There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish son of Abiel …a man of wealth. He had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else. Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, had strayed. So Kish said to his son Saul, ‘Take one of the boys with you; go and look for the donkeys.’ He passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. And they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then he passed through the land of Benjamin, but they did not find them. When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to the boy who was with him, ‘Let us turn back, or my father will stop worrying about the donkeys and worry about us.’ But he said to him, ‘There is a man of God in this town; he is a man held in honour. Whatever he says always comes true. Let us go there now; perhaps he will tell us about the journey on which we have set out.’ Then Saul replied to the boy, ‘But if we go, what can we bring the man? For the bread in our sacks is gone, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What have we?’ The boy answered Saul again, ‘Here, I have with me a quarter-shekel of silver; I will give it to the man of God, to tell us our way.’ (Formerly in Israel, anyone who went to inquire of God would say, ‘Come, let us go to the seer’; for the one who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.) Saul said to the boy, ‘Good; come, let us go.’ So they went to the town where the man of God was. As they went up the hill to the town, they met some girls coming out to draw water, and said to them, ‘Is the seer here?’ They answered, ‘Yes, there he is just ahead of you. Hurry; he has come just now to the town, because the people have a sacrifice today at the shrine. As soon as you enter the town, you will find him, before he goes up to the shrine to eat. For the people will not eat until he comes, since he must bless the sacrifice; afterwards those eat who are invited. Now go up, for you will meet him immediately.’ So they went up to the town. As they were entering the town, they saw Samuel coming out towards them on his way up to the shrine. Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed to Samuel: ‘Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be ruler over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines; for I have seen the suffering of my people, because their outcry has come to me.’ When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, ‘Here is the man of whom I spoke to you. He it is who shall rule over my people.’ Then Saul approached Samuel inside the gate, and said, ‘Tell me, please, where is the house of the seer?’ Samuel answered Saul, ‘I am the seer; go up before me to the shrine, for today you shall eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is on your mind. As for your donkeys that were lost three days ago, give no further thought to them, for they have been found. And on whom is all Israel’s desire fixed, if not on you and on all your ancestral house?’ Saul answered, ‘I am only a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel, and my family is the humblest of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin. Why then have you spoken to me in this way?’
This must be one of the most attractive Hebrew stories. It’s got everything. The reader is kept on the edge of their seat. It starts off with a wild goose (donkey) chase, as Kish’s Hollywood-Handsome son travels miles and miles looking in vain. Then the real star of the story comes into his own. This is not Saul, or Samuel, but the unnamed boy who was accompanying Saul on the donkey-hunt. The laddie not only stops Saul from feebly returning home, but sets up a meeting with the “seer” Samuel, who as a small boy years before had himself been called to service as “nobbut a lad.” Anyway, back to the drama… the unnamed boy not only persuades Saul to meet Samuel but provides the required monetary offering. What a star! (Are you reminded of the boy with the picnic loaves and fishes?) So the climax of the story: Saul is introduced to the king-maker, Samuel, who, still receiving quite specific divine messages, is told that Israel’s search for a king is now over. Even though Saul is from the tribe of Benjamin – the smallest and least powerful tribe – he is the chosen one. Oh – and by the way, even the donkeys are found.
So this searching God of ours is at it again. The Jesus-man would remind us many times of the Searching One. And no one is out of range. No one is too inconspicuous. The Searching-God raises the humble and moves history on.
Searching God, You search for a world filled with hope and purpose, and you never tire of calling people to join you in the quest. Stop us in our tracks, turn us around, lead us to a new place. Challenge us to use the gifts we have to create communities of shalom in the way of Samuel who listened, and Jesus who lived it all. Amen.
The Rev’d David Jenkins, retired minister, Marple URC
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