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Chasing Donkeys

Well, we’ve been reading through the book of Samuel and we’ve now made it to chapter 9. And even though this book is called “The Book of Samuel”, Samuel actually isn’t the focus of the majority of the book.

Of course, as you’ve noticed, in the first 8 chapters, the story did revolve primarily around Samuel (around his birth, life, and ministry) – but for the next 46 chapters, the focus shifts… and Samuel becomes more of a supporting character, while others take the centre stage.

And that shouldn’t be too surprising because as we noted last Sunday, the era of the Judges has now ended (with Samuel being the last of them) and a new era of Kings is about to begin.

Last Sunday we read how the people of Israel no longer wished to be led by Judges – they wanted to have king like all the other nations around them. Mind you, they already had a King – God was their King – and in reality, they were rejecting God as their King – not Samuel as their judge.

But to make a long story short, even though God knew that human kings would never serve Israel as well as He did, none the less, at their insistence, God choose to grant them their request and He agreed to give them a King.

And that’s just what we’re going to read about today.

1 Samuel chapter 9, verse 1 begins like this:

There was a wealthy, influential man named Kish from the tribe of Benjamin. He was the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 His son Saul was the most handsome man in Israel—head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land. 1 Samuel 9:1-2

And I’ll just pause here for a moment because this is kinda interesting. In the chapter just before this, the people of Israel asked God to give them a ‘king to lead them’, right? They didn’t want to be led by an invisible God, they wanted to be able to see their king leading them into battle! They wanted a king that would look like a king.

And this fellow Saul certainly fit that bill! He’s was just the kind of man you’d expect to be king! As we just read, he came from a wealthy, influential family. He was good-looking – in fact, he was described as the most handsome man in nation! And on top of that, he was a goliath of a man! – standing head and shoulders taller than anyone else! He was tall, dark, and handsome – and wealthy to boot!

If the Israelites wanted a king that looked like a king – Saul would certainly be on the short-list! But of course, being a king isn’t all about appearances, but I just found it interesting that as far as appearances go, Saul was just about as Kingly as they come!

Anyways… let’s keep reading and let’s see what else we can learn about this Saul fellow. Verse 3

3 One day Kish’s donkeys strayed away, and he told Saul, “Take a servant with you, and go look for the donkeys.” 4 So Saul took one of the servants and traveled through the hill country of Ephraim, the land of Shalishah, the Shaalim area, and the entire land of Benjamin, but they couldn’t find the donkeys anywhere.

5 Finally, they entered the region of Zuph, and Saul said to his servant, “Let’s go home. By now my father will be more worried about us than about the donkeys!” 

1 Samuel 9:3-5

Saul and his servant have been looking for these donkeys for days now and have had no success. They’ve gone all over the countryside, no doubt asking everyone they met “Have you seen any stray donkeys?” – but no one has seen anything! That must have been a bit frustrating for Saul – I mean, how hard is it to find a donkey?! Somebody must have seen something! But no! There appears to be no tracy of these donkeys anywhere! So by now, Saul figures his father is more worried about them than the donkeys, so he’s is ready to throw in the towel and head home. But just then, his servant had an idea. Verse 6.

6 But the servant said, “I’ve just thought of something! There is a man of God who lives here in this town. He is held in high honor by all the people because everything he says comes true. Let’s go find him. Perhaps he can tell us which way to go.”

7 “But we don’t have anything to offer him,” Saul replied. “Even our food is gone, and we don’t have a thing to give him.”

8 “Well,” the servant said, “I have one small silver piece. We can at least offer it to the man of God and see what happens!” 9 (In those days if people wanted a message from God, they would say, “Let’s go and ask the seer,” for prophets used to be called seers.)

10 “All right,” Saul agreed, “let’s try it!” So they started into the town where the man of God lived.

1 Samuel 9:3-10

As a last ditch effort to find these donkeys, Saul and his servant decide to ask the man of God in the nearby town if he could possibly tell them what happened to the donkeys and which way they should go! Of course, they don’t want to show up to the prophet’s house empty-handed – asking for favors without even a small token of their appreciation! But by chance, the servant happened to have one small silver coin, and so with that, they decided to head into the town and go looking for the man of God. Verse 11 continues…

11 As they were climbing the hill to the town, they met some young women coming out to draw water. So Saul and his servant asked, “Is the seer here today?”

12 “Yes,” they replied. “Stay right on this road. He is at the town gates. He has just arrived to take part in a public sacrifice up at the place of worship. 13 Hurry and catch him before he goes up there to eat. The guests won’t begin eating until he arrives to bless the food.”

14 So they entered the town, and as they passed through the gates, Samuel was coming out toward them to go up to the place of worship.

15 Now the Lord had told Samuel the previous day, 16 “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him to be the leader of my people, Israel. He will rescue them from the Philistines, for I have looked down on my people in mercy and have heard their cry.”

1 Samuel 9:11-16

Now I want to pause here for a moment. By now we’re starting to see that everything in our story so far has not happened by chance! 

    • It was no accident that Kish’s donkeys got lost.
    • It was no accident that Saul and this servant were the ones sent to find them.
    • It was no accident that they couldn’t find those donkeys for days!
    • It was no accident that they ended up in the region of Zuph, near the town where Samuel lived. 
    • It was no accident that the servant just happened to remember that Samuel lived there.
    • It was no accident that he also happened to have a small silver coin in his pocket.
    • It was no accident that they met some young women who directed them to Samuel just as Samuel was heading to the place of worship!

None of it was an accident. It was all sovereignly arranged by the God of heaven!

And I just find that incredible encouraging! These people were all just doing their normal life stuff and God was using it all for his purpose!

    • As Kish was no doubt frustrated about his stupid donkeys wandering off – God was using that for His purposes!
    • As Saul was feeling useless, wandering the countryside for days and accomplishing nothing – God was using that for his purposes!
    • As the servant just hung out with Saul – wandering the countryside with Him – God was using that for his purposes!
    • As the young women went about their mundane, routine task of fetching water for their families – God was using that for his purposes!

Kish being frustrated, Saul feeling useless, the servant just hanging out, and the women doing their everyday tasks – God was using all of that to accomplish what He wanted to accomplish!

And I don’t know about you, but those are all pretty good descriptions of what my life has looked like in these past months – being frustrated, feeling useless, just hanging out, doing everyday tasks! Maybe you can relate! And It’s hard to imagine that God is at work in all those things – But He is!

Jesus reminds us in John 5:17… 

But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” John 5:17

God is always at work. Of course, we don’t always know what He’s doing – but he’s always doing something!

For the Israelites, God was at work, preparing to rescue them from the Philistines! He had heard their cries and was preparing send them a rescuer. This time not a judge, but a King – just like they had asked for. God was in the middle of His rescue plan, and nobody even knew about it! 

Kish didn’t know that losing his donkeys was part of God’s plan to rescue Israel. Saul didn’t know that wandering the countryside for days was part of God’s plan to rescue Israel. Those young women didn’t know that fetching water that morning was all part of God’s plan to rescue Israel. But none-the-less, God was at work – using it all for his purposes!

And I just wonder what God might be up to in your life or in mine? In all of the frustrating, “useless”, mundane activities of life – what is God up to? What rescue plan is He working on? How is He using this as a setup to change someone’s life – maybe yours? Maybe someone else’s? But one thing is sure – God is always up to something! 

Be encouraged today that whatever adjectives describe your life in these recent days, God is using it all for His purposes!

And as for Saul, He was about to figure just what God’s purposes were. The story continues in verse 17.

17 When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord said, “That’s the man I told you about! He will rule my people.”

18 Just then Saul approached Samuel at the gateway and asked, “Can you please tell me where the seer’s house is?”

19 “I am the seer!” Samuel replied. “Go up to the place of worship ahead of me. We will eat there together, and in the morning I’ll tell you what you want to know and send you on your way. 20 And don’t worry about those donkeys that were lost three days ago, for they have been found. And I am here to tell you that you and your family are the focus of all Israel’s hopes.”

1 Samuel 9:17-20

Well, that was certainly not the answer that Saul was expecting. He was just asking for directions to the seer’s house, and it turns out he was asking the Seer Himself. And of course, being a prophet of God, Samuel already knew all about the donkeys that they were looking for and he also knew that they had been found – that wasn’t even the issue anymore. There was something much bigger going on here – and that something revolved around Saul.

Saul and his family were the focus of all of Israel’s hopes! And I don’t know for sure if Saul really understood exactly what Samuel actually meant by that, but look at how he responds: verse 21

21 Saul replied, “But I’m only from the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest tribe in Israel, and my family is the least important of all the families of that tribe! Why are you talking like this to me?”

1 Samuel 9:21

Whatever Samuel was referring to, Saul was pretty sure Samuel had the wrong guy. Saul certainly didn’t view himself as someone that Israel would put all their hopes in! And so he says to Samuel in essence – “I’m a nobody – from a family of nobodies! Why would anyone put their hopes in me?”

I think Saul’s statement here reflects genuine humility, but it’s not entirely accurate. Yes, He was from the tribe of Benjamin – which was the smallest tribe in Israel. In fact, if you read the last part of judges, you see that not long before this, the tribe of Benjamin had almost been annihilated by the other tribes of Israel in a sort of civil war – leaving only 600 men alive. So at this time, the tribe of Benjamin was very much the smallest tribe in Israel. But Saul’s claim that his family was the least important in that tribe may be a bit exaggerated. You’ll recall at the beginning of the chapter, we read that Saul’s father Kish was a wealthy and influential man. So it would appear that in Saul’s humility, he was probably exaggerating the truth a bit.

But more importantly to our story, even as Saul objected to Samuel’s statement because he was from the little tribe of Benjamin, that only confirmed for Samuel that he had the right guy. As we saw in verse 16, God told Samuel that he was going to send a man from the tribe to Benjamin to Samuel the follow day and that man would be King.

It’s kinda ironic that Saul’s argument for why He wasn’t the right guy was actually confirmation for Samuel that he was!

So I think at this point, while Saul is still unconvinced, Samuel on the other hand is fully confident that Saul is God’s choice to be the leader of His people Israel. We see in verse 22…

22 Then Samuel brought Saul and his servant into the hall and placed them at the head of the table, honoring them above the thirty special guests. 23 Samuel then instructed the cook to bring Saul the finest cut of meat, the piece that had been set aside for the guest of honor. 24 So the cook brought in the meat and placed it before Saul. “Go ahead and eat it,” Samuel said. “I was saving it for you even before I invited these others!” So Saul ate with Samuel that day.

1 Samuel 9:22-24

There is no doubt in Samuel’s mind that Saul is the one. God has made that abundantly clear to him. He puts Saul at the head of the table and gives him the finest cut of meat – the best piece reserved for the guest of honor! But it seems that Saul is still unconvinced. In his mind, he sees no reason why he should be the honoured guest at this meal. He seems hesitant to even eat the special food that is placed before him – Samuel has to encourage him to eat it, saying “I was saving it for you even before I invited everyone else!”

And you can understand Saul’s hesitation. I mean, just a few hours ago he was wandering the hillside looking for his father’s donkeys! And now he’s the guest of honor at a banquet and the prophet is telling him that he and his family are the focus of all of Israel’s hopes! That’s a lot to take in! I’m sure Saul was struggling just to wrap his head around what in the world was going on.

And this is as far as we’ll go for today, but next week we’ll see that God is very patient and gracious with Saul – and God sets into motion a series of events that will serve to convince Saul (and eventually the rest of Israel too) that Saul is the man that God has chosen to be king.

But I think our take-away lesson for today is the point that we’ve already made. Even though we may not see what in the world God is up to – we can be sure that God has sovereignly arranged everything to fit into His plan.

And we may not even be the main character of the story per se… We may not be the one who becomes king and rescues Israel. We may not even be the prophet who gets to anoint the king. We may be the faithful servant that travels with Saul and has the necessary piece of silver in his pocket. Or maybe we’re the women just going about their routine, daily tasks of getting water – but God puts us at just the right place at the right time to guide someone else to where they need to be. Or maybe we’re even the donkeys – even when we make foolish choices and create all kinds of problems – God can use even that for His good plan! 

So much of our life is just regular day-to-day living that seems to have no special significance. There are so many times when we get to the end of our day and wonder, “Did I accomplish anything of value today? Did any of it matter?” And we can get discouraged. We can feel frustrated. We can feel useless.

But I would remind you today that God is at work – he’s building His kingdom. And we probably have no idea how many of our simple, mundane actions contribute to God’s grand plan!

Maybe today it’ll be something you say to your kids that will change their path years down the road. Maybe it’s the faithful example of Christ-likeness you set for the others at work. Maybe it’s as simple as being at the right place at the right time. We really have no idea how God might use our simple words, our simple actions to contribute to whatever He’s doing to build His kingdom and to rescue people from sin.

Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 10:31…

31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 

1 Corinthians 10:31

Whether we’re chasing donkeys or fetching water or whatever we’re doing, we can do it all for the glory of God. It doesn’t have to be super-spiritual stuff – God uses the ordinary, mundane events of our lives to accomplish His good work! 

And so I just want to encourage you this morning – not to be discouraged, not to feel useless just because it seems you’re not accomplishing great things for God. I know it’s hard to have a great sense of accomplishment when you’ve been stuck at home by yourself or with your family for weeks. But you never know what God is up to – or how he might use the smallest, everyday things that you might do for His purposes.

Our God is always at work – and He uses our ordinary lives to accomplish great things! I would just encourage you today as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:31 – So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

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