1 There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bekorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. 2 Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.
(1 Samuel 9:1-2)
We just finished studying a passage in 1 Samuel in which the people of Israel demand a king, even after God informed them of the negative ways in which their lives will change if they have one. Unfazed by this information, they continued to insist on a king so God agreed to give them one. Today we meet Saul, the man who will be Israel’s first king.
Saul came from a good family. His father, Kish, was a man of standing. That is, he was influential in his community and therefore we know he was wealthy.
Kish was a Benjamite; he was from the tribe of Benjamin. At this time Benjamin was the smallest tribe in Israel having lost all but 600 of their men after they sided the wicked men of Gibeah and were decimated by the other tribes of Israel [Judges 19-20].
Kish’s son, Saul, was good-looking – as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel. He was also tall – a head taller than anyone else. Saul had all the physical attributes that would make him appealing to the people: he was wealthy, prominent, and attractive.
When we were introduced to Samuel we learned about Samuel’s parents’ strong relationship with God [1 Samuel 1]. But notice that no such mention is made of Saul (or his father). Kish and his family were wealthy and well-known. But they apparently were not very, if at all, religious.
The people of Israel had demanded a king. But they did not choose the man who would be their king [1 Samuel 8:5]. Instead, it was God who was going to choose their king for them.
Israel was not living under a democracy. They didn’t get to vote on their leaders. Those leaders were appointed by God and they would remain in power as long as God wanted.
Since they had no choice in who their first king would be, the people would have no authority to remove him. A fickle population would want to change kings when things start to go downhill. God doesn’t give Israel that option. Instead, they will have to live with their decision so they learn the pitfalls of human leadership.
This is a great example of how God, our heavenly father, operates. He will often give us what we want knowing that it is not what we need. But He gives it to us so we will (hopefully) learn a lesson about life, about ourselves, and about Him.
At this time Israel was comprised of several independent tribes that weren’t getting along so smoothly. Choosing the first king from one of the larger tribes might incite jealousy among the others. So God chose Israel’s first king from Benjamin, the smallest of the tribes. Considering what had recently happened to the tribe of Benjamin, they would also have the sympathy vote from among their fellow Israelites.
And since the Philistines were still a thorn in Israel’s side, Israel needed a leader who could lead military battles [1 Samuel 9:16]. The tribe of Benjamin was also known for their warlike ability. In fact, Jacob (aka Israel) recognized this about his youngest son centuries before [Genesis 49:27].
God didn’t want Israel to have a king. But if they were going to have one, He was going to give them one who could do good things for them, like rescue them from the Philistines.
But He was also going to give them one based on their own criteria – tall and handsome and from a family that was more interested in material wealth than they were in spiritual issues.
God knows our hearts and minds. He knows exactly how we think and how we evaluate potential leaders. We esteem those who are good-looking, wealthy and who don’t have a very strong relationship to God (or who at least don’t talk about it).
But as we’ll see once Saul becomes king, relying on such superficial criteria won’t raise up the kind of leaders we need.
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