(1 Samuel 10:1-27) Saul is anointed King by Samuel. The Divine Signs given to him. The Election of King Saul.
And kissed him.—Rather as a customary sign of reverential homage than as a mark of affection, which at that early date of their acquaintance it was hardly possible to assume that the old man felt for the younger. (Compare Psalm 2:12 : “Kiss the son, lest he be angry”: that is, “Do homage, O ye kings of the earth, to Him who is your anointed King.”)
The Lord hath anointed thee.—Samuel replies to the look and gesture of extreme astonishment with which the young Saul received the anointing and the kiss with these words: “Do you mutely ask me why I pay you this formal homage? why I salute you with such deep respect? Is it not because you are the chosen of the Eternal? Are you still incredulous respecting your high destiny? See now, as you go on your way home, you will meet with three signs; they will prove to you that what I do, I do not of myself, but in obedience to a higher power.”
The LXX. and Vulg. have a somewhat long addition to 1 Samuel 10:1. It is, however, manifestly an explanatory gloss, and is made up from 1 Samuel 10:16-17 of 1 Samuel 9.
(2) Thou shalt find two men by Rachel’s sepulchre.—This tomb of the loved wife of the patriarch does not thus appear to have been very far from Ramah, whence Saul started. The words of Jeremiah 31:15, which speak of the future massacre of the Bethlehem innocents by Herod, connects Ramah and Rachel’s tomb: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping: Rachel weeping for her children.”
At Zelzah.—This locality has never been identified. Some have supposed it was the same as Zela in Benjamin. the place where the bodies of Saul and Jonathan were eventually buried. The LXX. curiously render it as though it were a verb, “dancing (lit. springing) vehemently,” or, as Ewald would translate the Greek words, “in great haste,” of course, with reference to the two men who brought Saul the news of the recovered asses.
Going up to God to Beth-el.—This since the old patriarchal days had been a sacred spot. Samuel used to visit it as judge, and hold his court there annually, no doubt on account of the number of pilgrims who were in the habit of visiting it. These men were evidently on a pilgrimage to the old famous shrine.
Where is the garrison of the Philistines.—These warlike Phœnician tribes seem gradually, after their great defeat at Mizpeh, to have again established themselves in various stations of the land, whence they harried the Israelites. A parallel to these marauding soldiers, so long the plague of Israel, might be found in the countless freebooters’ strongholds which, in the Middle Ages, were the curse especially of Germany, the terror of the peaceful trading folk of the rich countries of Central Europe.
A company of prophets.—These evidently belonged to one of those seminaries termed “schools of the prophets,” founded by Samuel for the training of young men. The foundation of these schools in different parts of the country was one of the greatest of the works of this noble and patriotic man. These schools seem to have flourished during the whole period of the monarchy, and in no small measure contributed to the moral and mental development of the people. Some of the youth of Israel who received in these schools their training became public preachers of the Word; for after all, this, rather than foretelling future events, was the grand duty of the prophet’s calling.
It is a grave mistake to conclude that all, or even the greater part, of these young men trained in the “schools of the prophets” were inspired in the usual sense of the word. The aim of these institutions, beside high mental culture, seems to have been to train the youth of Israel to love, and then live, noble pure lives. Dean Payne Smith calls attention to the remarkable fact that at David’s court all posts which required literary skill were held by “prophets.” He considers that it was owing to these great educational institutions which Samuel founded that the Israelites became a highly trained and literary people. “Prophets,” in the awful sense of the word as used by us—men who, as compared with their fellows, stood in a different relation to the Most High, who heard things which other men heard not, and saw visions unseen by any save themselves—men before whose eyes the veil which hid the dark future now and again was raised—were, after all, even among the people of God, very rare. In the course of a generation, one or two, or perhaps three, appeared, and were listened to, and their words in many cases, we know, preserved. These, for the most part, we may assume, received their early training in the “schools of the prophets,” but these famous institutions were never, as has often been popularly supposed, established in the hope of training up and developing such men, but were founded and supported with the intention of fostering what we should call the higher education in Israel; and in this, we know from the outset, these schools were eminently successful.
Dr. Erdmann, in Lange’s Commentary, accounts for this especial mention of the music which we know, from this and other passages, was carefully cultivated in these seminaries of the sons of the prophets, by suggesting that in these societies religious feeling was nourished and heightened by sacred music. It would be a mistake to attribute to this carefully cultivated music and singing that condition of ecstatic inspiration into which some of these companies appear to have at times fallen. We understand and know, however, very little respecting this state of ecstasy—what produced it, and how it affected those who had fallen into this strange condition. The object of the musical teaching of the schools of the prophets was, no doubt, to enable those who had studied in the seminaries to guide and direct the religious gatherings of the people, into which—as we know from the subsequent Temple service, the model of all popular sacred gatherings for worship—music and psalmody entered so largely.
With a psaltery, and a tabret, and a pipe, and a harp, before them.—The four instruments here mentioned indicate that even in this—which is often termed a semi-barbarous age—music had been long and carefully studied. The psaltery (nevel) was a species of lyre with ten strings, in shape like an inverted delta v, and was played with the fingers. The tabret (toph) was a hand-drum—a tambourine. Miriam (Exodus 15:20) is represented as using it to accompany her triumph song. The pipe (chalil) was a flute of reed, wood, or horn, and seems to have been ever a favourite instrument among the children of Israel. The harp (cinnor) was a stringed instrument, like the psaltery, only apparently larger, and was played usually with a plectrum. David, however, is represented in several psalms as playing on the “cinnor” with his fingers.
And they shall prophesy.—In this case the company from the “School of the Prophets” were, no doubt, singing some hymns or psalms in praise of the Eternal to the accompaniment of their musical instruments. Saul, as he drew near his home at Gibeah, would meet these men coming down from sacrificing on the high place of God, and as he listened to the sweet pure sounds he would be sensible of a something indescribable taking possession of his whole being; new thoughts—high grand thoughts—would chase away the aspirations and hopes of the past. Through his heart (see 1 Samuel 10:9) would flash the memory of what Samuel had told him when alone on the house-top at Ramah—of the glory and future of Israel; a conviction would steal over him that he was the man of the future chosen by the Eternal to work His will among His people. The Saul of the vineyards and the corn-fields of the farm on the Ephraim hills would die, and a new hero-Saul would be born; and although quite untrained and untaught in the elaborate music of the choirs of the sons of the prophets, the really inspired Saul would lift up his voice in the choruses singing before him, and join with a new strange power in their glorious hymn to the Eternal—would pour out his whole heart and soul in thanksgiving to his God. Thus would the Spirit of the Lord come upon him.
Such a temptation presented itself to Saul, we believe, some two or more years from this time, when, as related in 1 Samuel 13, a solemn assembly of the people was summoned to Gilgal, before the commencement of the war of independence. This great enterprise for the people of the Lord must necessarily be begun with solemn religious rites and sacrifices. These the king was forbidden to officiate at without the presence of the Divinely appointed seer. We shall see how King Saul acted under the temptation to set himself and his royal power above the prophet of the Lord and the direct command of God. Whether or no King Saul with his own hand offered the Gilgal sacrifice is uncertain; at all events, the great sin he seemed to have been guilty of having committed, is to have declined to wait for the presence of the prophet of the Lord, although publicly required by the word of the Lord to do so. (See Notes on 1 Samuel 13)
The “heart” is mentioned as changed by God, because, according to the conception of the Divine writings, the heart is represented as the centre of the whole mental and physical life—of will, desire, thought, perception, and feeling. It was one thing for Samuel the seer to put before the young Benjamite the brilliant destiny which lay before him, but it was another and different thing to transform one like Saul, brought up to merely agricultural pursuits, into a fit and worthy recipient of such honours and powers. We know how utterly incapable are all such things as wealth and rank and power in themselves of inspiring the heart with any noble patriotic aspirations, or with any high religious longings, or lofty patriotic aims; a higher influence is needed to awaken the heart, or to rouse it from merely earthly and sordid contemplations.
This is the work which God worked in the heart. of the young Saul as, in the early morning, he left “Ramah of the Watchers,” his ears tingling with the burning words of the great seer all through that day and many succeeding days. In quiet humility, and, no doubt, with many a silent prayer, he watched and waited; when he returned home there was no sign of exultation visible in the man, no mark of impatience. His lips were sealed; he seems to have whispered to no one what the prophet had told him; he made no sign even when events came crowding thick about him—such as the popular assembly for the choice of a king, presided over by the prophet-judge, whose mind Saul alone in Israel knew: the drawing of the lots: the narrowing of the fateful circle: the designation of his tribe, his family, then himself. We see, indeed, God had changed his heart. Was there not in these early days a promise of a noble king—a man after God’s own heart?
And all those signs came to pass that day.—Of the first two signs which were to meet him no further details are given; we are simply told that in the order predicted by Samuel Saul came across them. The third alone gives occasion for a special mention, because it had a great effect on the life of the future king.
Is Saul also among the prophets?—In 1 Samuel 19:23 we again find Saul, but under changed circumstances, under the influence of a Divine and coercing power, and uttering strange words, and singing hymns as one trained in the prophets’ schools. It was probably this recurrence of the same incident in the king’s life which gave rise to the saying, or proverb, which expresses amazement at the unexpected appearance of any man in a position which had hitherto been quite strange to him. “Is Saul among the preachers of Christ? Was a question of wonder asked by the friends of St. Paul” (Galatians 1:23).—Wordsworth.
The reply of the second citizen has been well explained by Von Bunsen:—“Is the son of Kish, then, a prophet?’ asks the first citizen, surprised, apparently, that one so undistinguished, that one so unlikely to train up a “son of the prophets,” should have a son associated in this peculiar and sudden manner with a chosen band of scholars and teachers. To this question the second citizen replied—no doubt, pointing to the honoured group from the prophet schools of Gibeah—“Do you wonder that the son of so rough and uncultivated a man as Kish should receive the Divine gift which we all love so well and admire so greatly? Who,” pointing to the group singing on the hill-side, “who is their father?” They owe their power of persuasive speech, their gift of holy song, to no accident of birth. Surely Saul, like them, may have received the same power as a gift of the Eternal, not as a patrimony. Owing to this obvious meaning not having occurred to them, the LXX., “Vulgate, and Syriac Versions alter the original into, “Who is his (instead of their) father?” in other words, “Who is Saul? and who is his father, Kish?” But the Hebrew text and the English Version, as explained above, gives an admirable sense, and teaches besides a great spiritual lesson.
The modesty and humility, as well as the wisdom, of Saul in these early days of his greatness is remarkable. The “changed heart” was indeed an acknowledged fact with him. Wordsworth quotes here how, “in like manner, Samson, in the early days of his humility, told not his parents of the lion. (See Judges 14:6.) So Saul of Tarsus spake not of his visions and revelations of the Lord till he was constrained to do so by his enemies.” (See 2 Corinthians 12:1.)
Mizpah (for so the name should be spelt) was chosen by Samuel for the solemn assembly of the tribes on the occasion of the electing their first king, on account of the glorious memories of his own victory, many years before, at that place. The words, “unto the Lord” probably signify that the mysterious Urim and Thummim, by which inquiry was used to be made of the Eternal, had been brought there by the high priest, or, on the supposition that the office was then vacant, by the priest who temporarily replaced him.
(23–24) He was higher than any of the people.—“How shall this man save us?” was the impatient and angry murmur soon raised by some discontented spirits in Israel, not improbably princes of the leading houses of the great tribes of Judah and Ephraim, who were disgusted at the choice falling on an unknown man of the small and comparatively powerless tribe of Benjamin. But Samuel—whose place in the nation the unknown Benjamite was really to take—with rare nobility and singleness of purpose, had already singled out and called conspicuous attention to the one gift Saul undoubtedly, in an extraordinary degree, possessed—the one gift by which, in that primitive time, a man seemed to be worthy of rule. He was “goodly”: “there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he;” from his shoulders and upward he towered above all the people. When he stood among the people, Samuel could say of him, “See ye him? Look at him whom the Lord hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people.” It is in the days of the Judges, as in the Homeric days of Greece; Agamemnon, like Saul, is head and shoulders taller than the people. Like Saul, too, he has that peculiar air and dignity expressed by the Hebrew word which we translate “good,” or “goodly.” This is the ground of the epithet which became fixed as part of his name, “Saul the chosen,” “the chosen of the Lord.” In the Mussulman traditions this is the only trait of Saul which is preserved. His name has there been almost lost; he is known only as Thalût, “the tall one.” In the Hebrew songs of his own time he was known by a more endearing, but not less expressive, indication of the same grace. His stately towering form, standing under the pomegranate-tree above the precipice of Migron, or on the pointed crags of Michmash, or the rocks of Engedi, claimed for him the title of “wild roe,” “the gazelle,” perched aloft, the pride and glory of Israel. Against the giant Philistines a giant king was needed. The time for the little stripling of the house of Jesse was close at hand, but was not yet come. Saul and Jonathan, swifter than eagles and stronger than lions, still seemed the fittest champions of Israel. When Saul saw any strong man or any valiant man, he took him unto him. He, in his gigantic panoply, that would fit none but himself, with the spear that he had in his hand, of the same form and fashion as the spear of Goliath, was a host in himself.—Dean Stanley: Lectures on the Jewish Church, 21
This sacred document, we may assume, contained, too, the exact details of the singular story of the choice of the first king of Israel. It was well, no doubt, thought Samuel, that coming ages should know exactly how it came to pass that he, the seer, anointed the Benjamite of Gibeah as king over the Lord’s inheritance. We may, therefore, fairly conclude that from the record laid up among the sacred archives in the sanctuary, the compiler or redactor of this “Book of Samuel” derived his intimate knowledge of every little fact connected with the Divine choice of Saul.
The legal portion of this writing respecting the kingdom was, of course, strictly based upon what Moses had already written on this subject in Deuteronomy (see 1 Samuel 17:14-20).
We find here, in this writing of Samuel, the first trace of literary composition among the Israelites since the days of Moses. The great revival in letters which began shortly after the days of Saul was due, most probably, to the influence of Samuel and those great schools of the prophets which he had established in the land.
And laid it up before the Lord.—We are not told where this was done, but the words seem to imply that the document, or roll, was placed by the side of the Ark, then in the “city of woods,” Kiriath-yearim. Josephus says this writing was preserved in the Tabernacle of the Holy of Holies, where the Book of the Law had been laid up (Deuteronomy 31:26).
And Samuel sent all the people away.—It is noteworthy that even after the formal popular ratification of Saul’s election as king, it is Samuel who dismisses the assembly. Indeed, throughout the remainder of the great seer’s life, whenever he appears on the scene, he is evidently the principal person, occupying a position above king or priest. On the other hand, after this period Samuel made but comparatively few public appearances; of his own free will he seems to have retired into privacy, and only in emergencies to have left his retirement.
A band of men.—Among these early friends. doubtless, were to be found the names of the distinguished men whom we hear of later surrounding Saul. The highest prudence and sagacity marked all the early period of the reign of the first king. Slow to take offence, we shall see from the next verse how Saul and his valiant adherents busied themselves in conciliating the disaffected, and in preparing for a decisive action against the enemies who were on all sides harrying the land. An opportunity (see the history in the next chapter) soon presented itself of showing that the choice of a king had been wisely made.
And they despised him.—As above suggested, these malcontents were probably princes and leading men of the great tribes of Judah and Ephraim, displeased that the new king should be selected from the small unimportant tribe of Benjamin. It will be remembered that the tribe of Benjamin had been almost entirely destroyed in the civil war related in the concluding chapters of Judges. “They despised him,” because in no way had he made his mark, either in the arts of war or peace. From what has gone before (see 1 Samuel 10:11-12 of this 1Sam) it is evident that Saul was a man of no special culture; his early years had been spent in agriculture and work on his father’s lands in the neighbourhood of Gibeah.
And brought him no presents.—These gifts were, in the East, the token of submission and homage; not to offer them to Saul was almost the same thing as to ignore his authority. Although not stated, it is clear that these malcontents were among the chiefs of the greater tribes who had assisted at the election.
But he held his peace.—Literally, he was a deaf man, acting as though he had not heard the murmurs. This prudent conduct showed great self-control and self-denial on the part of the new king and his counsellors.