Case Study in Providence

I Samuel 9

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
April 2020

What does it mean that God is sovereign?  If God is sovereign, is He sovereign over everything in your life?  Is He sovereign over the big things in your life, like the coronavirus?  Is He sovereign over the petty, little, mundane things of your life?  Is He sovereign when you lose or misplace something?  Could God possibly be involved in that?  Is He sovereign over your problems?  Is He sovereign over all of the problems in your life?

Is He sovereign over your sins?  He was sovereign when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery.  It was actually part of His plan to get Joseph to Egypt.  He brought good out of evil.  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.

The people wanted a king instead of God ruling over them.  Even though their motives were not right, God used their request to bring about good.   For Jesus to be the King of David, there had to be some kings before him.  There had to be kings in order for Jesus to be heir to the throne.  It was part of God’s plan.

This chapter illustrates the absolute 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 providentially in Saul’s life and how He works in our own life.  This chapter is amazing but first we need to do some quick review.

In the last chapter, the nation of Israel went through a big crisis.  It was a political crisis.  The nation was governed by judges, but all of the leaders wanted a change.  They did not want to be ruled by judges.  They wanted to be ruled by a king, so they went to Samuel and demanded one.

They did not just demand a king, they demanded one just like the nations.  There was a difference between what the leaders wanted and what they needed.  Samuel was devastated.  He was hurt.  They no longer wanted his services.  He prayed about it.  Surprisingly, God said to give the people exactly what they want but warn them first.  Getting what they wanted was part blessing and part curse.

In the next two chapters Israel gets a king.  They get their first king.  The first king was named Saul.  Why was he the first king?  Because Saul means “you asked for it.”  His name in Hebrew (shah-ool) means “asked.”  The rest of the book is about Saul.  The main character of the first part of the book was Samuel.  The main character of the second part of the book is Saul.  The book ends with his death.

The Tale of Two Saul’s

I Samuel 9 is the first time we see Saul in the Bible but there are actually two Saul’s in the Bible.  There are two very important men named Saul in the Bible.  There is a Saul in the OT and a Saul in the NT.  They were similar in a lot of ways.

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

One was a political leader and one was a religious leader.  One was a king and the other an apostle.

3. Both were called by God

Saul is called in I Samuel 9.  Paul is called in Acts 9.  Both were chosen.  Paul was chosen to be an apostle (chosen vessel).  Saul was chosen by God to be king.  They were both called to do something special.  Both were called to do great things.  The OT Saul was not born a king.  The NT Saul was not born an apostle.

4. Both were supernaturally empowered for service

The Spirit of God came powerfully on Saul very early in his ministry (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 tried to kill King David.  He killed some priests.  The NT Saul killed some Christians.

6. Both went through radical changes

One started off good and ended up bad and one started off bad and ended up good.  One dies a martyr.  The other commits suicide.  Paul went through radical changes on the Damascus Road when he encountered Jesus.

Saul’s Positive Traits

When you think of King Saul, what do you think of?  You think of a wicked king who lived a bad life.  You think of a king who was a complete failure.  At the end of his life, his sons are killed.  He dies in disgrace and then is beheaded by the enemy.

If you read this chapter, you see a lot of positive traits in the man.  This is Saul at his best.  What were some of his positive traits?

He was an OBEDIENT son.  When his father told him to do something, he did it.  He did not argue with his dad or say, “Send someone else.”  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.

He was CONSIDERATE.  He wanted to get back home because he knew his father would be worrying about him.

He was RESPECTFUL.  He wanted to give the prophet something for his services.  OT Prophets were supported by personal gifts and donations (I Kings 14:1-3; Ezekiel 13:19).

He was HUMBLE.  He said that he was just from the small Tribe of Benjamin.  He came from a prominent family in Benjamin, but he was humble.  He was willing to take advice from other people, even if they were lower in rank than he was.

Saul does something very important.  He unites the twelve tribes and makes them a nation.  That was important.  Saul started out great.  He didn’t do anything wrong in this chapter.  Everything he did was right.  Good beginnings do not guarantee a good ending.  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.  Saul became jealous.  He became angry.  He became paranoid.  He became suspicious.  He became psychotic.  He became violent.  He threw a spear at his own son and tried to kill him.  He tried to kill his own son-in-law many times.

He ordered the execution of some priests.  That is like killing a bunch of pastors today.  He became demonized.  He sought out witches.  He visited what we would call today a psychic to communicate with the dead in direct violation of God’s Word.  He starts out humble.  He becomes full of pride and arrogance.

Don’t judge by how things start.  Judge by how they end.  Many people walk down the aisle in a church and make a profession of faith.  They are on fire but, if you see them, a few years later, everything is different.  The fire is gone.  Some do not even know if they still believe the Bible.  Many churches start out great but do not end great.  Many Christians schools started out great but did not end great.  They end apostate.

What Was Missing

Samuel looks pretty good in I Samuel 9 but he is missing one thing.  He has a lot of positive traits but he is not a spiritual man.  He is not said to be a godly 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.  There are several hints in the text about Saul’s spiritual background.

The first hint was the family he came from.  This book began with a genealogy of Samuel and now we have one of Saul, going back several generations.  We notice something about these two families.  They were different.

Samuel was born to Hannah and Elkanah and we are told that every year they went from their town to worship and sacrifice at Shiloh (I Samuel 1:3).  The only thing we are told about Saul’s dad is that he is wealthy (I Samuel 9:1).  There is no hint that this family is particularly spiritual.

The second hint is that Saul never prays in this 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.  Saul was not a man of prayer.

The third hint is that he did not know much about the Prophet Samuel.  Saul did not know where Samuel lived.  The servant knew that he lived in the district of Zuph (I Samuel 9:5-6).  Ramah was in that district.  Saul was from the Tribe of Benjamin, which was where Samuel lived.  Saul did not know where Samuel lived or who he was.

He has no idea who he is.  He was talking to Samuel and did not even know it (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 a poor servant knew more about the Prophet Samuel than Saul does (I Samuel 9:6).

The fourth hint was the reputation he had.  When the Holy Spirit fell on Saul and he began prophesying, people who knew him said, “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.

The fifth hint was where he lived.  He lived in Gibeah (I Samuel 10:26), which is where he will set up his capital.  It was just a few miles north of Jerusalem. Gibeah was the place where the worst atrocity in the history of the nation was committed.

Gibeah 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.  That was like saying that he lived in Sodom but let’s look at the bright side.

Saul’s Qualifications

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, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else. (I Samuel 9:1-2 NIV)

The focus is not on Saul’s spiritual qualities but on his physical and financial qualities.  Saul was rich.  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.

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.  “Height was more important to them than holiness.”[1]

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).  That was the king God gave the Israelites.

A Divine Appointment

God promised the Israelites a king but did not say who he was.  Even Samuel did not know who he was.  Samuel did not say, “You want a king.  You can have one and his name is Saul ben Kish of Gibeah.”  Samuel did not know Saul.  He had never met him, and God did not tell Samuel who the new king would be right away.

Then Samuel got a revelation.  God told Samuel he would meet the future king in twenty-four hours but did not even give his name.

Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed this to Samuel: 16 “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over my people Israel; he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. (I Samuel 9:15 NIV).

This chapter is all about a meeting between two men who had never met before.  Shah-ool meets Shmoo-el.  They had a divine appointment to meet.  How did they meet?  What brought them together?  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. A personal problem, a financial loss led to the meeting.  When you think about it, they would never have met unless several things just happened to take place.

First, Saul’s dad had to lose something (I Samuel 9:3).  Some donkeys ran off and they were valuable.  This was not like losing your socks. These donkeys were like cars.  If he did not lose these four donkeys, the two would have never met.  God was in their misfortune.  He was in their personal tragedy.  Her was in their crisis.

Second, Kish sent Saul 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.

Third, Kish a servant with him (I Samuel 9:3).  If the servant was not sent or a different servant went on the mission, Saul would never have met Samuel.  This particular servant knew all about Samuel.  God was in Saul’s help.

Four, they did not find the donkeys (I Samuel 9:4).   Donkeys are big animals.  More than one of them were lost but they could not find them.  If they found them, Saul would not have met Samuel. God was in their failure.  He was in their lack of success.

Five, when they could not find the donkeys, they kept looking.  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.

Six, they agree to try one last thing to find them. 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.

Seven, Saul’s servant just happened to have one silver coin in his pocket (I Samuel 9:8) to give to Samuel for his services.  Saul said we cannot see him because we do not have any money to give him. If the servant did not have that coin in his pocket, they may not have met. God was in their pocket change

Eight, as they went up a hill, they just happened to meet some young girls drawing water who knew all about Samuel (I Samuel 9:11-13). Saul did not know much about Samuel but his poor servant and these young girls who came out to draw water did know about him. If they did not meet them, the outcome may have been different.  God was in their chance encounter.

Nine, as they entered town, they saw Samuel coming toward them (I Samuel 9:14).  If they came an hour later, this would not have happened.  God was in their timing.

Ten, Samuel told him not to worry any more about the lost donkeys.  They have been found (I Samuel 9:20).  They just happened to meet a man who knew the answer to their problem by divine revelation.  They went looking for some lost donkeys.  They never found the donkeys but found a prophet instead.  They went looking for one thing and found something else instead.  God was in their change of plans.

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.

How often does God do the exact same thing to us?  Think about how God has worked in your own life.    I would never have met my wife unless several things took place.  It just so happened that she was a believer.   It just so happened that she went to the same university that I did.  It just so happened that she went to the same church I did.

It just so happened that she was a music major and my dad was a music professor at the school she went to.  We broke up many times.  When I went to a secular university to get a graduate degree in religion, she thought that would be the end of our relationship.

It just so happened that one of the professors at that school was a godly man who gave us some counseling and eventually performed our wedding.  God worked providentially to bring Saul to Samuel, and He works providentially in our lives as well.  Next week, we will look at how Saul is made king.

[1] John G. Butler, Analytical Bible Expositor (Joshua to 2 Samuel).

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