The significance of anointing was that it indicated a person was a servant of a higher power. It was a common practice at that time for an emperor to anoint a vassal king. In Israel, priests and prophets were anointed, and this indicated that they were primarily servants of God. The anointing also pointed to the fact that God’s power would be available to his servant to enable him to fulfil the particular role he had in mind.
Samuel, despite his awareness that Saul was given by God as an act of judgement, indicated his own allegiance to Saul by kissing him. To kiss a person was not merely a sign of affection but also of loving submission.
When Saul left Samuel he was a different person (10:9). This expression, ‘God gave him another heart,’ does not mean that he was now regenerate. Rather it means, as Matthew Henry put it, ‘He has no longer the heart of a husbandman, which is low, and mean, and narrow, and concerned only about his corn and cattle; but the heart of a statesman, a general, a prince.’ God by this anointing equipped Saul for his role.
Samuel gave to Saul four signs that would ensure the Lord’s work would prosper under Saul’s reign. Three signs would be fulfilled on Saul’s journey home, and these three signs were evidences that Samuel had spoken the truth, whereas the fourth, that of going to Gilgal at a future occasion, was unspecified as to when it would happen. Do the signs signify anything beyond the fact that Samuel spoke the truth?
The first sign was that two men would meet him and tell him that the asses had been found and that his father was worried about him. This would happen beside Rachel’s tomb. Matthew Henry says that this sign would teach Saul of his own mortality, that although he would have a prominent role he had to keep in mind that he would die.
The second sign was that he would meet three men on their way to worship at Bethel, and one of them would share his food with him. I suspect this is a sign that Saul should value the contribution the people of God would make to the success of his kingdom.
The third sign was to take place near a Philistine garrison on a hill where there was also a place of worship, which also seems to have been Saul’s hometown. This shows that the Philistines had made progress in conquering parts of the land. Yet there, in the face of his enemies, God gave to Saul a sign, that is, the special presence of the Spirit, that he would overpower them if he depended on the Lord. Prophecy here does not refer to prediction or to preaching but to praise.
The fourth sign was not fulfilled until two years later, and the incident is recorded in 1 Samuel 13. Despite the lessons from the first three tests, Saul failed the fourth test, and his disobedience on that day cost him the kingdom, even although he was to reign for another four decades.