I Samuel 9:1-6, 1 Samuel 9:14-17

From the time the children of Israel entered into the Promised Land they were led by judges. These were people that God raised up, who were mightily endued with the Spirit of God. This period lasted for some three hundred years. Deborah was one of those judges, as was Gideon was, and Samson was also a judge. By the time we get to 1 Samuel 9, Israel is under her final judge, the prophet Samuel.

During this three-hundred-year period, the nation was truly a theocracy. God was her King. He was her great shepherd. He was her able advocate and saving defense. The eyes that run to and fro throughout all of the earth stood watch over little Israel.

Israel was unlike any of the other nations of the earth. She was strong, yet had no standing army – Almighty God was in her camp. The people prospered. Moreover, when she was in a right relationship with the Lord, she was invincible against her enemies, for the Lord fought her battles.

However, like many of us, the people did not realize they had a good thing going when they had it. One morning, the people of Israel woke up, and they wanted to be like all the other nations. Listen, make no mistake anytime you find yourself wanting to be conformed to this world and be like this world, you are moving in spiritual reverse.

The Bible says, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him,” (1 John 2:15). However, on that terrible day, Israel wanted to be like the world. She wanted a king. This was an utterly offensive and despicable request. God Almighty had led and fed, superintended, protected, and provided. He had allowed these people to see His glory and manifest power. The heart of the Almighty and Holy God was deeply hurt. 1 Samuel 9:7 says, “And the Lord told Samuel: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their King.”‘ Do you realize that God almighty was so great that He was willing to stand for it? When the nation said, “We no longer want God to be King over us, but rather we want a man to be king over us,” they were essentially dethroning the sovereign, holy Lord God from His rightful place. How utterly odious!

Many saints have done the same thing. I have known more people than I like to think about, who are utterly smug in their sin. Then, there was a great crisis, and they were snatched from the powers of darkness. They were brought into the glorious light and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and made to be a partaker of His divine nature. Every good and perfect gift was theirs, and all things that were Christ’s were theirs. He was the Lord and the King of their lives.

However, they began to look at the world, and they started lusting and craving. Unholy appetites were born inside of them, and they gave place to that inner longing. Then, one morning, they got up and said, “I no longer want Jesus to be King of my life. I no longer want to be subjugated to Him. I no longer want to be under His authority.” Thus, like the children of Israel, they dethroned Almighty God as their King.

There is a name for this, Little Children; it is called backsliding. The people said to Samuel, “We want to be like all the other nations. We want to be like the world; we want what they have; we are tired of being different. Give us a king.” Do you know that an incredible thing happened? God Almighty condescended; He got up off his holy righteous throne; He took off his kingly apparel and gave Israel a fleshly king. He stepped down; the people rejected him, but the Lord did not reject His people. He did not turn His back on them. He kept on loving; He kept on calling; He kept asking to be their King again.

Even today, the Lord Jesus is still trying to get on the throne of many hearts where He once sat. He is trying to get His rightful place of preeminence back, possibly in your life. Do you know that when you get out from the authority of Almighty God, you immediately get subjugated to the authority of men, and many times, that can be hell on earth? Now, get this – when Israel had the Lord as her king, He fought her battles. But when Israel demanded and got an earthly king, he sent the nations to fight His battles.

It is the same today. When the Lord Jesus sits enthroned upon our lives, then John says, in his epistle, “We have an able advocate with the father, Jesus Christ, the righteous,” Who pleads our cause; Who defends us; Who fights our battles; Who is our shield, and buckler, and defender. When you get out from under the cover of His kingship, you become your own advocate. Usually you wind up fighting not only your own battles, but also someone else’s. The people of God said, “We want our own king. We want to be like the other nations.” And the Lord, in His benevolent mercy, in His unending love, consented.

God loves us, even in our rebellion; but He will not bless us very long in our rebellion. One can only presume upon the grace of God for so long. There comes a payday at some point. You see, the Bible teaches, in the epistle of John, that if a believer, once gloriously saved, turns his back on the Lord, goes after the world, and continues to sin, God, in His judgment, may take his life. Have you lost ground? Have you dethroned King Jesus? If so, this is the Word of the Lord. It is from Revelation 21: “The spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ and let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whosoever is thirsty, let him come” (Revelation 22:17).

In Hebrews we read, “Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your heart.” Jesus came to be King again; he can be Lord again. It can be like it once was. God spoke to Samuel and said, “All right, I’m the one they are really rejecting. It’s not you” (1 Samuel 8:7). Then, He said to His prophet, “Listen to the people, but make sure that you warn them, and let them know what the king who reigns over them is going to do.”

Samuel stood before all the people, and he said to them, “Before you dethrone God as your king and subjugate yourselves to a man as your king, you need to know what he is going to do to you. You see, heretofore, you have never had to deal with conscription and had your sons and daughters carted off to fight the king’s battles. You have never had to pay great taxes to support a standing army. You have never had to deal with federal officials, claiming the right of eminent domain. However, that is what your king will do to you. When I was your King, I gave you the land. However, when a man becomes your king, he will come and take your land, indeed the choicest parts, for his own benefit. Indeed, he will take one tenth of your flocks. Many of you will be forced to serve his purposes. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you chose. However, the Lord will not answer in that day.”

Note the people’s response in 1 Samuel 8:19, “But the people refused to listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”‘ Now, we come to chapter 9, which introduces the young man who would ultimately be made Israel’s new king. We could go in many directions, but I would like to develop this story a little differently, looking at it from the standpoint of an experience all too common to many believers, yet frequently denied.

In 1 Samuel 9, we get our first glimpse at the prospective candidate. We are told (1 Samuel 9:2) that Saul, the son of Kish, was an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites. We are told that he was head and shoulders over all the other people. In other words, he was tall and good-looking, a striking man, with a full physique. His father, Kish, was a man of standing, which is the Bible’s way of saying that Saul was from a wealthy family.

Saul, for his day, was, in all probability, an educated and sophisticated young man. He was, no doubt, schooled in all that was proper and appropriate. Probably, his father saw to it that he had the proper opportunities to develop himself intellectually, physically, and spiritually.

If you search the Scriptures carefully, there is nothing to indicate that Saul was indulged by his father. He was definitely no aristocratic, playboy type. In fact, in the portrait that we have of him here, Saul is working for his father. He has responsibilities, and he is held accountable. In 1 Samuel 9:3, we see Kish giving his son a very specific assignment. Saul was to take a servant and go out and look for his father’s herd of donkeys, which had wandered off their grazing land. You will note that his son does not say, “Oh, gee, Dad, what a pain. I got a big date tonight, and what about the game tomorrow afternoon? You know how my allergies are. The ragweed is a killer this time of year. Do I have to go? Can’t you just send some servants out?”

There is none of that spirit in young Saul. He is responsible. He is not a “do nothing,” “sit on your duff” type of young man. There is no hiding. He immediately went out. For three days, he searched hill and vale, looking for dear old dad’s donkeys. Though he was diligent, responsible, and dutiful in the dispatch of his duties, he was not very successful.

Note 1 Samuel 9:5: We get a tremendous insight into the thoughtfulness of this young man. Saul says, “Come, let’s go back, or my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us.” Here was a young man who wanted his father to know of his whereabouts; that he and his servant were all right. He did not want to put his father through any unnecessary anxiety. He did not want his father daring to entertain even the slightest thought that some harm had befallen him.

That is a great trait for a young person to have, isn’t it? When you have a young person that thoughtful, considerate, and respectful, it tells you something about his heart and the way he was raised. Proverbs 9:1 says, “A wise son makes a father glad.” Saul’s servant was able to appreciate the concern; but he suddenly remembered that the itinerary of the old prophet, Samuel, meant that he was in a nearby town. So, the servant of Saul said, “Let’s go down and see the man of God. He is highly respected. Everything he says comes true. Possibly, he will be able to get a word from the Lord and tell us right where to go, so that we can locate the animals.” Isn’t that innocent? That is real faith, isn’t it? The Lord had to be pleased, as He listened in on that conversation. Essentially, the servant was affirming that the Creator God, who was in the act of superintending not only planet earth, but also the entire cosmos, was concerned about his lost donkeys. (God has never changed. He is interested in the totality of our lives. Praying Saint, don’t you ever be afraid that you will trivialize God. We can “cast all of our cares upon Him because he cares for us.”)

Consulting Samuel sounded like a good idea, but there was one problem; they had no gift or offering to present to the old prophet. Nevertheless, they managed to come up with a little something for an honorarium (Preachers haven’t changed much over the years). Thus, they set out to locate Samuel, the great prophet, who was now well up in years.

Now, hone in on the sequence. The very day before, the Lord had revealed to Samuel that a young man from the land of Benjamin would be coming to him, and that he was to be anointed king of Israel. Look at I Samuel 9:16: “‘About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him leader of my people Israel. “‘ There is something fascinating here. The Lord is entirely and beautifully orchestrating this whole drama. This whole thing has been predetermined and prearranged by a sovereign God. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of the water; He directs it wherever He chooses.”

It is God who calls, ordains and crowns. 1 Samuel 10:1 says, “Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, ‘Has not the Lord anointed you leader over his inheritance?'” That is a wonderful story, and there are so many jumping off places in terms of application. I want to go back and focus on Saul’s search. I want us to “park” in that segment of the story. Look again at Saul’s three days, which he spent looking for his father’s donkeys. Remember, that was an agrarian culture. Donkeys were like a type of moving van on legs. They were absolutely essential. This was a very important assignment. Losing a herd of donkeys, in that day, would be something like having your station wagon put itself in gear and drive off on a fling. No man of us could stand that. We would want to go and retrieve it immediately.

Saul hunted three days for the donkeys. It is amazing how slow time can move, when you are not coming up with what you expected out of life. No doubt, many of you know of the ministry of the television preacher, Dr. D. James Kennedy. For many years, he has been the pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. There are at least five families here this morning that have worshiped there. He is a great preacher and theologian in the Reformed tradition.

Tangentially, I might add, that back in 1971, I sat in a small room alone with him, discussing which seminary I should attend. That was a very memorable occasion. A book was written about the story of his church entitled, The Kennedy Explosion. He had an unusual beginning: following graduation from Columbia Theological Seminary, he accepted a call to a small Presbyterian church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He inherited an active congregation of forty-three. At the end of his first year, his church had decreased to seventeen!

In the book, he tells of that brutal moment when he got up enough courage to face up to what was happening. He went for a long walk on the beach and, in prayer, confessed that he was concerned about his ability to nurture a church. Kennedy recalls that day in his life as one of total despair. After all, there had been a lot of preparation, and years of study and training, and there were no real options. He had a wife and a small child to support.

He came out of training “like a thunderbolt,” gave it all he had, and his church nearly evaporated under his nose. He says that it is a terrible thing to go through all of that intense training and then discover that you haven’t got what it takes to keep a church alive. This is what he had to admit that day, as he walked along, talking with God in prayer. Several years later, Kennedy came to the seminary I attended, and though I had graduated, I came back to hear him. In sharing his story, he commented on that particular period in his life, and described it as being one in which he was hot, dry, and donkeyless.

In commenting on that crisis moment, when he had to own up to all of his inadequacy, he said that he just walked the beach, day after day, with deep feelings of exasperation and fatigue. He just could not figure out his circumstances. The call of God was upon him; it was real enough, but he could not pull off being a pastor. It was such a confusing time. There seemed to be no easy answers. He wanted to know what the Lord was up to, and yet there were no clues. It was all the more distressing when the church could not make his paycheck, which precipitated another crisis.

He said he was extremely tormented with a flood of questions that came into his mind straight from the pit: Where is this leading? There is some terrible sin in your life. You’re just not a person the Lord can really bless. You’re on a dead end route. You’re on a collision course with meaninglessness. These are the kinds of uncertainties that flooded his mind.

As he was walking along the beach one day, trying to unravel this twisted circumstance, he ran into an old buddy whom he hadn’t seen in years. Soon, they were sitting in the sand, and Kennedy was baring his soul to his friend, telling how Christ had called him into the ministry, even though it didn’t seem to be working out. His friend listened rather pensively. There was little response in his face. Kennedy thought that his friend was being turned off, or was just bored. He thought that, perhaps, he erred in opening up about all of his troubles. Sensing this as he talked, he brought the story to quick close. His friend looked at him and said, “I need Christ. My circumstances are far worse, and only the Lord Jesus can help me. I need to receive Christ.”

Kennedy said, “You do?” He could not believe that anyone could be changed through his little testimony, which was not very spectacular. However, in the course of sharing with his friend, he had told him how he had come to know Christ, and the joy that he had in the Lord, despite the fact that his ministry was just not getting off the ground. Unknown to Kennedy, the Holy Spirit used his testimony and pushed all the right buttons in his friend’s heart. Then, right there on the beach, Kennedy’s friend bowed his head, prayed the sinner’s prayer, and was gloriously saved. He became a new creature in Christ and joined Kennedy’s church.

A thought went through Kennedy’s head: “If enough people responded personally to the claims of Christ, the church would not only grow numerically, but also in the vitality and programs because young believers must be nurtured. When Christ becomes the center of a person’s life, then the church becomes the center of their activity.”

So he wrote down exactly what he had shared with his friend on the beach, published it in a little pamphlet, and shared it with another person. That person made a decision, then another, and then another. Then he took a couple of laymen and trained them. They started sharing their faith, and God brought the increase! The contagion caught on, and it all got written down. Personal evangelism became the center of church programming. After 24 years, Coral Ridge Presbyterian has grown from seventeen members to fifteen thousand! That is the kind of story we like, and the kind of success every pastor covets. It really happened.

Think of what he almost turned his back on. Think of what he would have missed had he surrendered to the verdict of his outward circumstances, during those searching days when he was hot, tired, and donkeyless.

The Word says, “Eye hath not seen, no ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, the good things that God has for those that love him” — that is, provided they are willing not to change course simply because life hands them those days when they are hot, tired, and donkeyless, when they are coming up empty-handed, and they can’t seem to locate what they are searching for; when they don’t know where everything is going, or if they are going to come out with what they should have.

Those times come to all of us; those terrible periods, when we are hot, dry, and donkeyless, and like young Saul, we find ourselves there in the byways of life, carrying out those lackluster, mundane assignments, grinding it out, wondering if we will make it, and not at all sure if we will make any significant difference in what we do. I wonder what was going on in Saul’s mind at the end of that first day of searching. Imagine, if he had kept a journal, how it might read:

Day 1: Looked hard for the donkeys. Temperature in the 90s, bad humidity. Went through heavy bush county and was attacked by chiggers. May die of scratching. My servant was irritable and griped all day long.

Day 2: The chiggers are driving me to the precipice of madness. It got hotter and the food spoiled, with the exception of the prunes and dates. Fought off a lion attack and was so scared, I lost five years off my life. All for those stupid donkeys. Where could they be?

Day 3: Anointed King of Israel. What a great day!

The hand of a great God was active on that great day in the life of young Saul. It was redeemed and changed on that magnificent day. But, what about those first two days? What about those first two days, while Saul was beating the bushes, getting anxious over his long absence away from his father, becoming increasingly discouraged about his failure to locate the donkeys, so that he was hot, dry, and donkeyless? What was God doing? Did He care?

When things are not breaking in your direction; when you are obeying your Heavenly Father, living in obedience to all the light that you are able to understand, and the days come and go, and night falls, and you are still coming up empty-handed and wondering if you will ever find what you are looking for, it can push a person to the precipice of his or her own faith.

Have you ever walked out on that precipice? Maybe in your life you are already out there on that edge. If so, listen to the sequence again.

Day 1 – Hot, dry, and donkeyless.

Day 2 – Hot, dry, and donkeyless.

Day 3 – Anointed king over Israel.

You can only draw one conclusion from this story, namely, the sovereign God was no more active, no less active, in Saul’s life in the third day than he was in the first two. However, Saul did not know that. I have never hunted for donkeys, but I have had some days. . .

If it is hot, dry, and donkeyless where you are, you might just want to give this wonderful God of ours a chance to produce a “day three.” Amen.


Ed Bonniwell is Pastor of Faith Christian Fellowship Church in Cincinnati, OH.

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