As a young boy, the prophet Samuel had prayed, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.” As an old man, Samuel was still listening and the Lord was still speaking (v.15-16). The nation of Israel had called for a king, and the Lord told Samuel who that king was to be. In order to get that man into Samuel’s presence so that he could be anointed king, God arranged a most unusual situation to bring about a meeting of the two.
A young man named Saul from the tribe of Benjamin was sent to find his father’s lost herd of donkeys (v.2-3). I don’t want to read too much into that, but I think I can safely draw this parallel: the people of Israel were like those wayward, unrestrained donkeys. As a nation, they were stubbornly determined to go their own way, to run from their Heavenly Father, and to wander ignorantly into a place devoid of His protection and blessing. Saul would be the human instrument of God’s authority to restrain His people.
Saul is presented as a handsome young man, apparently the best-looking man in Israel (v.2). We also learn that Saul was unusually tall, standing head and shoulders above anyone in his nation (Saul is the only Israelite in the Bible noted for being tall). He certainly looked like “king” material, but appearances can be deceiving when it comes to godliness in leadership (as Samuel would later learn; see 16:7). The account of the divinely arranged meeting of Saul and Samuel hints that Saul’s physical superiority would not make up for his shortcomings. He was unable to locate the lost livestock, he did not think to seek spiritual help in his search, and he was essentially led by his servant to consult the prophet. Additionally, it seems that Saul did not even know about Samuel, the revered man of God who was known by the whole nation (see 3:20, 4:1), and who lived near Saul’s home town.
Saul was understandably surprised by the prophet’s invitation to the banquet, the honor given him there, and Samuel’s mysterious compliments (v.20-21). After spending the night on the prophet’s roof, Saul and his servant left for home. On the outskirts of the city, Samuel stopped Saul in order to “make known the word of the Lord” (v.27), something Saul desperately needed in his life.
Could God use an inept shepherd, an unspiritual man to lead His people? Not without a radical, heaven-sent change in Saul’s heart. The same is true for me (and you, too…right?).