The Text Teaches: I Samuel 9

Israel demanded to have a king like the nations that lived around them (1 Sam. 8). They wanted a leader who would ensure national security (8:19–20) through an army and alliances. Despite how they may have viewed this request, the Lord regarded it as a rejection of his authority (8:7): it showed that the people were not willing to demonstrate the radical, countercultural faith the Lord demanded from them. The Lord anticipated that the people would make this request (Deut. 17:14–20). But the Deuteronomic regulations do not authorize Israel to have a king like other nations, for the king is not to build a chariot force, secure political alliances through marriage, or accumulate wealth. Surprisingly, God initially acceded to the people’s request: three times he instructed Samuel to give them what they demanded (1 Sam. 8:7–9, 22a). However, Samuel seemed to balk at this and sent the people home (v. 22b), leaving the matter unresolved. This plot tension reaches its resolution in chapters 9–10. The Lord providentially brings his chosen king to Samuel to be anointed, but it becomes apparent that the Lord, despite his earlier instructions, is not going to give Israel the kind of king they want. Yet, recognizing the people’s concern for security as legitimate, he does intend to deliver them from their enemies through this ruler.

In chapter 8 it appears that the Lord is ready to authorize a king like all the nations, dooming the people to oppression and eventual enslavement. However, here it is apparent that he has decided not to do this, even though he views their demand for such a king as a rejection of his authority (8:7; cf. 10:19). He will give the people the security they legitimately desire by raising up a leader who will defeat their enemies. The pattern is similar to what we see in Judges, especially in the Gideon and Samson accounts, where the focus is on what the Lord will accomplish through an individual, not necessarily an army. In this regard the intertextual connections to these accounts in 1 Samuel 9:16 and 10:7 (see comments above) are significant and contribute to our understanding of the kind of king God intends Saul to be.

The third sign to Saul was the empowerment by the Spirit of the Lord after he encountered a procession of prophets. They would have been playing musical instruments, like the drum or tambourine and harps shown on this relief from eighth-century BC Zincirli. Music was often used in a prophetic context, where it helped to bring forth an ecstatic state.

How do the exilic readers of the Former Prophets respond to this story? The Lord’s decision to maintain his relationship with rebellious Israel and to deliver them from their enemies should encourage the exiles. It demonstrates the Lord’s patience with and commitment to his covenant people, even when they act foolishly and seek to reject his authority, as the exiles and their parents have done. It is still another example of his great mercy and compassion.

Teaching the Text

  1. Even when God regards his people’s lack of faith as a rejection of his authority, he maintains his commitment to them. In their legitimate desire to experience national security, Israel seeks to follow the pattern of the nations. The Lord regards this as a rejection of his authority. Yet he does not abandon his people to their foolishness. Initially, he is ready to accede to their request, but then he decides not to do so. (For further discussion, see the commentary on 10:9–27 below.)
  2. The Lord recognizes his people’s legitimate need for security and mercifully intervenes to prevent their destruction. Sometimes God’s people develop foolish solutions to their legitimate needs. Such is the case when Israel asks for a king like other nations. But God does not ignore their legitimate need. He determines to deliver them from oppression through a ruler whom he will choose and empower for the task. One sees this same pattern during the wilderness wanderings. Due to weak faith, Israel complains to God about legitimate needs for food and water, and the Lord supplies those needs (Exod. 15:24–27; 16:1–36; 17:1–7; Num. 11:1–35; 20:1–11).
    As in the case of Gideon (Judg. 6), the granting of signs to Saul (10:1–6) should not be viewed as normative. On the contrary, it may be an accommodation to Saul’s hesitancy and weak faith. This is a special occasion in which the Lord intervenes in a special way to get Saul’s attention. Though divine enablement is always necessary for carrying out God’s will, verse 6 should not be understood as paradigmatic. Modern preachers cannot expect the Lord’s Spirit to rush upon them and change them into a different person. There is no warrant for assuming such a broader application in this context or in the New Testament.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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