“Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it,” is a saying we have all probably heard at some point or another. It is the product of living in a fallen world that that which we most desire can in fact be most dangerous for us. One of the reasons it can be so dangerous is that we can become so committed, so single-minded in the attaining of it that we are blinded to all its flaws. Such that when we finally attain it, we find that it is a shadow of what we envisioned it to be. We will see the people of Israel make this classic mistake in today’s text as their desire for a king is finally fulfilled. But what we will also be pointed to is that all of Israel’s longings and all of ours can only be satisfied by God and to seek anything outside of him will prove to be vanity.
Summary of the Text:
After Israel having asked Samuel to appoint a king over them, we now read how Saul became the first king of Israel. Saul was a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who was the most handsome of the children of Israel and standing literally head and shoulders above everyone else. One day soon after the people beseech Samuel for a king, some of Saul’s father’s donkeys wander off and Saul’s father calls upon Saul to find them. Saul and a servant go looking for them, but soon Saul is ready to give up. His servant suggests going and asking Samuel where the donkeys are (he is a prophet after all) and even comes up with a gift they might give him in exchange. Samuel, having been forewarned the previous day by the Lord that the next day he would meet the man who God would call to be king, sees Saul and recognizes him as the one whom the Lord has appointed. Samuel tells Saul where the donkeys are but also anoints him as king of Israel. Samuel then sends Saul to Bethel where he meets a group of prophets. Upon meeting them, the Spirit falls upon Saul such that he too begins prophesying. Afterward Saul returns home with the donkeys but does not inform his father about his meeting with Samuel or being anointed king.
Shortly thereafter, Samuel calls all the people together to proclaim to them their king. But when the time comes for Saul to make his appearance, he is hiding in the baggage train. He is brought before the people, who stand in awe of him because of his physical appearance, and he is proclaimed king. Saul and the people all return to their respective homes.
One of the ongoing things we will be looking at for the rest of 1 Samuel is the contrast between Saul and David. David was “a man after God’s heart” who despite all of his flaws is yet renown for his love and devotion to the Lord. Saul as we will see is a man of flaws and not much else. When we were last in 1 Samuel, Israel had just come and asked for a king. They want a king to lead them into battle and to ruler over and judge them. They want a king like all the other rulers. And they will get what they ask for. After Samuel assents to their request, the scene changes to Saul. And as we see Saul is not qualified to be king in anyway. He has apparently lost his father’s donkeys (in stark contrast to David who faithfully tends and guards his father’s sheep), and after his father tasking him to find them, Saul sets out with a servant to find them. Saul searches unsuccessfully and is on the verge of giving up when his servant encourages him to go ask Samuel for help. Saul further follows his servants leadership in the provision of an offering to give Samuel in exchange for his help. At every step Saul is passive, lacking in leadership and initiative to complete the simple task of finding his father’s donkeys. None the less he is anointed for kingship by Samuel at the Lord’s command. And when all of Israel is gathered together to pronounce him king, when the moment comes for Saul to take center stage, he is nowhere to be found. He is hiding in the baggage train.
And despite these obvious flaws when Saul is finally found and dragged before the people of Israel to be anointed king, the people ooh and aah over him, because he stands head and shoulders above them and because he is handsome. All this to say that Saul and a cardboard cutout of Saul are equally qualified to be king of Israel. They are both tall, dark, and handsome. Behold Israel, your king! Sometimes the most worst thing you can receive is exactly what you asked for.
As has been stated before, Israel’s desire for a king was not necessarily a wrong thing. God’s law made provisions for a king to rule over them. What was wrong was the people’s complete lack of consideration for how the rule of God over them impacted what human ruler they wanted. Furthermore, given Genesis 49:8-12, I think there is a legitimate argument to be made that the people’s acceptance of Saul (a descendant of Benjamin) as king as opposed to a descendant of Judah, was a rejection of God’s promised salvation to them. The people were in essence rejecting God’s salvation and declaring that they could save and rule themselves. Such folly could only lead to their embracing of a cardboard cutout of a king.
And this temptation is not unique to the Israelite, we fall into the same trap every time we elevate a talented, charismatic person to a position of authority in the church while ignoring the qualifications for such a position that have been clearly laid out in God’s word. The same trap is sprung when a guy or girl, out of a good desire for marriage, pursues a relationship with the first “nice” guy/gal they come across. And before they know it they have a card board cutout for a spouse. He/she looks good but has no substance. Doubtless many other examples could be brought forward, but one thing to note is that the origin of the Israelites desire was when they looked out into the world and wanted to be like them. And that ultimately is the crux of the matter. Do we trust God and his word to carry us safely through our circumstances, or do we think that the world has come up with a better and easier way? Yet going the way of the world can only lead to a cardboard cutout Christianity.
But God has come not to give us the facade of himself or to give us an empty shell of a life but that we may have life and life in the full. And to do so he sends his Son, who is imminently qualified to lead and rule over his people. In Christ we have a Son who perfectly carries out the Father’s will and who makes a perfect offering to find and to save his Father’s lost sheep. He is the True King and the True Savior beside whom everyone else is flat and hollow. So let us not give in to the temptation to follow after pale imitations of the only true God, and let us not settle for anything less than what God himself has ordained for everything else always falls short and always leaves us as empty as they are. Psalm 115:5-8 “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.”