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.