By Dane Neufeld

A Reading from 1 Samuel 9:1-14

1 There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish son of Abiel son of Zeror son of Becorath son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. 2 He had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.

3 Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, had strayed. So Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the boys with you; go and look for the donkeys.” 4 He passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. And they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then he passed through the land of Benjamin, but they did not find them.

5 When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to the boy who was with him, “Let us turn back, or my father will stop worrying about the donkeys and worry about us.” 6 But he said to him, “There is a man of God in this town; he is a man held in honor. Whatever he says always comes true. Let us go there now; perhaps he will tell us about the journey on which we have set out.” 7 Then Saul replied to the boy, “But if we go, what can we bring the man? For the bread in our sacks is gone, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What have we?” 8 The boy answered Saul again, “Here, I have with me a quarter-shekel of silver; I will give it to the man of God, to tell us our way.” 9 (Formerly in Israel, anyone who went to inquire of God would say, “Come, let us go to the seer”; for the one who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.) 10 Saul said to the boy, “Good; come, let us go.” So they went to the town where the man of God was.

11 As they went up the hill to the town, they met some girls coming out to draw water, and said to them, “Is the seer here?” 12 They answered, “Yes, there he is just ahead of you. Hurry; he has come just now to the town, because the people have a sacrifice today at the shrine. 13 As soon as you enter the town, you will find him, before he goes up to the shrine to eat. For the people will not eat until he comes, since he must bless the sacrifice; afterwards those eat who are invited. Now go up, for you will meet him immediately.” 14 So they went up to the town. As they were entering the town, they saw Samuel coming out towards them on his way up to the shrine.

Meditation

The character of Saul has generated a lot of literary intrigue over the centuries. Poets like Robert Browning and Charles Heavysege devoted entire books to the tragic figure of Israel’s first king. It is one of the more poignant and haunting stories in all of Scripture, this tale of a man who was called, anointed, and then abandoned by the Spirit of God. Saul was definitely not perfect, but like the poets, we may find ourselves wondering if he really deserved what happened to him. Certainly Browning found an abundance of sympathy for Saul, a man who would be tortured by cowardice, envy, and remorse.

The quest for his father’s donkeys seems to be an unnecessary preoccupation in the text, but it does underline the radical transition that Saul’s life is about to undergo. Though tall and handsome, as the passage points out, Saul does not seem to have had large ambitions. Searching out Samuel was not even his idea, but when he finds him he is not interested in extracting anything from this powerful man, except the whereabouts of his father’s livestock. It’s possible that in the years to come, Saul longed for the open and wandering days that preceded his anointing.

Though the end of Saul’s life hovers over these early days like a shadow, there was nothing fated or determined about the outcome. We can certainly see ourselves in his hesitance to take on the role, his panic under the pressures of leadership, his insecurity as a leader when rival forces seemed to be moving against him. Though we naturally want to avoid becoming like Saul, there is a way in which we are already like him. The long list of broken and imperfect leaders in Scripture form the background relief for the life and ministry of Jesus. Though God could still work through the frail lives of Israel’s leaders, the nation and the world awaited a true savior who understood his calling and performed it without wavering.

The Rev. Dane Neufeld currently serves as the incumbent of St. James, Calgary, after serving seven years in Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Washington
The Diocese of Clogher (Church of Ireland)