In this city. Probably Ramathaim-zophim, i.e. Ramah, Samuel's dwelling place and property. Confessedly, however, Saul's route hither and thither in search of lost cattle is very obscure, and it is difficult to reconcile this identification with the statement in 1 Samuel 10:2 , that Rachel's sepulchre lay on the route between this city and Gibeah of Saul. Nevertheless, Ramah was certainly in the land of Zuph, whence too it took its longer name (see on 1 Samuel 1:1 ); and it is remarkable that Jeremiah ( 1 Samuel 31:1-13 :15) describes Rachel's weeping as being heard in Ramah. It seems extraordinary that Saul should have known nothing of Israel's chief ruler, and that his servant was acquainted with him only in his lower capacity as a person to be consulted in private difficulties. He describes him, nevertheless, as an honourable man, or, more literally, an honoured man, one held in honour.
The facts are—
1 . Saul the son of Kish, a wealthy Benjamite, and remarkable for stature and goodliness, seeks his father's asses.
2 . Not finding them, he fears lest his father should be anxious about his own safety, and suggests a return home.
3 . His servant advises a recourse to a distinguished man of God then in those parts.
4 . Obtaining a small present, Saul resolves to consult the man of God concerning the lost asses. A great crisis has come in which the dangerous elements at work in Israel's heart might lead to much mischief. The chief motive for desiring a king being a craving for outward display, and a corresponding distrust and dislike of God's more unseen and immediate direction of national affairs, it was evidently possible for steps to be taken which would ruin Israel's prosperity. The narrative relates to us a series of Divinely governed events, apparently trivial, which prevented that calamity and insured the national safety.
I. GOD 'S REGULATION OF IMPERFECT DESIRES AND DANGEROUS ASPIRATIONS . There is no harm in desire for monarchy per se ; but the form it assumed in this instance was defective, and it revealed a moral tendency which, if fed by appropriate nourishment, would lead to a frustration of Israel's true work in the world. The saving feature in their conduct was their deference to Samuel. The instruction conveyed to him to select a king was consistent with the fact that God was displeased with their request ( 1 Samuel 8:7 ; cf. Hosea 13:11 ). The solution of the apparent discrepancy lies in the circumstance that God does not leave his people to the full bent of their own heart. He mercifully regarded their condition, and governed their tendencies in such a way as to make the best of a bad case. This is true, more or less, of all men not yet judicially abandoned. There is a force of evil in men enough to destroy them speedily but for the restraining power of God. The mental operations of sinners are governed by an unseen hand, and often directed to their advantage, when, otherwise, evil would ensue. There have been ages in the history of the Church when conspicuously unhallowed desires and worldly aspirations have not been left to work ruin, but have been chastened, controlled, directed to objects better than they, left to themselves, would have chosen. The age of Constantine would have been more calamitous for religion had hot the Head of the Church governed rising tendencies and provided moderating influences.
II. GOD 'S CARE IN MEETING MAN 'S WEAKNESS . Not any man would suit Israel as king at that time. There were conditions in the state of the people which needed to be wisely met. The people were impressible by the outward physical aspect of things; they required a leader of social position to command respect; and their own hankering after likeness to other nations rendered it important that their king should have some moral character; at the same time, being their choice, he must be a representative of the weaknesses and wisdom of the age. Hence the care of God in directing Samuel to Saul, a man of commanding appearance ( 1 Samuel 9:2 ), of wealthy family ( 1 Samuel 9:1-3 ), of quiet, plodding, God fearing disposition,—as seen in occupation, in his concern for his father, and in his deference to the prophet,—and yet of no deep, intelligent piety. This Divine care is no novelty in history.
1 . It is constant— coextensive with the history of the race. Even fallen Adam was cared for in temporal things. The order of Providence, the adaptation of his Word to varying exigencies of life, the appointments in his Church for the perfecting of the saints, are only some instances of a care that never faileth.
2 . It is secret. Israel little knew, while those asses were wandering from home, that their God was caring so wisely and tenderly for them. Silent as the light is the voice that orders our path; more subtle than either is the hand that guards our spirit. By day and night his hand leads, even to the uttermost parts of the earth.
3 . It is beyond all desert. Even when Israel was in spirit rejecting him he cared for them. "How shall I give thee up?" is the feeling of the Father's heart. He rewards us "not according to our iniquities." The daily mercies of God are more than can be numbered, and they come because he delighteth in mercy, not because we earn them by obedience and love.
III. GOD 'S LEADING BY UNKNOWN WAYS . While restraining and regulating Israel's tendencies, an unseen hand is leading the son of Kish by a way he knew not. In the straying of asses and in the following their track we first see natural events; but behind and in them all we soon learn to see God gently leading Saul from a quiet, rural life to undertake a great and honourable responsibility, it is not strange for God to lead by unknown paths those whom he chooses for his service. Abraham did not know the full meaning of the secret impulse to leave Ur of the Chaldees. Joseph's imprisonment was not man's sole doing. Egyptians in the court of Pharaoh saw not the hand guiding Moses into a knowledge of their legislation and their learning. Likewise is it true in the bringing of men to a knowledge of Christ. Many a simple circumstance has brought a wanderer to a greater than Samuel. And in the Christian life we are led by circuitous, untrodden paths to duties, privileges, joys, and eternal rest. God is Guide and Counsellor—by monitions of conscience, by word of truth, by voice of friends, by barred pathways of lift by yearnings created within, by events great and small.
General lessons : —
1 . Let us have faith in God's mastery over all that is in man.
2 . Let us believe that he will provide for his people suitably to their need.
3 . Let us keep our heart and eye open to the guidance of the unseen Power, and not despise events that seem trifling in themselves.