How Israel got its first king

Posted Oct 8, 2018

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Daily Scripture

1 Samuel 10:1-2, 17-24

1 Samuel took a small jar of oil and poured it over Saul’s head and kissed him. “The Lord hereby anoints you leader of his people Israel,” Samuel said. “You will rule the Lord’s people and save them from the power of the enemies who surround them. And this will be the sign for you that the Lord has anointed you as leader of his very own possession: 2 When you leave me today, you will meet two men near Rachel’s tomb at Zelzah on the border of Benjamin. They will tell you, ‘The donkeys you went looking for have been found. Now your father has stopped thinking about the donkeys and is worried about you. He’s asking: What should I do about my son?’

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17 Samuel summoned the people to the Lord at Mizpah. 18 Then he told the Israelites: “This is what the Lord God of Israel says: I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the Egyptians’ power and from the power of all the kingdoms that oppressed you. 19 But today you’ve rejected your God who saved you from all your troubles and difficulties by saying, ‘No! Appoint a king over us!’ So now assemble yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and clans.”

20 Then Samuel brought all the Israelite tribes forward, and the tribe of Benjamin was selected. 21 Next Samuel brought the tribe of Benjamin forward by its families, and the family of Matri was selected. Samuel then brought the family of Matri forward, person by person, and Saul, Kish’s son, was selected. But when they looked for him, he wasn’t to be found. 22 So they asked another question of the Lord: “Has the man come here yet?”

The Lord said, “Yes, he’s hiding among the supplies.” 23 They ran and retrieved Saul from there, and when he stood up in the middle of the people, he was head and shoulders taller than anyone else.

24 “Can you see the one the Lord has chosen?” Samuel asked all the people. “He has no equal among the people.”

Then the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

Reflection Questions

1 Samuel chapters 8 – 11 offer a series of stories about how Saul became Israel’s first king. They do not seem to fit a neat linear sequence. At the end of one, Saul is king, but in the next he is not yet and has to prove himself. Scholar John Goldingay wrote, “When God inspired the composing of 1 Samuel, the people God used as compilers apparently went about the task by simply placing end to end various stories; neither God nor they were too worried about the way the stories link with one another in narrative terms.”*

  • 1 Samuel 10:19 today, and other sections of chapters 8 – 11, said Israel was rejecting God by asking for a king. But having no king had not worked well either (cf. Judges 17:6, 21:25). Combined, the stories seemed to stress the human urge to rest undue hopes on any system or set of human leaders. How have you learned to live as a good citizen in a world where God’s kingdom does not fully reign, yet with your ultimate loyalty to God rather than any flawed human leader or government?
  • Verses 23-24 suggest the reason the Israelite people hailed Saul as their king. He had an imposing physical air—he “looked the part of a king.” This was essential background to the story we’ll read in a couple of days of David’s anointing as king. In what ways do people today still often judge potential leaders in any field mainly on external criteria, and often miss other important qualities for good or ill?

Prayer

Dear God, you are my one true king. Preserve me from the urge to give any human leader the profound heart allegiance that I owe only to you. Amen.


* John Goldingay, 1 and 2 Samuel for Everyone: A Theological Commentary on the Bible. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011, p. 58.

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Chris Abel

Chris Abel

Chris Abel is the Pastor of Students and Young Adults at Resurrection, and he describes himself as a "Pastor/Creative-type/Adventurer." A former atheist turned passionate follower of Christ, he completed his seminary education in Washington, DC. Before coming to Resurrection, Chris was a campus pastor near St. Louis, MO.

What’s the most important quality you look for in a leader? Competence? Confidence? Concern for justice? 

Or maybe height? 

It’s a little silly imagining someone’s height as a desirable quality, isn’t it? We’d like to think we care more about a person’s invisible qualities than their physical appearance. I mean, who would actually look at something as arbitrary as height to determine someone’s leadership ability? 

Well, there’s a story in the Bible with this exact plot. An attractive young man named Saul is chosen to be the first King of Israel, and the story plays out like this: 

“So they asked another question of the Lord: “Has the man come here yet?” The Lord said, “Yes, he’s hiding among the supplies.”  They ran and retrieved Saul from there, and when he stood up in the middle of the people, he was head and shoulders taller than anyone else. Can you see the one the Lord has chosen?” Samuel asked all the people. “He has no equal among the people.” Then the people shouted, “Long live the king!” -1 Samuel 10:22-24

It’s actually kind of funny. The people are so amazed by his height they overlook the fact that he was hiding in their storage area. 

They saw someone who was tall and handsome and let him lead—with no discernment into his heart or gifts. 

Good thing this doesn’t happen any more, right? 

Oh. Wait. It turns out it does. 

In his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell writes this:

"In the U.S. population, about 14.5% of all men are six feet or over. Among CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, that number is 58%. Even more strikingly, in the general American population, 3.9% of adult men are 6'2" or taller. Among my CEO sample, 30% were 6'2" or taller."

Now to be fair, none of us think “oh, that guy is tall! He’d be a great CEO.” But the truth is even more insidious. Gladwell calls it “unconscious prejudice.” 

We don’t even do it on purpose. We see tall, we think competent. It’s a mistake we make easily. We look at a handful of external qualities and make judgement calls about a person’s value and worth. 

We did it thousands of years ago. And we do it today. 

So here’s the thing. There are people all around us who are CEO material of the heart. They have character and ability and loyalty and they may actually be under 6’ tall. While our human nature makes snap decisions about people—our faith challenges us to look for qualities that truly matter. 

Height is not one of those qualities. 

Your greatest employee/friend/partner/coworker might be right under your nose. So put aside the qualities that culture looks at and find the human gems most of us miss. 

If Saul’s example tells us anything, you’ll be glad you did. 

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