Case Study in Providence

I Samuel 9

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
July 2020

The one doctrine that many people, including many Christians, have trouble accepting is the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.  The Bible teaches that God works all things out according to the purpose of his will, but this doctrine raises all kinds of questions.

Is God sovereign over our free will?  Is God sovereign over everything?  Is He sovereign over the big things in your life, like world wars and worldwide pandemics (COVID-19)?

Is He sovereign over little things?  Is He sovereign over the petty, little, mundane things of your life, like when you lose or misplace something?  Could God possibly be involved in that?

Is He sovereign over your problems?  We all have different problems.  Is He sovereign over our problems?  Is He sovereign over Satan?  Satan is described in the Bible as “the god of this world.”  Is God sovereign over Satan?

The answer to all of these questions is Yes.  We all have free will, but our free will does not cancel out God’s sovereignty.  He is sovereign over our problems.  He is even sovereign over our sins. Joseph’s own brothers sold him into slavery.  They did something terrible, but God was sovereign over their action.  He used their evil action to get Joseph to Egypt.  That was part of His plan.  He brought good out of evil.

In the last chapter, we saw how Israel asked for a king.  It was not a good request.  It was a bad one.  They did not want God ruling over them.  Even though their motives were not right, God was sovereign over their request.  He brought good out of it.  He brought the Messiah out of it, who was born a king.  Jesus is a David King.  Even though the request was wrong, it was part of God’s plan.

God is even is sovereign when people reject Him.  He is sovereign even when people do not get what is best for them.  He is sovereign even when people get second-best.

Today we come to a great chapter that illustrates the sovereignty of God.  We will see that clearly here.  It gives us a case study in divine providence.  We are going to look at how God worked in Saul’s life and what He did in Saul’s life, He does in our life but first we need to do some quick review.

In the last chapter, the nation is dissatisfied.  They are dissatisfied with their leaders.  They are dissatisfied with their government.  They are dissatisfied with God and they wanted a change.

They came to Samuel’s house. Knocked on his door and said, “Sam, you are old.  It is time for you to step aside.  We do not want you ruling.  We do not want your sons ruling us anymore.  In fact, we do not want a judge.  We want a king.”  Why did they want a king?  Peer pressure. They wanted to be like everyone else.

Samuel goes to God and says, “What do I tell them?”  God says, “Give them exactly what they want but warn them.”  So Samuel says to them, “You can have a king but this king will cost you.  He will take away your freedom.  You will be slaves to this king.”  They said, “We don’t care.  We still want one.”

In I Samuel 9, we find who the first Jewish king will be.  His name in English is Saul.  In Hebrew, his name is shah-ool (which means “asked.”)  The first part of the book was all about Samuel.  The second part of the book is all about Saul.  The book ends with his death.  If you know the Bible, you know that there is another very important man named Saul in Scripture.  The other one is found in the NT.  There are two Sauls in the Bible.  They actually have many similarities.

The Tale of Two Saul’s

1. Both were Jews

In fact, both were from the same tribe.  Saul was from the Tribe of Benjamin (I Samuel 9:1-2, 21) and so was Paul (Romans 11:1; Philippians 3:5).

2. Both were leaders

Both were leaders of God’s people.  One was a political leader and one was a religious leader.

3. Both were called by God

Both were called to do great things.  Paul was called to be an apostle.  Saul was called by God to be king.   Saul is called in I Samuel 9.  Paul is called in Acts 9.

4. Both were supernaturally empowered

Both men were supernaturally empowered for service at the beginning of their ministry. The Spirit of God came powerfully on Saul (I Samuel 10:10). The Apostle Paul was filled with the Spirit as soon as he got saved (Acts 9:17).

5. Both tried to kill God’s people

The OT Saul killed some priests.  He tried to kill King David many times.  The NT Saul killed some Christians.

6. Both went through radical changes

Both went through radical changes, some for the better and some for the worse.  One Saul started off good and ended up bad and the other Saul started off bad and ended up good.  One ends up dying a martyr.  The other commits suicide.

Providence in Saul’s Life

God promised the Jews a king.  In this chapter, Samuel finds out who will be king.  He meets Saul.  He has dinner with him.  He gives him the chief seat in the meal.  He gives him the best food.  He invited him to his house and secretly he tells him that he will be king.

Samuel was a prophet but he did not know everything.  This is interesting.  Samuel told the people that they could have a king but did not tell them who it would be.  Even Samuel did not know who it would be.  Then God gave Samuel a revelation.  He said, “In twenty-four hours, you will meet the king.”  He still did not know who he was.  He had never met him.  About twenty-four hours later, he saw a man walking toward him about and God told Samuel, “That’s the man.”

How did these two men meet?  They never met before.  They never knew each other.  What brought them together?  They had a divine appointment to meet.  This is where it gets very interesting.   They met by divine providence.  They met by a rather strange set of circumstances.

God used some lost animals to arrange this meeting.  He used some stubborn donkeys to accomplish this purpose. He used a personal problem to accomplish this purpose.  He used a financial loss to accomplish it.  When you think about it, they would never have met unless several things just happened to take place.

Ten Surprising Things God Was In

1. Saul’s dad just happened to lose something important to him.

Now the donkeys belonging to Saul’s father Kish were lost (I Samuel 9:3 NIV).  Some donkeys ran off and they were valuable.  This was not like losing your shoes or your belt. These donkeys were like cars.  If he did not lose these donkeys, the two would have never met.  God was in their misfortune.  He was in their personal tragedy.  He was in their LOSS.

2. Kish just happened to send Saul to look for it and he agreed to go (I Samuel 9:3).

Those two points were crucial.  If Kish sent someone else or if Saul refused to go, he would not have met Samuel.  God was in Saul’s MISSION.

3. Kish just happened to send a servant with him to look for them.

Saul’s dad said, “Take one of the servants with you and go and look for the donkeys.” (I Samuel 9:3 NIV).  If the servant was not sent or a different servant went on the mission, Saul would never have met Samuel.  Saul would never have found Samuel without this particular servant.

This servant knew all about Samuel.  He knew that he was a man of God.  He knew that he was highly respected.  He knew that everything he said came true and he knew where he lived (I Samuel 9:6).  God was in Saul’s HELP.

4. The two men just happened to not find the donkeys.

Donkeys are big animals.  More than one of them were lost but they could not find them (I Samuel 9:4).  If they found them, Saul would NOT have met Samuel. God was in their lack of success. God was in Saul’s FAILURE.

5. When they could not find the donkeys, they just happened to keep looking.

So he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and through the area around Shalisha, but they did not find them. They went on into the district of Shaalim, but the donkeys were not there. Then he passed through the territory of Benjamin, but they did not find them. (I Samuel 9:4 NIV)

They looked for three days.  That is important.  If they gave up looking after one day, they would not have ended up in Samuel’s city.  God was in their PERSISTENCE.

6. They just happened to try one last thing to find them.

When they reached the district of Zuph, Saul said to the servant who was with him, “Come, let’s go back, or my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us.” 6 But the servant replied, “Look, in this town there is a man of God; he is highly respected, and everything he says comes true. Let’s go there now. Perhaps he will tell us what way to take.” (I Samuel 9:5-6 NIV)

The servant has one more suggestion and Saul agrees to try it.  If the servant did not suggest this or if Saul said, “No,” he would not have met Samuel.  God was in the LAST STRAW.

7. Saul’s servant just happened to have one silver coin in his pocket.

Saul said to his servant, “If we go, what can we give the man? The food in our sacks is gone. We have no gift to take to the man of God. What do we have?” 8 The servant answered him again. “Look,” he said, “I have a quarter of a shekel of silver. I will give it to the man of God so that he will tell us what way to take.” (I Samuel 9:7-8 NIV)

The servant had one last suggestion before they went home and that was to ask Samuel if he knew where they were, but Saul had an objection.  He said that they did not have any money to give him.  Why did he want to give him money?  OT Prophets were supported by personal gifts and donations (I Kings 14:1-3; Ezekiel 13:19).

The servant just happened to have a coin in his pocket.  If the servant did not have that coin, they may not have met. God was in their POCKET CHANGE.

8. The Prophet Samuel just happened to be in town that day.

We are told that in I Samuel 9:12. If they were there they day before, they would not have found it.  They just happened to be there on the right day. It just so happened that Samuel was in town that day and it just so happened that they happened to meet him in the street.  If they came to the city a day earlier or came into town an hour later, they would NOT have met Samuel.  God was in their TIMING.

9. The two men just happened to meet some people who knew Samuel’s exact location in the city.

11 As they were going up the hill to the town, they met some young women coming out to draw water, and they asked them, “Is the seer here?” 12 “He is,” they answered. (I Samuel 9:11-12 NIV)

When Saul and this servant climb up a hill, they encounter some young women out to draw water.  They ask them about Samuel and they knew all about him.  If they did not meet them, the outcome may have been different.  God was in their CHANCE ENCOUNTER with complete strangers.

10. The Prophet Samuel just happened to know what happened to their donkeys.

Samuel had never met Saul or his donkeys and yet he was able to help them.  He not only had the answer; he gave them the answer BEFORE they asked him the question (I Samuel 9:20). He got the answer by divine revelation.  Samuel had a Word of Knowledge.

What could have happened is that Saul spends three days trying to find the animals and finally finds Samuel who says to him, “I have no idea where your donkeys are.  God has not spoken to me.  Keeping looking.  Depart.  Be warm and filled.” but he did not say that.  God was in this MYSTERIOUS REVELATION.

There is incredible irony in this story.  Saul and his servant went looking for some lost donkeys.  They never found the donkeys but found a prophet instead. Have you ever lost something, spent time looking for it and you never find it but you find something else instead?  Saul went looking for something small and found something big.  He went looking for donkeys and found kingship instead.

God used the lost donkeys to bring Saul to Samuel. People might say that this was all chance.  It was all coincidence.  It was an accident, but this was more than chance.  It was divine providence at work.  God works through divine providence.  God often works through the ordinary circumstances of life.  He used straying donkeys to bring about this meeting between the two men.  God worked providentially to bring Saul to Samuel, and He works providentially in our lives as well.

Providence in My Life

God has worked providentially in my own life.  I would never have met my wife unless several things took place.

It just so happened that Anne and I lived in the same city in the 1980s.

It just so happened that we both went to the same church in that city

It just so happened that we both went to the same university.

It just so happened that my dad was a music professor at this school.

It just so happened that she was a music major in this school

It just so happened that we broke up many times.  She kept breaking up with me.

It just so happened that I chose to go to get as master’s degree in religious studies from Western Kentucky University, a school she told me not to attend because it was a secular university.

It just so happened that because I went to that school, we ended getting back together and getting married.  One of the professors at that school was a godly man, William L. Lane, who gave us some counseling and eventually performed our wedding.

Saul Character Study

Before we leave this chapter, we need to do a quick character study on Saul.  Saul is the first king.  What do we know about Saul from this chapter?  What type of person is he?  We see four things about Saul from this chapter.

1) Saul’s FINANCIAL state

There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bekorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. 2 Kish had a son named Saul (I Samuel 9:1-2 NIV)

Saul was rich.  He had some money.  His family was not poor.  They were wealthy.  He owned land.  He owned slaves.  He owned donkeys and donkeys were like cars in our day. They were modes of transportation and cargo.   His dad was wealthy.  He was prominent.  He was influential in the community.

2) Saul’s PHYSICAL state

2 Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else. (I Samuel 9:2 NIV)

He was also physically impressive.  He looked great on the outside.  He looked like Mr. America or as they would have said “Mr. Israel.”  He was tall.  In fact, he was the only Israelite in the Bible said to be tall.  He would have made a great basketball player.  He would have been the Jewish Yao Ming.  No one would have been able to get the rebound.  He was head and shoulders taller than everyone else.

He was physically intimidating.  He was also good-looking.  He was tall, dark, handsome and wealthy.  We gravitate to good-looking people.  We judge things by how they look on the outside.  We judge by outward appearances.  That is what really impresses us.  That is what most look for in a spouse before anything else.

That is what many look for in a leader.  We always vote for someone who looks presidential.  We would never vote for someone that does not look like what we think a president should look like.  If we can’t picture them in the office because of how they look, we rule that person out.  Saul looked like a king.  He was every inch a king (to use the language of Shakespeare).

3) Saul’s MORAL state

When most of us think of King Saul, we think of an evil king who was psychotic and demonized.  He ordered the execution of some priests.  That is like killing a bunch of pastors today.   He tried to kill his own son-in-law David many times.

When we think of Saul today, we think of someone who sought out witches. He visited what we would call today a psychic to communicate with the dead in direct violation of God’s Word.   What type of character do we see in this chapter?  We see a lot of very good traits.

  • He was OBEDIENT. When his father told him to do something, he did it.  He did not argue with his dad or say, “Send someone else.  I am busy.”  He just went.
  • He was HARDWORKING. He tried hard to find these lost animals.  He was not lazy.  He went to several different cities looking for the animals.
  • He was PERSISTENT. He looked for a long time.  He looked for three days for these animals.  He could have gone back after the first day and said, “We tried to find them but we were not successful.”  He did not give up easy.
  • He was CONSIDERATE. He is out looking for his father’s lost donkeys, not his own lost donkeys.  He wanted to get back home because he knew his father would be worrying about him (I Samuel 9:5).
  • He was FAIR. He believed that if a man worked for you or provided a service that you should pay him.  You should compensate that person.   Saul wanted to give the prophet something for his services (I Samuel 9:7).  He was willing to do this even if it meant going hungry.  Their food was gone but they were willing to give their last coin to Samuel (I Samuel 9:7-8).
  • He was HUMBLE. He was so humble that even willing to take advice from a servant, who was lower in rank than he was.  When Samuel told him that he would be king, he said that he was just from the small tribe of Benjamin (I Samuel 9:21).  He came from a prominent family in Benjamin, but he was still humble.  He was so humble that when he went home, he did not tell anyone that he was even anointed king (I Samuel 10:13-16).

Saul started out great.  He didn’t do anything wrong in this chapter.  Everything he did was right.  Had Saul remained like this he would have been a good king.  Saul had a lot of potential, but Saul changed.  After he becomes king and gets power, he changed.  Power often corrupts people.

What is the lesson?  Good beginnings do not guarantee good endings.  Don’t judge by how things start.  Judge by how they end.

Many people start out great.  They make a profession of faith but in a few years, do not even know if they still believe in God.

Many churches start out great.  They are on fire but end up lethargic and lukewarm.  Some end up completely dead.

Many Christians schools started out great but did not end great.  They end liberal and apostate.

Many marriages start out great.  There is love and passion but a few years later, the two can’t stand each other.

4) Saul’s SPIRITUAL state

Saul had a lot of positive traits, but he was not a spiritual man.  The people didn’t want a spiritual king.  They did not want some great prayer warrior.  That was Samuel.  They wanted a worldly king and they got exactly what they wanted.  Saul was not a spiritual man.  How do we know?

First, he has a big crisis and yet never once is seen praying in his crisis.  Saul spends three days looking for his dad’s lost donkeys.  He looks everywhere.  Not once are we told that he prayed to ask God where they were.  He was not a man of prayer.

Second, he didn’t seem to know who the Prophet Samuel was.  Saul was from the Tribe of Benjamin, which was where Samuel lived.  Saul did not know where Samuel lived or who he was.  His servant had to tell him.

When Saul finally talked to Samuel, he did not know who he was (I Samuel 9:18-19).  That is strange because everyone in the country knew about him (I Samuel 3:20).  He was the most famous man in Israel.  He was the greatest prophet alive and he lived nearby to Saul and yet Saul did not seem to know much about him.

Third, he had no reputation for spirituality.  When the Holy Spirit finally fell on Saul and he began prophesying, people who knew him said, “What happened to Saul?  What is he doing prophesying?  When did he get religion? What is he doing in church?” (I Samuel 10:9-11).  It shows that this was completely out of character for Saul.

Fourth, he just happened to be from Gibeah.  That is where he lived in Gibeah (I Samuel 10:26).  It is where he will set up his capital.  That was like saying that he lived in Sodom.  Gibeah was the place where the worst atrocity in the history of the nation was committed.

It was the place where a woman was raped to death (Judges 20:4-6).  This woman was not only gang raped and murdered but her body was dismembered.  It was cut up into twelve pieces and sent all over the country.  This monstrous crime did not happen to long ago (Judges 19-21) and that led to a civil war.

We will be off next week but in two weeks, we will be in I Samuel 10.  Saul is anointed to be king.  He is introduced to the nation.  God calls Saul to do a job.  We will look at how he calls us to do things today.

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