Meditations in 1 Samuel 19. Head and Shoulders King
1 Sam 9:1-2 There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. He had a son named Saul, an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites–a head taller than any of the others.
The elders of Israel, we have seen, approach Samuel and ask for a king. The Lord tells Samuel that it is not he, Samuel, they are rejecting but the Lord Himself. Now what is amazing about this account and all that follows, is that the Lord does not get angry with them, threaten to destroy them or do anything else, but instead allows them what they want. In the back part of Romans 1 we see a principle that Paul shows us, whereby sometimes the Lord lifts off His hand of restraint and allows sinful mankind to do what they want without hindrance, so that they will reap the fruits of their folly and hopefully, some at least will come to their senses and turn back to the Lord. The awful truth is that sometimes the Lord gives us what we want, even when it is not the best thing for us at the moment, but He gives it so that it will act as discipline in our lives in the days ahead and bring eventual change to our lives.
So after the Lord has spoken to Samuel as we’ve seen, He adds, “Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.” (1 Sam 8:9) Samuel conveys this to the people and then gives them a long warning of how kings take and use people in their service, service which can be harsh and demanding and costly (1 Sam 8:10-17). At the end of it he warns them, “When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.” (v.18) You want to go down the path of having a king? This is what kings do, so be warned! “But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” (v.19,20) Yes, you clowns, he will fight your battles but you will be his soldiers doing the fighting!!! Conclusion? “When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.” (v.21,22)
Now intriguingly Samuel does not take any immediate action in choosing a king for them but simply sends them all home with the (presumed) assumption that he will get around to this in due time. It is then that we come to our verses above when we are introduced to Saul who is described as “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites – a head taller than any of the others.”
Now many years ago, in the 1970’s I believe it was, an American preacher by the name of Ern Baxter preached a powerful series of messages at a Bible Week in the north of England about two different sorts of approach to church – head and shoulders versus heart man. We use the expression that someone is “head and shoulders” above the rest, meaning they were outstanding. Well, put aside the shoulders bit and this is how Saul was – a tall young man who stood out from the rest. Now Ern Baxter wonderfully contrasted him with David who followed. Not only was Saul taller than most but, he said, the head represents human wisdom and shoulders represent human strength and that is what Saul brought to the kingdom and everything he did was characterized by human wisdom and human strength. David by contrast, we will come to see, was described as a man after God’s own heart. We’ll talk about that no doubt in a later meditation.
But Saul was everything the people could hope for when they wanted a king to beat up the surrounding nations and fight for them. He was tall and impressive. Have you ever heard little boys competing: “My dad can beat up your dad”. That was what Israel wanted: “Our king can beat up your king”. They wanted someone who looked good and would look like a leader, someone big, someone taller than the rest. (The only trouble is that there is always someone bigger, as we’ll see when we come to the story of the giant called Goliath).
Now when you follow the story through, circumstances conspire to get Saul to encounter Samuel (see 1 Sam 9:3-14) but before he arrives, the Lord tells Samuel, “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him leader over my people Israel; he will deliver my people from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked upon my people, for their cry has reached me.” (1 Sam 9:16) The story is revealed in the following verses that you can read, with the Lord confirming this is Israel’s new king (v.17) and going on until Samuel anoints him as the new king (1 Sam 10:1) and also telling him various things that will come to pass – which do – by way of confirmation that God is with him. The way is set.
Now we’ll pause it there and continue in the next meditation. As the story unfolds we’ll see that Saul does a reasonable job as far as fighting is concerned but is a spiritual nightmare. Now here is the thing: God knows the future, so God must have known it would pan out like this, so why did He let it happen (or bring it about) in this way?
The answer has to be what we said earlier: Israel are rejecting Him but no one will ever be able to say He didn’t give them a chance to make this new-style leadership work. He will use this time to show that their way is foolish and their style of king is not up to the job of looking after this unique nation. It needs a spiritual dimension to interact with a spiritual God, if we may put it like that. We may think we know best about the physical side of our lives – who we will marry, what career we will follow, how we will overcome troubles and difficulties, but at the end of your life you will have to acknowledge the folly of that approach. All of those things work well when you are related to God and allow Him to lead you. Without Him, watch out for problems and failures. It IS that simple. Saul will show us that.