King Saul and King Jesus: Thoughts on 1 Samuel 10

In the past few weeks at church we’ve been working our way through the Bible, trying to get the ‘big picture’ of the whole Bible story. This week we reached 1 Samuel 10, where God chooses Saul to be the next King of Israel and Saul is anointed by the prophet Samuel.

It’s a fascinating passage in many ways. There are details in the story which make you scratch your head, some of them are a bit puzzling. In the Old Testament, the key to understanding it is to realise that it is actually all about Jesus – and I think that is exactly the case here. I just wanted to jot down a few thoughts about how this passage is actually about Jesus, in the way that he contrasts with Saul. (The actual passage we had this morning was 1 Samuel 10:9-26. The other passage was the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem from Luke 19 – the reasons for mentioning that will become clear…)

The passage in 1 Samuel 10 follows on from a rather comical story about Saul being sent to look for some lost donkeys. His father sends him out to find them, but doesn’t find them anywhere. They nearly give up, but Saul’s servant suggests asking the “man of God” – Samuel – who could help them. Saul is presented as a bit of a helpless case really: he doesn’t find the donkeys, he doesn’t really have any initiative – his servant is portrayed in a better light than he is!

Contrast #1: Jesus, the man of God, sends his disciples out in Luke 19 to bring back a donkey. He doesn’t need to search for it: he knows exactly where it will be found. Jesus is greater than Saul.

Samuel said to Saul  that “The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person” (1 Sam 10:6). This is exactly what happens at the beginning of our passage, as Samuel had said.

Contrast #2: The Spirit of God came upon Jesus at his baptism – but he didn’t need to be changed into a different person. His heart didn’t need to be changed. Jesus is greater than Saul.

Twice in this passage Saul tries to duck his responsibility. Firstly he didn’t tell his uncle what Samuel said about being made king, and then he hides himself among the supplies to try and stop the people making him king! Hardly what you would call king material. In fact, his main qualification to be king (apart from, of course, the fact that God chose him) was that he stood a head taller than anyone else. In other words, he looked the part – but he wasn’t on the inside.

Contrast #3: When God sends Samuel a bit later on to anoint David as King, the Lord says, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Saul had the appearance of a good king physically, but his heart was not right. Jesus, on the other hand, as Isaiah 53 puts it: “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” He didn’t look like a king – and yet, his heart was completely right and true. Jesus is greater than Saul.

The passage finishes with these words: “But some scoundrels said, ‘How can this fellow save us?’ They despised him and brought him no gifts. But Saul kept silent.” Scoundrels throw insults at Saul and question whether he can “save” them. But Saul keeps silent – which is perhaps an implied criticism of Saul, maybe he should have spoken up and said something. Another example of how Saul was not king material – at least, not in the eyes of the world.

Contrast #4: When Jesus was hanging on the cross, people threw insults at him and said “He saved others, but he can’t save himself” (Mark 15:31). And Jesus, before Pilate, was silent (Mark 15:5). In the words of Isaiah 53 once more, “as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Jesus was the one who could truly save others. Jesus is greater than Saul.

I think these contrasts are all here to point to the fact that Jesus is the great King, the King of Kings, the one whom God has chosen and anointed to rule eternally. The Israelites wanted to be like the other nations, they wanted to have a king just like everyone else – but God has very different ideas about kings.

It turns out that what they – and we – really need is not one who is physically impressive, a brilliant strategist who is able to lead an army into battle. No – what we really need is a king who has a right heart, a king who can truly save others – not from physical danger but from their sins. Saul could never be that king: the only one who could is Jesus.

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