By J.R. Miller
1 Samuel 9-10
It had been decided that Israel should have a king. How was he to be found? The story is graphically told in the Scriptures. There was a man named Kish, "He had a son named Saul, an impressive young man. There was no one more impressive among the Israelites than he. He stood a head taller than anyone else."
It would not have been worth while to put into the Bible the story of the lost donkeys, except that it was through this incident that Samuel came to meet Saul. Here we have an illustration of Divine Providence. The straying of some donkeys from a farm in Benjamin, brings the future king of Israel to the prophet who was to anoint him. There is no 'chance' in life. God is moving everywhere. The smallest events of our lives any common day--may become important links in the shaping of our career. The coming of two prisoners from the palace to Joseph's prison one day, prepared the way for the calling of Joseph to be prime minister of Egypt, with all the great history that followed.
Just so, the most casual meeting of two strangers in traveling or in a social way, is often the beginning of some most important event. If the donkeys of Kish had not been lost, humanly speaking, Saul would not have met Samuel and would not have become king of Israel. God is always weaving the web of life for us out of the minutest threads, using even the pains and disappointments of our experience to help make up the beauty and the goodness of the finished fabric.
"With mercy and with judgment
My web of time He wove.
And yes the dews of sorrow
Were lustred by His love:
I'll bless the hand that guided,
I'll bless the heart that planned,
When throned where glory dwells
In Emmanuel's land."
It is beautiful to see how quietly and cheerfully Samuel goes about the preparations for the finding of the new king. It was hard for him to be set aside after his long, faithful service. It is not easy for any man to come from a high position which he has long filled with efficiency and honor--and take a place in the ranks and go on serving, doing his duty just as well and as sweetly as if he were still in the exalted place. Some men, after being chairman of a committee for a time, are of little use afterward when they are back again in the ranks. But Samuel continued to be just as happy, as deeply interested in the affairs of his people, and as active in promoting his country's good, after he had been asked to resign his judgeship, as he was when in the height of his power and at the zenith of his honor. He was as eager in securing the new king for the people--as if it had cost him nothing to give way to the new ruler.
Samuel called a convention of the people together at Mizpah to have the new king take his place. It was not yet publicly known who the new king would be. Samuel knew it and Saul knew it--but the people had not learned of it. They were now called together to choose a king. This illustrates further the way of God's Providence. We go about in our daily duties and work freely, without restraint. We think we are making all our own plans and doing the thing which only we ourselves had purposed. But all the while we are carrying out the secret purposes of God!
Samuel began his address to the people by reminding them again that they had rejected God in demanding a king. He recalled to them the long history of Divine goodness which had marked their career from the beginning. Most of us are very quick to feel the hurt of the ingratitude of others. If we have befriended anyone and he returns unkindness for our kindness, we do not like it. We sometimes quote the fable of the serpent frozen by the wayside, which the benevolent passer-by took up and put in his bosom to warm, which returned his kindness by striking its deadly fangs into his flesh as soon as it revived! We complain very sorely of lack of gratitude in those we have helped in trouble.
Let us be fair towards God. Let us judge ourselves in relation to His mercies and favors to us--by the same rule which we so inexorably apply to our fellow-men in their treatment of us. What has God done for us? What mercies and favors have we received from Him? From what troubles has He delivered us? Well, how are we treating this Deliverer and Friend? Do we recognize Him as our King? Or are we rejecting Him and giving our allegiance to another? It is well that we should sit down quietly while we are studying this part of our story--and see whether we are free from the sharp blame which the prophet here lays upon these ancient people.
The people were to have a part in the choosing of their own king. The lot was used in those days as the means of finding out what the will of God was. It was regarded as a Divine ordinance. Its decision, therefore, was considered infallible. "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord." So it came that the lot pointed to the very man who already had been named and secretly anointed. How are we in specific cases, to find out what the will of the Lord for us is?
At one time when Henry Drummond was settling a grave question, he studied carefully the teaching of the Bible about the will of God and how to find it. The result of his study he summarized in eight maxims, which he wrote upon the flyleaf of his Bible: "To find out God's will--
3. Talk to wise people--but do not regard their decision as final.
4. Beware of the bias of your own will--but do not be too much afraid of it. God never unreasonably thwarts a man's nature and liking, and it is a mistake to think that His will is in the line of the disagreeable.
5. Meantime, do the next thing, for doing God's will in small things is the best preparation for knowing it in great things.
6. When decision and action are necessary, go ahead.
7. Never reconsider a decision when it is finally acted upon.
8. You will probably not find out until afterwards, perhaps long afterwards, that you have been led at all."
It will always seem to many people a mystery that Saul was divinely pointed out as the man who should be the first king of Israel. When we have read the story of his reign, it seems to us that it was in many respects a failure and that his selection was a mistake. How then can we explain the fact that the Lord appears to have approved of his appointment? Several things seem clear. At the time Saul became king, he was the fittest man among all the people for the position. He was physically qualified. He was brave and skillful. He had the capacity for kingship. He might have been a successful ruler. His failure came through his not accepting God's plan for his life and not obeying God's commandments, he was a disappointment to God, as Judas was to Jesus Christ.
Saul had many excellent things in his character. He was humble and modest. He knew already what the result of the lot would he, and he hid himself out of sight so as to escape the ordeal which would be his when his choice became known to the people. True modesty is always a lovely trait. It is far better that we let honors seek us--than that we should seek them. A man who tries to get himself elected to a position of honor and power, is precisely the man who ought not to be elected. Saul had not sought to be king, and his conduct at the time he was elected cannot he condemned. This, however, is one of the "illusive presages" of the opening of Saul's reign which failed to indicate truly the real character of the man.
In some way the matter of finding the hidden king was taken to the Lord, and it was learned that like a bashful boy he had concealed himself among the luggage. There are a good many young men in our own days who are hiding away from God's appointments and from God's call to service. They are not ready to take the place in life for which they were created or to carry out the Divine plan and purpose for them. Sometimes they are so engrossed in the world's business and pleasure, that they cannot hear the Divine voice calling them to things that are higher and nobler.
One young man whom Jesus called could not follow Him because he could not give up his money. The ideal life is the one that lives out the thought of God for it. Our Lord in one of His parables tells of a man, who if he did not hide himself, at least hid his talent, failing to use it. We need to be careful lest we fail to hear God's calls, or lest, hearing them, we fail to answer them.
Samuel altogether forgot himself and the bad treatment he had received when he presented the new king to the people. "Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people." Saul was a kingly man, at least in a physical sense. He had a magnificent opportunity. He was chosen of God for a high position, and if he had been faithful would have achieved great success. But we know that he missed all--because he would not take God's way.
It is pleasant to contrast our King with this kingly man who stands before us. In Him every beauty of character blossoms out in perfection. He was the only perfect man who ever lived. All others have been only fractions of men--but in Him all loveliness, whatever things are true, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely--are found in perfection. Saul began well--but his glory soon became dimmed. The bright promise of his early years was not fulfilled. We read on a few pages, and we find him anything but a kingly man--selfish, ignoble, envious, full of murderous hate, willful, and then, as a consequence, forsaken by God! But there was no such sad and bitter disappointment in the after career of Jesus Christ. His star grew brighter and brighter as the years went on. Now He is the King of glory, and all the holy angels bow down to Him.
The great mass of the people accepted the new king with loyalty and enthusiasm. "Saul also went to his home in Gibeah, accompanied by valiant men whose hearts God had touched." Not all the people were Saul's friends that day--but all the noble and worthy men seem to have rallied about him. It strengthened him to have this company of brave men gather about him in faithful friendship and devotion. At any time it is a great comfort to a man to have friends; but there are times when the value of friends is simply incalculable. We are not told that these friends of Saul's did anything for him, or gave him any real help. All that is said about them is that they went with him that day to his own home. Even this was a great encouragement and inspiration for him. They thus took their place on his side before all the people and avowed themselves his friends.
One of the best things we can do for our friends is to stand by them, giving them honor. Our truest friend is not the man who talks most about his friendship for us--but the man we are sure of, knowing that whenever we turn to him in any circumstance of need, we shall find him there.
There come times in the life of every man, when simply to go with him is the greatest favor another can show to him. One writes: "Were you ever in circumstances when simply to go with you was the kindest and bravest thing any friend could do for you, including and pledging every other kind and courageous thing which there might yet be occasion to do? Then you can understand what it was to Saul that day, to see his band of men, 'whose hearts God had touched,' going with him to his home."
There were some of the people, however, who were not the new king's friends, who failed to give him their loyal support. "But some troublemakers said, 'How can this fellow save us?' They despised him and brought him no gifts. But Saul kept silent." Saul revealed self-control and wisdom in the way he bore himself at this time. It is a great thing to know how to be silent--when silence is the first duty. Saul failed to show the same patience in the later years of his reign. Power spoiled him. Here, however, his conduct showed fine self-restraint. Amid the sneers and scoffs of these worthless fellows he was as though he were deaf. We are reminded of Jesus Himself, who, when He was reviled, reviled not again.
We are too apt to resent insults and retaliate when others say or do evil things to us. The Christian way is either not to speak at all, or to give the soft answer that turns away wrath. Not only is this the Christian way, it is also the way of wisdom. The quickest way to conquer an enemy--is to treat him with kindness in return for his unkindness. Stopping to resent every insult--keeps one continually in trouble; whereas ignoring slights and going on with our own duty quietly--is the way to get the better of them. The best answer to sneers and scoffs and abuse--is a sweet, quiet, beautiful life of patience and gentleness. "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult--but with blessing." 1 Peter 3:9