In this chapter, Saul is anointed and made king over Israel.
There are so many fascinating little details in this chapter I hardly know where to start. I guess we can start at the very beginning, with Samuel anointing Saul with oil. This appears to be a cultural tradition that existed at the time, that pouring oil onto someone is a sign of favor. Nowhere is this explained, so we’ll just have to take it for granted.
Samuel tells Saul about a series of events that will happen through the day, concluding with the “spirit of the LORD” coming upon Saul, causing him to prophesy. The word prophesy here is the same word as when the 70 elders of Israel prophesied in Num 11:25-27, which was something I discussed extensively at the time, and I believe that this is the same kind of prophesying as there. But what I find more interesting is verse 6, where Saul “will be changed into a different person” as a result. Is this what prepares him for the kingship? This leaves me equally wondering what kind of man Saul must have been before, and what kind of man he will become after.
Part of this question is answered by the next paragraph, verses 9-12. Apparently Saul is not the sort of person who would normally be amongst the prophets. I love the dialogue between “all those who had formerly known him” and “a man who lived there”. What the people who knew Saul ask is, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” This is a remark of surprise; they never would have expected him to associate with the prophets. Keep in mind, the prophets would have been some of the most dedicated followers of the LORD, so this suggests pretty strongly that Saul is not the most religious fellow in the nation. He might be among the least.
But I love the response in verse 12, when the man asks “and who is their father?” Perhaps people who knew him would not expect the son of Kish to be amongst the prophets, but you could just as well ask why anybody else is amongst the prophets. Nobody is really qualified to be amongst the LORD’s prophets; everyone is there because they choose to be there, or like Saul, they were chosen.
After all this, Saul being anointed and joining with the prophets, still nobody knows that he is going to become king. Samuel deliberately sent away the servant before anointing Saul, and in v. 16 Saul deliberately omits telling his uncle about the kingship. Saul has been anointed as king, but the reality of it hasn’t yet set in. This is addressed next when Samuel calls the people together to choose a king by lot. This is more or less the equivalent of rolling dice and choosing the king by random selection. Samuel probably wouldn’t have been able to influence the randomness, so this is a second confirmation of Saul as king. Perhaps more importantly, it is a very public selection, so now the entire nation knows that Saul has been chosen to be king, and from v. 26-27 we know that some people accepted it and some people didn’t.
This leads me to my next amusing detail, which is Saul “hiding among the baggage”. I can’t even imagine what series of thoughts would make him believe this is a good idea. Inauspicious metaphors abound here: Saul is lost in his own personal baggage, much like he is hiding in the assembly’s baggage. But seriously, why is he there? It just doesn’t make sense, unless he’s trying to avoid something; is he trying to avoid his selection as king, by staying away from the assembly?
Out of this chapter, I think my favorite two parts are the dialogue exchanged in v. 11-12 and the mental image of Saul hiding in the baggage. It’s also interesting to imagine this procession of prophets, playing many different instruments and Saul getting swept along with them.
In the end, Samuel writes down the “regulations of the kingship”, and I wonder how similar that is to Deut 17 when Moses had previously describes the laws governing the selection and behavior of kings over Israel. We don’t have any record of the regulations that Samuel gave Saul, but I would guess it’s similar to what is recorded in Deuteronomy.
Samuel also told Saul to go to Gilgal, and I believe this hasn’t happened yet. We will see what happens in the next couple chapters with this.