Scripture commentaries rightly conclude that this failed search for the donkeys of Kish was God’s opportunity for Samuel to run into Saul and know that God wanted him as the nation’s first king. Since little other than fleeing donkeys would hook up Samuel (the man who would anoint the nation’s first king) and Saul, (a large fellow, more like a burly knight than a herdsman, not particularly interested in politics) God had to set up the meeting himself. Nothing wrong with that thinking.
There is more to the story, though.
Image by Mario Hagen
By John Pearring
Tim Trainor offered up an Old Testament comparison I don’t remember ever hearing. In 1 Samuel, Chapter 9, Saul sets off searching for his father’s herd of asses. That’s right, Saul’s dad told him to run all over the countryside to find a bunch of wayward donkeys. They’d wandered off. He looked everywhere, covering miles of territory in his search.
Now the asses of Saul’s father, Kish, had wandered off.
Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the servants with you
and go out and hunt for the asses.”
Accordingly they went through the hill country of Ephraim,
and through the land of Shalishah.
Not finding them there,
they continued through the land of Shaalim without success.
They also went through the land of Benjamin,
but they failed to find the animals.
(1 Samuel 17-19)
Scripture commentaries rightly conclude that this failed search for the donkeys of Kish was God’s opportunity for Samuel to run into Saul and know that God wants him as the nation’s first king. Since little other than fleeing donkeys would hook up Samuel (the man who would anoint the nation’s first king) and Saul, (a large fellow, more like a burly knight than a herdsman, not particularly interested in politics) God had to set up the meeting himself. Nothing wrong with that thinking. It properly addresses the situation that God orchestrated.
There is more to the story, though.
Saul was the first king of Israel, and David was Saul’s successor. David was a lowly shepherd from Bethlehem. Saul, a wealthy son of a man who had both land and livestock. Saul held responsibility over his father’s donkey herd. David shepherded a flock of sheep.
Leadership, suggested Tim, signals a subsequent difference between Saul and David, uniquely affecting their roles as kings. Leadership qualities likely bred into them due to their station, and the animals they controlled.
It’s a most intriguing analysis. Saul ruled as a son of Kish learned in the ways of getting people to do things through the bridle of control. Donkeys must be bridled, caged and forced to do the work they’re needed for. They will run off. They will bite back. They will butt and kick. In leading the Israeli people, Saul remained consistent to his upbringing. Bridling and coercion were the hallmarks of his leadership.
When Samuel saw Saul, the LORD told him, “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you! He it is who shall govern my people.”
One common use of the translated word for “govern” in 1 Samuel is “restrain.” The first King of Israel was charged with restraining a belligerent people. His upbringing made him well equipped. Saul led armies, and sacrificed brave men for the protection of the people.
“Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites. Although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had sought to strike them down in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah.”
(2 Samuel 21:2)
And upon the death of Samuel, the Lord said, “And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.”
With David ascension as king, his experience shepherding a flock introduced a completely different style of leadership. One that Jesus himself identified as most godly. David put his own life on the line to protect his sheep, and he did the same with his people. He called upon them to trust in God, and David won over their hearts.
To rule over a flock, rather than a herd, is to live with the livestock. Sheep are not bridled, though fenced in. They literally do no work. Like donkeys, though, sheep will run off. Prone to bite, butt, and kick sheep will follow a shepherd who they know cares for them. In leading the Israeli people, then, Davide was consistent to his upbringing also. Bridling and coercion were the hallmarks of Saul’s leadership. David was to lead an eager people from the front.
Unfortunately, David too disgraced the Lord by warring unnecessarily, and by killing the husband of a woman he desired.
David took up violence even when God had commanded him otherwise. There was a consequence to that betrayal. This was not the leadership David had been taught. He would not be able to build the temple for the Lord.
“But the word of the LORD came to me (David), saying, ‘Thou hast shed blood abundantly, and hast made great wars: thou shalt not build an house unto my name, because thou hast shed much blood upon the earth in my sight.’”
(1 Chronicles 22.8.)
The lesson of leadership presented by the scriptures reminds us of the intervention of our God using weak, sinful humans. He brings us one kind of leadership when restraint is required, and another type of leader when following by example is more important.
We’re not always faithful, but we should try and understand what God wants us to do with what he has taught us.