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the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 9

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary



(1 Samuel 9:1-27) The Preparation of Saul the Son of Kish the Benjamite, for his appointment as anointed King of Israel.

Verse 1

(1) Saul.—The inspired compiler of these books—having related the circumstances which accompanied the people’s request to the last of the judges for a king—closed the first part of the story of this momentous change in the fortunes of the chosen people with the words of the prophet-judge, bidding the representative elders to return to their homes, and wait the result of his solemn communing with the Eternal Friend of Israel on the subject of this king they so earnestly desired.

The Eternal answered His servant either in a vision, or by Urim, or by an angel visitant. We are in most cases left in ignorance respecting the precise method by which God communicated with these highly-favoured men—His elect servante. The chosen Israelite whom Samuel was to anoint as the first king in Israel would meet the prophet—so said the “word of the Lord” to Samuel—on a certain day and hour, at a given place. The ninth chapter begins with a short account of the family of this man chosen for so high an office, and after a word or two of personal description, goes on to relate the circumstances under which he met Samuel. Saul, a man in the prime of manhood, distinguished among his fellows by his great stature, and for his grace and manly beauty, was the son of a noble and opulent Benjamite of Gribeah, a small city in the south of the Land of Promise.
The whole of this episode in our ancient book is singularly picturesque. We see the yet unproclaimed king occupied in his father’s business, and throwing his whole powers into the every-day transactions of the farm on the slopes of Mount Ephraim. In a few words the historian describes how the modest and retiring Saul was roused from the quiet pastoral pursuits in which his hitherto uneventful life had been spent. The reverent, perhaps slightly reluctant, admiration with which the seer of God gazed at the future king of Israel; the prophet’s significant address, the symbol gifts, the graceful hospitality, and, above all, the solemn and, no doubt, burning words of the generous old man, woke up the sleeping hero-spirit, and prepared the young Benjamite for his future mighty work. But there was no vulgar elation at the prospect which lay before him, no hurried grasping at the splendid prize which the seer told him the God of his fathers had destined for him. Quietly he took leave of the famous Samuel; the predicted signs of his coming greatness one by one were literally fulfilled; but Saul returned to the ancestral farm in the hills of Benjamin, and was subject to his father, as in old days; and when at last the public summons to the throne came to him, he seems to have accepted the great office for which he had been marked with positive reluctance and shrinking, nor does he appear materially to have altered his old simple way of living until a great national disgrace called for a devoted patriot to avenge it. Then the heroic heart of the Lord’s anointed awoke, and Saul, when the hour came, showed himself a king indeed.

Kish, the son of Abiel.—On comparison with the genealogical summaries given in Genesis 46:21; 1 Samuel 9:1; 1 Samuel 14:51; 1 Chronicles 7:6-8, &c, the line of Samuel appears as follows:—


Yet even here certain links are omitted, for we hear of one Matri in 1 Samuel 10:21, and Jehiel in 1 Chronicles 9:35.


The truth is that in each of the genealogical summaries the transcriber of the original family document left out certain names not needed for his special purpose. The names omitted are not always the same; hence, often in these tables, the apparent discrepancies.

Dean Payne Smith, too, suggests, that the hopeless entanglement in the Benjamite genealogies is in a measure due to the terrible civil war which resulted from the crime related in Judges 20:0. In the confusion which naturally resulted from the massacres and ceaseless wars of this early period, many of the older records of the tribes must have perished.

Verse 2

(2) A choice young man, and a goodly.—The Hebrew word which is rendered in English by “a choice young man” cannot signify both these epithets. The translators were probably influenced by the Vulg. (Latin) Version, which translates the Hebrew word by electus, “chosen, or choice,” the more common signification of the Hebrew word being avoided, owing to the fact that at this time Saul appears to have had a son (Jonathan) who must have well-nigh reached his maturity. But the term young was not inappropriate to Saul, who was still in the full vigour of manhood as contrasted with the old age of Samuel, being about forty to forty-five years old. Translate then simply, “a young man,” &c. In the childhood of nations heroic proportions were highly valued, and the gigantic stature and the remarkable beauty of the king, no doubt contributed to the ready acceptance on the part of the still semi-barbarous Israel of the young man Saul. (Comp. Herodotus, 3:20, 7:187; Aristotle, Polit., 4:29; and Virgil’s description of Turnus, Æneid, 7:650, 783; and Homer’s words about Ajax, Iliad, iii. 226.)

The asses.—Literally, And the she-asses. At this period of Jewish history asses were much used by the people. The horse was forbidden by the Law. Asses were used not only for purposes of agriculture, but also for riding; so in the song of Deborah we find, “Speak, ye that ride on white asses” (Judges 5:10); and again we read of the thirty sons of Jair, the Gileadite judge, each one ruler of a city, who rode on thirty ass colts (Judges 10:4). These belonging to the farm of Kish, being probably kept for breeding purposes, were untethered, and so strayed from the immediate neighbourhood, and were lost.

The whole of this chapter and part of the following is full of picturesque details of the pastoral life of the people. In many of the little pictures we see how strongly at this early period the religion of the Eternal coloured almost all parts of the every-day life of Israel.

One of the servants.—The “servant,” not “slave;” the Hebrew word for the latter would be different. The servant was evidently a trusty dependant of the house of Saul’s father, and was on familiar terms with his young master. We hear of his giving wise advice in the course of the search (1 Samuel 9:6); he was the one in charge of the money (1 Samuel 9:8); and this servant, we are especially told, was treated by Samuel the judge as an honoured guest at the sacrificial feast at Ramah. He was traditionally believed to have been Doeg the Edomite, afterwards so famous as one of the most ruthless of the great captains of King Saul. (See 1 Samuel 22:18.)

Verse 4

(4) And he passed through mount Ephraim. The chain of the mountains of Ephraim ran southward into the territory of Benjamin, where were situated the patrimonial possessions of Saul’s house.

And passed through the land of Shalisha.—Or land “of the Three;” so called because three valleys there united in one, or one divided into three. It is believed to be the region in which Baal-shalisha lay (2 Kings 4:42), fifteen miles north of Diospolis, or Lydda.

The land of Shalim.—Probably a very deep valley, derived from a Hebrew word, signifying “the hollow of the hand.”

Verse 5

(5) The land of Zuph.—This was believed to be in the south-west of Benjamin.

Lest my father . . . take thought for us.—“Saul’s tender regard for his father’s feelings here is a favourable indication of character.”—Dr. Kitto.

Verse 6

(6) A man of God.—When Saul determined to give up the search for his father’s asses, he was in the neigh. bourhood of the city of Samuel the seer—“Raman of the Watchers.” The servant points out to him the tower of the then famous residence of the seer and judge, Samuel. “Will you not ask him,” suggests the servant, “about the missing beasts?”—the young countryman, in the simplicity of his heart, thinking the occasion of the loss of his master’s asses a sufficient one to warrant an intrusion upon the prophet-judge of Israel. The relation, however, between Samuel and the people must have been of a very close and friendly nature, else it would never have occurred, even to a simple countryman—as probably then Saul’s servant was—to have sought the advice of one so great as Samuel in such a matter. It says, too, much for the old prophet’s kindly, unselfish disposition that his name was thus loved and honoured, even in the secluded farms of the Land of Promise.

An honourable man.—Better rendered, one held in honour.

Verse 7

(7) What shall we bring?—It would seem at first strange that one like Samuel should be approached by presents, but the custom of offering gifts was in many cases an act of respectful homage to a superior rather than a mere fee. Compare, for instance, the many detailed accounts of presents offered and accepted, chronicled in the varied sacred records—such as the little present of spicery, &c, sent by Jacob to the great minister or vizier of the Pharaoh of Egypt (Genesis 43:11), and the ten cheeses Jesse gave to the captain of the thousand in which his sons were serving, and in the days of the highest civilisation and culture known in Israel, the gifts offered by the Queen of Sheba to the magnificent Solomon (1 Kings 10:10).

Verse 8

(8) The fourth part of a shekel of silver.—“Probably this shekel of silver was roughly stamped, and divided into four quarters by a cross, and broken when needed. What was its proportionate value in Samuel’s days we cannot tell, for silver then was rare.”—Dean Payne Smith.

Verse 9

(9) Beforetime in Israel.—This verse was evidently inserted in the original book of memoirs of the days of Samuel by a later hand. Three special words are found in the Divine writings for the inspired messengers or interpreters of the Eternal wilt; of these, the title seer (roeh) was the most ancient. It is the title, evidently, by which Samuel in his lifetime was generally known. “Is the seer here?” we read in this passage; and “Where is the seer’s house?” and “I am the seer.” As time passed on, the term, in the sense of an inspired man of God, became obsolete, and the word chozeh, “a gazer.” on strange visions, seemed to have been the word used for one inspired. The title nabi—prophet—began to come into common use in the time of Samuel, to whom the term is not unfrequently applied. The word nabi, or prophet, is found in nearly all the Old Testament books, from Genesis to Malachi, though rarely in the earlier writings. This note was inserted by some scribe who lived comparatively later (perhaps in the time of Ezra), but who must have been a reviser of the sacred text of very high authority, as this “note” has come down to us as an integral part of the received Hebrew text. The reason of the insertion is obvious. The title roeh—seer—as time passed on, no longer belonged exclusively to “a man of God.” The scribe who put in this expression was desirous of pointing out that when Samuel lived it was the word always used for a prophet of the Lord. In those early days it had not deteriorated in meaning.

Verse 10

(10) Unto the city.—The name of the city where Samuel and Saul first met in this strange way is not given. Still, the impression which the narrative leaves on the mind is that it was Samuel’s usual residence—“Ramah.” We know Samuel had built an altar to the Lord at Ramah (1 Samuel 7:17); on the day of Saul’s arrival there was a great sacrifice taking place on the altar of the high place of the city. Again, in this nameless city the seer had a house of his own (see 1 Samuel 9:18; 1 Samuel 9:25). Samuel, too, was known to Saul’s servant as dwelling in this place.

Verse 12

(12) He came to-day.—The little scene—in itself in no way remarkable—is recounted by an eye-witness, evidently as introducing momentous consequences.

Every detail of that day’s proceedings was of deep interest to Israel. Some of the maidens of Raman were at the well side, drawing water for their homes. The two strangers accost them with the words, “Is the seer who dwells among you here just now?” and they eagerly reply, “Yes, this very day he came from his house into the town. It is a festival day—you will find him presiding up there,” pointing, no doubt, to the high place, where the sacrifices were being offered. Every word spoken by the girls of Ramah, loving to chatter and exhibit their local knowledge and their interest in their great fellow-citizen, the seer and judge, to whom they, in common with the inhabitants of Ramah, were, no doubt, much attached, was remembered in after time by Saul and his companion.

Verse 13

(13) He doth bless the sacrifice.—It has been well remarked that we have here, in this note of the people’s conduct at the sacrificial banquet of “Raman of the Watchers,” a very early instance of the devout practice among the Hebrews of asking a blessing on meals.

Verse 14

(14) Behold, Samuel came out against them.—“Saul comes before Samuel, bashfully pursuing his humble quest, in apparent unconsciousness of the power slumbering within him of aspiring and attaining to the highest place; the great seer receives him in a way quite different from all that he could have hoped or feared. At the moment of their meeting the seer has come forth from his house on the way to the solitary sacred heights of Ramah, the city of his residence, where he sacrifices on the altar to Jahveh, or is wont to partake of a sacred sacrificial repast with some of his closest friends. He at once desires to take Saul also with him, telling him beforehand how unimportant was the immediate object of his inquiries, and that the matter was already settled; but that for him and his whole house was reserved a very different and far better destiny in Israel. And though Saul, in his unassuming simplicity, would fain waive the honour which is obscurely hinted (so little does he yet know his better self), the holy man, more discerning, takes him with him to the sacrificial meal, which is already prepared; nay, assigns him the place of honour among the thirty guests before invited, while he is served with a portion of the sacrificial meat, put by, as it were, specially for him: for in like manner a portion other and higher than that of ordinary men had been long reserved for him by heaven.”—Ewald.

Verse 15

(15) Had told Samuel in his ear.—Literally, had uncovered the ear of Samuel. The image is taken from the action of pushing aside the head-dress, in order the more conveniently to whisper some words to the ear. This is one of the few more direct intimations in the sacred records of one of the ways in which the Spirit of God communicated Divine thoughts to the human spirit. Here the Eternal Spirit is represented as whispering in the ear of man. “The true spirit of Jahveh (Jehovah), full of compassion, had already on the preceding day whispered to Samuel that for the deliverance of Janveh’s people . . . a Benjamite must be anointed king.”—Ewald.

Verse 16

(16) The Philistines.—This statement evidently points to the fact—of which, a little later, we have such ample evidence—that at this juncture the Philistines were again harassing the Israelite territory with their destructive raids. The power of the Philistines was broken, but by no means destroyed, in the great battle of Mizpeh. We know that all through King Saul’s reign, and in the early days of King David, these invasions were repeated with varying success. The statement of 1 Samuel 7:13 must be understood not as representing that the victory of Mizpeh once and for all destroyed the Philistine power, but that from that day the power of these determined enemies of Israel began to decline. The words of 1 Samuel 7:13 must be taken as including the ultimate result of the great Hebrew victory. It is clear that the annoyance of these Philistine raids and incursions were the immediate cause of the prayer for a king. The desire for this form of government, no doubt, for a very long while had existed among the people, but this pressing need for a younger and more warlike leader than their old prophet. judge prompted the request to Samuel.

Verse 17

(17) Behold the man.—This verse, it must be remembered, follows closely on 1 Samuel 9:14, the statements of 1 Samuel 9:15-16 being parenthetical. The young Saul and his servant came up to accost the seer on his way to the sacred height; Samuel, at once impressed by the great stature and splendid beauty of the stranger coming towards him, asks his Master silently, “Lord, is this then he of whom Thou whisperest me yesterday, to whom the destinies of Thy people were to be confided?” The words “Behold the man,” &c., were the silent answer of God to the silent prayer of His old servant.

Shall reign.—The word “shall reign,” which was whispered by the “Spirit” to the listening heart of the seer, should rather have been translated, “shall control,” or “shall restrain.” It was a word which—looking on to Saul’s future reign—represented it as a stern, severe rule.

Verse 18

(18) In the gate.—The LXX. (Greek Version) here reads, “in the midst of the city.” It is not improbable that this is the original reading, it being very possible for a scribe to write the Hebrew word “gate” for “city.”

Verse 19

(19) Go up before me unto the high place.—The desiring the young stranger to precede him to the public place of sacrifice was a sign of distinguished honour from one of Samuel’s rank to a young unknown wayfarer like Saul. These words of courteous respect were addressed to Saul alone: “Go thou up before me.” The prophet-judge then speaks to the two, Saul and his servant: “ye shall eat.” The verb here is in the plural, and invites both to the sacrificial banquet; and then again Samuel confines his words to Saul: “I will tell thee all”—“all that is in thine heart.” The seer informs him that on the morrow he proposes to make strange disclosures to this young man, who, all un knowing what lay before him, had just come up and accosted him, the aged judge and seer. Yes, he would on the morrow show this young Benjamite that he, Samuel, was indeed a seer; he would tell him all his secret thoughts and aspirations; as for those asses for whose fate he was so anxious, let him dismiss these from his thoughts altogether. They were already found. Far graver thoughts than the everyday weal and woe of a farm on Mount Ephraim had to be discussed on the morrow.

All the desire of Israel.—“All the desire of Israel,” or, as the Vulg. renders it, “optima quæque Israel,” “the best in Israel” (Luther). The words do not signify the desire of Israel—all that it desires—but all that it possesses of what is precious or worth desiring. The obscure dark words of the seer on this, the occasion of his first meeting with Saul, were intended to draw him away from thinking about the asses and the little matters which hitherto had filled his life, and to lift him up to higher thoughts and aspirations. The old seer’s words were vague and indefinite, certainly, but coming as they did from the lips of one so high in dignity, known to be the possessor of many a strange secret of futurity hid from the knowledge of mortal men, and holding out a prospect of undreamed of future glory for Saul, amazed the young man; and he, full of wonderment and awe, replied, “Speakest thou of such glories to me, a member of an unimportant family of the smallest of the tribes of Israel?”

Verse 22

(22) And Samuel took Saul.—The seer gave Saul no answer to this question, in which the young man’s wonderment was expressed that one so insignificant should be chosen for so high a destiny. Samuel merely wished, in the first instance, to awaken new and grander thoughts and aspirations in this young heart, and without reply he proceeded to conduct his guests to the scene of the sacrifice on the high place. In the guest-chamber, where thirty of the most distinguished persons present at the solemn sacrifice were assembled. Samuel places Saul and his companion, no doubt to their great surprise, in the principal seats. “The parlour” is an unfortunate rendering of the Hebrew word here, which signifies the “cell,” or “chamber” attached to the building on the high place, for such purposes as the present. These solemn sacrificial meals were the usual adjuncts of a solemn sacrifice.

Not only was Saul thus highly honoured in public as the future king, but his servant also. If, as tradition tells us, this servant was Doeg the Edomite, he, too, on this occasion had a foretaste of his future position, an earnest of the rank and power which he would receive when one of Saul’s great officers of state.

Verse 23

(23) And Samuel said unto the cook.—The meaning of this statement is simply this—all that took place in the meeting of the prophet and Saul at the sacrificial feast, and subsequently in Samuel’s house, was arranged for beforehand; every event was foreseen and provided for, even the trivial details—all was symbolical in this preparation for the great change in the constitution of Israel, which, under God’s providence, was fraught with such important consequences. The very piece of meat set before Samuel at the Ramah banquet was no chance piece, but one which, owing, no doubt, to its being considered the choicest, had been carefully set aside for him when the sacrificial feast was being prepared.

Verse 24

(24) And Samuel said.—There is an error here in the English translation which requires correction. Although the matter is not one of great moment, yet it is important and deeply interesting to notice the little details that the inspired historian has thought it right to preserve in connection with this whole transaction. There was, no doubt, a very early and authentic tradition of the circumstance of this anointing of the first king, which was, of course, often rehearsed in the sacred assemblies of Israel. “Samuel’s name is not given in the Hebrew, and though inserted by the LXX. and Vulg., it is so only by a manifest error. The Syriac and Chaldee, like the Hebrew, make the cook the speaker. The right translation is, And the cook lifted up the shoulder, with that which was upon it, and set it before Saul, and said, Behold that which hath been reserved is set (a participle, and not the imperative) before thee; eat, for it hath been kept for thee unto the appointed time, of which he (i.e., Samuel) spake, saying, I have invited the people. The word translated in the Authorised Version, “since I said,” is one which means saying, and nothing else; and as what goes before contains no verb to which saying can refer, it is plain that there is an ellipse. But if the cook be the speaker, the meaning is plain, as follows:—When, on the previous day, the revelation was made to Samuel that Israel’s future king would present himself on the morrow, the prophet at once made preparations to receive him with due solemnity, and for this purpose arranged a sacrifice, and invited thirty of the chief citizens of Ramah to assemble at the high place, and sit at the banquet with him. And then it was, when telling the cook of his invitation, that he gave orders that the portion of honour should be carefully reserved, to be set at the fitting time before the stranger. The chat of the cook is entirely after the manner of ancient times, and would show Saul how completely his coming had been foreseen and provided for.”—Dean Payne Smith, in Pulpit Comm.

Verse 25

(25) And when they were come down.—After the public sacrificial meal at which such signal honours had been shown to the Benjamite stranger and his servant, the prophet-judge detained Saul from continuing his journey homewards, and persuaded him to remain as his guest that night at Ramah. He conducted him to the flat roof of his house, often the favourite locality in the East for quiet conversation or rest, and where frequently the honoured guest was lodged for the night: there the prophet had a long interview with his young guest, The conversation that evening probably did not turn upon the royal dignity, so soon to be conferred on Saul; of that Samuel spoke at length, we know, on the following morning. The solemn words of the old man that evening on the house-top in “Ramah of the Watchers” referred, no doubt, to the sad religious and political decline of the people of God, from which he (Samuel) had laboured, not unsuccessfully, to rescue them, “to the opposition of the heathen nations, the causes of the impotency of Israel to oppose their enemies, the necessity of a religious change in the people, and of a leader thoroughly obedient to the Lord.”—Otto von Gerlach, quoted in Lange. It has been suggested that this conversation was the connecting link between that on the height (1 Samuel 9:19-20) and the communication which Samuel made to Saul the following morning. The LXX. reads here, instead of “communed with Saul on the top of the house,” “they strewed a couch for Saul on the top of the house, and he lay down.” But the Chaldee and Syriac Versions agree with the Hebrew text. The strange LXX. variation is apparently a correction. These Greek translators could not understand a conversation of the prophet and Saul taking place in the evening, when the announcement of the crown was made so formally on the following morning. Why did Samuel not tell Saul of God’s intention during that evening spent together?

Verse 26

(26) And they arose early.—The English translation of this verse is misleading. It should run thus “And they arose early, namely, when the morning dawned. Samuel called for Saul upon the roof, Get up, that I may send thee, &c.” The English rendering seems to suppose that they rose first, and afterwards, about the spring of the day (the morning dawn), Samuel called Saul—the fact being that, as is frequent in Hebrew narration, the second clause simply related the same event as the first clause had already done, only with greater detail. The sense then is obvious. Saul, evidently weary after the exciting scene and revelations of the day before, slept soundly, probably heavily, on his couch spread on the roof of the prophet’s house. From this roof-top Samuel calls Saul in the early morning, wishing to conduct him himself out of the city, as he had a yet more important communication to make to his amazed and awe-struck visitor.

Verse 27

(27) That I may shew thee the word of God.—The wonderment of Saul at the strange honour and distinction shown to him, a comparatively unknown Benjamite, by the famous prophet-judge, was, no doubt, increased by this proposal of Samuel to accompany him a little way on his journey homeward. The meaning of all that had happened to him on the day before was, however, now to be revealed: the gracious welcome as a distinguished guest evidently looked for, the courteous hospitality in the judge’s house; and, more than all, the long private instructions Samuel had given him in the evening on the state of Israel. The prophet now directs that the servant should be sent on alone, that he might in all solemn confidence impart to Saul “the word of God,” that is, all that the God of Israel had revealed to him, the seer, concerning Saul’s appointment.

It would have been interesting to have learned something of Saul’s state of mind when this startling revelation of the choice of God was first made to him.

The writer here is silent, but in the next chapter (1 Samuel 9:6) we read that the Spirit of the Lord was specially promised to this chosen one. When new duties are imposed by God, He never forgets to bestow the gift of new powers.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 9". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/1-samuel-9.html. 1905.
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