SAUL: THE FIRST OF THE KINGS IN ISRAEL
"But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord. And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them (I Samuel 8.6,7)."
The book of Judges closed with these words: "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Judges 21.25)." And yet the Lord God was king; He was their king (I Samuel 12.12)! The meaning then of the expression "there was no king in Israel" was that no one sat upon a throne or took up the sword to visibly lead the armies of Israel into battle against their foes. While the tribes of Israel had their eyes fixed on earthly things rather than heaven above there was no king in Israel.
The book of Ruth followed Judges as a parenthetical illustration of redemption. Boaz, that eminent figure of Christ, set forth in the most noble tone a preview of the King of kings undertaking for all the needs of His subjects.
Next we find the book of I Samuel drawing back the curtain still further so that we may see the subjects of the King seeking an earthly monarch. A carnal desire for show and display betrayed their urgent request to Samuel that they be like the nations about them, that they too might have a king.
THE FIRST KINGS IN SCRIPTURES
About 1800 years before our text at the heading, Abram encountered the first kings mentioned in Scriptures. The recorded events give a graphic view of the general deportment of kings then, and throughout the history of mankind. For example: "And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations; That these made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar (Genesis 14.1, 2)." The observant reader will at once see the first thing mentioned of these kings; they made war.
After Abram visited swift destruction on the kings that took captive his nephew Lot, he met two other kings of very opposite character to each other. The first, the king of Sodom sought to enrich and reward Abram. The offer was no sooner tendered than rejected with, "That I will not take from a thread even to a shoe latchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich (Genesis 14.23)." Abram, the father of the faithful, was obviously a good student of human nature. Nor was he about to become indebted to this carnal king in any way.
Abram also met Melchizedek, king of Salem. Melchizedek was infinitely superior to the other kings of that period. He brought bread and wine to Abram and "was the priest of the most high God (Genesis 14.18)." After blessing both Abram and the most high God, Melchizedek received tithes of all Abram had gained in the conflict. (See Hebrews 7.4 for the limits of Abram's tithing.) We restrict our remarks concerning this great king with the observation that he was a figure of our Lord Jesus Christ in His priesthood.
It is significant to see that the introduction of kings in the Scriptures coincides to the advent of Abram, the father of the nation of Israel. We cannot view this in any light other than the purposes of God for His people. It is, after all, predestination from Genesis to Revelation for which we are presently contending.
Unless one views the presence of the early kings in Scriptures as mere matters of national taste or preference, he must acknowledge that each king, great and small, had a predetermined course to run; a marked out journey to fulfill. Each king, with his individual characteristics and manner, was as surely raised up by God to fulfill His will as was every other creature, from the lowly sparrow that cannot fall without Him, to the mighty leviathan which God has likened to the king of the children of pride (Job 41.34). Dare it be said God simply stumbled up on the idea of calling the leviathan the king of the children of pride as an afterthought? None but blasphemers and unhumbled Arminians would dare.
The kings with whom Abram came into conflict were by no means all this chosen family, Israel, would encounter. When the 12 tribes sojourned in Egypt, first in favor, later in disfavor, the kings of Egypt controlled their affairs - under the superintending hand of God. Many think of the rulers of Egypt as Pharaohs only, but properly, they were kings, as seen in the following verse: "Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph (Exodus 1.8)." Soon enough this king, who knew not Joseph, died; and other kings came in his place. Finally, Moses was born and grew up in the courts of the king, only to flee for a season. "By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible (Hebrews 11.27)." At the appointed time, this king also died (Exodus 2.23) and when God heard the sighs by reason of Israel's bondage, He remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob (Exodus 2.23, 24). Again, the government of God is seen threaded through the whole fabric of the affairs of Israel. Were there no kings to afflict the children of Israel, they would not have cried unto the Lord. Moreover, since there was a covenant between them and God it is vivid evidence God was dealing with them after a plan. We know that plan as predestination.
In the passing of time Israel was delivered from the cruel bondage in Egypt. They were no longer pestered and tormented by the kings of that dark land. They were certainly not through with myriad conflicts from the kings of the period, however. There was the king of Edom, refusing passage to Israel through his lands (Numbers 20.18). Then, after the death of Aaron, there was king Arad the Canaanite, who afflicted the Israelites and took some of them prisoners until the Lord utterly destroyed his forces (Numbers 21.1ff). Among the more brazen kings to seek the hurt of Israel was Balak, king of the Moabites (Numbers 22.4). It was Balak that employed Balaam to curse the people of Israel. We add in passing, both Balak and Balaam were wholly frustrated in their efforts - the glory of God continued to reign among the chosen tribes.
After Joshua led the tribes across Jordan into the land of promise he was confronted with the kings of that region on a more or less regular basis. "Joshua made war a long time with all those kings (Joshua 11.18)." Among the first encounters was engaging the king of Jericho. It was this king that sent to Rahab the harlot in search of the two spies from Israel. Worth mention as well is the testimony of Rahab that Jericho was reduced to terror at the presence of Israel for they had "...heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed (Joshua 2.10)." From this testimony it is clear that all those events were necessary components in shaping the views and conduct of each participant to bring down the walls and power of Jericho. Was all this chance or predestination?
From the foregoing we conclude that Israel had ample reason to have no use for kings, for all they knew of, or had contact with, were cruel, oppressive, and without pity on them. Kings were generally vicious towards their own people and centuries of unpleasant exposure to alien kings should have led Israel to the unmistakable conclusion - none but Jehovah could be safely trusted to govern their affairs. Moreover, after the death of Joshua and the advent of Judges to rule Israel, the Lord left a number of nations about them to prove those who had not known the wars of Canaan (Judges 3.1ff). Early apostasy set in among the children of Israel; they did evil in the sight of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God; they served Balaam and the groves (Judges 3.7). Notice in the following that God chastised his people with an alien king: "Therefore the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Chushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia: and the children of Israel served Chushan-rishathaim eight years (Judges 3.8)."
"And when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer to the children of Israel, who delivered them, even Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother (Judges 3.9)." Wondrous grace - God took pity on His wayward children; He raised up a deliverer to free them from the yoke of the oppressive king and gave them rest; in this instance, 40 years. May the Lord enable us to see in this our Deliverer rescuing us from the dreaded king of terrors.
Sadly, Israel was not to continue in their rest. Soon they did evil again in the sight of the Lord. The Lord then strengthened Eglon, king of Moab, against Israel. Following this episode the pattern was again repeated. Next, Jaban, king of Canaan, harassed the children of Israel. So it went; on and on, until the time of Samuel. It was then extraordinary for Israel to want a king. An earthly king would be a tyrant like those that had oppressed them for centuries, unlike their God Who delivered them time and again from brutish kings.
Saul was God's sovereign response to their coveting after a king.
For those that seek comfort and delight in the sovereignty of God and His absolute predestination, the fact that for years Israel encountered numerous foul kings and finally pleaded to have one for themselves is not strange. Neither is it out of harmony with the ways of Jehovah. Consider: were there first no king Saul, given in God's anger, there would follow no king David, the man after God's own heart. It must be remembered too, the order in Scriptures is always, first the natural, then the spiritual. The first man was Adam, a natural man. The second was Jesus, the spiritual man. Even so, Saul, the first king was in temperament, natural, whereas David, despite his faults, was spiritual. So much so, David was among the more prominent figures of Christ in all the Old Testament. The New Testament opened with: "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matthew 1.1)." Though chronologically Abraham lived many years before David, the emphasis was, Jesus was King David's son. Even stronger evidence of the divine plan is when the generation of Christ is given. "And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias (Matthew 1.6)." The significance of this text cannot be overlooked. Here, twice, the Scripture, written under the inspiration of the Spirit, refers to David as David the king. What makes this so pronounced is, David is the only one of this lengthy accounting of Christ to be described as a king. Is this mere coincidence? Was not Solomon a king? And Roboam; Asa; Josaphat, and on and on? Surely they were, but in the perfect plan of God, Jesus, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, would be associated with, and proceed from, David the king. And, remember, it was David that ascended the throne after God removed Saul, the king of His anger.
Thus we have given a brief introduction to the transition from a theocentric government in Israel to the rulership of kings chosen from the sons of men. Saul was to be first.
Only once in the New Testament is Saul, king of Israel, mentioned. Considering the frequency David is mentioned, this alone makes the fact noteworthy. This single mention says much to us of his transitional status. We give the text from the book of Acts: "And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot. And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfill all my will. Of this man's seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus (Acts 13.19-23)." Several points of importance are worth notice in this text. First, mention is made of Israel's desire to have a king. Second, it is perfectly clear, the king they got was the king God gave them. There was no election or show of hands except the election and show of God's hand. Third, Saul held this eminent position exactly so long as pleased the Lord, for at the appointed time He removed him. "Uneasy lies the crown upon the head."
Should any object to our conclusion that this removal occurred at the appointed time, we ask; at what other time did God remove Saul if not at the appointed time? Can we believe with any comfort whatever that our great God might just as well have removed Saul at one time as another? It seems plausible to us, if God had been somehow stirred (as Conditionalist speculation would have it) to remove Saul as king He would have cut him loose years earlier than waiting a full forty years. During that time Saul continually made attempts on the life of David, from whose loins came Jesus our Lord and King (Romans 1.3). Finally, there was detailed mention in the text of God's raising up David to the throne. Particular attention will be given to this point in another article.
No sooner had the elders of Israel demanded from Samuel a king than Samuel prayed unto the Lord. Following the Lord's answer to Samuel to hearken unto the people, he apprised them of the tragic state of affairs sure to follow. "And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you.. .(I Samuel 8.10ff)." Contained in his recitation was both predictable and not-so-predictable events to transpire when they got an earthly king to judge them. Their king would take their sons for himself, for his chariots, for his horsemen. The king would appoint captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; he would set them to ear his ground. They would reap his harvest, make his instruments of war, and instruments of chariots.
The king would take their daughters. They would be confectionaries, cooks, bakers. The king would take the people's fields, vineyards, oliveyards, even the best of them. This new king would as well take the menservants, maidservants, and the goodliest young men; the asses would be confiscated and put to his work. He would take the tenth of their sheep. Finally, they would be his servants.
These shameful things were not predictable in the eyes of the people, for they no doubt thought such things could not happen at the hand of one of their own. Besides, they were relying on Samuel to come up with a first class king for them.
But - these things were fully predictable, for God had given them to Samuel to recite to his people. Thus, they were as certain as the holiness and veracity of God Himself. Again, we say, predestination was the fountain from whence came these certainties. It is a pitiful crutch Arminians lean on when they say God simply saw how things would be, therefore He told Samuel in advance what He "learned" by looking into the future. If God sees (learns) something by looking into the future, something He otherwise knew not, then God, by looking, has improved and enlarged His wisdom and total knowledge. Thus, he knows more after looking than He did before. Hence, God changed for the better. (God would be learning by looking.) Dear readers, as sure as all things are naked and open before God, just that sure the future is as well. We take that to mean nothing can put on any other dress, nor can any event hide itself from eternal wisdom, for all is encompassed in the mind and will of God - from everlasting to everlasting. God never changes - for the better or the worse. He is our constant, unchanging God. We say respectfully and in fear, God is perfection, or He is nothing. This the Arminian and Conditionalist mind cannot comprehend or fathom - they have no conception of what both God and His Bible reveal of Himself.
On concluding the catalog of events that would befall Israel under an earthly king, Samuel told them "...ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day (I Samuel 8.18)." So, how did they react to all Samuel prophesied to them? "Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us (I Samuel 8.19)."
It may be easy for us to shake our heads in scorn for these foolish Israelites and condemn their folly. Remember, but for grace we too would lust after earthly monarchs, and spurn the wisdom of heaven.
Another amazing, sad aspect of the people asking for an earthly king, one with infirmities like their own, was they already had a king, Jehovah. With Him, none of these awful things would happen to them. God did not demand their sons and daughters to enhance His stature. He would never appropriate their lands and livestock for His own use. The facts were, only bad things would issue when they abandoned their Heavenly King for an earthly king.
We have seen the people's response upon receiving those dire warnings relative to an earthly king. The response, or reaction, of Samuel followed at once.
"And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord (I Samuel 8.21)." Samuel apparently listened attentively to the people. No matter how foolishly they conducted themselves in demanding a king, he was still their leader and they were still his people. When confronted with similar circumstances, we of the Old School can certainly find in Samuel's behavior towards Israel a proper course of direction. Samuel was guided by principles only learned by Divine instruction. Notice too - Samuel did not act the part of judge or accuser in laying this matter before the Lord. No; he simply rehearsed what they said. He was no doubt of the firm opinion the Lord would handle the affair according to eternal wisdom. Was not all this transpiring even as the will of God had determined? It would be folly to suggest this transpired by random chance. There are no alternate possibilities we know of, and feel reasonably certain no one else does either.
The response of God certainly poses some grounds for serious reflection and prayerful consideration. "And the Lord said to Samuel. Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city (I Samuel 8.22)." This was the third time God had instructed Samuel to "hearken" unto the voice of the people. The first was in verse 7, then again in verse 9, and now this final time after the people had been informed of the grave consequences of their determination to have a king.
"Hearken unto their voice was a clear, positive directive from God consenting to the demands of the people, even though certain harm would result to them. Some may think God finally "gave in" to the lusts of the people or maybe He even had a change of heart. At best, such sentiments are absurd. They are also completely out of harmony with the Scriptural account of our God. If these things seem incongruous, if they lie far beyond our capacity to comprehend, does that permit us to conclude God is somehow less a God than He has described Himself to be? We find the answer to that question when God is pleased to reveal a small portion of His wisdom to us. Consider the words of the Psalmist: "Many times did he deliver them; but they provoked him with their counsel, and were brought low for their iniquity. Nevertheless he regarded their affliction, when he heard their cry: And he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies (Psalm 106.43-45)." The people provoked Him with their counsel!
Yes, mysterious as it may seem, God was provoked. Their counsel, the aggregate decision of the elders and consent of the multitude, was to have a king. So, "I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath (Hosea 13.11)." Clearly, God was provoked and was angry. Still, God forsook them not. Though He brought the people low for their iniquity, they were not utterly cast away. Nor could they be. They were His covenant people, and as such would feel the tender mercies of their Father as surely as they would feel His anger. Such is in part the meaning of the words, "Nevertheless he regarded their affliction, when he heard their cry." "Lo, these are parts of his ways: but how little a portion is heard of him? but the thunder of his power who can understand (Job 26.14)?"
God also "repented according to the multitude of his mercies." This does not mean repentance in the manner the Arminian clergy would urge men to repent. God had trespassed against no one. When God repents it is a turning from one course of action to another with whomever He is dealing. It is not a change of mind or heart for that would be inconstant with His unchangeable nature. In this case God repented according to the multitude of his mercies. Since His mercies are everlasting and are sure, then we may safely conclude His repentance was as certain as His mercy.
"And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city." The God of Israel had consented to the petition of His people. Samuel was to make them a king. For the present, he bid them to go home. This signified the Lord would make the thing known in due time. They knew it not, but at that very time their future king was being prepared. He was Saul.
And so, the season for a fleshly, visible king in Israel had come. No longer would they walk by faith; they must gaze upon the princely head of one of their own. From king Solomon we read these words: "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven (Ecclesiastes 3.1)." Moreover, "Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou (Ecclesiastes 8.4)?" If the Lord enables, we shall contemplate the import of these texts as they regard our subject, but in due order.
In our next in this series we shall, the Lord willing, examine the beginnings of one of the most complex characters in the Bible. Saul has, to many, been the source of much consternation. Was he among the elect or was he not? May the Lord give us needed light and understanding as we contemplate the man and his appointed mission. The time of the kings would begin with Saul, but they would certainly not end there.
J. F. Poole
Volume 12, No. 2