1 Samuel 9: Lessons Regarding the Selection of Leaders From Samuel’s Selection of Saul

God wants you to select leaders based upon their godly character, not their appearance1

Introduction: In this chapter, God told Samuel to appoint Saul as Israel’s first king. Saul had almost none of the attributes that would have made him a Spirit-led leader. But the people did not want a Spirit-led leader. They wanted a king who resembled the pagan kings around them. To teach the Jews a lesson, God gave them what they wanted. From Saul’s flawed example, God reveals seven warnings about selecting leaders who will serve Him and do His will on Earth.

First, Saul was tall and extremely good looking. But he later turned out to be a terrible leader. From this, God reveals that He wants you to select leaders based upon their faith and their character, not their looks. Second, Saul’s father sent him on a mission to search for his lost animals. But he was unable to find them. From this, God reveals that He wants you to select leaders who will search for and find His lost sheep. Third, Saul did not care about his father’s lost animals and wanted to give up his search. From this, God reveals that He wants you to select leaders who love His sheep. Fourth, Saul’s servant told Saul to consult with the most famous prophet since Moses, Samuel. But Saul was blind to spiritual matters and had never heard of Samuel. From this, God reveals that He wants you to select leaders who are not spiritually blind. Fifth, while looking for Samuel, a woman drawing water told Saul to hurry or he would miss his encounter with Samuel. From this, God reveals that He wants you to select leaders who promptly respond to God’s directions. Sixth, although Samuel would not have chosen Saul to be Israel’s king, Samuel followed God’s directive to appoint him as Israel’s first king to teach the people a lesson. From this, God reveals that He wants you to select leaders based upon His counsel, not your own. Finally, Samuel held a banquet and proclaimed the Word of God to Saul. Although Saul had many faults, he humbly listened to God’s Word. From this, God reveals that He wants you to select leaders who will listen to and submit to His Word.

1. Select Leaders Based Upon Faith and Character, Not Their Looks. 1 Sam. 9:1-2.

  • Saul was a man just like the kings from the pagan nations. The Jews demanded a king “like all the other nations”. (1 Sam. 8:20). God would soon give them a man for their first king who matched their exact request. “Now there was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah, the son of a Benjamite, a mighty man of valor. He had a son whose name was Saul, a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people.” (1 Sam. 9:1-2). Many pagan kings were noted to be tall (Nu. 13:33; Dt. 1:28; 2:10; 9:2; 1 Sam. 17:4). Saul was both tall and more handsome than any other (1 Sam. 9:2). When the Jews met him, this alone made him perfect in the minds of many: “So they ran and took him from there, and when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward. Samuel said to all the people, ‘Do you see him whom the LORD has chosen? Surely there is no one like him among all the people.’ So all the people shouted and said, ‘Long live the king!’” (1 Sam. 10:23-24). Other kings also came from families of power and influence. Saul’s father Kish was also a “mighty man of valor.” (1 Sam. 9:1). This means that he also had wealth and influence in that time. The name Saul means “asked of God.” He was exactly the man that the people asked God for. But nothing is mentioned about his faith, his knowledge of the Word, or his character. These are things that are important to God. But they were not important to the people. And God gave them a leader without any of these important attributes.

  • The contrast between Saul and Samuel in the makings of a good leader. Like the first verse here, the first verse of the book began with the words “Now there was a certain man . . .” (1 Sam. 1:1). Thus, chapter 9 serves as both a section break in the book and a contrast between Samuel and Saul. Samuel’s rise as God’s anointed prophet and judge came through his family’s suffering. Their sacrifice and his sacrifice produced a man of internal beauty. By contrast, Saul arose to become king from a privileged and powerful family. Through no effort of his own, he was blessed with height and good looks. His beauty was external. But that was what the people wanted. He would be like a handsome celebrity today. Being handsome does not mean that someone is automatically vain and ill-suited for being a leader. For example, “Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.” (Gen. 39:6(b)). His good looks did not cause him to fall into temptation. But selecting a leader based on only their good looks is not a Spirit-led process for selecting a leader. God wants you to select leaders based upon their character and faith, not just their looks. Choosing a leader who lacks character and faith can lead a country into spiritual decline. The country will follow the leader away from the things of God.

Saul was the perfect politician, handsome and tall2

  • David’s beauty was internal, not external. Unlike Saul, David was short. God later told Samuel not to pick the tallest and oldest son of Jesse. God revealed that He looks at people based upon what is in their inner character, not their outward appearance: “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’” (1 Sam. 16:7). The outward things that we value are detestable to God: “And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”’ (Lk. 16:15). “Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” (1 Pet. 3:3-4). Do you judge others by their outward appearance or their character?

  • Jesus’ beauty was also internal, not external. Jesus is often imagined in the movies and in art to be a tall, handsome man. But people followed Him because of His internal beauty. There was nothing about His external appearance that would have attracted a shallow minded person. Thus, He became despised by the masses: “. . .He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” (Is. 53:3). Would you have followed an unattractive Jesus?

2. Select Leaders Who Will Search for and Find God’s Lost Sheep. 1 Sam. 9:3-4.

  • Saul’s inability to find his father’s lost donkeys. Although Saul would soon be charged with managing and protecting all of Israel, he was not even able to manage his father’s donkeys. “Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, were lost. So Kish said to his son Saul, ‘Take now with you one of the servants, and arise, go search for the donkeys.’ He passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. Then they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then he passed through the land of the Benjamites, but they did not find them.” (1 Sam. 9:3-4). Here, God used symbolism to convey a theological truth about Saul. Commentator Robert Bergen observes that “Saul’s unfitness to serve as the shepherd of the Lord’s flock is further suggested in the unusual narrative recounted here. Semitic leaders throughout ancient times were often referred to as shepherds; the Torah’s most significant patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses – were also depicted as skillful shepherds. Yet here Saul is portrayed unflatteringly as an incompetent shepherd. So great was his ineptness that he could not even find a few large animals (v.3; . . .) that had wandered away from his father’s house – ones that ultimately returned home without Saul’s assistance even as he was searching for them (9:20; 10:2)!” (1, 2 Samuel, The New American Commentary, Vol. 7, B&H Publishing Group (1996) p. 121).

Saul searched for his lost donkey3

  • God sends His leaders to find His lost sheep. The symbolism of lost animals is a recurring theme in the Bible. Just as Saul’s father sent him in search of his lost donkeys, Jacob / Israel sent his son Joseph to check on his lost brothers and the welfare of his flock. “13 Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers pasturing the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them.’ And he said to him, ‘I will go.’ 14 Then he said to him, ‘Go now and see about the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the flock, and bring word back to me.’” (Gen. 37:13-14(a)). Joseph responded promptly to this request with the words “I will go.” (Gen. 37:13). Just as Joseph went out to find his lost brothers, Jesus went out to find His people who were lost to sin: “But He answered and said, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” (Matt. 15:24). “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Lk. 19:10).

  • Jesus also wants you to help find His lost sheep. The great leaders of the Bible all promptly responded to God’s calling. When God called to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Samuel, each responded with the identical words “Here I am.” (Gen. 22:1, 11 [Abraham] 31:11; 46:2; [Jacob / Israel] Ex. 3:4; [Moses] 1 Sam. 3:4 [Samuel]). When God later called out looking for someone to be His messenger, Isaiah, he responded: ‘“Here am I. Send me!’” (Is. 6:8(b)). Jesus also called upon His disciples to look for the lost sheep of Israel: “but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”’ (Matt. 10:6-7). He also wants you to proclaim the good news and disciple others (Matt. 28:16-20). Will you also respond “Here am I. Send me!”?

  • When you respond, the Holy Spirit will also guide you. An unidentified man guided Saul in his search for the lost donkeys (1 Sam. 9:3). An unidentified man also guided Joseph on his search for his lost brothers (Gen. 37:15-15). These unidentified men foreshadowed the Holy Spirit. He will also guide you when you serve Jesus by looking for His lost sheep (Jo. 14:26; 15:26). “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” (Acts 5:32). Are you reading the Word and praying for the Spirit to guide your path? (Ps. 119:105; Ja. 1:5).

3. Select Leaders Who Love God’s Sheep. 1 Sam. 9:5.

  • Saul’s desire to abandon his search. In addition to failing to manage his father’s donkeys, Saul showed little regard for them when he proposed to abandon his search. “5 When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant who was with him, ‘Come, and let us return, or else my father will cease to be concerned about the donkeys and will become anxious for us.’” (1 Sam. 9:5). Saul had no love for his father’s animals. As king, he also would later show little love for God the Father’s people.

  • God selects leaders who love His sheep. There are plenty of competent managers who manage their businesses well without any regard for the wellbeing of their employees. Indeed, Saul was initially incredibly successful in defeating Israel’s enemies with God’s help and expanding Israel’s territory. But God’s appointed leaders are meant to be more than efficient managers. They are also called upon to love His sheep. “As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.” (Ezek. 34:12). While Saul is an example of an uncaring leader, Joseph is an example of a leader who cared for the people under his responsibility. After being unjustly accused of rape, he faithfully served as prison administrator for Potiphar. His service did not require him to care about the prisoners. Yet, even in the midst of his own suffering, he showed love and compassion for his fellow prisoners. For example, when the cupbearer and the baker were imprisoned, he asked them: “‘Why are your faces so sad today?’” (Gen. 40:7(b)). In this way, He acted like Jesus. He loved everyone, even those who deserved no love.

  • Jesus loves all His lost sheep. Unlike Saul, Jesus does not want to give up on His search for His lost sheep. He loves His lost sheep so much that He gave up His life for them. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (Jo. 3:17). He went out knowing that His mission would result in His humiliation and then His brutal death at the cross (Matt. 16:21).

  • Your love for God’s sheep should flow from your transformation in Jesus. Each person is given gifts from the Holy Spirit that were meant to help God’s lost sheep: “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which He has given you.” (Dt. 16:17). Of all the gifts of the Spirit, love is the greatest: “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13). Jesus is the light of the world today (Jo. 8:12). His light burns inside you as a beacon for those around you (Matt. 5:14). As an outgrowth of His love and light, you should be motivated to love His lost sheep and the sheep in need of help (Ja. 1:27). You should also give cheerfully, not out of obligation: “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7). Is your heart filled with love for those around you?

  • God blesses those who love His sheep. A believer should never do good motivated by the promise of a reward. Yet, for those who show love toward God’s sheep, He promises to bless them: “How blessed is he who considers the helpless; the LORD will deliver him in a day of trouble.” (Ps. 41:1; Prov. 19:17). Are you missing out on His blessings?

4. Select Leaders Who Are Not Spiritually Blind. 1 Sam. 9:6-10.

  • Saul was oblivious to God’s prophet Samuel. In addition to being incompetent and hard hearted, Saul was spiritually blind. “He said to him, ‘Behold now, there is a man of God in this city, and the man is held in honor; all that he says surely comes true. Now let us go there, perhaps he can tell us about our journey on which we have set out.’ Then Saul said to his servant, ‘But behold, if we go, what shall we bring the man? For the bread is gone from our sack and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What do we have?’ The servant answered Saul again and said, ‘Behold, I have in my hand a fourth of a shekel of silver; I will give it to the man of God and he will tell us our way.’ (Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he used to say, ‘Come, and let us go to the seer”; for he who is called a prophet now was formerly called a seer.) 10 Then Saul said to his servant, ‘Well said; come, let us go.’ So they went to the city where the man of God was.” (1 Sam. 9:6-10). Commentator Robert Bergen also observes: “At least three features are remarkable about the brief interchange between Saul and his servant in vv. 6-10. First is the future king’s profound ignorance of Samuel. Though Samuel lived nearby and was known to ‘all Israel’ (3:20; 4:1), even Saul’s young slave, he was unknown to Saul. Second is Saul’s failure to consider seeking divine help in the trials of life. It was Saul’s slave, not Saul himself, who recognized the need for spiritual help in coping with their problems. The future king’s life at this point was devoid of spiritual sensitivity that looked to the Lord for help. Third is Saul’s assumption that spiritual favors had to be bought; though some unscrupulous prophets might have demanded this (cf. Mic 3:11; Acts 8:20), no true servant of the Lord would.” (Id. p. 121). Nor did Samuel ask for compensation when Saul finally met him.

Saul met Israel’s great prophet Samuel, but was oblivious to his identity4

5. Select Leaders Who Promptly Respond to God. 1 Sam. 9:11-14.

  • An unknown woman tells Saul to hurry in seeking Samuel. After revealing Saul’s spiritual blindness, an unknown woman counseled Saul not to delay in seeking after God’s appointed mediator: “11 As they went up the slope to the city, they found young women going out to draw water and said to them, ‘Is the seer here?’ 12 They answered them and said, ‘He is; see, he is ahead of you. Hurry now, for he has come into the city today, for the people have a sacrifice on the high place today. 13 As soon as you enter the city you will find him before he goes up to the high place to eat, for the people will not eat until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward those who are invited will eat. Now therefore, go up for you will find him at once.’ 14 So they went up to the city. As they came into the city, behold, Samuel was coming out toward them to go up to the high place.” (1 Sam. 9:11-14). The woman drew water, a symbol of life. Like the Holy Spirit, she guided Saul to seek God’s appointed mediator without delay.

  • Respond to God’s calling without delay. When a seeker asked Jesus “‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father,’” before following Him (a metaphor for closing down his father’s business), Jesus responded “‘Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.’” (Lk. 9:60; Matt. 8:22). This meant that the man could not delay in his commitment to follow and serve Him. If your desires for your old life of the flesh are delaying your service, you are not ready to receive what He offers: “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Lk. 9:62). Your life could end at any moment. Jesus could return at any moment (Lk. 12:40). Thus, you cannot assume that you will have decades or even years to decide whether to follow after Him (Jam. 4:13-14; Heb. 3:12-13, 15). Jesus gave us the parable of the ten virgins to illustrate that some will foolishly wait until it is too late to accept Him (Matt. 25:1-13). Are you waiting for the right time in your life to follow after Jesus?

6. Select Leaders Based Upon God’s Counsel. 1 Sam. 9:15-17.

  • God’s instructions to Samuel to select Saul as Israel’s first king. In contrast to the spiritually blind Saul, Samuel regularly communicated with God. During his time of prayer, God instructed Samuel to appoint the man He was sending as Israel’s first king: “15 Now a day before Saul’s coming, the Lord had revealed this to Samuel saying, 16 ‘About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over My people Israel; and he will deliver My people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have regarded My people, because their cry has come to Me.’ 17 When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord said to him, ‘Behold, the man of whom I spoke to you! This one shall rule over My people.’” (1 Sam. 9:15-17). God was and is the king of the Jews (1 Sam. 8:7). But, just as He did in Egypt, God heard the Jews’ cry for help (Ex. 3:7; 1 Sam. 9:17). In His sovereignty, He gave the Jews Saul as a king for 40 years to show them that what they wanted was not the leader that they needed. “Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.” (Acts 13:21). Yet, even while testing the people, He would still use Saul to deliver His people from the Philistines (1 Sam. 9:16). With God’s help, Saul was partially successful. But when he ultimately failed in this task, God used David to complete His deliverance. “Now then, do it! For the LORD has spoken of David, saying, ‘By the hand of My servant David I will save My people Israel from the hand of the Philistines and from the hand of all their enemies.’” (2 Sam. 3:18).

  • Seek God’s will in all things, including the selection of leaders. You must also seek God’s will in selecting a leader and lean not on your own understanding. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5). “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.” (Prov. 28:26). If you seek God’s will, He will guide you with the wisdom to know how to handle any situation: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Jam. 1:5). “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.” (Ps. 51:6). “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:6). “But it is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding.” (Job 32:8). When you submit yourself and pray, His Holy Spirit and Word will be a light unto your path (Jo. 14:26; Ps. 119:105). When selecting or voting for a leader, do you first seek His guidance?

  • Trust in God and not in strong leaders to deliver you. Although Saul was God’s instrument for deliverance, the Jews later made the mistake in placing their trust in him. “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.” (Ps. 146:3). “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.” (Ps. 118:9). “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5). Have you placed your trust in governments or God to deliver you?

7. Select Leaders Who Will Listen to and Submit to the Word of God. 1 Sam. 9:18-27.

  • Samuel proclaims God’s Word to Saul. In his spiritual blindness, Saul again did not recognize Samuel. But Samuel did not reject him. He instead first demonstrated that he was a prophet. When Saul responded in humility, Samuel invited him to share a meal and then proclaimed God’s Word to him: “18 Then Saul approached Samuel in the gate and said, ‘Please tell me where the seer’s house is.’ 19 Samuel answered Saul and said, ‘I am the seer. Go up before me to the high place, for you shall eat with me today; and in the morning I will let you go, and will tell you all that is on your mind. 20 As for your donkeys which were lost three days ago, do not set your mind on them, for they have been found. And for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you and for all your father’s household?’ 21 Saul replied, ‘Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak to me in this way?22 Then Samuel took Saul and his servant and brought them into the hall and gave them a place at the head of those who were invited, who were about thirty men. 23 Samuel said to the cook, ‘Bring the portion that I gave you, concerning which I said to you, ‘Set it aside.’’ 24 Then the cook took up the leg with what was on it and set it before Saul. And Samuel said, ‘Here is what has been reserved! Set it before you and eat, because it has been kept for you until the appointed time, since I said I have invited the people.’ So Saul ate with Samuel that day. 25 When they came down from the high place into the city, Samuel spoke with Saul on the roof. 26 And they arose early; and at daybreak Samuel called to Saul on the roof, saying, ‘Get up, that I may send you away.’ So Saul arose, and both he and Samuel went out into the street. 27 As they were going down to the edge of the city, Samuel said to Saul, ‘Say to the servant that he might go ahead of us and pass on, but you remain standing now, that I may proclaim the word of God to you.’” (1 Sam. 9:18-27). Even though spiritually blind, Saul’s modesty about his family background showed that he was teachable. His tribe of Benjamin was disgraced for having gang raped a Levite’s concubine and then starting a civil war that nearly wiped it out of existence (Jdgs. 19-20). In the end, only 600 men remained (Jdgs. 20:47). Saul’s humility allowed God to first honor him with a feast and then to elevate him to king. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted .” (Lk. 14:11). Saul’s humility also allowed Samuel to proclaim God’s Word. This also would not be the last time that he would do so. “Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘The LORD sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the LORD.”’ (1 Sam. 15:1). Just as Saul was willing to listen and submit to the Word of God, you must be careful to select leaders who are also willing to listen to and submit to God’s Word.

Samuel submitted to God’s direction and selected Saul5

  • God’s leaders submit to the Word as their source of strength. It is not enough for a leader to merely hear God’s Word. He or she must also submit to it. When they submit to Him, He becomes their strength. At the meal, “the cook took up the leg with what was on it and set it before Saul.” (1 Sam. 9:24). This meant that Samuel was honoring Israel’s first king. But it also had a spiritual meaning. As part of the peace or Shalom offering, the offeror gave the thigh of the sacrifice to the priest. “You shall give the right thigh to the priest as a contribution from the sacrifices of your peace offerings.” (Lev. 7:32; 9:21; Nu. 6:20). The thigh muscle is one of the strongest muscles in the body. Symbolically, the person seeking peace with God gave up their strength and let God become their strength. A good leader also relies upon God’s strength to guide them and not their own. “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped;. . .” (Ps. 28:7(a)). Unfortunately, Saul only did this in the beginning. The lesson is to be careful to select leaders who rely on God’s strength and not their own vanity.