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CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—
1 Samuel 9:1. “Now, there was a man of Benjamin.” “The elaborate genealogy of the Benjamite Kish, and the minute description of the figure of his son Saul, are intended to indicate at the very outset the importance to which Saul attained in relation to the people of Israel. Kish was the son of Abiel: this is in harmony with 1 Samuel 14:51. But when, on the other hand, it is stated in 1 Chronicles 8:33; 1 Chronicles 9:39, that Ner begat Kish, the difference may be reconciled in the simplest manner, on the assumption that the Ner mentioned there is not the father, but the grandfather, or a still more remote ancestor of Kish, as the intervening members are frequently passed over in the genealogies (Kiel). “A mighty man of power,” rather, “a rich well-to-do man” (Erdmann).
1 Samuel 9:2. “Saul.” “Heb. Shäul; i.e., desired, asked for: his name was an omen of his history” (Wordsworth). “From his shoulders and upward.” “It is evident that he must have been only a little under seven feet high” (Jamieson). See also note on 1 Samuel 10:23.
1 Samuel 9:3. “The asses of Kish,” etc. The probability is that the family of Kish, according to the immemorial usage of Oriental shepherds in the purely pastoral regions, had let the animals roam at large during the grazing season, at the close of which messengers were dispatched in search of them. Such travelling searches are common; and as each owner has his stamp marked on his cattle, the mention of it to the shepherds he meets gradually leads to the discovery of the strayed animals. This ramble of Saul’s had nothing extraordinary in it, except its superior directions and issue, which turned its uncertainty into certainty” (Jamieson). “The superintendence of the cattle was anciently an occupation held in much esteem. It was regarded as the proper office of a son, and by no means implies the smallness of Kish’s possessions or his want of servants.… Among cattle in the East at all times, and especially ere horses were used for riding, asses were esteemed of much importance.… If such an incident now happened in Palestine, it would be at once concluded that the animals had been stolen, and it speaks well for the state of society in the times of Samuel, that this suspicion never crossed the mind of Saul or his father” (Kitto).
1 Samuel 9:4. “And as he passed through Mount Ephraim,” etc. “As Saul started in any case from Gibeah of Benjamin, his own home (1 Samuel 10:10-26, etc.), i.e. the present Tuliel el Phul, which was an hour or an hour and a half to the north of Jerusalem, and went thence into the mountains of Ephraim, he no doubt took a north-westerly direction, so that he crossed the boundary of Benjamin somewhere between Bireh and Atarah, and passing through the crest of the mountains of Ephraim, came out into the land of Shalisha. Shalisha is unquestionably the country round Baal-shalisha (2 Kings 4:42), which was situated, according to Eusebius, fifteen Roman miles to the north of Lydda, and was therefore probably the country to the west of Jiljilia, where three different wadys run into one large wady, called Kurawa; and according to the probable conjecture of Thenius, it was from this fact that the district received the name of Shalisha, or Three-land.… Since they went on from Shaalim into the land of Benjamin, and then still further into the land of Zuph, on the south-west of Benjamin, they probably turned eastwards from Shalishah into the country where we find Beni Mussah and Beni Salem marked upon. Robinson’s and V. de Velde’s maps, and where we must therefore look for the land of Shaalim, that they might proceed thence to explore the land of Benjamin from the north-east to the south-west.” (Keil).
1 Samuel 9:5. “Land of Zuph.” Nothing is certainly known of the land of Zuph, but “we may infer with certainty that it was on the south-west of the tribe-territory of Benjamin, from the fact that, according to 1 Samuel 10:2, Saul and his companion passed Rachel’s tomb on their return thence to their own home, and then came to the border of Benjamin.” (Keil).
1 Samuel 9:6. “This city.” Some commentators suppose that this city was Ramah, Samuel’s residence; but Keil, Jamieson, Wordsworth, and others, consider that several circumstances are against this supposition, especially the mention of Rachel’s sepulchre in 1 Samuel 10:2. “Peradventure he can show us our way,” etc. “We may fancy that the man and his master either entertained a very high sense of the importance of their asses, or a very low one of the prophetic office; but the man would scarcely have reached this conclusion unless it were notorious that Samuel had often been consulted respecting things lost or stolen. We may therefore infer that, at the commencement of the prophetic office in the person of Samuel, it was usual, in order to encourage confidence in their higher vaticinations, and to prevent that dangerous resort to heathen divinations, for the prophets to afford counsel when required in matters of private concernment.” (Kitto).
1 Samuel 9:7. “What shall we bring the man?” “Then, as now in the East, it would have been the height of rudeness and indecorum for anyone to present himself before a superior or even an equal, without some present, more or less, according to his degree, not by any means as a fee or a bribe, but in testimony of his homage, respect, or compliments” (Kitto). “This does not exclude the supposition that the prophets depended for support on these voluntary gifts.” (Erdmann).
1 Samuel 9:8. “Fourth part of shekel of silver.” “Rather more than sixpence. Contrary to our western notions, money is in the East the most acceptable form in which a present can be made to a man of rank.” (Jamieson).
1 Samuel 9:9. “These words are manifestly a gloss inserted in the older narrative to explain the use of the term Seer. One among many instances which prove how the very letter of the contemporary narrative was preserved by those who in later times compiled the histories.” (Biblical Commentary). “Prophet” “Seer.” “There has been much discussion as to the distinction between these two words; and it is not easy to decide the question, for in some passages, as here, they appear to be used synonymously, or as applied to the same individuals, whereas in others they are contrasted (1 Chronicles 29:29; Isaiah 29:10; Isaiah 30:10). The first, from the verb to see, sufficiently shows that the power of the person arose from mental vision. The second, from a verb to bubble up, as a spring or fountain, signifies that the message which the Nabi (prophet) delivered was derived from God; and hence it is always rendered a “prophet.” Accordingly Havernick (Introduction to the Old Testament) considers the first term as marking the receptive act of revelation, and the second as describing the office of the prophets—that of communicating the word of God. Hence, after the institution of the schools by Samuel, it became the official title of the prophets; and the two functions were united in, or performed by the same person.” (Jamieson). “This statement has special interest in connection with the history of the prophetic work in Israel.… The change of name from Roeh (seer) to Nabi (prophet) and Chozeh (gazer) had its ground probably in the development of the religious constitution. Up to some time before the author of “Samuel” wrote, the non-sacerdotal, non-Levitical religious teacher was one distinguished by seeing visions, or by seeing into the will of God. This is God’s definition of the prophet in Numbers 12:6; it is involved in 1 Samuel 3:1; 1 Samuel 3:15, and in the visions of the patriarchs. The Law of Moses was the complete and sufficient guide for life and worship, and it was only in special individual matters that the divine direction was given, and then it was through the medium of a vision. He who saw the vision was a Roeh, and it was natural enough that he should be consulted by the people about many matters. But in process of time the mechanicalness and deadness to which the legal ritual constantly tended called forth an order of men who expounded and enforced the spirituality of the law, speaking as God bade them, speaking for God, entering as a prominent element into the religious life of the nation. He who thus spake was a Nabi, and as he, too, might have visions, he was sometimes called Chozeh the gazer.… As this speaker for God gradually took the place of the old seer of visions, the word Nabi replaced Roeh in popular usage. It seems that the change began in or about Samuel’s time, and was completed about three centuries later, Roeh still maintaining itself in the language, though rarely used. On the other hand, Nabi may have been used infrequently in early times in reference to Abraham and Moses, and have become afterwards the common term, or the occurrence of the word in the Pentateuch may be the transference of a late word to earlier times.” (Transr. of Lange’s Commentary).
1 Samuel 9:12. “High place.” Of such “Bamoth,” or holy places on heights, where the people assembled for sacrifice and prayer, there were several during the unquiet times of the judges, especially after the central Sanctuary at Shiloh ceased to exist, till the building of the Temple (comp. 1 Samuel 7:9; 1 Samuel 10:8; 1 Samuel 13:8; 1 Samuel 16:2, etc.), as, indeed, the patriarchs sacrificed on high places (Genesis 12:8). It was not till after the building of the Temple that the high-place worship, which easily degenerated into idolatry, was completely done away with” (2 Kings 23:4-23) (Erdmann).
1 Samuel 9:13. “To eat.” This was a sacrificial feast following a peace offering.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 9:1-14
SAUL’S SEARCH FOR THE LOST ASSES
I. This narrative reveals the action of the natural and the supernatural in the Divine Providence. There is no part of the globe on which we live that is not under the influence of the sun—the centre of the solar system. If there are caves and valleys where no sunshine can enter, the daylight finds its way into them, or if they are closed against the light, they are still influenced by the sun’s gravitating power, for there is no particle of the globe that is hid from this hold of the sun upon it. And as surely as there is an all-pervading influence from the sun upon the entire material globe, so there is a providence from which no creature of God is shut out—there is no thing nor person upon whom His providence has not a hold. Each blade of grass is fed with its drop of dew under the supervision of its Creator—the lilies are each clothed by His hand, and He notes each sparrow that falls to the ground as well as the downfall of the mightiest monarch. When we read the narrative before us we can but be impressed with the fact that there is a providence ruling in the earth. But the Providence of God embraces both natural and supernatural agencies. There are incidents in human life which appear to us to be the natural outcome of ordinary circumstances, and some such incidents are related in this narrative. No farmer would think it a marvel if his cattle strayed beyond the boundaries of home nor would a fisherman be surprised if his boat now and then slipped its cable and drifted a little way from its anchorage. If the child of some fond parent is lost in the great city no one thinks that it is a supernatural occurrence. Although the cattle do not stray without God’s knowledge, and no boat that slips from its anchorage, or child that wanders from its home, is outside His providence, yet these are all events which happen within the circle of His ordinary and every-day working and permission. And so it was an occurrence inside God’s ordinary providence that the father of Israel’s king-elect should lose his asses. Although they were not lost without the Divine knowledge, and there was an intention that their loss should be the first link in a chain which included supernatural elements, the event itself was a common occurrence. But God intended that a great finding should come out of a comparatively insignificant loss. The straying of the asses was linked with the revelation to Samuel, and this last event was of a supernatural character. The first link of a chain-cable is a long way from the last, but they are intimately connected, and form parts of one whole. The one may be above the water, and in sight, and the other next to the anchor in the bed of the river, but they are both parts of the same chain. So the supernatural revelation to Samuel was the link out of sight, and in the region of the higher law of God’s working, and the loss of the asses was the visible link in the lower law, but the one was as much a part of the chain which brought Saul to his kingdom as the other was. Thus the natural and supernatural are interlaced in the Providence of God to bring to pass His purposes, as the soul and body of a man are linked together in order to enable him to live his life upon the earth.
II. The narrative reveals to us some of the characteristics of the first king of Israel.
1. His personal appearance was a reflection of the nation’s desire. When we see a man’s ideal we know what it is that he considers of most value, his ideal is a mirror which tells us what he regards as of highest worth. If a nation is free to elect its own representatives, we can learn what qualities or gifts in men it esteems most highly by becoming acquainted with those whom it has chosen. Although Israel did not choose their own king, God gave them one who was a mirror of their minds—one who revealed what they held in highest esteem. They did not want a man like Samuel—a man of moral and spiritual force whose prayer was more invincible than Saul’s sword. They desired a king unlike God, one whom they could see when they went forth to battle, and who would at least impress their enemies by a commanding bodily presence. And God gave them their hearts’ desire in this “goodly young man, who, so far as stature went, was “higher than any of the people.”
2. Saul had also some good points in his character. He was a man who honoured his father. Kish said to Saul his son, “Take now one of the servants with thee, and arise, go seek the asses,” and he appears to have obeyed without demur. Obedience to human parents, when they do not require anything wrong, is pleasing to God and an indication of some moral excellence under any circumstances. But the obedience is more praiseworthy when the child has arrived at manhood, and still more so if the man is qualified for higher employment, and yet sinks his own will in that of his parent, and performs some lowly duty in obedience to his desire. Saul, though a grown man, and evidently fitted for a more dignified employment, goes willingly to seek lost asses in obedience to his father’s desire, and thus shows that he possesses a truly filial spirit. He was “faithful in that which was least” (Luke 16:10). He was also evidently desirous to spare no pains to carry out his father’s wishes. He pursued his journey from place to place over many weary miles, until all the provisions and nearly all the money with which he and his servant had set out were exhausted (1 Samuel 9:7-8). He did not content himself with such a search as might have contented many men and have fulfilled the letter of his father’s injunction, he was intent upon obeying the spirit of it also, and only thought of giving up the search when he knew his lengthened absence would cause anxiety at home. In this, too, he showed himself as mindful of his father’s feelings, and as unwilling to give him trouble, as he was ready to obey him. Many a young man, when he had once set out upon such a journey, would have consulted his own fancy and his own ease in his return, but Saul was of a better sort. His willingness to be advised by his servant is also an indication that he was not a haughty, proud young man—that he did not look upon those who were beneath him in station as necessarily inferior to him in wisdom. All that we read of Saul in this chapter is indicative of a good natural disposition.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
1 Samuel 9:1-14. The first test to which God subjects His servant. It embraces two main points.
(1). Whether with certain natural talents and advantages which God has given us he will in humility and quiet obedience do the work enjoined upon him.
(2). Whether when his work proves useless he will seek help from the seer of God. The Most High God appoints a testing for His servant Saul, and so whoever is summoned to the service of God knows that for him also there must be a testing.—Disselhoff.
1 Samuel 9:1-2. Samuel is the chief figure of the transitional period which opens the history of the monarchy. But there is another upon whom the character of the epoch is impressed still more strongly—who belongs to this period especially, and could belong to no other. Saul is the first king of Israel. In him that new and strange idea became impersonated. In him we feel that we have made a marked advance in the history from the patriarch and nomadic state, which concerns us mainly by its contrast with our own, to that fixed and settled state which has more or less pervaded the whole condition of the Church ever since. But, although in outward form Saul belonged to the new epoch, although even in spirit he from time to time threw himself into it, yet on the whole he is a product of the earlier condition. Whilst Samuel’s existence comprehends and overlaps both periods in the calmness of a higher elevation, the career of Saul derives its peculiar interest from the fact that it is the eddy in in which both streams converge. In that vortex he struggles—the centre of events and persons greater than himself; and in that struggle he is borne down and lost.… He is, we may say, the first character of Jewish history which we are able to trace out in any minuteness of detail. He is the first with regard to whom we can make out that whole connection of a large family—father, uncle, cousins, sons, grandsons—which, as a modern historian (Palgrave) well observes, is so important in making us feel that we have acquired a real acquaintance with any personage of past times.—Stanley.
1 Samuel 9:2. Saul was mighty in person, overlooking the rest of the people in stature, no less than he should do in dignity. The senses of the Israelites could not but be well pleased for the time, howsoever their hearts were afterward: when men are carried with outward shows, it is a sign that God means them a delusion.—Bishop Hall.
1 Samuel 9:3-4. Since, from God’s concealment of the future, we cannot tell what He may intend to do with us and by us, it is our duty to hold ourselves in readiness to undertake any service which He may require us to render, to enter upon any position He may call upon us to fill. When we see Saul taken from the quiet discharge of the common duties of life, and placed upon the throne of Israel, we see the truth set forth—in an extreme case we admit, but therefore only the more impressively—that it is utterly impossible for us to predict what God may have in store for us. Of all the possible or probable events which might have happened to Saul, that of becoming king would most certainly have been set down by himself as least likely to occur.… And it would not be difficult for us to fix on positions and duties, respecting which, if a fellow-creature were to intimate even the most distant prospect of their ever forming part of our personal history, we should have our reply ready at once, that it was as little likely as that we should be called to fill the throne of these realms. Yet these may be actually in store for us.… But there are certain qualifications which are requisite alike for all positions, and which render us, in a good measure, ready for any service. Such, for instance, are diligence and fidelity in meeting the claims of our present condition, whatever it may be.—Miller.
1 Samuel 9:6. Most people would rather be told their fortune than told their duty; how to be rich than how to be saved. If it were the business of men of God to direct for the recovery of lost asses, they would be consulted much more than they are, now that it is their business to direct for the recovery of lost souls.—Matt. Henry.
Great is the benefit of a wise and religious attendant; such a one puts us into those duties and actions which are most expedient and least thought of. If Saul had not had a discreet servant he had returned but as wise as he came; now he is drawn in to consult with the man of God, and hears more than he hoped for. Saul was now a sufficient journey from his father’s house; yet his religious servant, in this remoteness, takes knowledge of the place where the prophet dwells, and how honourably doth he mention him to his master.
1 Samuel 9:12-13. This meeting was not more a sacrifice than it was a feast; these two agree well; we have never so much cause to rejoice in feasting as when we have duly served our God. The sacrifice was a feast to God, the other to men; the body may eat and drink with contentment when the soul hath been first fed.… The sacrifice was before consecrated when it was offered to God, but it was not consecrated to them till Samuel blessed it; his blessing made that meat holy to the guests which was formerly hallowed to God.… It is an unmannerly godlessness to take God’s creatures without the leave of their Maker, and well may God withhold his blessing from them which have not the grace to ask it.… Every Christian may sanctify his own meat; but where those are present that are peculiarly sanctified to God, this service is fittest for them.—Bp. Hall.
CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—
1 Samuel 9:15. “Told Samuel to his ear.” lit., had uncovered his ear. See on 1 Samuel 3:7.
1 Samuel 9:16-17. “The reason here assigned for the establishment of a monarchy is by no means at variance with the displeasure which God had expressed to Samuel at the desire of the people for a king; since this displeasure had reference to the state of heart from which the desire had sprung.” (Keil).
1 Samuel 9:17. “This same shall reign,” literally shall restrain. “This characteristises his government as a sharp and strict one.” (Erdmann).
1 Samuel 9:19. “Go up before me.” “Letting a person go in front was a sign of high esteem.” (Keil).
1 Samuel 9:20. “On whom is all the desire of Israel,” not all that Israel desires, but all that Israel possesses of what is precious or worth desiring. See Haggai 2:7 (Keil).
1 Samuel 9:21. “The smallest of the tribes,” etc. “The tribe of Benjamin, originally the smallest of all the tribes (Numbers 1:0), if Ephraim and Manasseh are reckoned as one tribe, had been nearly annihilated by the civil war recorded in Judges 20:0. It had, of course, not recovered from that calamity in the time of Samuel.” (Biblical Commentary).
1 Samuel 9:22. “He brought them into the parlour,” i.e., the apartment set apart for the most distinguished guests, the rest of the people no doubt encamped in the open air.
1 Samuel 9:24. “The shoulder.” “If it was the right shoulder, then Samuel, to whose share it fell, as performing the functions of priest (Leviticus 7:32), gave Saul of his own portion; or, if it were the left shoulder, then he admitted Saul to the next share after his own.” (Wordsworth).
1 Samuel 9:25. “Upon the top of the house.” “Not surely for privacy, as some expound it, for the house-top was the proverbial expression for publicity (Isaiah 15:3; Luke 12:3), but in order to let all the people of the city see the honour done to the stranger by the great prophet.” (Biblical Commentary).
1 Samuel 9:26. “Samuel called Saul from the top of the house,” rather to the top of the house. Saul was most likely sleeping on the roof, a common sleeping place in summer in the East, and Samuel called to him from below within the house.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Samuel 9:15-27
THE ANNOUNCEMENT TO SAUL OF THE DESTINY THAT AWAITED HIM.
I. God has respect to the freedom of the human will. Although God had decided that Saul should be king of Israel, He would not do violence to his will, and oblige him to take the office against his inclination. All the dealings of Samuel with Saul on the occasion of this their first meeting were designed to impress him with the fact that great honour and responsibility were in store for him, and to lead him to acquiesce in the will of God concerning him. He was led gradually to accept as true the startling announcement with which Samuel greeted him, that upon him and upon his father’s house was all the desire of Israel. Little by little the reality must have dawned upon him, and little by little, we may suppose, he was made willing to fall in with the Divine plan concerning him. We can well understand how far from his thoughts it was that, in seeking his father’s asses, he should find a crown, and how inclined he would be to think that the prophet was mistaken when he intimated that some great promotion was in store for him. But when he found himself in the place of honour at the table of the chief magistrate of Israel, he must have begun to think that some great change awaited him, and it is probable that any lingering doubts were banished, and all his future made plain to him in the private communion which Samuel held with him on the following morning. In all these dealings with Saul we see how God has regard to the human will, which He has made free.
II. In the reception which Samuel gave to Saul we have an instance of true humility. Hitherto Samuel had been the first man in Israel; to him had belonged, and to him had been accorded the place of highest honour, and the choicest viands on the occasions of public assembly, but now he, although an aged man, not only willingly gives way to the young man who is in some things to take his place, but is the person who informs him of his call to the throne, and is the first to do him honour. No man could have acquitted himself with such grace and dignity under such circumstances, if he had not been possessed by the spirit of true humility.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
1 Samuel 9:15; 1 Samuel 9:27. The history of Saul’s call brings before our eyes three points:
(1) What an abundant blessing there is for obedience—the call to the service of God.
(2) What a great danger lies hid in this blessing—idle self-exaltation because of this call.
(3) To what a blessed stillness the danger leads when overcome—to preparation for the calling.—Disselhoff.
1 Samuel 9:17. What an intimate communion Samuel must have held with his God! A constant familiarity seems to have existed between them.—A. Clarke.
1 Samuel 9:22. How kindly doth Samuel entertain and invite Saul! Yet it was he only that should receive wrong by the future royalty of Saul.… Wise and holy men, as they are not ambitious of their own burden, so they are not unwilling to be eased, when God pleaseth to discharge them; neither can they envy those whom God lifteth above their heads. They make an idol of honour that are troubled at their own freedom, or grudge at the promotion of others.—Bp. Hall.
The heads of the tribes accompanied Samuel to the altar, and then sat around his board. The chief of the government was godly in both alike, and he could hold the sweetest fellowship with those who were officially his inferiors in the land. He lost not the respect of the people for his piety by his conduct at table, nor did the majesty of law provoke contempt by the familiarity of judge with people.—Steel.
1 Samuel 9:26-27. Saul must wait patiently until God shall bring him out of concealment and make it manifest who he was. So should we also, if God has lent us gifts and wishes them to remain concealed with us, not be displeased at the fact that they are not recognised, but quietly wait until the Lord Himself, as it seemeth Him good, carries further the matter that He has begun.—Berlenberger Bible.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 9". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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