Chapter 5


The Calling of Saul - Occasion of his Interview with Samuel - Samuel Communes with Saul - Saul is Anointed King - The Three "Signs " - Their Deeper Significance.
(1 SAMUEL 9-10:16)

THE Divine direction for which prophet and people were to wait was not long withheld. It came, as so often, through a concurrence of natural circumstances, and in the manner least expected. Its object, if we may venture to judge, was to embody in the person of the new king the ideal which Israel had had in view in making their demand for a monarchy. He should possess all the natural attractions and martial qualities which the people could desiderate in their king; he should reflect their religious standpoint at its best; but he should also represent their national failings and the inmost defect of their religious life: that of combining zeal for the religion of Jehovah, and outward conformity to it, with utter want of real heart submission to the Lord, and of true devotedness to Him.

Thus viewed, we can understand alike the choice of Saul at the first, his failure afterwards, and his final rejection. The people obtained precisely what they wanted; and because he who was their king so corresponded to their ideal, and so reflected the national state, he failed. If, therefore, it is with a feeling of sadness that we follow this story, we must remember that its tragic element does not begin and end with Saul; and that the meaning of his life and career must be gathered from a deeper consideration of the history of his people. In truth, the history of Saul is a summary and a reflection of that of Israel. A monarchy such as his must first succeed, and finally fail when, under the test of trials, its inmost tendencies would be brought to light. Such a reign was also necessary, in order to bring out what was the real meaning of the people's demand, and to prepare Israel for the king of God's election and selection in the person of David.

Of all the tribes in Israel perhaps the most martial, although the smallest, was that of Benjamin. The "family" of Abiel *  was, indeed, not famous for wealth or influence. But it must have occupied a prominent place in Benjamin for the manly qualities and the military capacity of its members, since within a narrow circle it numbered such men as Saul, Jonathan, and Abner. **   The whole of this history gives such sketches of primitive life in Israel as to prove that it was derived from early and authentic sources.

* It is only such a view of the character of Saul which, I venture to think, satisfactorily accounts for his choice in the first instance, and then for his fall and final rejection. But thus read, there is a strict unity about his whole history, and his outward religiousness and the deeper defects of this religion appear consistent with each other.

** 1 Samuel 9:1; comp. 14:51. The notice, therefore, in 1 Chronicles 8:33, 9:39, must probably be a clerical error, though Keil suggests that, as in other places, the reference is to a "grandfather," or even more remote ancestor.

Kish, the father of Saul, and Ner, the father of Abner, were brothers, the sons of Abiel (comp. 1 Samuel 14:51). The former is described in the text as "a hero of might," by which, as in the case of Boaz, who is similarly designated (Ruth 2:1), were meant in those times men stalwart, strong, and true, worthy representatives and, if need were, defenders of their national rights and of their national religion. Such, no doubt, was also the father of Abner. And yet there was exquisite simplicity about the family-life of these great, strong men. Kish had lost his she-asses - a loss of some consequence in times of such poverty that a man would consider "the fourth part of a shekel," or a sus - about 6 and 1/2d. of our money - as quite an adequate gift to offer a "seer" in return for consulting him (1 Samuel 9:8). To find, if possible, the straying animals, Saul, the only son of Kish, *  as we infer from the text, was sent in company with a servant. Saul, "the asked-for," was not only "choice **  and goodly," like all his race, but apparently as handsome as any man in the land, and taller than any by head and shoulders. In any country and age this would tell in favor of a popular leader, but especially in ancient times, ***   and more particularly in Israel at that period.

* Critics infer from the name Shaul - "the asked for" - that he was the firstborn. But I rather conclude from the use of the term in such passages as Genesis 46:10, 1 Samuel 1:17, 27, that Kish had long been childless, and that Saul was the child of prayer; while from the absence of the mention of any other children, I would infer that he was the only son of Kish.

** Most critics render the term by "young." But I prefer the rendering "choice" - not, however, in the sense of the Vulgate: electus, chosen. From 13:1-3 we know that Jonathan was at the time capable of taking a command, so that Saul his father must have been at least forty years old.

*** For quotations from the Classics, see the Commentaries.

From his home at Gibeah *  Saul and his servant passed in a north-westerly direction over a spur of Mount Ephraim. Thence they turned in their search north-eastward to "the land of Shalishah," probably so called from the circumstance that three Wadys met there, **  and then eastwards to the land of Shaalim - probably "the hollow," the modern Salem. Having traversed another district, which is called "the land of Yemini," - either "the right hand," or else "of Benjamin," though apparently not within the territory of Benjamin - they found themselves in the district of Zuph, where Samuel's home at Ramah was. ***

* Our Authorised Version renders 1 Samuel 10:5, "the hill of God," and again, ver. 10, "the hill." In both cases it is Gibeah; and, as we infer from the familiarity of the people with Saul (ver. 11), either the place where Saul lived or quite close by it.

** The modern Wady Kurawa (see Keil, p. 66).

*** "The land Yemini" could not have been intended to designate the tribal territory of Benjamin. It is never so employed, and the analogy of the expressions "land Shalishah," "land Shaalim," "land Zuph," forbids us to regard it as other than a district. Again, it is said, "he passed through the land of Benjamin." From where, and whither? Certainly not into Ephraim, for he came thence; and as certainly not into Judah. But the whole question of the localization of the Ramah of Samuel and of the journey of Saul is amongst the most difficult in Biblical geography. There is another important consideration in regard to this subject to which we shall refer in a subsequent Note.

For three days had the two continued their unsuccessful search, when it occurred to Saul that their long absence might cause his father more anxiety than the straying of the she-asses. But before returning home, Saul's servant suggested that since they were just in view of the city where "the seer" lived, they might first consult him as to "the way" they "should go" in order to find the she-asses.* 

* There can be no reasonable doubt that this "city" was Ramah, the ordinary residence of Samuel. The question and answer in vers. 10 and 11 imply this; so does the circumstance that Samuel had a house there. Lastly, how could Saul's servant have known that the "seer" was in that city, if it had not been his ordinary residence? These two points, then, seem established: Saul's residence was at Gibeah, and he first met Samuel in Ramah. But if so, it seems impossible, in view of 1 Samuel 10:2, to identify the Ramah of Samuel with the Ramah of Benjamin, or to regard it as the modern Neby Samuel, four miles north-west of Jerusalem.

Having ascertained that the seer was not only in the city, but that the people had had "a sacrifice" on the "height" outside, where, as we know (1 Samuel 7:17), Samuel had built an altar, the two hastened on, in the hope of finding him in the city itself, before he went up "to bless," or speak the prayer of thanksgiving, with which the sacrificial meal would begin. For, amidst the guests gathered there, the two strangers could have little expectation of finding access to the president of the feast. They had just entered the city itself, and were "in the gate," or wide place inside the city-entrance, where the elders used to sit and popular assemblies gathered, when they met Samuel coming from an opposite direction on his way to the "Bamah," or sacrificial "height." To Saul's inquiry for "the seer's house," Samuel replied by making himself known.*  He had expected him - for the day before the Lord had expressly intimated it to him. Indeed, Samuel had prepared for it by ordering the choicest piece of that which was to be eaten of the sacrifice to be set aside for his guest - so sure was he of his arrival. And now when he saw before him in the gate the stateliest and finest-looking man in all Israel, the same voice which had led him to expect, indicated that this was the future leader of God's people.

* We may here give a curious extract from Siphre, all the more readily that this commentary on Numbers and Deuteronomy, which is older than the Mishnah, is so little quoted even by those who make Rabbinical literature their study. In Siphre 69a, by way of enforcing the duty of modesty, the expression of Samuel, "I am the seer" (1 Samuel 9:19), is thus commented on: "The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, Art thou the seer? by thy life, I shall shew thee that thou art not a seer. And how did He shew it to him? At the time when it was said: Fill thy horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse, the Bethlehemite," etc. Upon which 1 Samuel 16:6 is quoted, when the Holy One reminded Samuel that he had said: "I am a seer," while nevertheless he was entirely mistaken on the subject of the choice of Eliab!

The bearing of Samuel towards Saul was precisely such as the circumstances required. Moreover, it was consistent throughout, and dignified. An entirely new office, involving the greatest difficulties and responsibilities, was most unexpectedly to be almost thrust upon Saul; an office, besides, the reality of which would not only be soon tested by such enemies as the Philistines, but to which he had neither family nor personal claims, and which would be sure to excite tribal jealousies and personal envies. To prepare Saul, it was necessary to call forth in him expectations, it might be vague, of great things; to inspire him with absolute confidence in Samuel as the medium through whom God spake; and finally, by converse on the deepest concerns of Israel, to bring out what lay inmost in his heart, and to direct it to its proper goal. Accordingly, Samuel invited Saul first to the feast and then to his house, at the outset intimating that he would tell him all that was in his heart (ver. 19). This assuredly could not have reference to the finding of the she-asses, since he immediately informed Saul about them, as evidence that he was "a seer," whose words must, therefore, be received as a message coming from God. Mysterious as was the allusion to what was in Saul's heart, the remark which accompanied his intimation of the finding of the she-asses sounded even more strange. As if treating such a loss as a very small matter, he added (ver. 20). "And whose is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not thine and thy father's house?" * 

* This is the correct rendering.

The remark was so strange both in itself and as coming from "the seer," that Saul, feeling its seeming incongruity, could only answer by pointing to the fact that Benjamin was the smallest tribe, and his own family among the least influential in it. Saul was undoubtedly aware that Israel had demanded and were about to receive from Samuel a king. His reply leaves the impression on us, that, although, probably he did not exactly formulate it in his own mind, yet Samuel's words had called up in him thoughts of the kingdom. Else why the reference to the size of his tribe and the influence of his family? And this was exactly what Samuel had wished: gradually to prepare him for what was coming. Apparently the "seer" made no answer to what Saul had said. But at the sacrificial feast he pursued the same course towards his guest. To the Ephraimites there assembled he was, of course, unknown. But even they must have been surprised at finding that, while the mass of the people feasted outside, among the thirty principal guests who were bidden into "the parlor," not only was the chief place given to this stranger, but that the principal portion of the sacrifice had, as a mark of special honor, been reserved for him.

The feast was past, and Saul followed his host to his house. There on the flat roof, *   so often the scene of private converse in the East, Samuel long "communed" with Saul, no doubt of "all that was in his heart;" not, indeed, of the office about to be conferred on him, but of the thoughts which had been called up in Saul that day: of Israel's need, of Israel's sin, of Israel's help, and of Israel's God. After such "communing," neither of them could have found much sleep that night. It was gray dawn when they rose; and as the morning broke, Samuel called up to Saul on the roof that it was time to depart. He himself convoyed him through the town; then, sending forward the servant, he stopped to deliver the message of God. Taking a vial of oil, **  he "anointed" Saul, thus placing the institution of royalty on the same footing as that of the sanctuary and the priesthood (Exodus 30:23, etc., Leviticus 8:10, etc.), as appointed and consecrated by God and for God, and intended to be the medium for receiving and transmitting blessing to His people. And with this, a kiss, in token of homage (Psalm 2:12), and the perhaps not quite unexpected message: "Is it not that Jehovah hath anointed thee to be prince over His inheritance?" Saul was appointed the first king in Israel.

* The LXX. translators in this, as in several other passages in this section, either had a Hebrew text somewhat varying from ours or else altered it in their translation. Notwithstanding the views of some critics (notably Thenius), we have seen no reason to depart from the textus receptus.

** The Hebrew word indicates a narrow-necked vessel from which the oil would come by drops.

In order to assure Saul of the Divine agency in all this, Samuel gave him three signs. Each was stranger than the other, and all were significant of what would mark the path of Israel's king. After leaving Samuel, coming from Ephraim, he would cross the northern boundary of Benjamin by the grave of Rachel.*  There he would meet two men who would inform him of the finding of the she-asses and of his father's anxiety on his account.

* The traditional site of Rachel's grave near Bethlehem must be given up as wholly incompatible with this passage. The reasons have been fully explained in my Sketches of Jewish Social Life, p. 60.

This, as confirming Samuel's words, would be a pledge that it was likewise by God's appointment he had been anointed king. Thus the first sign would convey that his royalty was of God. Then as he passed southwards, and reached "the terebinth Tabor,"*   three men would meet him, coming from an opposite direction, and "going up to God, to Bethel," bearing sacrificial gifts.

* The locality cannot be identified. The suggestion of Thenius and Ewald, who regard Tabor as equivalent for Deborah, is scarcely tenable.

These would salute him, and, unasked, give him a portion of their sacrificial offerings - two loaves, probably one for himself, another for his servant. If, as seems likely, these three men belonged to "the sons of the prophets," the act was even more significant. It meant homage on the part of the godly in Israel, yet such as did not supersede nor swallow up the higher homage due to God - only two loaves out of all the sacrificial gifts being presented to Saul. To Saul this, then, would indicate royalty in subordination to God. The last was the strangest, but, rightly understood, also the most significant sign of all. Arrived at Gibeah Elohim, his own city, or else the hill close by, where the Philistines kept a garrison,*  he would, on entering the city, meet "a band of prophets" coming down from the Bamah, or sacrificial height, in festive procession, preceded by the sound of the nevel, lute or guitar, the thof, or tambourine (Exodus 15:20), the flute, and the chinnor **  or hand-harp, themselves the while "prophesying."

* Thenius and Bottcher render it, "a pillar;" Ewald, "a tax-collector." But the rendering in the text seems the correct one (comp. 13:3, 4).

** The difference between the navel and the chinnor is explained in my volume on The Temple, etc., p. 55. The chinnor differed from our harp in that it was carried in the hand (comp., Samuel 6:5).

Then "the Spirit of Jehovah" would "seize upon him," and he would "be turned into another man." The obvious import of this "sign," in combination with the others, would be: royalty not only from God and under God, but with God. And all the more significant would it appear, that Gibeah, the home of Saul, where all knew him and could mark the change, was now held by a garrison of Philistines; and that Israel's deliverance should there commence *  by the Spirit of Jehovah mightily laying hold on Israel's new king, and making of him another man. When all these "signs happen to thee," added the prophet, "do to thyself what thy hand findeth" (as circumstances indicate, comp. Judges 9:33); concluding therefrom: "for God is with thee."

* In the original the clauses - "which there a garrison of the Philistines", - reads like an emphatic parenthesis, altogether meaningless except for the purpose indicated in the text.

The event proved as Samuel had foretold. Holy Scripture passes, indeed, lightly over the two first signs, as of comparatively less importance, but records the third with the more full detail. It tells how, immediately on leaving Samuel, "God turned to Saul another heart" (ver 9); how, when he met the band of prophets at Gibeah (ver. 10, not "the hill," as in our Authorised Version), "the Spirit of Elohim" "seized" upon him, and he "prophesied among them;" so that those who had so intimately known him before exclaimed in astonishment: "What is this that has come unto the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?" Upon which "one from thence," more spiritually enlightened than the rest, answered: "And who is their father?" implying that, in the case of the other prophets also, the gift of prophecy was not of hereditary descent.*  Thus the proverb arose: "Is Saul also among the prophets?" to indicate, according to circumstances, either a sudden and almost incredible change in the outward religious bearing of a man, or the possibility of its occurrence.

* This is the view of Bunsen, and especially of Oehler, and seems to afford the only correct interpretation of the saying.

But there are deeper questions here which must, at least briefly, be answered. Apparently, there were already at that time prophetic associations, called "schools of the prophets." Whether these owed their origin to Samuel or not, the movement received at least a mighty impulse from him, and henceforth became a permanent institution in Israel. But this "prophesying" must not be considered as in all cases prediction. In the present instance it certainly was not such, but, as that of the "elders" in the time of Moses (Numbers 11:25), an ecstatic state of a religious character, in which men unreservedly poured forth their feelings. The characteristics of this ecstatic state were entire separation from the circumstances around, and complete subjection to an extraordinary influence from without, when thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds were no longer under personal control, but became, so to speak, passive instruments. Viewing it in this light, we can understand the use made of music, not only by true prophets, but even among the heathen. For the effect of music is to detach from surrounding circumstances, to call forth strong feelings, and to make us yield ourselves implicitly to their influence.

In the case of the prophets at Gibeah and in that of Saul, this ecstatic state was under the influence of the "Spirit of Elohim."*   By this, as in the case of the judges, **  we are, however, not to understand the abiding and sanctifying Presence of the Holy Ghost dwelling in the heart as His temple. The Holy Ghost was peculiarly "the gift of the Father" and "of the Son," and only granted to the Church in connection with, and after the Resurrection of our Blessed Lord.

* Samuel speaks of "the Spirit of Jehovah," while in the actual narrative we read of the "Spirit of Elohim." Can the change of term have been intentional?

** See Vol. 3 of this History.

Under the Old Testament, only the manifold influences of the Spirit were experienced, not His indwelling as the Paraclete. This appears not only from the history of those so influenced, and from the character of that influence, but even from the language in which it is described. Thus we read that the Spirit of Elohim "seized upon" Saul, suddenly and mightily laid hold on him, - the same expression being used in Judges 14:6, 19; 15:14; 1 Samuel 16:13; 18:10. But although they were only "influences" of the Spirit of Elohim, it need scarcely be said that such could not have been experienced without deep moral and religious effect. The inner springs of the life, thoughts, feelings, and purposes must necessarily have been mightily affected. It was so in the case of Saul, and the contrast was so great that his fellow-townsmen made a proverb of it. In the language of Holy Scripture, his "heart," that is, in Old Testament language, the spring of his feeling, purposing, and willing, was "turned into another" from what it had been, and he was "turned into another man," with quite other thoughts, aims, and desires than before. The difference between this and what in the New Testament is designated as "the new man," is too obvious to require detailed explanation. But we may notice these two as important points: as in the one case it was only an overpowering influence of the Spirit of Elohim, not the abiding Presence of the Paraclete, so the moral effects produced through that influence were not primary, but secondary, and, so to speak, reflex, while those of the Holy Ghost in the hearts of God's people are direct, primary, and permanent.*

* If I may express it by a play upon two Latin words: In the one case it is affectus ab effectu; in the other, if there effectus, it is effectus ab affectu.

The application of these principles to "the spiritual gifts" in the early Church will readily occur to us. But perhaps it is more important to remember that we are always - and now more than ever - prone to confound the influences of the Spirit of God with His abiding Presence in us, and to mistake the undoubted moral and religious effects, which for a time may result from the former, for the entire inward change, when "all old things have passed away," and, "all things have become new," and are "of Christ." Yet the one is only the reflex influence of the spirit of man, powerfully influenced by the Spirit of Elohim; the other the direct work of the Holy Ghost on the heart.

One of the effects of the new spiritual influence which had come upon Saul was, that when his uncle, Ner, met him upon the Bamah, or high place (ver. 14), probably joining him in his worship there to find out the real meaning of a change which he must have seen more clearly than any other, and which it would readily occur to him to connect with the visit to Samuel, he forbore to gratify a curiosity, probably not unmixed with worldly ambition and calculations.

But yet another charge had Samuel given to Saul before parting (ver. 8), and that not only a charge, but a life-direction, a warning, and a test of what was in him. That he understood it, is evident from 1 Samuel 13:7, 8. But would he submit to it, or rather to God? That would be to him the place and time when the two ways met and parted - and his choice of either one or the other would be decisive, both so far as his life and his kingdom were concerned.