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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

1 Samuel 10

Verses 1-16

2. The anointing of Saul 9:1-10:16

In chapters 9-11 the writer painted Saul as the ideal man to serve as king from the human viewpoint. This pericope (1 Samuel 9:1 to 1 Samuel 10:16) sets forth his personal conduct. [Note: See the series of three articles on Saul by W. Lee Humphries listed in the bibliography of these notes. Especially helpful is, "The Tragedy of King Saul: A Study of the Structure of 1 Samuel 9-31."]

Saul’s private anointing by Samuel 9:26-10:8

Anointing with oil was a symbolic act in Israel that pictured consecration to service. The only things anointed with oil before this anointing were the priests and the tabernacle. The oil symbolized God’s Spirit, and anointing with oil represented endowment with that Spirit for enablement (cf. 1 John 2:27). In the ancient Near East, a representative of a nation’s god customarily anointed the king, whom the people viewed from then on as the representative of that god on earth. [Note: Roland de Vaux, The Bible and the Ancient Near East, pp. 152-66.] Thus Saul would have understood that Samuel was setting him apart as God’s vice-regent and endowing him with God’s power to serve effectively. Beginning with Saul, kings were similar to priests in Israel as far as representing God and experiencing divine enablement. Samuel’s kiss was a sign of affection and respect since now Saul was God’s special representative on the earth. Samuel reminded Saul that the Israelites were the Lord’s inheritance, another comment that Saul unfortunately did not take to heart (cf. 1 Samuel 9:13).

Samuel then gave Saul three signs that would verify to the king elect that Samuel had anointed him in harmony with God’s will. The first of these would have strengthened Saul’s confidence in God’s ability to control the people under his authority (1 Samuel 9:2). [Note: On the subject of the location of Rachel’s tomb, see Matitiahu Tsevat, "Studies in the Book of Samuel," Hebrew Union College Annual 33 (1962):107-18.] The second would have helped Saul realize that the people would accept him and make sacrifices for him (1 Samuel 9:3-4). The third would have assured him that he did indeed possess supernatural enablement from God (1 Samuel 9:5-6). The "hill of God" (lit. Gibeath-haelohim, 1 Samuel 9:5) was probably Gibeon. [Note: See Aaron Demsky, "Geba, Gibeah, and Gibeon-An Historico-Geographic Riddle," Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research 212 (December 1973):27.]

Since God chose and equipped Saul to rule His people, it seems most likely that he was a genuine believer in Yahweh, though Saul gave evidence of not having a strong commitment to Him. Samuel gave Saul his first orders as God’s vice-regent (1 Samuel 9:8). Unfortunately he disobeyed them (1 Samuel 13:8-14). Perhaps the tabernacle now stood at Gilgal since Samuel planned to offer burnt and peace offerings there. However, Samuel may have sacrificed at places other than the tabernacle (1 Samuel 7:17; cf. 1 Samuel 14:35). Again we can see that the tabernacle was not one of the writer’s main concerns.

Verses 9-16

God’s enablement of Saul 10:9-16

We should probably not interpret the reference to God changing Saul’s heart (1 Samuel 10:9) to mean that at this time Saul experienced personal salvation. This always takes place when a person believes God’s promise, and there is no indication in the context that Saul did that at this time. Probably it means that God gave him a different viewpoint on things since he had received the Holy Spirit. Some interpreters have taken this as Saul’s conversion. [Note: E.g., Zane C. Hodges, "The Salvation of Saul," Grace Evangelical Society News 9:4 (July-August 1994):1, 3.] In Hebrew psychology the heart was the seat of the intellect, emotions, and will.

God’s Spirit also gave Saul the ability to prophesy (1 Samuel 10:10). This was the outward evidence that God was with Saul. It apparently involved the Holy Spirit controlling these men, and their manifesting His control by praising God (cf. 1 Samuel 19:20-24; 1 Chronicles 25:1-3). The evidence of this new gift surprised people who knew Saul, and they took note of it (1 Samuel 10:11). Some students of this passage have concluded that Saul demonstrated this gift with ecstatic behavior. [Note: E.g., Bright, p. 166.] Others have not. [Note: E.g. Leon J. Wood, "Ecstasy and Israel’s Early Prophets," Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society 9 (Summer 1966):125-37. See also idem, The Prophets . . ., pp. 40-56, 91-92.] I see no evidence of it in the text.

This is the first of several references to groups of prophets in the historical books (cf. 1 Samuel 19:20; 2 Kings 2:1-7; 2 Kings 2:15-18; 2 Kings 4:38-41; 2 Kings 6:1-2). Though the term "school of the prophets" does not appear in the Old Testament, the texts noted identify groups of prophets who gathered together, sometimes under the leadership of a prominent prophet (e.g., Samuel, Elijah, or Elisha), apparently to learn how to present messages from the Lord and lead the people in worship. Some of them even had buildings in which they met, including ones at Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho (2 Kings 2:1-5; 2 Kings 4:38-41; 2 Kings 6:1-2). Samuel evidently had such a "school" or group of disciples, and this group apparently also met in their own buildings (cf. 1 Samuel 19:18-19). [Note: For further discussion, see Ibid., pp. 164-66.]

The question, "Who is their father?" (1 Samuel 10:12) inquired about the source of the behavior of all the prophets including Saul. Their conduct was indeed an evidence of God’s presence and working in their lives. [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, pp. 104-5.] The proverb that evolved from this incident (cf. 1 Samuel 19:24) was derogatory. Some of the people felt that the behavior of prophets was inappropriate, especially for their king (cf. 2 Samuel 6:13-16). Ironically their question did not express doubt that Saul was a prophet but confidence that God had empowered him. Another view is that the question expressed a negative opinion such as, "Saul is no prophet." [Note: See John Sturdy, "The Original Meaning of ’Is Saul Also Among the Prophets?’ (1 Samuel X 11, 12; XIX 24)," Vetus Testamentum 20:2 (April 1970):210.]

The high place referred to in 1 Samuel 10:13 is probably the same one mentioned earlier (1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Samuel 10:10), namely, Geba. Geba was only four miles from Saul’s hometown, Gibeah (lit. hill). Saul’s uncle may have been Ner, the father of Abner (1 Samuel 14:50-51), or some other uncle. [Note: See D. R. Ap-Thomas, "Saul’s ’Uncle’," Vetus Testamentum 11 (1961):241-45.]

"These passages in 1 Samuel indicate that the writer of Samuel had no problem with high places so long as they were dedicated to Yahweh.

"In Kings, however, the attitude of the historian is clearly hostile to high places. He conceded the necessity of the people worshiping there (and by inference Solomon also) because of the lack of a temple. However, the historian was writing from a later perspective when religion had become syncretistic, and the high places were a snare to the people." [Note: Heater, p. 126.]

This section closes with another reference to Saul’s humility (1 Samuel 10:16; cf. Philippians 2:8; James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6).

Verses 17-27

3. The choice of Saul by lot 10:17-27

"Saul’s rise to kingship over Israel took place in three distinct stages: He was (1) anointed by Samuel (1 Samuel 9:1 to 1 Samuel 10:16), (2) chosen by lot (1 Samuel 10:17-27), and (3) confirmed by public acclamation (1 Samuel 11:1-15). [Note: Youngblood, p. 623.]

Saul’s anointing had been private, but his choice by lot was public.

Mizpah was the scene of Israel’s previous spiritual revival and victory over the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:5-13). Perhaps Samuel chose this site for Saul’s public presentation because of those events. As we have noted, the tabernacle may have been there as well. Samuel took the opportunity to remind Israel that Yahweh was Israel’s real deliverer so that the people would not put too much confidence in their new king (1 Samuel 10:18; cf. Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6; Judges 6:8-9). He also reminded them of their rebellion against God’s will when they insisted on having a king (1 Samuel 10:19). [Note: See Bruce C. Birch, "The Choosing of Saul at Mizpah," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 37:4 (1975):447-54.]

The lot (1 Samuel 10:20) showed all Israel that Saul was God’s choice, not Samuel’s (cf. Joshua 7:14-18). That is, he was the king God permitted (Proverbs 16:33). Was Saul hiding because he was humble or because he was afraid to assume the mantel of leadership? My judgment is that he was humble since there are other indications of this quality in chapters 9 and 10 (cf. Proverbs 25:6-7).

". . . there seems to have been a modesty that was combined with a shy temperament." [Note: Baldwin, p. 90.]

"If Saul had been an ambitious person, he would have been at the center of activity; and, even if he had been only an average person, he would at least have been available on the fringes of the crowd. Saul, however, had hidden himself, so that he would not be found." [Note: Wood, Israel’s United . . ., p. 81.]

However, Saul may also have been wisely reluctant to assume the role and responsibilities of Israel’s king. The Lord had chosen Saul (1 Samuel 10:24) because He wanted him to be His instrument. Saul had the potential of becoming a great king of Israel. Consequently, Samuel commended him, and most of the people supported him (1 Samuel 10:24; 1 Samuel 10:27). They cried, "Long live the king!"

"It [this cry] represents now, as it did then, the enthusiastic hopes of the citizenry that their monarch may remain hale and hearty in order to bring their fondest dreams to fruition." [Note: Youngblood, p. 631.]

The ancient tell (archaeological mound) of Gibeah (1 Samuel 10:26) now stands three miles north of the old city of Jerusalem, the buildings of which are clearly visible from Gibeah. It is now a northern "suburb" of Jerusalem.

God further blessed Saul by inclining the hearts of valiant men in Israel to support him. There were some, however, who did not support him. They were evidently looking on Saul’s natural abilities as essential to Israel’s success and were forgetting that Yahweh was the real source of her hope (1 Samuel 10:27; cf. Judges 6:15-16). Saul was a wise enough man not to demand acceptance by every individual in Israel (cf. Proverbs 14:29; Romans 12:19; James 1:19-20). The reason he failed later was not because he lacked wisdom.

Throughout these verses Saul behaved in an exemplary fashion. However notice that the writer made no reference to his regard for God or God’s Word. By every outward appearance, Saul was very capable of serving as Israel’s king. This is what the people wanted, a man similar to themselves to lead them, and that is exactly what God gave them.

". . . it remains very clear that God did not choose this king for Himself, but rather for the people. In other words, though God actually appointed Saul, Saul did not in the final analysis represent God’s choice, but the people’s choice." [Note: G. Coleman Luck, "The First Glimpse of the First King of Israel," Bibliotheca Sacra 123:489 (January-March 1966):51.]

Yet God gave them a man with great personal strengths: wisdom, humility, sensitivity, physical attractiveness, and wealth. His gift of Saul was a good gift, as are all God’s gifts to His people (Luke 11:9-13). God did not give Israel a time bomb just waiting to explode. Saul failed because of the choices he made, not because he lacked the qualities necessary to succeed.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 10". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/1-samuel-10.html. 2012.