by the characteristic Israelite caution—the fear of betraying prematurely an important secret. It is, however, far better to assume that Samuel had given the young Saul to understand that the revelation respecting his future, and the great state change involved in it, was, in the first instance, for him alone; no other man was as yet to share that great secret with him. In His own good time God would signify His sovereign will and pleasure to Israel; till then, Saul was strictly to keep his own counsel in this important matter. To have imparted the secret to any one would have at once opened the door to secret intrigues and party plotting; one like Abner, especially, would not have been slow in devising schemes to compass so great an end as the placing the crown of Israel on the head of one of his own family.
The modesty and humility, as well as the wisdom, of Saul in these early days of his greatness is remarkable. The “changed heart” was indeed an acknowledged fact with him. Wordsworth quotes here how, “in like manner, Samson, in the early days of his humility, told not his parents of the lion. (See Judges 14:6.) So Saul of Tarsus spake not of his visions and revelations of the Lord till he was constrained to do so by his enemies.” (See 2Corinthians 12:1.)
And Samuel called the people together unto the LORD to Mizpeh;(17) Samuel called the people together.—“Samuel does all that further lies in his power to promote the great cause. He calls a national assembly to Mizpeh. Here the sacred lot, it is stated, fell, among all the tribes of Israel, upon Benjamin; and, in an ever narrowing circle, at length upon Saul, the son of Kish. If we consider the general use in those ages of the sacred lot, we shall find that, taking the whole account in this connection, it exhibits nothing but the great truth that for the full and auspicious acknowledgment of Saul as king, his mysterious interview with the seer did not alone suffice—publicly, in solemn national assembly, was it necessary for the Spirit of the Eternal to choose him out, and to make him known as the Eternal’s man.”—Ewald.
Mizpah (for so the name should be spelt) was chosen by Samuel for the solemn assembly of the tribes on the occasion of the electing their first king, on account of the glorious memories of his own victory, many years before, at that place. The words, “unto the Lord” probably signify that the mysterious Urim and Thummim, by which inquiry was used to be made of the Eternal, had been brought there by the high priest, or, on the supposition that the office was then vacant, by the priest who temporarily replaced him.
And said unto the children of Israel, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all kingdoms, and of them that oppressed you:(18) Thus saith the Lord.—Before proceeding to the election, Samuel again reminds Israel of its folly and ingratitude in their voluntarily rejecting the glorious Eternal King for an earthly sovereign. It was perfectly true that, under the present circumstances of Israel, the establishment of a mortal king was needful for the development of the Hebrew power, but it was none the less true that such a change in the Hebrew constitution would never have been necessary had not the nation forsaken their own Eternal Sovereign, who in time past had saved them out of far greater perils than any then threatening them. Now a change in the government of Israel was necessary, therefore God gave them their desire; but the change would involve the loss for ever of the higher blessedness for which the people had shown itself utterly unworthy.
And when Samuel had caused all the tribes of Israel to come near, the tribe of Benjamin was taken.(20) The tribe of Benjamin was taken.—How the “lots” were taken is not said; usually it was by throwing tablets (Joshua 18:6; Joshua 18:8), but sometimes by drawing from a vessel or urn, as in Numbers 33:54. The latter, from the Hebrew word used, was probably the method employed on this occasion.
When he had caused the tribe of Benjamin to come near by their families, the family of Matri was taken, and Saul the son of Kish was taken: and when they sought him, he could not be found.(21) The family of Matri was taken.—In none of the Benjamite genealogies connected with the royal house of Saul does this name occur. We cannot account for the omission. Ewald conjectures that the name Matri is a corruption from “Bikri” (see 1Chronicles 7:8).
Therefore they inquired of the LORD further, if the man should yet come thither. And the LORD answered, Behold, he hath hid himself among the stuff.(22) Therefore they enquired of the Lord further, if the man should yet come thither.—Saul and Samuel alone, of all the host gathered that day at Mizpeh, knew on whom the lot would fall. So certain was Saul, after the strange signs had sealed the truth of the prophet’s revelation, that he would be designated by the sacred lot, that he shrank from waiting to hear the result, and concealed himself among the baggage and store-tents and waggons of the vast assembly. A second Divine announcement was needed to discover his hiding-place, and draw him forth before the people.
(23–24) He was higher than any of the people.—“How shall this man save us?” was the impatient and angry murmur soon raised by some discontented spirits in Israel, not improbably princes of the leading houses of the great tribes of Judah and Ephraim, who were disgusted at the choice falling on an unknown man of the small and comparatively powerless tribe of Benjamin. But Samuel—whose place in the nation the unknown Benjamite was really to take—with rare nobility and singleness of purpose, had already singled out and called conspicuous attention to the one gift Saul undoubtedly, in an extraordinary degree, possessed—the one gift by which, in that primitive time, a man seemed to be worthy of rule. He was “goodly”: “there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he;” from his shoulders and upward he towered above all the people. When he stood among the people, Samuel could say of him, “See ye him? Look at him whom the Lord hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people.” It is in the days of the Judges, as in the Homeric days of Greece; Agamemnon, like Saul, is head and shoulders taller than the people. Like Saul, too, he has that peculiar air and dignity expressed by the Hebrew word which we translate “good,” or “goodly.” This is the ground of the epithet which became fixed as part of his name, “Saul the chosen,” “the chosen of the Lord.” In the Mussulman traditions this is the only trait of Saul which is preserved. His name has there been almost lost; he is known only as Thalût, “the tall one.” In the Hebrew songs of his own time he was known by a more endearing, but not less expressive, indication of the same grace. His stately towering form, standing under the pomegranate-tree above the precipice of Migron, or on the pointed crags of Michmash, or the rocks of Engedi, claimed for him the title of “wild roe,” “the gazelle,” perched aloft, the pride and glory of Israel. Against the giant Philistines a giant king was needed. The time for the little stripling of the house of Jesse was close at hand, but was not yet come. Saul and Jonathan, swifter than eagles and stronger than lions, still seemed the fittest champions of Israel. When Saul saw any strong man or any valiant man, he took him unto him. He, in his gigantic panoply, that would fit none but himself, with the spear that he had in his hand, of the same form and fashion as the spear of Goliath, was a host in himself.—Dean Stanley: Lectures on the Jewish Church, 21
Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the LORD. And Samuel sent all the people away, every man to his house.(25) Wrote it in a book.—The “Law of the Kingdom,” which Samuel rehearsed before the people, and which he wrote in a roll, and laid solemnly up and preserved among the State archives, related to the divinely established right and duties of the God-appointed king, and also clearly set forth the limitations of his power. The vice-gerent on earth of the invisible King could be no arbitrary despot, unless he transgressed plainly and openly the “manner of the kingdom” written in a book, and laid up before the Lord by Samuel.
This sacred document, we may assume, contained, too, the exact details of the singular story of the choice of the first king of Israel. It was well, no doubt, thought Samuel, that coming ages should know exactly how it came to pass that he, the seer, anointed the Benjamite of Gibeah as king over the Lord’s inheritance. We may, therefore, fairly conclude that from the record laid up among the sacred archives in the sanctuary, the compiler or redactor of this “Book of Samuel” derived his intimate knowledge of every little fact connected with the Divine choice of Saul.
The legal portion of this writing respecting the kingdom was, of course, strictly based upon what Moses had already written on this subject in Deuteronomy (see 1Samuel 17:14-20).
We find here, in this writing of Samuel, the first trace of literary composition among the Israelites since the days of Moses. The great revival in letters which began shortly after the days of Saul was due, most probably, to the influence of Samuel and those great schools of the prophets which he had established in the land.
And laid it up before the Lord.—We are not told where this was done, but the words seem to imply that the document, or roll, was placed by the side of the Ark, then in the “city of woods,” Kiriath-yearim. Josephus says this writing was preserved in the Tabernacle of the Holy of Holies, where the Book of the Law had been laid up (Deuteronomy 31:26).
And Samuel sent all the people away.—It is noteworthy that even after the formal popular ratification of Saul’s election as king, it is Samuel who dismisses the assembly. Indeed, throughout the remainder of the great seer’s life, whenever he appears on the scene, he is evidently the principal person, occupying a position above king or priest. On the other hand, after this period Samuel made but comparatively few public appearances; of his own free will he seems to have retired into privacy, and only in emergencies to have left his retirement.
And Saul also went home to Gibeah; and there went with him a band of men, whose hearts God had touched.(26) And Saul also went home to Gibeah.—Saul departed for the present to his own home. We may conclude that his fellow citizens, proud of the honour conferred on one of themselves, were among his earliest devoted attendants. The young hero, however, as we shall see, had not long to wait for an opportunity of displaying his prowess, and of rallying the hearts of the people generally firmly to his standard.
A band of men.—Among these early friends. doubtless, were to be found the names of the distinguished men whom we hear of later surrounding Saul. The highest prudence and sagacity marked all the early period of the reign of the first king. Slow to take offence, we shall see from the next verse how Saul and his valiant adherents busied themselves in conciliating the disaffected, and in preparing for a decisive action against the enemies who were on all sides harrying the land. An opportunity (see the history in the next chapter) soon presented itself of showing that the choice of a king had been wisely made.
But the children of Belial said, How shall this man save us? And they despised him, and brought him no presents. But he held his peace.(27) The children of Belial.—More accurately, worthless men. (See Note on 1Samuel 2:12.)
And they despised him.—As above suggested, these malcontents were probably princes and leading men of the great tribes of Judah and Ephraim, displeased that the new king should be selected from the small unimportant tribe of Benjamin. It will be remembered that the tribe of Benjamin had been almost entirely destroyed in the civil war related in the concluding chapters of Judges. “They despised him,” because in no way had he made his mark, either in the arts of war or peace. From what has gone before (see 1Samuel 10:11-12 of this 1Sam) it is evident that Saul was a man of no special culture; his early years had been spent in agriculture and work on his father’s lands in the neighbourhood of Gibeah.
And brought him no presents.—These gifts were, in the East, the token of submission and homage; not to offer them to Saul was almost the same thing as to ignore his authority. Although not stated, it is clear that these malcontents were among the chiefs of the greater tribes who had assisted at the election.
But he held his peace.—Literally, he was a deaf man, acting as though he had not heard the murmurs. This prudent conduct showed great self-control and self-denial on the part of the new king and his counsellors.