In chapter 9 of 1 Samuel we are introduced to Saul, who would become the first king of Israel. This in itself makes him an important Bible character, but his kingship will not be the only issue that it mentions about him. Although in some ways he was a great disappointment, his nation later looked back to him with respect. Many called their sons by his name and it is likely this was the case with Saul of Tarsus.
This passage highlights God’s providence in the way events worked out in order for Saul to meet Samuel. We can list several features of it: the request from his father that he look for the asses, the route that he took in the search, their arrival at the city with just enough money to give to the prophet, their coming at a time when Samuel would be at home, and their reaching the city exactly when Samuel was walking out of it.
The passage also shows that Saul had many qualities that marked him out as the kind of king the people would approve, be it is impressive genealogy, or his physical appearance or his tenacity to stick at a task or his willingness to receive counsel from a servant. The words of Samuel in 9:20 indicate that Israel had already noticed that Saul would be their type of king. These details don’t point to spiritual qualities but to the fact that God was giving to Israel the kind of king that they wanted. I suspect the author is contrasting Saul’s background to that of David, the man God later chose to be king even while the people’s choice, Saul, was on the throne.
But there is one detail that would raise the reader’s concern about Saul. In verse 5 Saul and his servant reach the area of Zuph, which was where Samuel came from (his father was descended from Zuph, 1 Samuel 1:1), in particular the town of Ramah, where Samuel lived. Saul’s home village was Gibeah, which was only five miles from Ramah, yet Saul seemed totally unaware that there was a servant of God there. His question in verse 18, although addressed to Samuel, suggests that Saul did not know what Samuel looked like. Yet all Israel knew about Samuel, so Saul’s lack of knowledge suggests that he had very little interest in religion. This assessment seems to be confirmed by the mocking response to Saul’s prophesying by those who knew him (1 Sam. 10:11).
So we can see that problems could come if Saul became king. Yet behind the scenes God was at work and we can think about that in our next reading.