“Have Ye Strayed?”

8 February 2004

Texts: 1 Samuel 8:1-12:25 & Luke 19:29-35


Main Idea: God’s involvement in the commonplace is real . . .the ordinary serves His purposes.




1 Sam 9:3  Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul's father, were lost. So Kish said to his son Saul, "Take now with you one of the servants, and arise, go search for the donkeys."


            Kish is concerned because he has lost his donkeys.  This is a major farm catastrophe for a pastoralist. He tells his tall, handsome son, Saul--the man chosen by God to be king over Israel, to take along a servant and to go find the stray animals.  Kish was exercising dominion and good animal husbandry by searching for the critters.  Little did he know that his donkeys were part of a divine conspiracy; they were key players in bringing Saul together with Samuel to inaugurate the age of the monarchy in Israel.  Kish wanted his donkeys back.  God wanted to fetch Saul in from tending the animals to become king over Israel.  Saul was a farm boy, a pastoralist in an agrarian society.  He managed his father’s herds: donkeys in Chapter 9 and in Chapter 11 other herds of animals--cattle are the most likely inference, but camels, sheep, goats and sheep could be meant.  David was plainly a tender of sheep so that they both had similar backgrounds in the economies of their day.  But this morning we are considering donkeys who have strayed--an we invited to consider that God uses their straying to achieve His purposes.  What looks like a disaster initially, turns out to be God’s plan for accomplishing things we, in our wildest imagination, would never have considered likely.  God can do marvelous things with the mundane and, I would maintain, He does so with frequency.


            The installation of the king is the major work of Samuel’s mature years.  The age of the judges is drawing to a close and Samuel has the distinction of being the “king-maker.”  The account is delightful: Saul is looking for donkeys and unbeknownst to him, Samuel is looking for a king.  God uses the lost donkeys and the three day search for them as a means to bring Saul to Samuel.  Now Saul’s servant is presented as a likely lad, bright and imaginative.  When they have looked everywhere, and have been gone so long as to give concern to Kish as to their own whereabouts, the servant says, “There is a man of God who lives in this city.  Let’s go ask him where to go.”  Saul’s immediate concern was that they had no gift to pay the man for his services should they request them.  The servant offers to pay some silver by  weight, three grams, a quarter of a shekel--coinage wasn’t invented until the 7th century B.C. 


            1 Samuel 9: 6-10 is very instructive for those who want to know how the transition from seer to prophet transpired in Scripture.  First though we learn (v. 6) that a man of God is a man of virtue; he is honorable (he is truthful and defrauds no one).  Secondly, we learn that what a seer declares always comes true--the is the test of a true prophet, a test familiar to us from other passages in the Old Testament.  Additionally, the man of God is a man of victory in both a religious and/or a military sense.  We are to think of Samuel’s great victory over the Philistines that secured twenty years of peace in the land as recorded in Chapter 7.  And here we note that “none of his words fall to the ground” because the Lord is with Samuel.  Further-more, it was the Lord who defeated the Philistines and protected His people against their enemies.  Samuel asked a good question when he queried why the people wanted to have a mortal king when they already had such a strong and immortal deliverer.  .Verse 9 is explicitly etymological: (Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he used to say, "Come, and let us go to the seer"; for he who is called a prophet now was formerly called a seer.).  Verse 9 is the only example of a semantic change in scripture.  Jesus’ “You heard of old. . .but I say unto you” is not exactly the same kind of transformation.  And, finally, v. 10 connects seer, prophet and man of God for us.  A seer is one who sees “with spiritual eyes”--in the New Testament we might find this referred to as “word of knowledge,” or “discernment” and in the vernacular of spirit gifts it is known as “second sight”--such a person sees beyond, or behind the obvious and is able to focus on what God is doing.  For example, a seer would observe Kish’s donkeys on the run and, seeing Saul running all over the place, laugh about the impending divine appointment.  All the commonplaces would be shot through with divine purpose and direction!

            That is why Saul is not unexpected company:


1 Sam 9:15  Now a day before Saul's coming, the LORD had revealed this to Samuel saying, 1 Sam 9:16  "About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over My people Israel; and he shall deliver My people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have regarded My people, because their cry has come to Me."


The following day, 1 Sam 9:17  When Samuel saw Saul, the LORD said to him, "Behold, the man of whom I spoke to you! This one shall rule over My people."  He’ll be a Benjaminite.   Saul, like most of us, was completely clueless.  We’ve heard of this kind of interaction in the New Testament when Jesus exercised His prophetic office:


Luke 22:10  And He said to them, "Behold, when you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house that he enters. Luke 22:11  "And you shall say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher says to you, "Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"' Luke 22:12  "And he will show you a large, furnished, upper room; prepare it there." Luke 22:13  And they departed and found everything just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover.


And again, earlier, we read:


Luke 19:29  And it came about that when He approached Bethphage and Bethany, near the mount that is called Olivet, He sent two of the disciples, Luke 19:30  saying, "Go into the village opposite you, in which as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it, and bring it here Luke 19:31  "And if anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' thus shall you speak, 'The Lord has need of it.'" Luke 19:32  And those who were sent went away and found it just as He had told them. Luke 19:33  And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, "Why are you untying the colt?" Luke 19:34  And they said, "The Lord has need of it." Luke 19:35  And they brought it to Jesus, and they threw their garments on the colt, and put Jesus on it.


There is nothing too extraordinary about these circumstantial details.  You will be met coming into Jerusalem by a man carrying a pitcher of water, follow him.  By divine arrangement, not by human design, they will, if they are obedient meet the right person at the right time and he will lead them to the right place.  Some have said that this was part of the Messianic secrecy surrounding Jesus’ ministry in tense times.  But if you are already prepared by knowing that God will get you where he wants you to be, using a whole herd of donkeys if necessary, then these incidents are not so.  The Matthean account of the triumphal entry brings a donkey into this scene of Jesus’ triumphal entry--a nod both to King Saul, and if I understand it aright to the ancient rites of kingly ascension.  This ties in nicely with the birth narrative of Jesus where, yet again, a common, and lowly beast of burden is allowed to share proximity with the King of kings.  Riding a donkey is expressive of Christ’s sovereignty over a clever, willful and stubborn creation--those who’ve tried to get a donkey to do anything know precisely what I am alluding to.  If you have to do a living nativity, do choose to use a pony--the results will be more forthcoming and gratifying.


            So they meet and Samuel says,


"I am the seer. Go up before me to the high place, for you shall eat with me today; and in the morning I will let you go, and will tell you all that is on your mind. 1 Sam 9:20  "And as for your donkeys which were lost three days ago, do not set your mind on them, for they have been found. And for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you and for all your father's household?"


Please note that nothing is said in the recorded divine scoops on Saul to Samuel about the donkeys.  Saul hadn’t even had time to ask about the donkeys!  Samuel then begins the work of instructing Saul in the office of king because up to this time the offices of prophet and king were commingled.  Judges performed both roles and sometimes the priesthood was thrown in (as with Eli and with Samuel).  It is at this time that the offices of prophet, priest and king are separated out, differentiated and specialized.  What God had in mind was a theocratic state in which the king was subordinate to Himself and the governmental office of the monarch was to be balanced by the priesthood and the priesthood was to be balanced by both the prophets and the king.  The judicial function was performed by the elders who functioned as local administrators of justice.  The balance of power within the state appears to be thoroughly biblical.  A prophet is known as nabi, which means “called” and it reminds us that a prophet is summoned by God to be a spokesperson for God.  This is reminiscent of the job description of Aaron (Exod. 7:1-2); he was called to be God’s mouth.  Still, and this is most to the point, Samuel’s ability to know what was in Saul’s heart  is what establishes him as a a bone fide prophet: he knew the whereabouts of the donkeys and Israel‘s future as well.


            Next we deal with Saul’s  transition to monarch with Samuel as the master of ceremonies.  Samuel prepares the celebrative feast.  Samuel takes Saul into his home and they commune on the rooftop--a location of social conviviality.  Samuel prophesies that Saul will experience three “signs” of confirmation : he will meet two men besides Rachael’s tomb and they will confirm that the donkeys have been found.  Next he will encounter on the plain of Tabor three men, one with three kid goats, one with three loaves of bread and one with a bottle of wine--Saul is to receive from them two loaves of bread, sustenance for the journey.  And finally, he will meet a band of prophets coming down from the sanctuary at Bethel and he will  be overcome with the Holy Spirit--the experience will make him “a new man.” (v. 6)  Then, at a later date, Samuel presides over the three stages of Saul’s selection at a second Mizpeh convocation: first, his anointing  (10:1), next his selection by lot (10:17-23) and finally, his public acclamation (v.24)..  It is noted that the children of Belial amongst the people, the troublemakers, held themselves aloof and they held Saul in contempt.  (They would be dealt with later--for now Saul held his peace.)  Now, after all this business was finished people went to their several homes, but, if the first meeting was any indication, a campaign against Israel‘s enemies was at hand.  So. we are not surprised to hear that Nahash the Ammonite is afflicting the people across the Jordan, the Reubenites and Gaddites were traditional enemies of the Ammonites who were descended from Lot’s son, Ben-Ammi.  A gloss of 11:1 has been found on the scrolls uncovered at Qumran--it explains that a state of conflict has preceded this incident and that some of the men from the Transjordan had fled to Israel--Nahash was pursuing them.  He apparently believed that he possessed sufficient military force to subdue Jabesh-Gilead.  The elders of Jabesh asked for time to consider his terms and sent out a desperate plea for help.  The people in Gilgal, the home of Saul, were grieved by the horrible tales of those afflicted by the Ammonites.


            The spirit of the Lord falls upon Saul, an anointing more lasting than the previous one, he cuts up a team of oxen and sends the pieces to the twelve tribes.  The fear of the Lord came upon the whole nation and they turned out in force.  They were some three hundred and thirty thousand strong.  Saul divides them up into three divisions and attacked the Ammonites in the pre-dawn.  The Ammonites were completely routed and put to the sword until noon of that day.  Saul proves himself that day and what follows in Ch.12 is Samuel’s farewell address: “Behold the king that walks before you!” (v. 2 and v. 13)  Samuel directs the people and their new king to be obedient to God so that the Hand of the Lord would be for them in the face of all their enemies.  The people admit that asking for a king was actually a faithless thing to do and they plead for mercy.  Samuel rejoins, “Serve the Lord with all your heart.” (v.20) 


1 Sam 12:22  "For the LORD will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the LORD has been pleased to make you a people for Himself. 1 Sam 12:23  "Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way. 1 Sam 12:24  "Only fear the LORD and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. 1 Sam 12:25  "But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king shall be swept away."


We’ve learned a lot about Samuel as a prophet and a seer, and about his role in the preparation of Israel for a monarch and even Saul himself for his role as king.  We’ve heard about Saul’s first great military victory that established him as a leader in Israel.  We’ve learned that the common and ordinary things play an important part in the unfolding of God’s plan--donkeys straying can lead to someone finding their purpose and calling in life.  God’s supernatural signs are executed through donkeys, encounters on the road, water pitchers and a tethered colt.  God plans and executes experiences aimed at personal transformation, and those transformations equip us to do what He wants done.  God may not be calling you to part the Red Sea at this moment, but He is surely moving you through life just as purposefully and intentionally as He did Moses.  If we will obey His voice, and do His will (as revealed in His Word and through others), life with be an astounding adventure, full of surprises, unlooked for successes, a beating of the odds.  And there will be lots of delight, even a few happy endings.  The God who uses stray donkeys should surely have less difficulty finding us teachable, tractable and lead-able.  God operates on a need to know basis--you will know what you need to know when you need to know it so you might as well lean back, smile and enjoy the ride.  The times of enjoyment are sent to strengthen you for the dark times--but God even transforms what hurts and confuses into glorious triumphs of love, faith and hope.  Have you strayed?  Maybe someone has found their way because you temporarily lost your own.  God’s like that always on the look out for those who are lost, always seeking to bring home the homeless, always being a father to the fatherless.  I take great comfort in that.  I hope that you do too.