The Matter of the Kingdom
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The Matter of the Kingdom

1 Samuel 10:1–27  (ID: 3373)

The time had come for Saul’s private anointing and public proclamation as Israel’s king. But his coronation was not like that of pagan monarchs. The prophet Samuel used the occasion to preach the word of God and emphasize God’s sovereignty by identifying Saul as the Lord’s chosen prince. Examining this inauguration scene, Alistair Begg encourages us to remember that it is not the king that matters most but the matter of the kingdom itself—a kingdom that ultimately would belong to Christ.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 and 2 Samuel, Volume 2

Saul, Israel’s First King 1 Samuel 8:1–15:35 Series ID: 109012

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to 1 Samuel chapter 10 and follow along as I read this chapter. First Samuel 10:

“Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on [Saul’s] head and kissed him and said, ‘Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies. And this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince over his heritage. When you depart from me today, you will meet two men by Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah, and they will say to you, “The donkeys that you went to seek are found, and now your father has ceased to care about the donkeys and is anxious about you, saying, ‘What shall I do about my son?’” Then you shall go on from there farther and come to the oak of Tabor. Three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you there, one carrying three young goats, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a skin of wine. And they will greet you and give you two loaves of bread, which you shall accept from their hand. After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim, where there is a garrison of the Philistines. And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. Now when these signs meet you, do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you. Then go down before me to Gilgal. And behold, I am coming down to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do.’

“When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, ‘What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?’ And a man of the place answered, ‘And who is their father?’ Therefore it became a proverb, ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’ When he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place.

“Saul’s uncle said to him and to his servant, ‘Where did you go?’ And he said, ‘To seek the donkeys. And when we saw they were not to be found, we went to Samuel.’ And Saul’s uncle said, ‘Please tell me what Samuel said to you.’ And Saul said to his uncle, ‘He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.’ But about the matter of the kingdom, of which Samuel had spoken, he did not tell him anything.

“Now Samuel called the people together to the Lord at Mizpah. And he said to the people of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.” But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, “Set a king over us.” Now therefore present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and by your thousands.

“Then Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. He brought the tribe of Benjamin near by its clans, and the clan of the Matrites was taken by lot; and Saul the son of Kish was taken by lot. But when they sought him, he could not be found. So they inquired again of the Lord, ‘Is there a man still to come?’ and the Lord said, ‘Behold, he has hidden himself among the baggage.’ Then they ran and took him from there. And when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward. And Samuel said to all the people, ‘Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? There is none like him among all the people.’ And all the people shouted, ‘Long live the king!’

“Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the Lord. Then Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his home. Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went men of valor whose hearts God had touched. But some worthless fellows said, ‘How can this man save us?’ And they despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace.”


Make the Book live to me, O Lord,
Show me yourself within your Word,
Show me myself and show me my Savior,
And make the Book live to me.[1]

For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, imagine the consternation in Westminster Abbey if on June 3, 1953, when everything was in place for the coronation of Elizabeth II, nobody could find her—and when they went to look for her, they found that she’d hidden herself in a cloakroom. Of course, it didn’t happen; it would be bizarre if it happened. But it happened here in 1 Samuel 10. In Saul’s case, in the inauguration of the monarchy in Israel, when they turn to do in public what has taken place in private, he’s nowhere to be found. And the answer comes, “Behold, he has hidden himself [in] the baggage.” Runaway donkeys are one thing, but what do you make of a runaway king?

Now, you’re supposed to be thinking like that, and if you weren’t thinking like that, hopefully I’ve got you started in that direction. We’re coming to this as an amazing record of God’s goodness. And it is a dramatic story, it is all true, and it is a little slice of history—an important slice, as I want to point out to you. But there are certain convictions with which we come to all of our study of the Bible, and not least of all to our study here in 1 Samuel. And some are visiting today, and you may wonder at why we would be doing this or why we would be studying something from the eleventh century BC. After all, we’re very modern and even postmodern people. Well, there are a number of convictions. These are not all of them, but these are some of them.

Number one, we have a conviction about the unity of the Bible. The unity of the Bible—that the Bible begins in Genesis 1 and 2 with creation, and it concludes in Revelation 21 and 22 with the new creation. And in between is the record of the fall of mankind and the chaos and the brokenness of the universe that has flowed from that fallenness, and in the midst of all of that, the story of redemption and the plan and purpose of God to put together a people of his very own. That’s number one.

We need our Bibles to understand human history, our own little histories, and our place in history.

Number two, that this unity exists not because it is a collection of religious anthologies or religious documents, but the unity is found in the fact that it is the one Word of God about the one salvation of God in the one Savior—namely, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, the conviction that we need our Bibles to understand human history and to understand our own little histories and our place in history.

And fourthly and finally, the conviction that, as we say often, the Bible is a book about Jesus. And so, when we take our eyes from Jesus, then we lose our way around the universe, but we also lose our way around the Bible. And so one of the questions that we ought always to be asking is, “How will this record of things lead me eventually to Christ?”

Now, as I say to you, with this in mind, I want to remind you that this tiny fragment of history is significant not just for Saul, not just for Israel, but actually for you and for me—and, indeed, for the entire world. “Oh,” you say, “that sounds like hyperbole to me. Are you really saying that this matters in relationship to the great scheme of things?” You’re saying, “No, I don’t think so.” Well, then I suppose my task is to try and convince you.

The chapter breaks in two, doesn’t it? You will see that if your version is the same as mine. First of all, in the first sixteen verses, a private anointing, and then, from 17 to the end, a public proclamation. A great deal to get through. I want to get through it. I’ve set myself the challenge of a chapter a Sunday, and I’m not planning on deviating from it, and so you are going to have to be coming to these studies not with the perspective that I or my colleagues are going to tell you everything that you need to know from this passage, but that we’re gonna tell you enough about this passage to make you go home and then study the Bible for yourself and become students of the Bible—to become like the Bereans, who examined the Scriptures every day to see if these things were actually so.[2] If they did it then, surely we should do it now.

A Private Anointing

So, to this private anointing, or this private coronation.

The scene is set at the end of 9 and into the opening verses of chapter 10. It takes place, we’re told, on the outskirts of the city. And all of the events that have preceded it have been, if you like, crying out for an explanation, crying out for resolution. Certainly that would be true for Saul himself. And Samuel had actually stirred the mind of Saul when, back in the middle of chapter 9, he had made this statement about the place of Saul in the purpose of God in relationship to the expectations of Israel. And last time we said we imagined that Saul was probably trying to figure that out when he went to his bed. I’m referring to 9:20, incidentally: “And for whom is all [this] that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you and for all your father’s house?” Samuel, of course, is acting according to the Lord’s command; he has been commanded to set apart this man from the land of Benjamin, and he is to anoint him as prince over his people.

So what we have, then, is this private coronation. The flask of oil poured on the head of Saul—you will be familiar with this. This happened for the princes in the service of the temple. This is the very first time that it has happened for somebody—I should say the priests, not the princes—it is the first time that it has happened for somebody who is not a priest. Because this is the inauguration of the divine institution of the monarchy in Israel. So, a flask of oil appears, the conversation has ensued, and Samuel gives Saul a kiss: perhaps a kiss of homage—we still kiss, as it were, the ring of royalty—or perhaps a kiss of affection.

That’s the coronation. There doesn’t seem to be much to it, does there?

And then the explanation: “Has not the Lord anointed you …?” he says. He doesn’t say “to be king,” interestingly, he says “to be prince.” “Hasn’t the Lord…” There’s something about Samuel. He just doesn’t want to say “king.” He didn’t like the idea of a king, and he hasn’t decided whether he likes it even yet, so he is a somewhat reluctant member of the coronation party. “Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince …?” In other words, “I may be the one pouring the oil, but it is Yahweh who is doing the anointing. And the people are his people, the heritage is his heritage, and now he is allowing you to have a king. But he’s doing it in such a way that you will not be able to become like all the other nations.”

Because, remember, that was what they were looking for. They asked for a king back in chapter 8 in order that they might become like all the other nations.[3] It was in this that they were rejecting Yahweh. They knew that Yahweh was sovereign over the universe, but they wanted a king they could see. They didn’t want an invisible king. They wanted a big, strong king, if you like, who would go out before them in battle, and that they would not be tied to many of the stringent requirements that represented the direct rule of Yahweh through his servant, the judges and the prophets and so on. And so, at this point the day is still to come when the Judge of all the earth will inherit the nations.[4] And we need to keep that in mind: that here, in this little scene of apparent insignificance, the unfolding plan of God is before us.

Well, that’s the scene. And that scene, then, is to be confirmed by signs. If you’re taking notes, I have three Ss for you under each heading. So this private coronation: the scene as it is described for us, and then the signs. So, we have coronation, followed by explanation, now followed by confirmation. “God is with you,” he wants Saul to understand. And one of the ways in which this is going to become apparent to Saul is when these three encounters take place, and it will be an indication of the fact of God’s divine activity superintending all these things and bringing them about.

Now, we’re not going to delay on them except to note them. First of all, “You will meet two men by Rachel’s tomb.” Rachel is a very significant part of the story to this point, and her tomb in a place that could be located, and so the point of reference is right there. And “you will meet these men, and they will tell you about the fact that the donkeys are under control.” Well, of course, he knew that, and the point would be “How would these men know to even say hello to me and tell me about the donkeys?” Well, it’s a confirming sign. Samuel wants him to know that God is at work.

And then in verses 3 and 4, “When you get to the oak at Tabor, you will meet these men going up to God at Bethel.” And you’ll notice how very specific this is. You know, if it wasn’t going to come true, it would be really obvious, wouldn’t it? It was two men. You know, if they showed up and there were three men, say, “Wait a minute, this doesn’t seem right.” And then if it said there were three men, and they were gonna give you five loaves, and they only gave you two loaves… Notice how very specific it is.

“And this shall be [the] sign unto you; [you] shall find [a] babe wrapped in swaddling [cloths], lying in a manger.”[5] “Wait a minute, are these swaddling cloths? Because the word is ‘swaddling cloths.’”

“Now, how many loaves are you giving us?”

“Oh, we have two loaves for you.”

“Yeah, but you have three, don’t you?”

“Yes, we have three, but you’re not getting three. You’re getting two. And we’re keeping the wine for ourselves.”

“And so they’ll greet you and give you two loaves of bread. You will accept them. And then after that, you will meet a group of prophets, and you will meet them where there is a garrison of the Philistines”; a reminder to us—just a little passing reminder—that they wanted a king who would deal with their enemy, and he’s going to meet these prophets in the context where the enemy is still firmly entrenched. “And they will come down with their harps and tambourines singing, ‘Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,’[6] something along those lines. And these signs will happen. And when the signs meet you”—it’s interesting, the signs are “meeting you,” verse 7—“do what your hand finds to do, because you need to know that God is with you. And after that, I want you to do what your hand finds to do, and then I want you to wait seven days for me until we continue with the rest of the program.”

Now, there’s a tremendous amount in that. There’s a lot of study in thinking through exactly what it is that Samuel is referencing when he says, “Do what your hands find to do.” I’m not going to delay on it except to let you know that a number of the commentators suggest that what he’s actually saying there is—the phraseology that he uses, in terms of dealing with the Philistines—is a suggestion that he ought to right there and then deal with the Philistines in that situation, and having done that, then he will come and wait for him. Of course, there’s no indication that he does that at all, and so you can ponder it as you choose.

So, the scene of the coronation, and then the signs that confirm it. And then we have to say, “Well, what is the significance of this?” “What is the significance of this?” Well, interestingly, of the three signs, the only one that is then presented to us in real time is the third one. So in other words, what we have in the earlier part is Samuel saying, “This is what is going to happen,” and now we have in real time the description of the third one happening. That’s from verse 9: “When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. … The Spirit of God rushed [on] him, and he prophesied among them.”

Now, this whole picture of the promise of the Spirit of the Lord rushing upon him, and then it taking place—this idea of giving him another heart—here is where, again, a very wooden reading of the Bible would force somebody to say, “Saul was no longer Saul; he was another person. Because that’s what it says: he made him another man. So now his name was Bill.” No. That would be a wooden reading of the text. He “gave him another heart.” “Oh, you mean supernaturally he had a heart transplant there—a physical heart transplant.” No, of course not! This is the genre in which we understand—we apply the principles of common understanding, and we realize what a simile is, and what a metaphor is, and why it’s expressed in that way.

Keep that in mind when you come to the Communion service: “This is my body, which was given for you. This is my blood that was shed for you.”[7] Why in the world do we disengage the use of simile and metaphor when we come there, when we have to apply it here and understand it clearly? I’m just saying that in passing to help us.

“The Spirit of God rushed [on] him.” Well, this is not unique. The Spirit of the Lord had rushed on Samson back in Judges 14. And when the Spirit of the Lord rushed on Samson, he didn’t play the tambourine, but he ripped a lion apart with his bare hands.[8] “Wow,” you say, “that’s a very interesting picture.” Well, it is a reminder to us that those of us who want always to come to something like “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him” or “He was given a new heart” and explain it in terms of “You must be born again” need to just sit down for a little while and not get crazy. This is not a picture of regeneration. This is a picture of the enduement of the Spirit of God for the purpose of the glory of God.

And nobody would have been more surprised than Saul himself. I mean, think about it! When he went looking for the donkeys, he hadn’t a clue what was going on. He was the one who said, “Let’s go home.” His servant said, “No, I think there’s a man of God here.” He doesn’t come across very, very strong, does he? And so, when he found himself caught up in this ecstatic experience, and he starts prophesying as well, and he says to somebody, “Hey, can I play that tambourine? Can I borrow your tambourine? I want to play the tambourine too. It had to be something like this, because the people started saying, “Goodness gracious, what’s going on with him?”

I think the significance can be gleaned from looking at the series of questions that flow from this. And I’ll just point them out to you, with comment in passing.

Verse 11: “The Spirit of God” had “rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, ‘What has come over the son of Kish?’” What they’re saying is “We know the son of Kish, and he doesn’t do stuff like this. So something has come over him, that he’s come with… What a strange bunch of people he’s hanging around with, with all the musical instruments and everything else.” Well, of course, something had come over him. “The Spirit of God” had “rushed upon him.”

The follow-up question: “Is Saul also among the prophets?” Well, of course, he wasn’t part of the prophetic band. But what he was doing now made it look like he actually was. And so the incongruity of it dawns upon them. And “when,” in verse 13, “he had finished prophesying” and “he came to the high place,” the question was still lingering: “Is Saul also among the prophets?” You will notice that it is asked twice. And “it became a proverb.” In other words, it became a proverbial statement to describe something that was extremely incongruous. It would be like if somebody said, “Alistair is representing Scotland in the next Olympic Games—in weight lifting.” To which you should say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” That’s the picture, you see? So they said, “This is totally incongruous. We have no explanation for this.”

And then “a man”—it’s quite interesting, isn’t it?—and then “a man of the place answered…” This is just one moment in the Bible: “A man of the place…” So somebody’s standing around, says—and he gets in on the action as well—and says, “And yeah, by the way, who’s their father? Who’s their father?” This marauding band of crazies with their ecstatic nonsense and their prophecies, and they’re playing these tambourines and everything else, and now Saul’s been grouped in this. “Who’s their father?” “Well, nobody knows who their father is. But we know who Saul’s father is. He’s the son of Kish!” “What in the world is he doing? Is he actually among the prophets?”

Well, you think, “Well, it would be finished then.” No! Verse 14: the man from… No! I was gonna say “the man from U.N.C.L.E.” The man who is uncle. Where does Saul’s uncle appear from? I mean, this is terrific when you’re telling the story: “And then his uncle came.” And your grandchildren are going, “Well, where was he before?” “Well, I don’t know where he was before. But he’s here now.” And what’s he doing? Well, the reason this is here—I think it must be—is in order to make clear to us as readers that nobody really knows what’s going on, that his immediate family to this point have got no notion of what is happening to the donkey seeker; that people are trying to put the pieces together, and they’re asking these questions, and they say that nothing like this has ever happened before.

And so his uncle says, “Where did you go?” And he said, “To seek the donkeys. And when we saw they were not to be found, we went to Samuel.” But the uncle’s not gonna leave it at that. I think there’s something in this. Remember we said that when Saul wanted to go home, it was the servant who said, “I think there’s a man of God.” In other words, the indication of spiritual perception in these stories often come from the most unlikely sources. The uncle seems to have a sense that whatever that was said to him by Saul is presumably, if not the key, it is a key to understanding what’s going on. And, of course, he’s absolutely right.

And so what you have in the response of Saul is dissimulation. He doesn’t tell a lie, but he doesn’t tell the whole truth. “Well, what did Samuel say to you?” “Well,” he said, “he told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.” Well, that was true. But that’s not all he told them. And then the writer tells us, “But about the matter of the kingdom, of which Samuel had spoken, he did not tell [us] anything.”

Now, that little phrase “the matter of the kingdom,” which is the title for my study this morning, is, I think, absolutely crucial to this whole drama. And here, in this little statement here, “But about the matter of the kingdom he told them nothing,” this now explains to us what was going on at the end of chapter 9 when Samuel has said to Saul, “Tell your servant to go on, because I want to speak to you the word of God.”[9] There is no record of what he said. But now we discover what it was he was talking about. He was talking about “the matter of the kingdom.” That’s no surprise, but it is clarifying.

Public Proclamation

Now, in verse 17—we need to hasten on—we move from the private coronation to the public proclamation. Once again, I have three Ss.

First of all, the setting, which is really the same as the scene. What is the setting? Verse 17: “Samuel called the people together to the Lord at Mizpah.” Now, this ought to make at least some of us say to ourselves, “I think we’ve been at Mizpah before”—and the answer to that, of course, is yes, we have. You can go back to chapter 7, and you can rehearse what happened there in the context of apostasy, and then the confession of the people, and then the offering of sacrifice, and then the celebration of victory, and then the stone of remembrance. You’re probably saying to me, “Well, if you can do it that quickly by way of summary, why did we have to take so long listening to you when you did chapter 7?” Well, I’m only learning as I go, like you. Apostasy, confession, sacrifice, victory, and remembrance: that was chapter 7, when they all gathered together at Mizpah. And now once again he has gathered them, and he’s declaring to them the word of the Lord.

You remember I said what a tremendous leader Samuel was, in that he prayed for the people and he preached to the people. He prayed for them, and he preached to them. And once again he does the same: having gathered the people, “he said to the people of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel.’” This is the role of the prophet in every generation. The notion of prophetic preaching is surely just the unfolding of the Bible in such a way that says, “This is what God’s Word says, and this is how you might understand it in relationship to the world in which we’re living.” In other words, it is brought prophetically to bear upon the circumstance and situation of the time. That is exactly now what Samuel does. He says, “Now listen, God says to you, ‘I’m the one who brought you up out of Egypt. I’m the one who delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians. And you are the ones who have rejected me. Despite the fact that I saved you from your calamities and your distresses, you’re the ones who have said, “Set a king over us.”’” All right?

Samuel just can’t let go of this. And he confronts the people with what is actually the case. Remember, their desire for a king was so that they would be like all the other nations. Samuel had taken it almost personally when they asked for a king, and God says to Samuel, “It’s not you they’re rejecting, Samuel. It’s me. They’re rejecting me.” They wanted to be like everybody else.

It’s a real temptation, isn’t it, in every generation? Did you affirm your faith in Jesus as King earlier in the service, as you sang, “In royal robes I don’t deserve, I live to serve your majesty”?[10] That’s quite a statement, isn’t it? Declaring the kingship of Jesus, and his majestic rule, and the great tug upon our lives. If only we could serve a different king—one who didn’t make these demands upon us, one who had a different view of marriage, one who had a different view of sexuality, one who had a different view of this and a different view of that. It’s so hard to have this King. Well, if we don’t want to be different, we certainly don’t want to bow down beneath his lordship.

Now, that was the issue. And so he says, “Therefore, in light of that, I want you to present yourselves before Yahweh by your tribes and by your thousands.” Now, the people would remember not only the previous scene in chapter 7, but they knew their own history, and some of them may well have been present in the context before, when in the sin of Achan they had all been gathered together in that way—Joshua chapter 7; I’ll leave it for your homework—and they were assembled in that way.

So now, in a very solemn way, the setting is clear. Samuel gathers the people at Mizpah. He says, “The Lord was the one who delivered you, the one who set you free from your calamities. But the Lord says, ‘You have rejected me as King.’ Now put yourself together in the thousands and in your tribes.” Now, again, nobody knows what’s going on. And they would have been nudging one another and saying, “I wonder what’s going to happen now.”

Our liberty does not overturn the eternal purpose of God.

Well, of course, what happens is the selection of Saul. And we needn’t delay on this. “Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near.” He’d already anointed him privately, but now God was using this process to reveal his will. The casting of lots was a common practice. And the result of the casting of the lot was regarded as absolutely final. And the reason was that the Lord was directing the outcome of what was taking place. You can read that in the Old Testament. You can read it all the way up, actually, to the replacement of Judas Iscariot with Matthias in Acts chapter 1, where he is set apart and added to the apostle band by the casting of lots.[11] It’s very unusual to us, but it is standard pattern. And by this process, whittling it down, whittling it down, we’re down to one now: “And Saul the son of Kish,” verse 21, “was taken by lot. But when they sought him, he could not be found.” He’s turned it into a gigantic game of hide-and-seek.

It’s quite amazing. Now, the commentators go all over the place on this: “Well, he was a very humble man,” and so on. I haven’t concluded, and therefore, I won’t ramble at all. You can make your own conclusions. He’s certainly diffident. And as a result of that, they inquired of the Lord. They said, “Well, have we got this thing wrong? Is there somebody still to come?” And the Lord said, “No, you’ll find him; he’s hidden himself among the baggage.” It’s so good. I mean, who would invent this? Nobody. Nobody.

And so “they ran and took him from there.” “We’re going to have a king! We’re going to have a king!” And “they ran” and they “took him from there.” You don’t have the picture of this big, tall, handsome fellow striding out. No, you’ve got the picture of them all… And he’s big and tall, so it wouldn’t be… I mean, they must have had a lot of baggage for him to hide there. Eventually they pull the baggage apart, and as his frame unfolds, they’re like, “Whoa! That’s a big guy! Strange that he would be hiding like that.” “And when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward[s].”

And Samuel said to the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen?” Well, that’s interesting as well, isn’t it? “You wanted a king. You chose him. You chose him. You chose him. Do you see who the Lord has chosen?” All the twists and turns, the freedom within the framework of providence. Our liberty does not overturn the eternal purpose of God. Their liberty in doing what they did, as and when they did it, is within the framework of the fact that in terms of the ultimate and primary cause, “Look at the king that has been given to you by the Lord.” The Lord’s choice is the people’s choice. And so all the people shouted, “Long live the king!” This is the first time that we have him described in that way, in actuality. Up until now, both Yahweh and Samuel have referred to him as a “prince” of the people. But now he is declared the king.

So, if that is the setting and if this is the selection process, finally, in a phrase or two, what is the significance of this? What is the significance of this?

Well, the scene ends, you will notice, not with a proclamation by Saul. He doesn’t stand up and say, “Now we’re going to take on the Philistines, and I have a great plan for my first few months as king.” No. What we have is Samuel, actually, at the forefront, telling the people “the rights and duties of the kingship” and writing them “in a book” and laying it “up before the Lord.”

You have to do this as homework, again, for yourself, but you remember the use of the word “judge”: “This is how Samuel judged Israel,” and “This is how justice in Israel was to be,” and so on. And you will perhaps recall that we went back to Deuteronomy 17, and we saw there, in the writings of Moses, the plan and purpose for the day when the institution of monarchy would take place and that there were ways in which God’s plan for that would circumscribe it.[12] And it seems to me that Samuel now is essentially taking a leaf from that book. That’s the only way I can understand it. In other words, by making clear to people the rights and duties of the kingship—in other words, what can be done and what can’t be done—and then being established in a book and laid up before the Lord in the context of Yahweh, what he’s really doing is ensuring that although they get a king, they will not actually become like all the nations. And God is going to see to it that they’re not.

And then in verse 25, “Samuel sent all the people away, each … to his [own] home.” And “Saul also went to his home.” It’s quite interesting, isn’t it, that even now, this newly crowned and proclaimed king is submitting to the words of the prophet? Now, that’s the only way that this divine monarchy will work. Because Yahweh is King. Yahweh’s word is the key. And therefore, whoever is set in a place of authority within the jurisdiction of civil rule has significance only underneath the word of God. King or no king, God rules his people by his word.

And as we would expect in every kind of election, there will be people who are supporters, there will be people who are detractors. And Saul goes home, and he’s no longer just with his servant but with the “men of valor whose hearts God had touched.” God had touched Saul’s heart, and touched some others too. But they do not actually hold sway. “Some worthless fellows” gave their ten cents as well.

Now, we can’t stop on this, but I leave it to you to ponder. What’s happening here, these worthless fellows? “How can this man save us?” I think it is probably this: that it was going really, really well until Samuel decided to tell the people the rights and the duties of the kingship. Everything was going according to plan: “We’ve got a king. Long live the king! Let’s go.” Samuel says, “Before you go, let me tell you how this works.” And as he explains to them the rights and duties, he is making it clear to them that they were not going to have in Saul a king who would make it possible for them to reject Yahweh as King. And so they were not going to have in Saul a king who would make them just like all the other nations.

And so the question that they ask is actually pretty good: “How can this man save us, if this is how it’s gonna be?” In other words, “How is he going to make it possible for us to be like all the other nations? If his kingship is going to be circumscribed in the rights and duties of the kingship à la Deuteronomy 17 and the reaffirmation from Samuel, how are we gonna get what we want?” The answer is, you’re not gonna get what you want. They were worthless. They were annoyed. This guy gets pulled out from underneath the baggage. He may be tall…

Well, what do we do with this, in conclusion? Well, what we discover is pretty straightforward, isn’t it? That it is the matter of the kingdom that matters. It’s not the matter of the king himself, in terms of earthly kings, whether it is Saul or David or Solomon. All of the twists and turns of history, all of the apparently random meanderings of donkeys, all of the human strivings and expectations, in and through all of that, what really matters is the word of God, the word of the King.

And so, eventually this era will come to an end. We can fast-forward all the way to the time when the people are in exile—when Daniel in that experience lifts, as it were, his eyes up above all of the mess and all of the ruck of things, and he sees one like as a son of man coming down out of the clouds in heaven, and he’s given a kingdom that will never come to an end.[13] And he says, “Wow! We need to know about this. Living here in the exile, we need to know. We can look back over our history and see what kingship meant in Israel, but there’s a King who’s going to come.” And you go forward from there. And then one day, in geographical proximity to 1 Samuel 9 and 1 Samuel 10, Joseph’s son the carpenter steps forward on the stage of human history, and his opening gambit is clear: “The time is fulfilled, … the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe … the gospel.”[14]

The kingdom of God comes first in the person of Jesus, then in the preaching of the gospel throughout the world, and then finally, one day, strikingly and openly and universally, when all the nations will bow down before the King.

That’s why I say to you that this tiny slice of history is significant not just for Saul and Israel but for you and me. Because either Jesus is your King, or he isn’t your King. Either you have bowed down before him and given yourself unreservedly to him, or you come here Sunday by Sunday, walking out and saying, “What can this King do to save me?” Well, who’s gonna save you if the only one who came to save doesn’t save you? You see, that’s why it really matters.

The kingdom of God comes first in the person of Jesus, then in the preaching of the gospel throughout the world, and then finally, one day, strikingly and openly and universally, when all the nations will bow down before the King.

That’s why it matters. That’s why it matters to tell people.


Father, thank you. Thank you for the Bible. Thank you that we can never exhaust it. We may exhaust ourselves in trying to, or even in listening, but your Word is all that we need.

Help us, Lord, as we go back about our business, to do so as those who said, “You know, I think today has to be the day when I finally offer up the sword of my rebellion and I just humbly acknowledge that I desperately need this King—the King who wore a crown of thorns; the King who died in the place of the sinner; the King who triumphed over death, ascended to your right hand; the King who will come in power and in great glory. Lord, help me to this end. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.”

[1] R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943). Language modernized.

[2] See Acts 17:11.

[3] See 1 Samuel 8:5.

[4] See Psalm 82:8.

[5] Luke 2:12 (KJV).

[6] Bob Dylan, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1964).

[7] Matthew 26:26, 28; Mark 14:22, 24; Luke 22:19–20; 1 Corinthians 11:24–25 (paraphrased).

[8] See Judges 14:6.

[9] 1 Samuel 9:27 (paraphrased).

[10] Jarrod Cooper, “King of Kings, Majesty” (1996).

[11] See Acts 1:23–26.

[12] See Deuteronomy 17:14–20.

[13] See Daniel 7:13–14.

[14] Mark 1:15 (ESV).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.