So what’s the scene as we come to these verses in 1 Samuel 10? In their rebelliousness against God, their true King, and desire to conform to the ways of the world Israel has requested a king. God allows their request and having looked on his people in mercy and heard their cry tells Samuel to anoint Saul to be their leader. This Samuel did in private. Then God prepared Saul by changing his heart. Now v17 ‘Samuel summoned the people of Israel to the LORD at Mizpah.’ Why? For the public ceremony of the appointment of Israel’s first human king, who’s eventually found hiding among the baggage! But it’s no pantomime. So what do we learn for today? Well five main points:
1. The Relentlessness of God’s Word v18-19
First note the relentlessness of God’s Word v18-19. Samuel brings God’s Word to Israel, reminding them of their rejection of God and God’s reproof. Why? To stir them into acknowledging their sin.
“This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the power of Egypt and all the kingdoms that oppressed you.’ But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your calamities and distresses. And you have said, ‘No, set a king over us.’ So now present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes and clans.” (v18-19)
But hadn’t all this been said before back in chapter 8? Had not God allowed them to have a king at the end of that chapter? Surely this gathering at Mizpah, just north of Jerusalem, was now the formal ceremony for discerning and selecting who was to be king over Israel? So why did it begin on such a note? Why sour the hour? Couldn’t God’s Word be communicated with a little more sensitivity considering the occasion?
Well sometimes truth must come before propriety. Sometimes being faithful will mean not being that cordial. If Israel really has rejected the God who rescues them (v19) and hasn’t seen that or repented of it, can we really expect Samuel to smile blandly and say, “So good to see you all today at this very happy occasion that brings us all together” as if nothing had happened?
On my second Sunday here as a minister we had an unfriendly visit from an unfriendly cleric and his colleague. David was preaching on the occasion of his 25th anniversary as vicar of Jesmond and, without batting an eyelid, said:
“The hired hand might feed the sheep but at the end of the day he cares more about himself and his own safety than he cares about the sheep. The good shepherd, on the other hand, is the one who fights the wolf. Are you ready to fight the wolf? For there are wolves in sheep’s clothing here this morning!”
But what about God’s word pursuing you and me until we hear it? Has God ever had to speak to you twice or even innumerable times before you’ve been willing to hear his Word? I had that experience on sabbatical. God kept saying to me through Malachi, Jonathan, do you love me above all else? Until I heard him and heeded him. He’s still having to nudge me at times. How about you?
You see surely God may love you too much to be nice. His word may pursue you relentlessly until you hear it. He may even ruin a nice occasion and allow to go through uncomfortable times if it will get your attention and lead you to repentance. Secondly,
2. The Clarity of God’s Choice v20-21
When Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, the tribe of Benjamin was chosen. Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri’s clan was chosen. Finally Saul son of Kish was chosen. (v20-21)
How clear God’s choice is. Saul had already been chosen by God but interestingly he wasn’t immediately imposed on the Israelites by Samuel or by God. The king was being chosen publicly by lot. The process began with all the tribes until the elimination narrowed down to one man: Saul. But God is still in control. God used the lot to disclose his will. Proverbs 16v33 says that God is in control of the process not chance. And God is in control of choosing leaders for JPC through an interview process. What God had declared privately to Samuel he now declared publicly to Israel. Saul’s secret anointing is now confirmed in his public selection. Why? Why does God now declare from the rooftops what he’d already done in secret?
Well this public confirmation was, of course, an absolute necessity. As the commentator Matthew Henry puts it:
“By this method it would be clear to the people that Saul was appointed of God to be king. It would also prevent all disputes and exceptions.”
God’s choice is clear even if it can be unexpected. So it’s also important to note that Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest of the tribes of Israel. God chose what was weak to shame the strong. All in character. Thirdly,
3. The Dependency of God’s People v21-24
But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. So they inquired further of the LORD, “Has the man come here yet?” And the LORD said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the baggage.”
They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others. Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the LORD has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.” Then the people shouted, “Long live the king!” (v21-24)
The last few words of v21 are very interesting. They looked for Saul but he was not to be found. The word for he was not found is used 12 times before this in chapters 9&10. Back in v4 of chapter 9 Saul’s father’s donkeys were lost. Saul and his servant went to look for them but could not find them. Perhaps a subtle irony is intended here. They looked for Saul the chosen king but he was not to be found. Is the point that on her own Israel will be no more successful finding her king than Saul and his servant had been in finding the donkeys?
It’s underlined in v22 of chapter 10, probably the focal point of our passage. Are the people so dependent on God that he must even disclose to them where they can find Saul? Well yes they are. Israel wanted a king but they can’t even find him once he’s been chosen without asking God for help. They can’t manage apart from God even in the simplest matters.
Have we discovered that? That we’re dependent on God even in the simple matters? The Lord’s Prayer says we are. Give us today our daily bread, Jesus teaches us to pray. And when we pray the Lord’s Prayer we’re acknowledging our dependency on God. And Jesus also said (John 15v5):
“Apart from me you can do [how much?] nothing.” (John 15v5)
Now he doesn’t mean we have to ask him which colour socks to wear in the morning. No. But prayer is vital. Trusting and depending on God in the year ahead for all our needs and for all God is calling us to do is vital. And there’s a central opportunity to pray this coming Wednesday evening. Often revival is preceded by Christian people coming together to pray in repentance and in faith. The opportunities of 2012 for the glory of God are many. The Christianity Explored Taster Sessions in January; the application for a Free School, Clayton Academy, in February; JPC events for the community to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee in June; the Olympics Sports Quiz in March and more events in July not to mention the vitally important regular ministry. If we’re to make the most of them then we must depend on God. If the lost are to be found we must look to him and cry out to him.
But such opportunities can lead us to be fearful, especially fearful of what others might think of us. We can so easily be full of fear rather than full of faith. We can so easily fear man rather than God. Our hearts need to changed by God. What fears do we have for 2012? Perhaps fears over exams, jobs, health etc. Well ask God to turn that fear to faith and depend on him. God loves you and knowing his perfect love, through trusting in Christ, casts out all fear (1 John 4v18), not just fear of punishment when Christ returns.
And what about Saul? Was hiding among the baggage just an act of humility? Was he simply avoiding rather than seeking kingship? No Saul needed to learn to depend on God. Four times in 1 Samuel he fears man rather than God. In 1 Samuel 13 and 28 that fear of man drives Saul to do what is wrong. Is that sometimes true of you? Well learn to keep your head as Paul says to timid Timothy and to trust God and do what is right. God is faithful. In 1 Samuel 17 Saul is discouraged and terrified in the face of Goliath. How do we do when we’re called to make a stand for Christ in the face of huge opposition? Are we discouraged and terrified and run or do we trust the King of Kings and stand firm in his strength, in the power of the Spirit?
Here in chapter 10 Saul, the one chosen and anointed by God, the one who is a head taller than any of the others, is clearly fearful of his new role and especially of what others think of him being the king. So much so that at the ceremony Saul hid himself among the baggage (v22). In some ways it’s a rather comical pathetic picture. Israel wanted a king to lead and protect them but as soon as one is chosen he can’t be found as he’s in hiding. It certainly highlights the frailties of human kings, their fear of man rather than God and the need not just for those in authority but also the people to still trust in God, the true king. Now we thank God for the Queen and for her broadcast on Christmas Day but pray that this nation would turn back to God. That he would change hearts. And we thank God for David’s leadership of this church for what will be 40 years come 2013. But Christ is the head of this church and we’re to trust and depend on him. Apart from him we can do nothing. Fourthly,
4. The Necessity of God’s Law v25
Samuel explained to the people the regulations of the kingship. He wrote them down on a scroll and deposited it before the LORD. Then Samuel dismissed the people, each to his own home. (v25)
The regulations of the kingship mean the rights and duties of the kingship or kingdom. It was a document that prescribed how kingship is to function so that Israel’s king will not go around misruling in any way he likes. It was God’s law regulating how the king is to conduct himself. Israel’s king is actually more like a vice king, under the law of God, the true king. Royal submission to that law should eliminate any tyranny and abuse.
By extension all God’s people are in Saul’s position, we are a people called to obey God’s law. Now it’s important to be clear about this. The law can never be in any way to any degree a standard you can meet and so earn salvation. The law can show you how you fail to be or to do what God requires, but it can’t absolve you of the guilt incurred in breaking the law. The law can accuse you but can’t justify you. God’s law is a bit like your outdoor thermometer – it will show you how hot or cold it is outside but it doesn’t have the power to raise or lower the temperature. That’s why our only hope is Jesus Christ, the law keeper who suffered the law breaker’s judgment (Galatians 3v10, 13).
But that doesn’t mean God’s law is a sad mistake. Remember that in the giving of the Ten Commandments v2 of Exodus 20 comes before v3-17! You say well obviously Jonathan! But listen God says in Exodus 20v2, I’ve set you free from bondage. It wasn’t your doing. And now that you’re free, here’s how a free people are to live – my commandments. You don’t keep them in order to earn freedom. No that’s been my gift. No you keep them to enjoy freedom, to preserve and maintain it, to avoid becoming slaves again to anyone else. Submitting to God’s moral law makes for freedom not bondage. Going back to 1 Samuel 10, Saul is under a law governing kingship not to destroy his kingship but to allow it to function properly. And God’s people are to obey God’s law and commandments, not to inhibit and sour the Christian life but to order it and protect. You see behind every negative commandment in the Bible are two positive principles: one is to protect you and the other is to provide for you. Take the teaching in the latter part of Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians. It’s largely applications of the commandments to the Christian life. And what’s the intent? The intent is to keep God’s people free in purity of life, holiness of desires, and winsomeness of speech. For Christ’s followers the law should no longer be a dreadful curse but rather glad obedience – if we prize our freedom. Fifthly,
5. The Divisiveness of God’s Servant v26-27
Back in v24 Saul had been greeted by a great shout of acclamation. Long Live the King was the cry. But often what happens after a meeting can be as significant as what happens at a meeting. And now there’s divided opinion, v26:
Saul also went to his home in Gibeah, accompanied by valiant men whose hearts God had touched. But some troublemakers said, “How can this fellow save us?” They despised him and brought him no gifts. But Saul kept silent. (v26-27)
The new king causes division and suffers rejection even within Israel. Now can you see, there’s an analogy to the Lord Jesus Christ here? Not because Saul is some kind of Christ figure but because of the appointed office they share. Some of the locals were rejecting Saul not merely as a person but also in his office as God’s appointed king. King Jesus said that it was his mission to bring division as we read in Luke 12v51:
“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Luke 12v51)
Some of you may be thinking: is Jesus contradicting the message of Peace on earth back in Luke 2? Well no. Jesus does bring peace with God to those who trust him. But often their confession of faith becomes a declaration of war so to speak among their family and friends. In that sense Jesus is a cause of division. His coming is meant to set the world on fire. Now is the crucial time when people must decide whether or not to confess Jesus as their Lord. Also there were those who were saying about Saul (v27): How can this fellow save us? John 6v42:
They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” (John 6v42)
In other words, what’s so special about him? How can he rescue us? And still today people despise God’s appointed Servant and King – Jesus. What, after all, people say, can someone executed as a criminal 2000 years ago have to do with me and with how I face the final judgment, my fears, my relationships, my disasters etc. How can this fellow save us? Well he died and rose again for you. He can give you rest and purpose. He can change you and give you a new heart, if you accept him and submit to him as your King. And if you have already, will you stop hiding and fear God and not man? Let’s humbly be on the front foot as Christians in 2012.