Someone once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t’ stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Can we relate? Do you ever get lost in the everyday of life?
We can become so focused on all the tasks, all the things on our to-do list, that sometimes can miss the moments that are right in front of us – people, opportunities, perspective, and direction.
We can get discouraged but what we perceive are interruptions, distractions, frustrations and setbacks.
Sometimes we can get so caught up the day to day of what we have to do that can miss what God is doing, how the Lord is calling us – preparing us, shaping us, leading us into a life-changing moment.
As we return to 1 Samuel and look together at a long section – chapters 9 – 11, today’s story is about one of those moments – what we might call a divine appointment.
An ordinary guy named Saul – someone just like you and me – is going to start his day believing that he’s to be focused on a single task, thinking he’s supposed to be headed in one direction, when along the way he comes to realize, as he ends up somewhere unexpected that all along the way, the Lord had other plans for his life.
The part of this story – Saul’s story – that we are about to hear read aloud is the culmination of that journey.
But after we hear this part, we’re going to double back and see how Saul got to where he never expected to be – and then we’ll even take a brief look at what came next for Saul.
So again, keep your Bibles open because we’re covering a lot of ground today!
For now, let’s listen to 1 Samuel chapter 10, starting with verse 17.
So, we just heard where Saul ended up – becoming the first king of Israel – but now let me briefly summarize how Saul got here.
During our Ash Wednesday service this past week, we focused on chapter 8 of 1 Samuel.
If you weren’t able to be a part of that service, here’s what you missed in 1 Samuel.
Many years had passed since the Lord delivered Israel from their enemy, the Philistines, and had given them a long season of peace and prosperity.
But now, as Samuel, the prophet, the priest, and the judge of the tribes of Israel, had grown older, and was attempting to pass the mantle of leadership to his sons, the people balked, having had other ideas.
They wanted a king.
The presence and provision of the Lord God was no longer enough for them.
They wanted a king to be like all the other nations – even though being like all the other nations was never who Israel was created to be.
Israel was birthed and had been nurtured by God to be a light to the nations.
Through Samuel, the Lord tried to warn His people what they were asking for – an earthly king – would end up being more like an Egyptian pharaoh – the very kind of leadership their ancestors had been set free from – leadership and governance that takes more than it gives, that eventually, inevitably, enslaves those whom it is supposed to serve.
Despite this caution from God, the people remain insistent they want a king – a king who they believe they can control and steer in the direction they want to go, to fight the battles they want to fight – rather than having their lives always dictated and controlled by their one, true Heavenly King – the Lord God.
So, in a surprising but gracious gesture of tough love, the Lord gives the people what they want and through Samuel, the Lord sets out to deliver to Israel her first earthly king.
This brings us to chapter 9, where we meet a man from the tribe of Benjamin named Saul.
Saul, we’re told, is a good-looking guy – and quite tall to boot – physically standing head and shoulders above your average Israelite.
Right from the start, what is being implied is that Saul fits the bill, he’s physically the perfect casting choice, for the kind of king Israel thought she needed – the kind of imposing leader to represent the people before all the other nations.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. When we meet Saul, he isn’t leading anybody.
Saul is following after some donkeys that belong to his father, Kish, – donkeys that have gone missing.
Saul, accompanied by one of his father’s servants, travel for three days, looking all over the territories of the tribes of Ephraim and Benjamin, finally ending up in the land of Zuph.
But their search for these donkeys is futile. However, this doesn’t mean their journey was without purpose.
By this point, Saul is ready to call it quits. His father is probably worrying about him. Saul is pretty much out of food and money, so he thinks it’s time to turn back and go home. But Saul’s servant suggests a different path. There’s a man of God, a prophet of the Lord, nearby. The servant encourages Saul to try and find him and see if he can help. Saul reluctantly agrees with this plan and off they go.
And then before they get too far, it just so happens Saul and his servant run into a group of women who reveal to them their seemingly serendipitous time of arrival.
The prophet of the Lord they are looking for has just happened to come into town today, the town Saul and his servant already find themselves entering.
Having been directed by these women, as Saul is trying to determine the exact location of this prophet, it just so happens that the person he is looking for, the prophet named Samuel, bumps into Saul as he is walking along the road.
The prophet Samuel invites Saul and his servant to a meal, reassuring them that the lost donkeys have been found.
On their way to dinner, Samuel hints at something that is going to change Saul’s life – that he, Saul, is the one desired by all Israel. In other words, he, Saul, is the one the Lord has chosen to be king.
“And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?” (1 Samuel 9:20)
Saul responds by balking at his ancestry and questioning his qualifications.
But Samuel pays Saul’s protestations no mind as he gives Saul a head seat before 30 invited guests at the feast he has prepared not to mention, the best portion of the meal.
Samuel then hosts Saul and his servant overnight.
Seeing them off the next morning. Samuel sends Saul’s servant on ahead and then Samuel turns to Saul and does two things to reaffirm that Saul had indeed been chosen by God to be the first king of Israel.
First, he smears olive oil on Saul’s head – a ceremonial rite called anointing.
Being anointed indicates a person has been dedicated or commissioned by God and up until now has been reserved for priests of the Lord.
But now Saul’s appointment as the first king of Israel is affirmed through his anointing by Samuel.
Second, Samuel tells Saul exactly what would happen to Saul for the rest of the day as he was traveling back home.
Three things will occur.
Saul would see two women by a famous gravesite, Rachel’s Tomb – where the ancient patriarch Jacob’s beloved wife was buried, and these women would tell Saul that the donkeys he had been looking for were now back at Saul’s father’s house.
Next, Saul would come to was called “The Great Tree of Tabor.” There Saul would come across three men on their way to Bethel to worship the Lord. From their provisions intended as part of their worship, these men will make an offering to Saul from their food – two loaves of bread.
Finally, when Saul came to a town in Gibeah, he would meet a group of prophets who were playing musical instruments and prophesying about God.
During that encounter, Saul would be filled with the Holy Spirit and join this group in their charismatic worship of the Lord.
And it just so happened… (are we noticing that I’m using that phrase a lot? Hmmm…)
And it just so happened, all three of these experiences came to pass exactly as Samuel had described to Saul – meeting the two women and getting word about the donkey, bumping into the men and receiving an offering of bread, and running into the prophetic musicians and through the prompting of the Spirit, joining them in their worship concert.
Now Samuel also had told Saul, when all these things have happened, go to Gilgal, and wait for me.
Whatever reservations or doubts Saul may have had previously have been countered by these three not so coincidental signs from the Lord, and so he waits for Samuel as instructed.
Saul, however, has little time to absorb this astounding turn of events in his life as the prophet Samuel’s next move is to call for a holy convocation to be held at one his favored places, Mitzpah.
The last time all the tribes of Israel gathered at Mitzpah it was for a big tent spiritual revival service – where Israel in unison worshipped the Lord while the Lord singlehandedly defeated the threat that was advancing toward them – the army of the Philistines.
No doubt they are gathered again by Samuel at this place, at Mitzpah, to reinforce to Israel who their real Deliverer was so that the people would not put too much confidence in the king they were asking for.
Samuel begins by reminding the people that their request for a king is a rejection of God’s leadership.
As the search for a king is over, as Samuel prepares to reveal the Lord’s selection of a king for Israel, the point is being made that while this may be God’s allowance for and accommodation to His people, it is Israel’s idea and not the Lord’s ideal for them to present Saul to the public.
The tribe of Benjamin is identified and lots are cast to discern who the first king of Israel is.
Notice I said, who the king is. I didn’t say, who the first king of Israel will be.
This isn’t an election by the people. This is the revelation of God’s selection for the people.
Casting lots is sometimes used in the Bible to discern God’s will. Here it shows all of Israel that Saul was the Lord’s choice and not Samuel’s.
Whereas Saul’s anointing by Samuel had been private; it is important that his selection by God be evidenced by lot in public.
Saul is the Lord’s choice for the people’s king.
But when his name is finally called, Saul is nowhere to be found. Even Samuel can’t find him.
The Lord directs Samuel and the people where to locate their new king.
Where is Saul? He is hiding behind the people’s baggage.
Don’t forget this image. It’s going to be important – not today – but later in the story of Saul.
Upon finding and seeing Saul, the people think he looks like the perfect man for the job —a man literally head and shoulders above all the rest in Israel – and so they shout, “Long live the king!”
“Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.” Then the people shouted, “Long live the king!” (1 Samuel 10:24)
But not everyone is rejoicing in the Lord’s choice of Saul. There’s always a few critics in the crowd.
These particular naysayers are likely members of the southern tribes of Israel.
And they’re not too keen on some guy from the northern tribes ruling over them.
I don’t know whether it is good or bad to know that polarization borne of politics isn’t something new but goes all the way back to the Bible.
These critics make the same mistake all partisans who claim to profess faith in God do.
They are handwringing over their would-be candidate not being selected rather than remembering that the Lord alone is the real source of their hope – all our hopes.
King Saul begins his tenure with some opposition.
But as chapter 11 reveals, Saul soon gets his opportunity to prove himself and to quiet his critics.
An Ammonite named Nahash besieges one of Israel’s cities named Jabesh Gilead.
An attempt at a peace treaty with the Ammonites is rebuffed with violent threats.
So King Saul rallies his people – 330,000 soldiers come out to defend Jabesh-Gilead.
The Ammonites are swiftly defeated. King Saul’s approval rating soars.
In their zeal and patriotism over this victory, some in Israel want to punish and kill those who criticizes the selection of Saul as king.
But King Saul, to his credit, will have none of it.
Saul not only foregoes vengeance, he also gives the credit where the credit is due as he declares:
But Saul said, “No one will be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel.” (1 Samuel 11:13)
Instead of public executions, the people gather back at Gilgal and led by Samuel renew the kingship of Saul – now with the full support of all Israel.
Sacrificing peace offerings before YHWH, Saul and the Israelites rejoice greatly.
And for as thorough as I hope I’ve been in summarizing this part of Saul’s story,
I’d also encourage you to read about fascinating journey in chapters 9 – 11 on your own – or join me for a more in-depth look through our online Bible study via Zoom this Wednesday evening.
But now, let’s reflect on this story that unfolds the ways in which an ordinary, everyday person named Saul is chosen, designated, and empowered to be the first king of Israel.
It’s a story, as we read, as we heard, that’s fills with a lot of “And it just so happened…”
It’s a biblical story that is either filled with a lot of strange coincidences or a story that suggests that not everything that just seems to fall into place – being at the right place at the right time – is a coincidence.
In fact, early on, the one who records these events, goes out of the way, to specifically show us that none of what happened that day in Saul’s life was by chance.
If we look back at chapter 9, in verses 15 -16, the narrator offers us a flashback sequence – of a conversation between the Lord and the prophet Samuel on the day BEFORE these events unfold in Saul’s life.
15 Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed this to Samuel: 16 “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over my people Israel…” (1 Samuel 9:15-16)
And when tomorrow comes, what looked to be just another routine day for Saul – life on a farm – chasing after some stray animals– turns out to be a journey of revelation and purpose that changes Saul’s life forever.
A search that at first looks to be of no avail ends up becoming the discovery of something unexpected – something that Saul wasn’t even looking for.
While Saul is out looking for donkeys – the Lord, through the prophet Samuel, is looking for Saul to become the next king of Israel.
What looks like the ordinary life of a farm boy suddenly becomes quite extraordinary through the providence of God.
Here we see a picture of how the Lord can and does work in and through the ordinary moments of our lives.
To be clear, it’s descriptive – not prescriptive.
It’s a picture of how the Lord can work in our lives; it is not a formula for how the Lord always moves in our lives.
Are we listening carefully – especially those of us who are thinking or saying out loud right now – “Yup, everything happens with God for a reason.”
That’s NOT what I just said. That’s NOT what the Bible declares..
That may be what happens in this snapshot from Saul’s life but that’s not what happens every day, every waking moment for Saul’s thereafter.
What we see here is not some rule about how and why everything that happens.
Again, it’s a picture of how God does sometimes work in and through our lives.
If every moment is a divine appointment, then there is no such thing as a divine appointment.
Appointments stand out because they are appointed times, not every day occurrences.
Another way of expressing this is to acknowledge there are such things as coincidences.
Living in a broken world – where chaos and randomness exists, it is possible for stuff to just happen – for an unexpected, surprising, even a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances to take place for no reason – without any casual connection.
Something really important to notice in Saul’ story.
Nowhere it is said the Lord God made all these things happen in Saul’s life –searching for the donkeys, encountering the Samuel on the road, even the three signs that Samuel gives Saul to confirm that the Lord truly was with him.
Nowhere does it say, the Lord orchestrates all these encounters.
What is clear from what God tells Samuel the previous day is the Lord is going to work in and through the events of Saul’s life on the next day to serve His purpose.
While experiences and moments in our lives may surprise us, they do not ever surprise the Lord.
But this doesn’t mean God has pre-scripted everything that happens in every moment of our lives. This is not what it meant biblically by the providence of God. The Lord’s providence is the Lord’s provision in our lives. The providence of God refers to the Lord’s ability to work in, through and despite the real choices and decisions we make in order to provide what He has promises – the transformation of all life and creation as we know it – making all things new – including us.
While the Bible doesn’t ever tell us, everything happens for a reason, God does promise through His word that He can make all things work together for the good of those who love Him.
Not everything that happens to us is a message or prompting from God. But at the same, the Lord can and will work through everything that happens to us – good or bad – in order to accomplish His plans for us and all the world.
Again, what we learn from this moment in Saul’s life is, divine appointments are real.
We witness divine appointments all over the Bible. Abraham meeting Melchizedek, Ruth meeting Boaz, Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. the apostle Paul and the believers at Philippi, Saul meeting Samuel.
Sometimes – not all the time – the Lord does call us by name, point us in a certain direction, lead us to a particular person or into a specific situation – because God is looking to reveal an opportunity, a calling, a particular person that He has for us.
But here’s the thing, we learn from this snapshot in Saul’s life.
We don’t have to go looking for them because God will come looking for us.
Saul didn’t take any initiative in this encounter. Through the prophet, Samuel, the Lord initiated with Saul.
Let’s go even a step further – taking a step into perceiving the Gospel – the grace of God yet again in the pages of the Old Testament – long before Jesus comes to us.
Saul does nothing to merit or deserve this divine appointment with God.
Nothing stated as to why Saul is chosen by the Lord to be Israel’s first king other than the Lord chose Saul to be king.
Saul himself, even remarks on this, viewing himself as being in the smallest tribe of Israel, and that his clan was the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin.
“But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? “Why do you say such a thing to me?” (1 Samuel 9:21)
Divine appointments are not set based on how the world views us.
Divine appointments are not based on pre-qualifications – submitting a resume or even gaining any experience.
No, the Lord in His grace, invites us to come and follow Him, regardless of what we’ve done or haven’t done, regardless of where we have been or where we are going, regardless of whether we have failed, regardless of our measure of our value and worth – our perceived sense of readiness.
From initially wanting to give up and go home to eventually, after all he’s heard and witnessed, still hiding in the luggage when his name gets called as the king of Israel, Saul is pretty clueless and inept through this whole story. And yet, the Lord still calls, still leads, still empowers Saul to move forward.
The Lord not only invites us, but oftentimes meets us in the present circumstances of our lives – in the midst of our searching, while we are focused on something else entirely – and lays the path before us – the next steps we need to take.
Saul doesn’t initiate this divine appointment. Saul doesn’t merit or somehow earn this divine appointment. Saul doesn’t even, at first, fully understand the divine appointment he is experiencing.
All Saul has to do, all Saul can do, is lean into the Lord’s presence and provision. To listen to the Lord speak through his traveling companion, his father’s servant, to listen to the Lord speak through his prophet, Samuel, to wait, see, and believe in the signs the Lord is giving him along the way, to receive, to trust, and to rely on the empowerment the Lord provides through his anointing, his public coronation, and his victory in battle.
Something else we powerfully see in this story – is Saul’s transformation as he leans into the Lord’s provision and presence – more specifically as Saul is filled with God’s Spirit.
Saul, by the grace of God, transforms from an unsuspecting and uncomprehending person and becomes filled with energy and freedom and initiative and wisdom
beyond himself. The people around him recognized that change – that Saul became different – a new person.
This is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Through the Word and the Spirit of God, Saul receives a new way of being in the world. Saul becomes a new creation.
Saul is transformed by God’ presence and provisions, and for as long as he held on to this, Saul would be a good king.
Saul’s transformation is a sign for Israel – what Israel is meant to become as a kingdom – of who Israel can become as the people of God.
Saul’s transformation is a momentary glimpse into what all humanity can become when we not only believe in but also follow Jesus Christ.
Unlike Saul, where the Holy Spirit comes upon him at a particular time, in a particular place, in a particular moment, thanks to Jesus – only because of the work of Christ – we have the continual indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross which covers us and imparts forgiveness, thanks to Jesus’ victory over our shared, inescapable mortal enemy, death through the Resurrection,
thanks to Jesus’ sending and filling us with His Spirit at Pentecost, we can be changed, we can become who we were always meant to be, we can reflect and embody the reign, the Kingdom of God through our words and our actions.
For once the Spirit takes hold of us, the Spirit does not let go.
Beloved, sometimes we feel like we’re walking in circles – going nowhere.
Sometimes we think God only works in the big and spectacular moments of life. But today we’ve learned sometimes God is at work even in the ordinary, seemingly mundane details of our lives.
Are there happy accidents? Sure. Are there chance encounters? Of course.
But there are also divine appointments.
Have we been missing any of those lately?
Not everything happens for a reason but not everything that happens is a coincidence.
Sometimes we catch a heavenly glimpse that we’re called to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
We may not be called to be a king of Israel like Saul, but we have all been called and commissioned like Saul, to be a part of the Kingdom that God is building here on earth.
Let us walk in the truth and the promises the Lord has deposited in us. Let us keep our heads up, our eyes and ears open, and our hearts and minds attentive to the guidance and direction that Lord continues to offer us.
Let us lean into to where the Lord is speaking – to where Christ is obviously present and working – in those relationships, those situations where the Spirit is moving, instead being too busy, too insistent on what we are doing, what we want to make happen, on where we insist on going.
The Lord can work despite us – but the Lord’s invitation is to work in and through us.
So the next time we’re turned aside from our designated path, the next time we thrown off the course we decided to take, the next time we are tempted to give up and just go home, let take care not to act too quickly, but instead let us abide in the Word and the Spirit, and take our next cue not from the best we can come up with, not from the wisdom of the world but from the divine presence and provision of the God who in Christ has promised to give us a new heart and mind, who has previously stated to transform this world in and through us, who is working all the time in the midst of whatever else is happening to bring about something new – something good – the best we could ever imagine or hope for. Amen.