By asking for a king like the other nations had, the Israelites rejected the Lord as their king, even though he had been a good king, who had rescued them from their slavery in Egypt and who had brought through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. But even though they were rejecting the Lord as their king — which was a wicked thing to do — the Lord agreed to give them what they asked for. And so, last week we read how the Lord led Saul to Samuel so that Samuel could anoint Saul as king over God’s people. Samuel also told Saul to expect three signs to happen to demonstrate that everything he had said was true. And Samuel also told Saul that when the three signs are fulfilled, he should do what his hand finds to do, because God was with him to help him. And do you remember? Although it’s a bit obscure, it seems that Samuel was telling Saul to attack the Philistines who had set up an outpost in the Promised Land. But when the time came, Saul did nothing. He did nothing. Instead of attacking the Philistines, which is what a king should do, he did nothing.
And so, we were thinking last week that Saul was not the right man to be king over God’s people. And that will become clearer as we learn more about him. And so, in due course, the Lord will take the kingdom from Saul and will give it to David. But even David pales in comparison to Christ the king, who came into the world to do everything he was supposed to do in order to free his people from Satan’s tyranny and to bring us into his kingdom of grace where there is forgiveness and peace with God and the hope of everlasting life in the new and better world to come. And so, these stories of Samuel and Saul and David point forward to Christ the king, who came into the world to save his people so that we could live in peace and safety in the Promised Land to come. And you should trust in Christ the king for salvation; and you should yield your life to him, so that instead of living for yourself, which is what we all do by nature, you should live your life for him and for his glory.
We got as far as verse 16 of chapter 10 last week. So let’s turn to today’s passage to see what more we can learn about Saul and Christ our Saviour.
Verses 17 to 27
Saul was meant to attack the Philistines. And presumably, if he had attacked the Philistines, it would have been like an announcement or a clear demonstration to the rest of Israel that he was their new king. But since he did nothing, Samuel had to find another way to make clear to the Israelites that Saul was their king.
And so, we read in verse 17 of chapter 10 that Samuel gathered the Israelites at Mizpah and there he addressed them. Mizpah — you might recall from chapter 7 — was the place where the Lord thundered against the Philistines who had come together to attack the Israelites. The Lord thundered against them and they were thrown into a panic; and the Israelites were able to rush at them and beat them in battle. And Samuel erected a stone near Mizpah as a kind of memorial. He named the stone ‘Ebenezer’, which means ‘stone of help’. And Samuel said to the people: ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us.’
Well, in chapter 10, Samuel gathered the Israelites at Mizpah, near this stone which was set up to remind them of how the Lord helped them. And the first thing Samuel did when they gathered there was to remind them of how the Lord had helped them thus far. He had rescued them from Egypt and he delivered them from all the kingdoms that oppressed them. Think of all the times he helped them when they were oppressed by their enemies in the days of the Judges and how he gave them the victory at Mizpah over the Philistines. He had always been a good and faithful king. And he had always helped them. However, they had now rejected him as their king. They rejected him and asked for another kind of king, a king like the nations have.
So, Samuel was confronting them with their sinfulness and their rebellion. Even though the Lord was going to give them what they asked for, they’re not to think that the Lord is pleased with them.
Nevertheless, God was going to give them what they asked for. And so, Samuel told them in verse 19 to present themselves before the Lord by their tribes and clans. He’s going to reveal to them the man God had chosen to be their king. So, each of the tribes were brought forward one by one and the tribe of Benjamin was chosen. The word translated ‘chosen’ is a kind of technical word in the Old Testament for casting lots. As the Proverb says: the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. Since nothing happens by chance, but by the will of the Lord, the result of the lot would reveal to them God’s will. And so, by casting lots, they chose the right tribe; and then the right clan; and then presumably the right family; and then finally Saul was chosen.
But where was he? Where was Saul? The man who had done nothing after he was anointed was now nowhere to be found. And the people had to inquire from the Lord where their new king was. And the Lord revealed that he was hiding among the baggage.
The Bible commentators discuss why Saul was hiding among the baggage. Those commentators who are more sympathetic to Saul say that this was a sign of his humility. Instead of being proud and arrogant, Saul was a humble man. And isn’t that what we want? A humble, and not a proud, king. However, those commentators who are less sympathetic to Saul say that this was a sign that he was a timid man. He was fearful and frightened. And that’s no good. You don’t want a king who is a scaredy-cat. You want a strong, confident, fearless king. So, some commentators say one thing and some commentators says the opposite. Of course, the truth is we don’t know why Saul had hidden himself among the baggage. The text doesn’t tell us why; and we have no way of knowing. However, the fact that he was hiding suggests that he knew he would be the one who would be chosen. He knew he would be the one, because hadn’t Samuel already anointed him? And so, while it was a surprise to everyone else, it was no surprise to Saul when the lot revealed that he was the one.
But when the people brought him forward, they could see that Saul stood head and shoulders above the rest of the people. He therefore looked like a king. And after Samuel presented him to the people, they shouted: ‘Long live the king!’ And verse 25 is very important, because it tells us that Samuel explained to the people the regulations of the kingship. And he wrote them down on a scroll and deposited it before the Lord, presumably in the tabernacle. These regulations were the terms and conditions of the kingship; and they set down what the king of Israel should and shouldn’t do. And while the actual regulations aren’t recorded for us here, they’re recorded for us in Deuteronomy 17 where it says:
When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” 15 be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. 16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.
So, their king must make a copy of God’s law; and he must read God’s law; and he must keep God’s law. In other words, their earthly king must yield himself to God the king and he must obey God the king all the days of his life. Though the people wanted a king like all the other nations had, their king must not be like the kings of the other nations, because their king was to walk in the ways of the Lord and do his will. And as we’ll discover in chapter 13, Saul was not willing to keep the command of the Lord; he was not willing to obey God the king. He may have looked like a king, because he was tall and handsome. But because he was unwilling to obey the Lord, he was the wrong person to be king over God’s people.
And so, we’ll get to that. But for now we read that Saul went home to Gibeah, accompanied by valiant men whose hearts God had touched. But there were some trouble-makers, worthless men, who despised him.
That’s how chapter 10 ends. Chapter 11 opens by telling us about this other king, King Nahash of the Ammonites, who went up with his army to beseige the city of Jabish Gilead. And as you can see, the men of Jabish Gilead were prepared to surrender and to make a peace treaty with the Ammonites. But Nahash was only willing to make a peace treaty with them if they agreed to have their right eyes removed. And according to verse 2, he wanted to bring disgrace on all Israel. Not only did he want to take over the city, and disable all their fighting men, but he wanted to humiliate all of Israel.
The men of Jabish Gilead obviously didn’t like the sound of that; and so they asked for time to see if anyone would come to their rescue. And the messengers who were sent out came to Gibeah which was Saul’s home town. And when the people of Gibeah heard what was happening, they all wept aloud. And just at that moment, Saul appeared. What had Saul the king being doing since his public election? Well, it seems that Saul the king had gone back to the family farm, because when we read about him here, he’s coming back from the fields with his oxen. And so, we think to ourselves: what kind of king is he?
However, when he heard about Jabesh Gilead, we’re told in verse 6 that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. Now, remember what I said last week. This is not a reference to regeneration or to being born again of the Spirit of God. This is the same thing that happened to men like Samson, when the Holy Spirit would come upon them in power to strengthen them and to enable them to fight against their enemies. The Spirit of God came on Saul like that in chapter 10, but at that time he did nothing. This time, though, he does something. He burned with anger and he took his oxen and cut them into pieces and sent the pieces by messenger throughout the land of Israel with the message: ‘This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel.’ And we read that the terror of the Lord fell on the people so that they turned out for battle. Verse 8 tells us that there were three hundred thousand from Israel and thirty thousand from Judah. I think I explained before that the word translated ‘thousand’ can refer to a unit of soldiers. So, perhaps it was three hundred and thirty thousand men in total; or perhaps it was three hundred and thirty units of men in total. Either way, it was a lot of men. And we read how they headed for Jabash Gilead and attacked the Ammonites and rescued the people of Jabesh Gilead.
Finally, Saul had done something. And according to verse 12, the people wanted to put to death those worthless men we read about at the end of chapter 10 who had despised Saul. But Saul would not let them. He said: ‘No-one shall be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel.’ And the chapter ends with Samuel saying to the people that they should go to Gilgal to reaffirm the kingship. Do you see that in verse 14? And we’re told they went to Gilgal and confirmed Saul as king in the presence of the Lord. They offered sacrifices to the Lord and there they held a great celebration.
Now, when we read that they reaffirmed the kingship, many of the commentators and a good many preachers assume it means they crowned or installed Saul as king. Saul was anointed as king in a private ceremony; then he was publicly chosen as king; now it was time to crown him as king. However, when we get to chapter 12 — which records what Samuel said to the people at Gilgal — we’ll see that Samuel took this opportunity to remind the Israelites that God was their king. So, reaffirming the kingship is not so much about reaffirming Saul as king, but it’s about reaffirming the Lord as their king. The people of Israel, as well as Saul the king, needed to understand that the Lord is king and they were duty-bound to love and serve him. And though Saul sounds very pious in verse 13 — where he said that no-one shall be put to death that day, because the Lord has rescued Israel — it becomes clear in chapter 13 that Saul was disobedient to God his king.
Now someone asked me a very interesting question last week. I love to get questions and this was a great question: ‘Was God setting Saul up for failure?’ You see, I’d made the point last week that God was going to give the people what they asked for in order to discipline them for their rebellion. Instead of being a blessing, this new king would be a curse. He would be trouble. And so, poor Saul. He was chosen to be king, but he was destined to fail, because it was God’s will to use Saul to discipline his people. So, was God setting Saul up for failure? It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?
But the fact is that God did many things to set Saul up for success. On two occasions, God sent his Spirit to strengthen Saul. The first occasion was right after he was anointed as king; but on that occasion, Saul did nothing. The second occasion was in today’s passage and when he heard about Jabesh Gilead; and on this occasion he summoned the Israelites to join him. And the point is the Lord did not choose him as king and then abandon him. No, the Lord sent his Spirit to help him. God was with him to help him to lead God’s people.
And then, think about what we read at the end of chapter 10, and how God touched the hearts of valiant men so that they accompanied Saul back to Gibeah. The word translated ‘valiant’ means powerful. And the point is that the Lord surrounded Saul with mighty men. So, the Lord did not chose him as king and then abandon him, because the Lord sent his Spirit to strengthen him and he surrounded him with mighty men of valour.
And, of course, the Lord gave him Samuel, who was the Lord’s prophet, to make known to Saul the will of the Lord and to remind Saul of the duties of the king. No-one likes to be given a job without being told what to do. And so, Samuel was there to make clear to Saul what he was to do as king of God’s people and how to conduct himself as king.
So, Saul had God’s Spirit to help him; and he had powerful men to accompany him; and he had God’s word to guide him. God did not set up Saul for failure, but he set up Saul for success. And yet, as we’ll see, Saul disregarded God’s word and his disobeyed his word of command.
And, of course, that’s the way it was in the beginning in the Garden of Eden. In the beginning, Adam and Eve were appointed by God to rule the earth and everything in it on God’s behalf. They were to be king and queen of creation. And God made clear to them what his will was and what they were to do. But instead of obeying God’s word of command, they disobeyed it, when they ate the forbidden fruit. And so, sin came into the world. And now, all of us who are descended from Adam and Eve in the ordinary way are born with a sinful, fallen nature so that sinning against the Lord, disobeying the Lord, comes naturally to us. And so, instead of obeying God the king, we disobey him. Instead of walking in his ways, we go astray. Instead of doing his will, we fall short of doing his will. When God made man, he made us — male and female — to rule the world on his behalf. But now, we come into the world as sinners and we sin against the Lord continually until we die. And we will die, because not only did sin come into the world whenever Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord, but death came into the world, and sorrow and suffering.
And even when we come to faith in Christ, we still sin against the Lord again and again; and we fall short of doing his will. Even though he has filled us with his Spirit to sanctify us and to make us holy. And even though he’s surrounded us with other believers to encourage us. Even though he’s given us his word to guide us and preachers to teach us. Even though he has set us up for success, for obedience, we still sin against him.
That’s how sinful we are; that’s how corrupt we are. He has been good to us; and he has been faithful to us; and he has given us every good thing we need; and has given us all kinds of advantages; and yet we still sin against him. Instead of yielding to God the king in all things, we still say ‘no’ to him. We still say: ‘No, I will do it my way.’
And that’s why we must always rely on Christ the Saviour, because Christ the Saviour came into the world to give up his life as the ransom to pay for our sins; and he shed his blood to cleanse us from all our guilt. And whoever relies on him for peace with God, whoever trusts in him for salvation, receives forgiveness from God, so that though you may have done everything wrong, and lived a life of rebellion and unbelief, God will treat you as if you’ve done everything right. And though you deserve to die and to be punished forever for your sins, he will give you the hope of everlasting life in the new and better world to come, where you will be made perfect and where you will serve God the king perfectly and forever. And while you wait for that day to come, when you’ll be glorified in God’s presence, the Lord Jesus gives you his Spirit to live in you. When God gave his Spirit to Saul, it was only for a while, and it was only to strengthen him to fight against the enemies. But the Lord Jesus gives his Spirit to believers; and the Spirit lives in us permanently; and he’s with us all the time to help us to fight against sin and temptation and to do God’s will more and more. And he gives you his Spirit so that you will do what Saul did not do. He gives you his Spirit so that you will obey the Lord your God, who is your king and who calls on you to walk in his ways and to do his will each day.
And that’s his will for you. Whatever happens this coming week — and no-one knows what will happen this week — but whatever happens this coming week, God’s will for you is for you to obey him, because he is your great king and you are duty-bound to love and serve him. Because we’re sinners by birth, we like to think we can do as we please. Because we’re sinners by birth, we don’t want anyone to tell us what to do. Because we’re sinners by birth, we think we know best how to live our lives and how to be happy. But the Lord who made us knows what is best for you; and he calls on you to obey his word of command and to do his will here on earth.
And so, do you need to do what Samuel asked the people to do? Will you reaffirm the kingship? That is, will you once again acknowledge that God is your king? And will you make it your aim in life to obey his commandments and to do his will while you wait for Christ the Saviour to come again?