Looking for donkeys

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‘Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, let us fix our eyes on Jesus …’ (Hebrews 12:1,2).


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Bible reading: 1 Samuel 9:1–27

1 Samuel 9

Samuel Anoints Saul
 1 There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bekorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. 2 Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.

 3 Now the donkeys belonging to Saul’s father Kish were lost, and Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the servants with you and go and look for the donkeys.” 4 So he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and through the area around Shalisha, but they did not find them. They went on into the district of Shaalim, but the donkeys were not there. Then he passed through the territory of Benjamin, but they did not find them.

 5 When they reached the district of Zuph, Saul said to the servant who was with him, “Come, let’s go back, or my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us.”

 6 But the servant replied, “Look, in this town there is a man of God; he is highly respected, and everything he says comes true. Let’s go there now. Perhaps he will tell us what way to take.”

 7 Saul said to his servant, “If we go, what can we give the man? The food in our sacks is gone. We have no gift to take to the man of God. What do we have?”

 8 The servant answered him again. “Look,” he said, “I have a quarter of a shekel of silver. I will give it to the man of God so that he will tell us what way to take.” 9 (Formerly in Israel, if someone went to inquire of God, they would say, “Come, let us go to the seer,” because the prophet of today used to be called a seer.)

 10 “Good,” Saul said to his servant. “Come, let’s go.” So they set out for the town where the man of God was.

 11 As they were going up the hill to the town, they met some young women coming out to draw water, and they asked them, “Is the seer here?”

 12 “He is,” they answered. “He’s ahead of you. Hurry now; he has just come to our town today, for the people have a sacrifice at the high place. 13 As soon as you enter the town, you will find him before he goes up to the high place to eat. The people will not begin eating until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward, those who are invited will eat. Go up now; you should find him about this time.”

 14 They went up to the town, and as they were entering it, there was Samuel, coming toward them on his way up to the high place.

 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; he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked on my people, for their cry has reached me.”

 17 When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the LORD said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.”

 18 Saul approached Samuel in the gateway and asked, “Would you please tell me where the seer’s house is?”

 19 “I am the seer,” Samuel replied. “Go up ahead of me to the high place, for today you are to eat with me, and in the morning I will send you on your way and will tell you all that is in your heart. 20 As for the donkeys you lost three days ago, do not worry about them; they have been found. And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?”

 21 Saul answered, “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?”

 22 Then Samuel brought Saul and his servant into the hall and seated them at the head of those who were invited—about thirty in number. 23 Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the piece of meat I gave you, the one I told you to lay aside.”

 24 So the cook took up the thigh with what was on it and set it in front of Saul. Samuel said, “Here is what has been kept for you. Eat, because it was set aside for you for this occasion from the time I said, ‘I have invited guests.’” And Saul dined with Samuel that day.

 25 After they came down from the high place to the town, Samuel talked with Saul on the roof of his house. 26 They rose about daybreak, and Samuel called to Saul on the roof, “Get ready, and I will send you on your way.” When Saul got ready, he and Samuel went outside together. 27 As they were going down to the edge of the town, Samuel said to Saul, “Tell the servant to go on ahead of us”—and the servant did so—“but you stay here for a while, so that I may give you a message from God.”

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

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Looking for donkeys

Saul began so well! He was quietly getting on with his life, obedient to his father, responsible and diligent. He also happened to be tall and impressive (v2). He was not looking for any personal gain or position; in fact, he was just looking for his father’s donkeys!

But God used that humdrum event – a search for lost property – to lead Saul across Samuel’s path. It also happened that Samuel was looking for him. God had spoken to Samuel the day before (v 15) about a man he should anoint to be king, so Samuel’s antennae were up, watching out for him.

God’s choice
It’s a striking illustration of how God uses both the everyday event and the prophetic ‘word’ to bring about his purposes. How open are we to seeing God’s leading in both these different ways?

Saul was God’s choice. He started so well, but finished in a very different way (1 Samuel 31). It is possible to know we are chosen by God and yet not finish well. Paul could say at the end, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’ (2 Timothy 4:7). Let’s be those who keep running well, who do not give up out of weariness or fear or cynicism.


‘You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?’ (Galatians 5:7). Pray that you will keep running steadily.

Deeper Bible study

God told Samuel, ‘Give them a king’ (8:21) – but how? The scene shifts to a prominent man with a handsome, tall son. ‘Tall and handsome’ is always a plus in choosing leaders! Even if we did not know already, we would suspect that Saul will become king – but ‘even kings once had to look for donkeys!’1 We follow Saul on his journey, but he is surprisingly passive. Lost donkeys take him towards Samuel’s home. When he is ready to give up, his servant persists with a key proposal and even offers money when Saul is hesitant (vs 5–8). Young girls provide information, highlighting a sacrifice where Samuel must preside (vs 12,13; see 1 Samuel 13:8,9).

God has intervened the previous day, telling Samuel ‘I will send’ (vs 15,16). The donkeys, servant and girls, and Samuel’s being there come together in God’s purpose. The initiative and choice were solely his: Saul was unwittingly led to Samuel and Samuel was not inquiring. God responds to the cry of ‘my people’ (three times, vs 15,16). Saul’s ‘anointing is not for the sake of the monarchy, not to establish a new institution, not to enhance Saul. It is for “my people” ... so that Israel may live’.2 Our minds can move ahead to Jesus, the anointed King, sent to bring life.

Saul realises that something is happening that involves him, hence his disclaimer (v 21), but Samuel is in no hurry. Not until morning is he ready to announce God’s choice, with no one else present.

Through all the account, with its suspense and twists, we see God at work using people going about their common activities: a servant helping his master look for donkeys, girls collecting water and a prophet present to offer a sacrifice. Only the prophet could claim to be ‘somebody’ in human eyes, but without the others Samuel could not act.

1 M Evans, The Message of Kings, p63

2 W Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel (John Knox, 1990), p72

Bible background: Saul

His promising beginning
Saul is portrayed as being humble and shy when first anointed king (1 Samuel 9:21; 10:22). After his initial victory over the Ammonites when ‘the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him’ (1 Samuel 11:8) he refuses to punish those who were initially against him: ‘No one will be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel’ (1 Samuel 11:13).

His failure
Soon, however, Saul becomes fearful and impatient, and offers a burnt offering, which was forbidden to him (1 Samuel 13:5–14). Later he becomes proud. When Jonathan has initiated a defeat of the Philistines he says, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food before … I have avenged myself on my enemies’. He sets up a monument in his own honour (1 Samuel 15:12).

He fails to obey God’s instructions to kill all the Amalekites, resulting in God regretting he had made him king (1 Samuel 15:9–11). When Samuel tells him he is rejected, his main concern is how he will look before the people (1 Samuel 15:22–25). He becomes jealous of David (1 Samuel 18:6–9), the man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14) who is anointed to replace him as king.

His final years
Saul’s tragic later years might be seen as suffering from a form of manic depression, with a shift between active, lucid periods and times of depression and paranoia. But the biblical text puts it down to the fact that the Spirit of the Lord had left him because of his refusal to trust and obey, and ‘an evil spirit from the Lord’ was tormenting him (1 Samuel 16:14; 18:10; 19:9).

His repeated attempts to kill David alternate with recognition that David was in the right and he in the wrong (1 Samuel 24:16–21; 26:21–25). His attempt to ‘enquire of a woman who is a medium’ (1 Samuel 28:7) is the final step in his disgrace and he soon dies ignominiously by his own hand (1 Samuel 31:4). He is the classic example of a man who began well but ended badly.

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  • Hilary Dale | Wednesday, 23 January 2013

    Lord, may I better responsive to you through getting on with the everyday in an obedient, responsible and diligent way, plus being able to hear and act on words from you. Help me to continue to run the race and not give up due to weariness or cynicism.

  • Helen Humby | Wednesday, 23 January 2013

    Oh to finish well,to hear well done good and faithful servant! This is my prayer for myself and others who also desire to finish well.

  • Rae Bigwood | Wednesday, 23 January 2013

    Thankyou Lord for showing your self so clearly to us. I pray that today I will see your actions in the people around me. Praise your Holy name.....amen

  • Sandra Laythorpe | Wednesday, 23 January 2013

    Father, forgive our Saul-like sins, and annoint us with the Spirit of Jesus, so that we may live and work for you. Amen

  • Bob Cox | Wednesday, 23 January 2013

    "There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bekorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. 2 Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else." It is intresting here that Saul and his father are both described by their outward apperance and not by what is in their hearts, because when David was choosen to replace Saul, God tells Samuel He does not look at the outward, but the heart.

  • Lorraine Howard | Wednesday, 23 January 2013

    Thank you father for being there. Help me to grow in the way of the Lord Jesus Christ. I second Sandra LayThorpe`s pray

  • Karen Sui | Tuesday, 09 December 2014


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