1 Samuel 15: The repenting LORD

The genealogy at the end of chapter 14 ushers in the defining identity of Saul as the rebellious first king of Israel, and that the second king of Israel shall redeem the nation unto the LORD – just as we have sinned through the first Adam and have become righteous through the second Adam.  The election of David over Saul is exactly that of the Father’s will, for it is His will to elect Jacob over Esau, as it is ultimately portraying the greater significance that Christ has always been the only true Mediator between man and God.  Adam, Saul and Esau – none of them ever bore their titles truly as privileged firstborn – for they are replaced by the spiritual firstborn children of the LORD represented by the true firstborn Jesus Christ.  And so, “The LORD sent [Samuel] to anoint [Saul] king over the people Israel” (v.1), just as Adam was given the LORD’s breath of life but was a mere shadow of the One who was filled with the Spirit without measure.  The true anointing will be on David, the far better type of Christ than Saul whose anointing was filled with omens that he would lead the Israelites astray.

And like the first man of Eden, so Saul decided to choose what is good and evil in his own eyes – a consequence of our first ancestor eating from that forbidden fruit of the tree.  Did God’s words fall on deaf ears (v.3)?  Why are the Kenites, the apparent allies of Amalek, given reprieve?  Though they looked upon Israel with favour, is their allegiance to the Amalekites entirely overlooked?  Is it for Saul to decide what is worthless and despised by sight but fail to see that the best of the sheep, oxen, calves and lambs, under the headship of Agag, are all spiritually adulterous and unclean in the LORD’s spiritual sight?

Like Eve who saw the goodness of consuming the forbidden fruit and shared it with Adam, so also Saul committed the grave sin of walking by sight by not by faith of what these ‘good’ but forbidden things represented.  They belonged to Agag, just as the fruit belonged not to the tree of life but otherwise.  And though the serpent is spared in the garden by the first adam, yet the serpent is destroyed by Christ as typified in Samuel by His work on the cross.  Where the king who aimed to overtop (“Agag”) was returned to his rightful role of mere tool of God, his self-exaltation is immediately humbled by Christ’s exaltation.  There can be no fellowship between light and darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14), and the servants indeed merely emulated what their head had done – to pounce on the spoils like a ravenous wolf (v.19, c.f. chapter 14:32). The people took the spoils (v.21)?  Another adamic retort, only to shamefully concede and reveal that it is Saul who had listened to the people (v.24), just as Adam had listened to Eve.  Does the head of a church ever submit to the church?  That would be a false gospel (Ephesians 5:22-33):  and so the kingdom is torn from Saul, just as the tearing of the curtain of the Holy Place and Holiest of Holies signified the fulfilment of the law, the end of Saul’s kingdom of Pharisaic obedience – and the beginning of David’s, of the typological second Adam’s, kingdom of Christian faith.  It is indeed better to obey, than to sacrifice (v.22); so it is indeed better to look to Sabbath rest (v.34 – Ramah, the peaceful hometown of Samuel), than to pursue one’s identity in the glories of battles and wars (v.52, v.34 – Gibeah, the hills which bury the memories of tension between Israel and the neighbouring nations).

Thus, the reproach of Egypt is rolled off of Israel, symbolised in the punishment given to Agag in Gilgal (v.33, c.f. Joshua 5:9).  Yet, what of the LORD repenting of his decision to appoint Saul?  Samuel is quick to assume that the LORD is not a man – and yet the Spirited writing of this chapter lead us to conclude that we are indeed made in His Son’s image, that He would grieve and repent of adam’s death, though it would grieve Him far more to subject His son to such divine wrath on our behalf.  The humanity of our LORD is emphasised so much in the final verse of chapter 15:   “And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.”  Our LORD is indeed with us – the truth of Immanuel, God with us, is truly expressed here.  The LORD is weeping with Samuel – he has regretted that man was made, echoing the repentance in Genesis 6:6 (the same Hebrew word used: nacham נחם).  And so we should remember to grieve for Adam as the LORD had also; yet, the greater tragedy is not found in the fall of Saul, but in the symbolized fall of mankind.  Though Saul admits of his sins, it was truly the men who had appointed this wretched king – and it pained the LORD to allow them to anoint this false king.  It pained the LORD to see Adam choose himself as king when there is already a walking Mediator between the Father and him (Genesis 3:8).  Yet this regret is more founded upon the emotion of pity; the emotion of sighing – for we know that the LORD had long prophesied the fall of Saul (chapter 8), and thus this regretting has nothing to do with a change of mind.  In spite of this, it does not lessen the weight of sin and the weight of seeing one’s child fall however much one perceives it.  Such is the LORD Who is with us.

1 Samuel 15: The repenting LORD

1 Samuel 14: Salt and Light of the World

In 1 Samuel 14 we begin to see the struggle within Israel – the struggle for Jonathan, or the struggle for Saul.  Jonathan is the one with true faith in Christ – it is by the Son that Jonathan and his armor-bearer succeeds – “Do all that is in your heart.  Do as you wish.  Behold, I am with you heart and soul” (v.7).  Is this not the phrase of the faithful Caleb alongside Joshua?  Can anyone in the OT succeed in anything except by this Christocentric faith (Hebrews 11)?  Do we not see two men who are victorious by faith, rather than by their own might or by mere vengeance (v.6, 24)?  Jonathan commands far more trust from the people who follow him with heart and soul; yet Saul commands legalistic obedience – the repeated response to his mandates being “do whatever seems good to you” (v.36, 40).  Saul, the one who cannot bring the Israelites out of the hidden tombs and crags, who is attempting to uphold the law which points to Christ (v.33-35) – but failing entirely.  Is it not against the purpose of the law if he does not lead the people in faith (Romans 3:31).  If his obedience was Christ-focused, he would have retrieved the ark (v.18 perhaps means the ephod as in the ESV footnote, rather than ‘ark’) to perform these sacrifices; if he knew which God he was meant to be worshipping, he would not deprive them of food (v.28-29) – like David who fed his men the bread of presence (Matthew 12:3-4).  Like Jonathan who proclaims that Saul is leading Israel to harm (v.29) and instead encourages his men to break the idolatrous and Godless, self-serving oath so that none would die and instead feed on the honey of new creation.  How can the Israelites be pulled out of the hidden crags and let alone remain in blindness (c.f. Matthew 6:22)?  Jonathan in contrast leads them to be the salt and light of the world that is not hidden (Matthew 5:13-15), full of wisdom and knowledge with livened souls in Spirit and in Christ.

It is this Christless Saul who keeps the Israelites blind and hidden;  he is the one who has never built an altar to the LORD before (v.35), and builds one on condition of military victory rather than praise or thanksgiving (c.f. Genesis 8:20; 12:7).  The “relationship” therefore is purely restricted to requests for victory (v.41) – whereas, the true victory was achieved by Jonathan as indicated by the LORD’s right hand (v.23).

And this omen, this seed of discord, was implanted as early as chapter 9 when Saul failed and did not persist to find his lost and hidden sheep.  Saul’s purpose is to protect his people, is to bring them out of the tombs and into a victorious chant; yet, it is by Jonathan that these things are achieved, that “…likewise, when all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed hard after them in the battle” (v.22).  The false king did not yoke himself with the Israelites; he added to their weary and to their burden (c.f. Matthew 11:30), these faint Israelites (v.28, 31) who fed on the raw animals with blood flowing inside them – a result of their faintness, their hunger, their burden, caused solely by the disobedient captain Saul.  Like how he blames Samuel in chapter 13, so also he blames the men: “You have dealt treacherously”.  What an adamic retort to his selfish Pharisaic oath which caused such treason!    That Jonathan shall receive the same punishment as the John (the Baptist) of the gospels, to be bound by an oath made with the devil: an oath which will cause the death of innocent lives but for the pride and pleasure of the oath-maker (c.f. Matthew 14).  Though it is Saul’s right to put his son to death upon the breaking of the oath, so also it is the Father’s and the Son’s mutual right to place eternal divine punishment upon our spirit and flesh this very day: yet, by the Trinity’s good pleasure we have the Son propitiating the Father’s wrath by taking our place on the cross.  Such is the Christocentric mercy that Saul lacks: his merciless, faithless adherence to the law is repudiated by the men’s acceptance of Jonathan’s work of salvation.  ” “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die” (v.45).  So also our Christ is our ransom, but not on our account of righteousness – but on the account that Jonathan is truly living by faith and does not deserve death; but Saul is the war-like animal fitting to be part of the ravenous wolves of the Benjamin-tribe.  Did Saul not live by Jonathan’s understanding of Christ?  “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” (v.6)  And indeed did Jonathan and his armor-bearer, two mere men, partake in Christ’s work of salvation – indeed, did the mere baskets of bread and fish multiply to feed thousands and thousands; so also one small mustard seed becoming a great tree (Matthew 13:31-32) as an analogy to the humiliation of Christian men as a shadow of Christ’s pre-incarnate and incarnate, sinless humility.  This is the Trinitarian economy.  Yet, the numbering of Saul’s growing army, just like the numbering of David’s (1 Chronicles 21:1), is a pretext to the nation without Sabbath, a nation without rest, a warring nation growing in as much pomposity as ego to match the increasing faithlessness of the physical church of Israel, manifested in the tragic first king.

1 Samuel 14: Salt and Light of the World

1 Samuel 13: Saul the first adam

The basic thrust of the message of the Bible is one – either we trust in Christ’s works, or we trust in ours.  Creation, by which the Word of God is first preached (Psalm 19) and by the Word that it was given life, gives us its first testimony of this interceding Word between the Father and adam.  Yet, the story of adam, of man, embodied and manifested in the one head Adam, is that of rebellion against God in the form of righteousness gained by works.  In the form of security gained by one’s own hands.  The message seems just too simple – yet it is entirely universal and deeply ingrained in our depravity.  Where Jesus fellowshipped with us (Genesis 3:8) in the garden which we did not contribute to create (c.f. Genesis 2:15 – we were placed there after being created from the dust beyond the garden), we find instead man time and time again building the towers of Babylon; golden calves; delighting in burnt offerings where the law points not to Christ but to oneself.  (c.f. Romans 3:31)  It is by faith that the law is fulfilled – as the law points to necessary faith in Christ.  To obey the law without faith is to deny the purpose of the law as inherently Christological and not a Christless anthropology.

By heeding Samuel’s advice (1 Samuel 10:8), it would appear that this is a common practice of Saul’s to wait seven days – the time appointed by Samuel.  It is therefore on the eighth day that Samuel is to perform this peace and burnt offering before Saul – for what purpose except to preach that Christ is to rise on the eighth day of the week, the third day after Friday and one day after the Passover which is on the seventh day of the week?  It is to point to that Sacrificial Lamb Who leads us to victory.  Even when all men are trembling, when they head to the direction away from the heart of the Promised Land to the rocky regions of Gilead; even when they hide in holes, rocks, tombs and cisterns; they are desperately seeking solace but to no avail.  They are running away from the Philistines who are hidden (Michmash) in the ease of the house of nothingness – of the house of idols (Bethaven).  What irony that this consolidated group of enemies was once conquered by Israel through Yeshua (Joshua 11:4-9), and yet Saul could not similarly succeed for Israel.  What irony that Israel, the descendants of the great Abraham through whom the LORD promised his children to be as many as “sand on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17) is now threatened by a rampant murderous nation which is joined to destroy God’s people.

Their only hope then, truly, is in Saul – the king whom they have appointed as a symbolic displacement of the Father’s, His Anointed’s, and the Spirit’s roles as their joint Saviour.  If the nation, and Saul, fears the LORD and serves Him and obeys His voice and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, it will be well (chapter 12:14).

Yet, Saul utterly fails them.  Saul, like Adam, being the head of the church, is a poor representative.  By the sin of one man did the entire nation fall; by the sin of one man did entire mankind fall (Romans 5:19).  Samuel asks him, “What have you done?” (v.11) – and like Adam who blamed God for the woman whom God gave to Adam, so Saul blames it on Samuel.  Yet, although Saul was still at Gilgal (v.7) – it did not mean that he was any more faithful than those who were hiding in the tombs typifying the death they are to receive.  Rather, his acts truly expressed the heart of the nation – a godless nation trying to be priesthood.  Adam, eating the fruit and having his eyes opened and trying to be the Priest of the Garden but forgetting that Jesus is the true life-sustainer and gardener (John 20:15), and that he is but a steward.

The words of Samuel are profound:  “You have done foolishly.  You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you.  For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.  But now your kingdom shall not continue.  The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD had commanded you” (v.13-14).  Whether we see Saul as the manifestation of the physical church Israel, or even more so as the old adam through whom we are all cursed with death, these words ring true as if words spoken directly to the first man in the edenic garden.  If Adam had kept God’s commandment to refrain from eating of the tree of good and evil, then his kingdom would have continued.  But would it really?  Scores of theologians have questioned whether Adam would have lived forever had he not eaten of that fruit; others have wondered if Adam was under the covenant of works or covenant of faith.  However, there is one firm reality – that he was made in the image of God, and the true image of God before creation has always been God the Son (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3; Romans 8:29).  If there is one image to conform, it is not simply that of Adam pre-fall, but that of Christ.  God had chosen Christ to be the head of all creation before Adam (Genesis 1:1 c.f. Hebrew be-resh-it – in the Head, arche, in the LORD – Jesus Christ); God had chosen Christ to be the mediator of all creation before Adam (Isaiah 42:1); God the Father already had a Father-Son dynamic with Christ before Adam, making Adam technically his second son.  Put simply, Adam, Saul, David – none of them were ever truly men after God’s heart; none of them were the prototypical image of God, or even king.  Only Christ was sought out; only Christ had the Father’s heart; only Christ was commanded and that He obeyed His Father before Genesis 1.  Christ was never a plan B.

This is why ever since chapter 8 is the omen that neither Saul, nor David, are the true men after God’s heart.  Indeed, David does bear that title – a man after God’s heart – but he is not the man after God’s heart.  David has not yet been sought out at this stage – and even more so, has not yet been commanded to be prince over his people (v.14).  David is not even in the frame of the story in 1 Samuel 13!  Samuel is instead speaking of Jesus – because He is the subject of the righteous deeds in chapter 12, and that He is the only one who is in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18 – KJV translation) and thus truly knows his Father’s heart to obey His will and to be the archetypal prince of his people – spiritual Israel.  Thus, Adam, Saul, David, even you – are made in the image of the Father, made to be like Christ.  Yet, it is in David that this typology is seen at its height, for he conforms himself in Spirit to Christ that the whole of Israel is also typologically exalted to display temporarily what a new creation kingdom would look like.  It is important to remember however that no matter how successful Israel, David, or Solomon became, these are all but shadows – because the true temple has always been residing in heaven (c.f. Numbers 8:4; Hebrews 8:5), and through Israel are these eternal truths expressed most clearly in the form of understandable shadows.  Israel should have never trusted in their kings, nor judges – but in the One who brought them out of Egypt.

And so this chapter ends on a bittersweet note – we have Jonathan, the great friend of David, alongside his father.  Both of them are the only men of Israel, only six hundred of whom have survived (or have stayed with Saul) from the previous onslaught and now they are clearly surrounded with enemies (v.16-18).  What they need is a good spiritual Head to lead them through these trials, and yet the chapter ends with setting itself for a possible massacre for the Israelites: the large numbers of men with their superior weaponry against a tired and disobedient king.  It would seem that Jonathan is the only one who will conquer by faith that God is the one who is victorious on our behalf.

1 Samuel 13: Saul the first adam

1 Samuel 12: The LORD and His Anointed One

It is important to remember that 1 Samuel began not with the life of Saul, nor David – but it ultimately starts with Samuel as the typological priestly Christ.  And who are his witnesses?  He explains at the beginning of chapter 12v.3:  “Here I am; testify against me before the LORD and before his anointed.”  It is as if these words were taken out of the mouth of Martin Luther at Diet of Worms when faced with the threat of excommunication, if not death, if he did not recant of his Christocentric writings.  It is these words, which Samuel utters, which will become the bookends of 1 and 2 Samuel.  It is these words which will become the pretext for the struggle for the throne which Saul accepts without faith, and David accepts knowing that the throne cannot be filled by himself unworthily but by the LORD and His LORD on his right hand (Psalm 110).

There is no true indication of chronology with regards to 1 Samuel 12 with respect to 1 Samuel 11 and 1 Samuel 13; if anything, (c.f. the opening chapters of Numbers which prioritise the order of the tribes around the tabernacle and the ordering of the festivals over and above the narrative chronology) it appears that this is Samuel’s farewell address near the end of his life which occurs after the events of 1 Samuel 13.  What is the Spirit leading us to recognise?  Whether there is chronological consistency or not, it is fitting for us to learn the fitting placement of chapter 12 before 13 where we move from Saul’s victory over the Ammonites to Saul’s fall in chapter 13, so that his fall is not something of a surprise for the Israelites or the reader: rather, it is something ominously prophesied by the LORD and his Anointed One.  It is thus clear that Saul’s victorious fanfare in chapter 11 should never have been soberly accepted by the Israelites, nor the readers, for time and time again we recognise that Saul is not the anointed witness.  There is someone else who was anointed long before he was.

Samuel therefore focuses on the inadequacies of this king to come by putting himself to be tested before the people.  He says that he has obeyed their voice in all that was said to him, and have made a king but only according to their wishes (v.1).  He reiterates the same accusations made against the king of Israel in the latter parts of chapter 8, and applies them to himself so to portray himself as blameless – did he take anyone’s ox or donkey (v.3)?  Did he defraud anyone?  Did he oppress anyone?  From whose hands has he taken a bribe to blind his eyes with?  Yet these are the very things which the king of Israel will rob them of – from Saul, to the chronicles of kings down the ages of Israel’s tragic history.  So Samuel closes the testifying with a repeated and utterly important phrase:  “The LORD is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand”.  Indeed, He is witness (v.5).  He is the witness of many – the witness against the rebellious Israelites; the witness of Samuel in sustaining his credibility; but above all, He is the witness of Samuel’s second LORD (v.7) who is his anointed – “I am going to confront you with evidence before the LORD as to all the righteous acts performed by the LORD for you and your fathers”.

As Jude had rightly proclaimed that it was Jesus (Jude 5), sent by the Father as the person of the Angel of the LORD who poses Himself as LORD, who took the Israelites out of Egypt – so also Samuel focuses on this momentous event which utterly changed Israel’s future from a nation of slaves to a nation of priesthood.  He will make them holy (Leviticus 21:23), and it is important to see His work of salvation in Israel – “Do not be afraid” as Samuel pleas, because even when we have done all this evil, it is in His Son’s great name (v.22, Acts 9) that the LORD will not reject his people, “because the LORD was pleased to make you his own” (v.22b).  The entire act of Yeshua, both of Christ and of salvation, is recounted from v.8 to 15, after reiterating the presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in their presence.  The Father who sent Christ to redeem Israel from Egypt; the LORD’s Spirit who rushed upon the great men Jerub-Baal (contender with Baal: Judges 6), Barak (lightning: Judges 4), Jephthah (whom God sets free: Judges 11) and Samuel himself, each and every story recounting the acts of salvation which began with Christ as prototype, as the true image of the Father, and manifested on a microcosmic level in these famous judges.  Nahash, the king of the Ammonites, is but one of a string of kings who decide to fight against Israel.  The Israel who have withstood the onslaught of Sisera, the commander of the army of Hazor; the Philistines; the Moabites; the Baals; the Ashtoreths – not to mention the Egyptians!  Time and time again Jesus Christ delivered them in Person and in Spirit, and their acts of disobedience have now extended to anointing a king not personally chosen by the LORD.  By the mark of thunder and rain as typical of the global flood, the Israelites are given a warning of the taste of the punishment on the Day of Resurrection, and yet their transgressions are wiped away by the LORD’s mercy interceded by Samuel as type of Christ, as well as the Anointed Witness who is the real reason why the Israelites became part of the elect in the first place.

“Be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart” (v.24) – indeed, that is the truth, that the Israelites are to be Christocentric in their worship (v.14): that they do not look to Saul or even David; that they do not look to Jerubbaal, Barak, Jephthah, or even Samuel, all of whom are but normal men called to extraordinary offices and vocations; but that these types all looked to the LORD who took their fathers out of Egypt.  He is the Anointed Witness, the Commander and Great Seraph, who delivered them from the list of kings of the other nations emphasising the uselessness of kingship if not seen in light of Christ as true and only king.  Yet, it is clear that v.25 is a prelude to Saul’s downfall (chapter 13 onwards), just as the entire chapter itself points to the king who does not worship Christ but aims to set himself up as Israel’s unappointed saviour.

1 Samuel 12: The LORD and His Anointed One

1 Samuel 11: Gibeah of Saul

It is easy to look at Israel and think of it as a failed nation.  And similarly, we look at Saul when we consider the greatness of David in comparison.  Just as Israel has been ousted out of favour as the world is covered with Gentile Christians, yet the Christians are still called spiritual Israelites; the Christians have not replaced Israel, but that true Israel is the mixed multitude of Jew first, then the Gentile (c.f Romans 2), which was saved in the great exodus from Egypt.  So we look on this chapter and realize that Saul, as the microcosmic example of Israel, displays the character of Israel at its height – when she was willingly led by God.  Saul, the Benjaminite, having tread through Gibeah is given the background of a potential murderer, a false prophet of Israel as God himself declared to Samuel in 1 Samuel 8:  and indeed, this is the foreword which we are not to forget, Saul’s victories being sandwiched in between 1 Samuel 8 and 1 Samuel 12 where the faithful prophet reiterates that Saul is not the Anointed One.  There is another anointed one, the Son of God, who is witness against Israel’s king and Israel herself (1 Samuel 12:5).

Yet, there is an entirely different string of events upon comparing chapter 11 to Judges 20.  Where the Levite cut the raped woman’s flesh into several pieces, so Saul cuts a yoke of oxen and demands a similar warning (v.7).  Where the dread of the LORD fell upon the people through the Spirit so that they came out as one man, so also the Israelites fought Gibeah as one man (Judges 20:11 compared with v.7).  The juxtaposition of that Gibeah of Saul (v.4) to the Gibeah of Judges 20 is that Saul is a different man – by the Spirit.  It is by the Spirit of God that he is transformed into the leader of Israel, her captain and her prince.  The enemy is not a brother as the men of Gibeah; the enemy is not an internal conflict amongst the tribes of Israel: but the enemy here is the serpent (Nahash) in the dry rocky wilderness-region (Jabesh-gilead).  This serpent threatens to blind the filthy Israelites to deprive them of seeing and being in the light (c.f. Matthew 6:22-23), the right eye and the right side being where the blood of the sacrifice is smeared onto the priest in the Levitical practices (Leviticus 8:23-26) to indicate the blood on the right hand – the blood as the righteousness and strength of man (Psalm 17:7, 18:35).

What foolishness that the Israelites en masse would wish to cut a covenant with Nahash, only to be marked with such shamelessness in return.  They wish to cut this covenant with the blood of their right eyes when the only blood worthy of cutting an eternal peace-keeping covenant is the blood of Christ symbolized by the blood of circumcision (Genesis 17).  Yet, we are but circumcised in our hearts, and instead of the physical deformity of being literally blinded, our spiritual eyes are unveiled rather than forever masked by the serpent’s infliction, and that the mark of the cross, the ancient Hebrew spelling of ת  tau, shall be the mark of the true Trinitarian covenant cut with the Son’s blood (Ezekiel 9:4).

And such is the community of one brought against the Ammonites – that they are united under the one leader Saul who is their typological Saviour.  No two of the Ammonites are left together (v.11) as to create an unholy council against the Trinitarian God of unitary communality, and Saul undoubtedly returns to Gilgal in lieu of Joshua’s actions as a result of Joshua 5:9-10 where they also enjoyed Passover in the Promised Land.  In Saul’s leadership we have a culmination of all the great stories of past types:  of Moses being the typological intercessor for the Israelites in the Exodus even when they rebelled by attempting to make a covenant with the golden calf just as the men of Jabesh-gilead tried to covenant themselves to the serpent; of Joshua and the still hot sun (Joshua 10:13) in his battles, just as the Ammonites were struck down until the heat of the day (v.11); of the period when the Judges were overwhelmed and filled with the Spirit, just as Saul was equally filled and lead Israel to victory.  In this entire ordeal, Saul is the magnificent shadow – and like Israel at her height, neither are the true objects of faith.  The magnificence of Saul only emphasizes the magnificence of David’s reign: not simply because they are successful in their leadership as to give Israel a reputable name as God’s chosen nation, but that they were anointed and chosen by God.  There is no indication of that with Saul, and in general, the office of kingship is not one to be hastily filled by man for Jesus is and always has been the only King who led the Israelites out of Egypt.

Yet, under Saul’s leadership, we have temporary praise; we have temporary love; we have temporary patience (v.12-15) – but it is the worthless men of Belial who despised Saul in chapter 10 who are to be the exalted men for pointing out that not even Saul can save Israel.  V.3 sums it up – “If there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves to you”.  Indeed, the praise in reality goes to Saul and not to Christ though peace offerings are provided as temporary measures (v.15); and though they do not cut a covenant with Nahash, they have adjoined themselves to this king which represents them – and if a king should be loved by those who rebel against God then even this chapter should be read with Christocentric eyes, that the fulfillment of God’s kingdom is not in Saul, is not in Israel, but in those who are truly heart-circumcised and who will tell others of the kingdom’s business (v.16) and who heeds God’s oracles and seers wholeheartedly (chapter 9 and 13) as to be the true head of Israel.  Not even great King Saul the old Israel, nor David nor Solomon the types of Christ but in the person of Christ Jesus himself.

1 Samuel 11: Gibeah of Saul

1 Samuel 10: How can this man save us?

The chronicling of Saul’s anointing as king of Israel is met with warm success – but chapter 10 ends with an ominous note from the worthless men of Belial (v.27 – KJV translation of the Hebrew text).  “How can this man save us?”  Indeed – Saul cannot.

It is important that throughout this chapter, we see much of the grand history of Israel – the anointing of the nation to be prince over his heritage, with Saul acknowledged simply as nagid (נגיד), a prince, a captain of the chosen priesthood-nation.  “Has not the LORD anointed you to be prince over his people Israel?” (v.1), Samuel asked.  Yet this rhetoric is not without its irony – the careful choice of Saul as a mere prince and no king; and the Hebrew which if carefully exposed, could possibly reveal another layer of meaning if we consider how the LORD considered Saul as a false shepherd – “The LORD has not anointed you to be prince over his people Israel”.

We are brought instead back to Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin, where we are again reminded of Saul’s heritage as the ravenous wolf, the supposed right-hand and strength of Israel to be the newly appointed monarch.  Yet, this is contrasted with the offering of the three men who are going up to Bethel presumably in worship, reminding us of the covenant made with Jacob at this significant place: one with three young goats for sacrificial offering; another with three loaves of bread, with another carrying a skin of wine – a Trinitarian picture of the communion fulfilled in the covenantal blood sacrifice of the choice animal for the Day of Atonement.  Yet, of the three loaves, two is given.  Of the three pieces of tabernacle furniture, only two are within the presence of the priests which we are – but only the High Priest, Christ, can step into the Holy of Holies to fellowship with the Father face-to-face.  The goat is not for us to feed on, for it is a blood offering to the Father; all of it is to the Father.  Yet, the loaves are for us to consume – the Spirit and the Son, represented in the Spirit-Lamp and Bread-table of the Holy of Holies, Whom we both have presently until the day of the Unseen Father.

From this path of the narrative of the Pentateuch, we are then brought to the events of Joshua whereupon the focus once again is on the Benjaminites who own Gibeah where the fateful and horrid death of the Levite’s concubine was recorded (Judges 19-20).  The stark contrast of Gibeath-elohim, the hill of God, against Gibeah is noted – Saul entered by the latter but not the former.  Though both may be in the same geographic vicinity, the poignancy of Saul walking through the landmarks of the dreaded cursed tribe leads to another question amongst the prophets – “Is Saul also among the prophets?” just as we ask “Has not the LORD anointed him to be prince over Israel”?  Neither question is answered, and though affirmed by the rebellious physical church in v.24, the ominous response by the worthless men of Belial v.27 bring us full circle to the two questions by asking the third question: “How can this man save us?”.  The Spirit inspiring Samuel to write these three questions down should lead us to wonder whether the questions are more appropriately asked of Christ than Saul; for Saul truly cannot save, is no prophet, and is not anointed for the Spirit left him (1 Samuel 16:14).  Saul’s refusal to share the kingdom with his father has betrayed the reason for which he was to find the donkey – chapter 9v.20 – “for [him] and all [his] father’s house”.  Yet, to withhold the good news from his father is to live the wretched life of the Israelite hoarding the law for him/herself but only to be cursed as a result of it.

And so Samuel gathers the people at Mizpah – the watchtower – to see this new king whom the people and not God himself had appointed.  The emphasis on God is dismissed – though Christ brought up Israel out of Egypt (v.18, Jude 1:5), they have rejected their God (v.19).  This is the pretext for Saul – it is not a victorious fanfare, but he is at best a false replacement, an untrue shepherd, not even one chosen by God.  His identity is not only cemented by him walking through Gibeah, through Benjamin, through his failure to honour his father’s house, through the omissions of affirmations to the three questions posed in this chapter, through the ominous rejection by the worthless men of Belial who shall later become part of David’s warriors in 1 Samuel 30 clearly accepting the true Yeshua than the false one: but also through his portrayal as one identified with the “baggage” where he hid (v.22) – as “stuff”, as part of the “tools” – just as Abimelech, Pharoah, Nebuchadnezzar, and Satan himself as God’s tools to discipline and admonish Israel out of love and push her towards repentance.  Saul’s physical beauty falls on blind eyes for the people cannot see Saul for his role as a false and temporary prince when the true king is yet to come.  Though Saul’s life begins with valour, attracting men whose hearts were touched by God just as Saul’s heart had changed (v.9), this is the story of Israel who was also circumcised and blessed by the fellowship of the Trinity but became increasingly a proverb (Deuteronomy 28:37) for other nations to laugh at until Christ came to redeem both the Jew and the Gentile.  Saul may hold his peace, but only for now – just the same as Israel did at her “spiritual heights” but the event of Gibeah is a reminder of what she, and the rest of us, really are.

1 Samuel 10: How can this man save us?

1 Samuel 9: The Servant-Leader

Saul is Israel, Israel is Saul.  When Jacob was plucked out of anonymity, he could echo Saul’s words: “Am I not… from the least of the tribes…?  And is not my clan the humblest of all the clans…?  Why then have you spoken to me in this way?”

Yet, there are signs in which Saul is to fulfil the prophecy of the one who is misplaced on the throne of Israel; that he is the tyrannous king of 1 Samuel 8.  He who hails from the tribe of Benjamin, the ravenous wolf in the morning devouring the prey and at evening dividing the spoil (Genesis 49:27).  This is the mark of the king who will (chapter 8:14-18) take the best of the Israelites’ field and vineyard and olive orchards and give them to his servants, taking their male and female servants and the best of their young men and donkeys and put them to work.  This is the ravenous wolf who will enslave them.  Saul is the son of Ben-oni – the son of sorrow, the original name of Rachel’s last son.  Yet Jacob erroneously calls him Benjamin, the son of the right hand – the right hand which indicates strength, priority and headship in a family as is Christ who stands at the right hand of the Father.  Saul is the son of Kish, the bow, and by this warrior bow and by this righteousness by the right hand shall Saul be portrayed – yet Saul is not the son of the right hand for he is the wolf who will cause sorrow for Israel; cause sorrow for Samuel (c.f. 1 Samuel 15 and 16) who will be replaced by the true son of Judah (Genesis 49:9).  It is in Judah that we find true humility; the great lion who has stooped down, far from the false pretence of humility of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Saul is the leader of donkeys which he cannot find, and after three days he finds the type of Christ – Samuel – he who had prophesied that Saul himself would be that tyrannous king in the previous chapter.  It is mysterious as to who found the donkey, but the real importance lies in the fact that the donkeys were found – but not by Saul.

Saul had gone to four different places, but it is his servant who ushered his master to seek the seer, a term fitting for the situation.  Samuel is the prophet-seer, the spokesman who is inspired by the Word and who, as “seer”, is defined as one who is perceptive and who truly has his eyes opened.  It is the servant who provided the right offering (v.8) – which is all that the servant had (quarter of a shekel), and like Mary in John 12:3 who offered all of what she had in praise and worship, so this servant’s hear was hear before the LORD.  It is the LORD who identified the servant of Saul as one who was fitting to feast with Samuel the type of Christ, and this servant had enjoyed all these blessings because of his knowledge of the importance of the seer; because of his greater persistence in pursuing the donkeys when compared to Saul’s half-heartedness.  The servant portrays Christ’s attitude to salvation as the true characteristic of The King of Israel (Matthew 18:12), and for this reason the LORD describes to Samuel in v.17 – “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you!  He it is who shall restrain my people” – the operative word, “restrain” (עצר), being a peculiar Hebrew term very different from malak which is the word associated to a king’s reigning.  Instead, the Hebrew of restrain implies constraint, a withholding and closing-up.

And indeed, that is the truth of Saul – the type of Israel.  He had roots which were humble, like Jacob who was not initially Isaac’s chosen one on his right hand – instead, Jacob ‘stole’ Esau’s birth-right and was exalted to Isaac’s right hand.  Similarly, Saul is from a humble family of Benjaminites, yet his name and his character as an expected man of righteousness is like the law which curses us; like the law which was withheld in Israel, just as Samuel tells the servant to pass on before them (v.27), although it is the servant who had a circumcised heart though it was unlikely that he had the Torah (c.f. Romans 2) the same way Saul did (v.27) upon the personal tuition Samuel gave him.  Similarly, though Israel was the firstborn son of God and was the first of an ethnic nation to receive the law en masse through the administration of Moses, the servant represented the Gentile who shames Saul; the servant represented the gospel which reveals the law, and thus the servant shames the fake-king.  And thus is this first king of Israel who shall restrain the gospel from going forth as he, like the Pharisees, would keep the law restricted to Israel and keep the Israelites condemned for failing to reveal the gospel.  Yet, the law and gospel is for every nation, so that the true King is praised for seeking out even the one sheep in the wilderness; yet Saul’s ministry is very much defined by Samuel’s words in 1 Samuel 15:

1Sa 15:22-23  And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.  (23)  For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.”

Through this ‘restraining’ led by Saul; through the witnessing of the servant who did not receive the word of the LORD like Saul did and yet was truly circumcised by pondering on the Torah in a different way and received food-fellowship with the great guests of the Seer (much like the feast of Exodus 24); and through the mighty appearance though compromised life of Saul’s integrity in Christ (whom He did not truly know nor see), the object of the burnt offerings, do we see a king who focuses on two things:  the Torah in and of-itself as not pointing to the crucified Saviour thus leading to burnt offerings which are underlined by sinful rebellion; and the ethnic exclusivity of Israel as he fails his mission to lead a nation as priesthood and light to the neighbouring nations.

1 Samuel 9: The Servant-Leader