The Reluctant King
by Jack Wald | October 19th, 2008

I Samuel 10:17-11:15

If you are looking for someone to run a marathon, you probably do not go door-to-door trying to find out-of-shape people laying in front of the TV watching movies or playing video games.

If you are trying to find someone to help you with your accounting, you probably do not look for people who miss the importance of the zeros at the end of a number.

If you are trying to find someone to help you move your furniture into a new apartment, you probably do not look for people walking along the street complaining about back pain.

And if you are looking for a king to lead you into victory over the Philistines, you probably don’t look for someone hiding among the baggage. And yet that is where Israel’s first king was found.

Just to sum up what has happened thus far, Saul set out with his servant to find some donkeys that had gone missing. In a God orchestrated event, he ended up in the same town as the prophet Samuel. Samuel had been told by God that a man from the tribe of Benjamin would be coming that day and he would be the first king of Israel. When Saul and his servant approached Samuel, God spoke again and told Samuel that this was the man he had been talking about.

Samuel treated Saul as an honored guest at a banquet and then the next morning, when they were alone, anointed him with oil as Israel’s king. Then he told Saul to meet him in seven days which is where we pick up the story.

Samuel gathered the people of Israel at Mizpah, the same people who had come to him to demand a king. These were leader representatives of the twelve tribes and the clans within each tribe.

He started off by reminding them once again that this was not his idea to have a king. He did not like the idea. He was opposed to the idea.

But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your calamities and distresses. And you have said, ‘No, set a king over us.’ So now present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and clans.”

It’s a bad idea, Samuel told them, but let’s get to it.

Remember in all of this that Saul was there watching and listening. Samuel had anointed him as king but noone other than Samuel and Saul knew this.

The process they used to choose a king was to cast lots that indicated yes or no to the question asked. The lots that were cast were probably two small stones that were shaken up like dice and one would tumble out into the lap of the person shaking the stones. One color stone would indicate yes and the other no.

As Saul stood there watching, representatives of the twelve tribes stepped forward to see if a man from their tribe would be the first king of Israel.

Judah? the no stone tumbled out.

Reuben? no

Simeon? no

Levi? no

Dan? no

Gad? no

As the tribes were eliminated, one by one, I imagine that Saul, who you remember stood a head taller than the rest of the Israelites, began shrinking down trying to make himself seem less noticeable.

Naphtali? no

Asher? no

Issachar? no

Zebulun? no

Joseph? no

and finally Benjamin? Yes

At what point do you think Saul went to hide in the baggage? He knew what noone but Samuel knew but now there was a process to be followed. The stones would determine who would be king. Maybe it would not be him. Maybe the stones would pick someone else. Maybe Samuel had been carried away and had made a mistake.

I think Saul was in the baggage a couple tribes before Benjamin was chosen. He knew what was coming and was not ready for it. He had had seven days to think about it but still did not like the idea.

Then the clans of the tribe of Benjamin were examined and the clan of Matri was selected.

This was Saul’s clan and Saul was now burrowing down, pulling some bags over him.

They went through the men of the clan of Matri and when Saul’s name came up, the yes stone tumbled out. And then they looked around for Saul. It’s not difficult to find someone a head taller than everyone else. But he was nowhere to be seen.

What was Saul thinking at this point? He could hear them asking where he was. He could hear them calling, “Saul, Saul.” What did he think was going to happen? Were they going to ignore a process that had said no over and over again until it came to the tribe of Benjamin. It had repeatedly said no until it came to the clan of Matri. And then it kept saying no until it came to Saul. The yes stone had tumbled out only three times. The no stone had been the one that tumbled out over and over and over again. The odds were even that one stone or the other would come out but this beat all the odds. It was clear that God had spoken.

Samuel had anointed him with oil. God had chosen him through the stone lots. And yet he was still hiding among the baggage.

Saul really did not want to be king.

They gave up looking for Saul and then asked Samuel to ask God for them where Saul could be found. Implicit in this request was a desire to verify that it was really Saul who had been chosen and a mistake had not been made.

I wonder what Samuel’s facial expression was like when he heard God tell him Saul was hiding among the baggage? Did he laugh? Did he express anger that God had chosen such a timid, unwilling king? Did he feel vindicated that Israel who had rejected him was now going to get what they deserved?

God spoke to Samuel who announced that they could find Saul hiding among the baggage.

That must have been embarrassing. Going to the baggage, lifting up a few bags and then finding Saul sitting there with a sheepish look on his face.

Saul came out and then Samuel took on the role of cheerleader, “Sis boom bah! Saul is our king, hurrah! He’s taller than you, he looks like a king. Stand up and cheer, ring a ding ding!” (That’s my translation.)

23 They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others. 24 Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.”

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

Not everyone got caught up in the enthusiasm. There were those who thought, quite reasonably, that a man who was hiding among the baggage might not be the best choice to lead the army of Israel into battle against the Philistines.

some troublemakers said, “How can this fellow save us?” They despised him and brought him no gifts. But Saul kept silent.

As a ceremony goes, it was not a stunning success. Samuel made a game attempt to get the Israelites enthusiastic about their new king but Saul made that difficult. After a half-hearted rally, Samuel told everyone to go home and they did, Saul included. There were some who were eager to fight and went with Saul but there was no palace to go to. There was no system to support a king. I’m not sure what these men who followed Saul did but the next we hear of Saul, he is plowing a field with a team of oxen, just as he had always done. Being made king did not seem to make much difference to his life.

Then about a month after Saul had been recognized as king, a national threat came.

Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh Gilead.

Nahash was a particularly wicked man. He made a practice of gouging out the right eye of those he defeated. He terrified people and seven thousand Israelites from the tribes of Reuben and Gad fled from Nahash and his army and found a sanctuary at Jabesh Gilead.

Surrounded by Nahash, they asked if they could make a treaty with him and he said he would agree to a treaty but only if they agreed he would gouge out their right eyes.

When word of this came to Saul,

the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he burned with anger. 7 He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, “This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel.” Then the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they turned out as one man. 8 When Saul mustered them at Bezek, the men of Israel numbered three hundred thousand and the men of Judah thirty thousand.

Saul was new to this but he devised a strategy, dividing his troops into three divisions. They attacked just before dawn and slaughtered Nahash and his army.

And now Israel celebrated. Finally they had a king. Saul was no longer hiding among the baggage but he had led them in a triumphant victory over a greatly feared enemy.

Let me draw three lessons from these opening days of Saul’s kingship.

The first lesson is that when God calls you, your confidence is not in who you are but in who God is who will work through you.

I have observed a couple ways people approach new jobs. There are some who jump in with all the confidence in the world, even though they do not know how to do what they will be doing. Not knowing does not seem to matter. These people are confident enough that they assume they will figure it out when they come to it.

There are others who look at a new position and see a mountain in front of them and wonder how they will ever be able to do all that is expected of them. They see the new responsibility coming to them and are unsure they will be able to be competent in this new position.

This is how I approach new situations. I have never started a new position without feeling totally overwhelmed and inadequate for the new position. Over time I discover I am competent and can do well in the new position but that experience does not make stepping into another new position any easier.

I think Saul might have been like me in this. The thought of being king was overwhelming to him. He felt a bit like the picture of the donkey in the bulletin that has been given too much to carry and the cart has lifted him off the ground so he is suspended in air.

What does a king do? How does a king lead an army against an enemy? How does a king lead a country? How does a king choose good advisors? How does a king know who to listen to when conflicting advice is given? I have been chosen as king, but what am I supposed to do now?

Saul was filled with questions for which he had no answers so he went back home and did what he knew how to do. He plowed the field and looked for lost donkeys.

But then when he heard about the threat to Jabesh Gilead,

the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he burned with anger.

The Spirit of God came upon Saul in power and Saul was transformed and he began to act like a king who knows what to do.

How do you gather an army?

He cut the oxen into pieces and sent them to the rest of Israel threatening them that he would do the same to their oxen if they did not come to fight.

When the tribal leaders received their portion of the ox with Saul’s threat, were they afraid of Saul who they had last seen coming out of the baggage to reluctantly accept his lot as king? I don’t think so. But

the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they turned out as one man.

The Spirit of God came upon Saul in power and the terror of the Lord fell on all the people and a large army assembled.

The account does not say where Saul got the idea to divide his army into three divisions and attack in the last watch of the night. It might have been men with military experience who advised him or it could have been divine inspiration but in either case, Saul acted like a king and made good decisions.

The great victory that resulted was the work of God who worked through Saul and to his credit, Saul acknowledged this.

this day the Lord has rescued Israel.

You may be the kind of person who steps boldly and confidently into new positions or you may step into new situations filled with questions and anxiety. In either case, if you are seeking God’s will for your life and you step into a new position, it will be helpful for you to begin in reliance on God to help you. It doesn’t matter whether you made the decision to take this job by making a list of pros and cons and trusting God to guide you or whether God told you to do this by having a neon sign appear in the sky. Rely on God to help you in what you do.

There were undoubtedly advisors to Saul who helped him, Samuel and others who had military success in their background and in the same way God will provide you with wise advisors, colleagues and friends to help you in your new position.

God gave Saul ideas he used to be successful. God will also work in your mind bringing ideas to you that will help you out in difficult circumstances.

Whatever it is you are led to do, approach your responsibilities with a reliance on God to lead you and guide you. You may feel overwhelmed but God is never overwhelmed. Put your confidence in God who will accomplish his purposes through you.

A second lesson is that when you meet opposition, don’t react, be silent. Allow God to fight your battles for you.

I’m not certain that in Saul’s case it was his wisdom that made him keep silent but it is still to his credit that he kept silent.

Mark Twain had a line that should have been one of Solomon’s proverbs:

It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

Doesn’t that sound as if it came from Proverbs? There is a similar sentiment that does come from Proverbs: (Proverbs 17:28)

Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent,

and discerning if he holds his tongue.

This is great advice but it is not easy to be silent when opposition rises up.

Our instinct is to react. As children, if a kid yells, “You stink!” the immediate response is to say, “You stink too!” The accusations and responses change as adults but it is essentially the same exchange.

Some people respond to opposition by putting up a brash exterior to cover up inner insecurities. They seem so arrogantly confident on the outside but the reality is they are terribly insecure on the inside.

Some people receive opposition and criticism and then begin to plot and scheme how they will get back at those who have opposed them.

To his credit, Saul did not respond in any of these ways. Saul did not yell back. Saul did not try to cover up any insecurity he was dealing with. Saul did not plot and scheme to see how he could get even with those who had opposed him.

As a consequence, when the time came and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, he was ready to respond without the baggage of any of these negative responses to the opposition he had faced.

There were those who did not think Saul had what it took to be king. Saul kept silent and then when God worked through him to win a decisive military victory, the acclaim came to Saul.

Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there reaffirm the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal and confirmed Saul as king in the presence of the Lord. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.

This is such an important lesson and I have seen the wisdom of this. There are those who have attacked the association to which RIC belongs. Stories are being told around the country that this association does not have a legitimate right to exist. There have been efforts made to undermine the legitimacy of this association.

I have consistently counseled those in our association to not respond to those attacks. We believe God gave us this association to serve his purposes. If this is true, then God will protect our association from any attacks. It is not our responsibility to fight this battle.

We are responsible to encourage the churches who are members of the association. We are responsible to encourage charitable projects that work for the good of the needy people in Morocco. We are responsible to pray for the church in Morocco.

If we keep silent then we will not interfere with the work God is doing. If we open our mouths and return accusation for accusation, then we only create another political mess in the church and there are enough of those already.

I have also seen the wisdom of this lesson in one of the church groups in Morocco. There was tension among the leadership of this group that threatened to divide the group. The leader of the group was being challenged and had been pushed out of a leadership role. I counseled him to follow the example of Saul and to be silent. Over and over I encouraged him to be silent and allow God to fight this battle for him. I told him God would not allow his leadership skills to go unused. And the result is that one day when they were meeting for prayer, a spirit of confession fell on the leadership of the group and they felt led to wash this man’s feet and to ask for forgiveness for the way they had been treating him. This man did not react to the accusations and allowed God to fight the battle for him and as a consequence the group maintained unity.

The wisdom of not responding to opposition by plotting and scheming and retaliating is true in ministry but it is true in secular jobs as well. The politics of the workplace can be intense and the temptation is to react to threats to your position and scheme and plot to get ahead. There is nothing wrong in trying to avoid attacks and to make sure people know you are working hard and doing a good job. But there is a line that is crossed when the scheming and plotting take over.

It may be you are good at this and you beat out the competition and rise to the level you desire. Plotting and scheming can be an effective way to get where you want to go, but then as you sit in your nice office looking out with a great view of the city around you, what has it cost to get to this office? How many relationships were sacrificed to get here? How much has your soul been damaged in the process of advancing?

Taking the battle in our own hands and reacting to the opposition we face comes with a cost that we will one day regret.

If it is God who calls us to where we are, we need to do what we are called to do, fulfill the expectations of our job description, and then let our actions speak for themselves. God will fight the battle for us. The all-powerful, creative God who calls us to our responsibilities will fulfill his purposes through us if we submit to him and allow him to do his work through us.

A third lesson is that when you are vindicated, be gracious because it has been God all along who has been at work.

After the military victory the people were enthusiastic about their King Saul and they remembered just a month or so earlier when there had been those who publically argued against his fitness to be king.

The people then said to Samuel, “Who was it that asked, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring these men to us and we will put them to death.”

13 But Saul said, “No one shall be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel.”

If you have been doing all the work of plotting and scheming to get back at those who opposed you, then it is natural to take revenge when you are vindicated. But if you have relied on God you stand in the midst of your success with an understanding that it is God who accomplished great things through you.

There is a sense of humility that comes in the midst of success when you have relied on God for his help and this allows you to be gracious to those who were not with you from the beginning.

About five years ago I was asked to be part of a group that was planning a week of prayer culminating with a worship service on Palm Sunday in Marrakech. We met regularly for planning meetings and I was the resident sceptic. I raised lots of issues and had a lot of doubts about how this would work. I think I was a drag on the process but then the event came together. Graham Kendrick came with his band and it was the most magnificent Palm Sunday I have ever had.

I was a sceptic in the process but I am grateful that I was not discarded but allowed to participate and be part of the leadership of the event. The man who initiated this event, who had the initial vision for it and led the implementation of it was gracious to me and thanked me for my help and the reason he could be so gracious to me was because he knew it was God who had made the week so successful.

At the heart of each of these three lessons is a reliance on God, trusting God, submitting to God. These lessons are not only helpful for us when we are part of a ministry. They are helpful for us in our work in school, in businesses, in embassies, in whatever we do.

When God calls you, your confidence is not in who you are but in who God is who will work through you.

When you meet opposition, don’t react, be silent. Allow God to fight your battles for you.

When you are vindicated, be gracious because it has been God all along who has been at work.