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.