In this chapter, a young man named Saul meets Samuel, and the LORD tells Samuel that Saul will be king.
This chapter introduces us to Saul, and also foreshadows that he will be king. He is introduced to us wandering through the Ephraimite countryside, looking for his father’s lost donkeys. “Lost” and “wandering” is a pretty good way to describe Israel as a nation, too. They spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness of Sin, and now that they have settled in the promised land, their wandering has become more metaphorical, but how else are we to describe the Judges period? Each man doing what is right in his own eyes, they are like sheep without a shepherd, straying wherever their myopic vision leads them. Although Saul is chasing lost donkeys, soon he will be chasing lost Israelites. We will see if he does well or if he does poorly.
I love the minor note in verse 9 telling us that “the prophet of today used to be called a seer”. It’s just one of those funny little things that show us how even to the ancient author, the stories he is reciting to us are even older, possibly handed down from earlier generations. It’s also possible that this is a later addition, added to the story as the language became more and more archaic to those reading and transcribing it.
In any case, things just so happened to be arranged that Saul meets with Samuel, and when Saul asks where the seer’s house is (in verse 18), he gets a somewhat unexpected response. I am the seer, eat with me, and by the way, your donkeys are fine. I don’t think there’s many people who can answer your questions before you ask them, so I’m sure this must have been an interesting experience for Saul. I know a few prophetic people and I can say that things like this never get old. There is something uniquely penetrating about being told “all that is in your heart” by a stranger who should not know such things, yet he does.
Saul’s response is very much like Gideon’s from Judges 6:15: I come from a weak and small family, how is it possible that I could be the “desire of Israel”? Just like Gideon, the LORD has a tendency to prefer selecting the weak as his methods of salvation. What’s different about Saul is that he personally is an “impressive young man”, “a head taller than any of the others” (v. 2). Saul is physically strong, but that does not qualify him to be king. He is from a weak family, but that does not disqualify him. The only thing that could qualify him is his heart. And the LORD has chosen Saul, so perhaps he will lead well? However, I remember Samuel’s warning from the prior chapter, and I fear that Saul may not prove a capable leader.