Sermon for Sunday, December 3rd, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Psa 33:1-12 ESV] 1 Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. 2 Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! 3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. 4 For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. 5 He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD. 6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. 7 He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. 8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! 9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. 10 The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. 11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. 12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
New Testament reading:
[Eph 1:11-14 ESV] 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
[Jhn 19:1-11 ESV] 1 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. 3 They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” 6 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. 9 He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”
[1Sa 9:1-27 ESV] 1 There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. 2 And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people. 3 Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, were lost. So Kish said to Saul his son, “Take one of the young men with you, and arise, go and look for the donkeys.” 4 And he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. And they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then they passed through the land of Benjamin, but did not find them. 5 When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant who was with him, “Come, let us go back, lest my father cease to care about the donkeys and become anxious about us.” 6 But he said to him, “Behold, there is a man of God in this city, and he is a man who is held in honor; all that he says comes true. So now let us go there. Perhaps he can tell us the way we should go.” 7 Then Saul said to his servant, “But if we go, what can we bring the man? For the bread in our sacks is gone, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What do we have?” 8 The servant answered Saul again, “Here, I have with me a quarter of a shekel of silver, and I will give it to the man of God to tell us our way.” 9 (Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he said, “Come, let us go to the seer,” for today’s “prophet” was formerly called a seer.) 10 And Saul said to his servant, “Well said; come, let us go.” So they went to the city where the man of God was. 11 As they went up the hill to the city, they met young women coming out to draw water and said to them, “Is the seer here?” 12 They answered, “He is; behold, he is just ahead of you. Hurry. He has come just now to the city, because the people have a sacrifice today on the high place. 13 As soon as you enter the city you will find him, before he goes up to the high place to eat. For the people will not eat till he comes, since he must bless the sacrifice; afterward those who are invited will eat. Now go up, for you will meet him immediately.” 14 So they went up to the city. As they were entering the city, they saw Samuel coming out toward them on his way up to the high place. 15 Now the day before Saul came, the LORD had revealed to Samuel: 16 “Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen my people, because their cry has come to me.” 17 When Samuel saw Saul, the LORD told him, “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you! He it is who shall restrain my people.” 18 Then Saul approached Samuel in the gate and said, “Tell me where is the house of the seer?” 19 Samuel answered Saul, “I am the seer. Go up before me to the high place, for today you shall eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is on your mind. 20 As for your donkeys that 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 house?” 21 Saul answered, “Am I not a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel? And is not my clan the humblest of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then have you spoken to me in this way?” 22 Then Samuel took Saul and his young man and brought them into the hall and gave them a place at the head of those who had been invited, who were about thirty persons. 23 And Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the portion I gave you, of which I said to you, ‘Put it aside.'” 24 So the cook took up the leg and what was on it and set them before Saul. And Samuel said, “See, what was kept is set before you. Eat, because it was kept for you until the hour appointed, that you might eat with the guests.” So Saul ate with Samuel that day. 25 And when they came down from the high place into the city, a bed was spread for Saul on the roof, and he lay down to sleep. 26 Then at the break of dawn Samuel called to Saul on the roof, “Up, that I may send you on your way.” So Saul arose, and both he and Samuel went out into the street. 27 As they were going down to the outskirts of the city, Samuel said to Saul, “Tell the servant to pass on before us, and when he has passed on, stop here yourself for a while, that I may make known to you the word of God.”
Today we look at How Saul Became King in “Saul’s Providential Path.”
And God makes it eminently clear who has made Saul to be King. It is God himself.
Indeed the people demanded a king to be like the other nations. But it is God who raises up kings and removes kings. He is Lord of all.
We see this truth in our Gospel reading. Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” That Roman governor, who had Christ killed, had been chosen by God for the position.
Indeed, not only does God ordain and control the big things like the crowing of a king, but providentially orders all things that come to pass. Ephesians 1:11 said “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works ALL THINGS according to the counsel of his will.”
And even though Pontius Pilate sinned and even though Saul is a “bad king” — even given to Israel as a punishment — still these leaders are given by God and set in their position according to the counsel of his will.
In chapter 9 of the Book of 1st Samuel we see HOW God providentially brings Samuel does a path to Kingship. There are, FOUR, of what I’ll call, “PROVIDENTIAL ENCOUNTERS” that lead Saul — not of his own volition or ambition, but of God’s plan — to become the first king of Israel.
These FOUR providential encounters are:
I. Saul led in a search for Wandering Donkeys.
II. Saul guided by the advice of a slave.
III. Saul directed by the women at the well.
IV. Saul crossing paths with Samuel.
I. Saul led in a search for Wandering Donkeys.
A. Saul introduced. (v. 1-2)
Here Saul is first introduced.
It actually starts with his father and even goes back 4 more generations.
Saul’s father is Kish the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah. When an important character is introduced in the Bible, we’re usually told who their father was. For really important characters we get longer genealogies like this one. It is to show where they come from, and to show their legitimacy to the office, of king or of priest. Of course, who as the longest genealogy of all but Jesus Christ in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels.
We also learn that Kish (and Saul) are Benjaminites. They are men from the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest of the tribes of Israel. You wouldn’t expect someone from the smallest tribe to aspire to become king. This begins the theme throughout the chapter of showing that Saul’s rise to becoming king was not his own accord, but God’s decision.
But while Saul comes from the smallest tribe, he has some excellent stats in his favor. First, his dad is rich. Kish is a “man of wealth.” And if we know anything about politics, it is that poor people seldom if ever become king. The rulers come from among the wealthy, even in our day.
Then also Saul is “a handsome young man.” In fact “there was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he.” And, even more, he is tall! A whole head taller than everyone else.
These things also help in having the acceptance of the people as king. It is not perhaps a pleasant fact about mankind, but it is true: we often judge people’s leadership abilities based on their looks, and especially their height.
If you think about the 1860 general election, poor Stephen Douglas didn’t stand a chance. He was only 5’ 4” inches tall, and in the first one photo I found of him, he has a scowl on his face. Then, comes in Abraham Lincoln. 6’ 4” and having a stately appearance. And your mind is made up before you even hear their political positions and intended policies.
Then, in the ancient world, the height of a leader would inspire fear in the enemies on the battlefield, and inspire confidence in your own armies.
So Saul is tall, we don’t know if he is dark, but he is handsome. So he’s ready to be king.
Or is he? Did you notice there is not one statement about his spirituality? Not one statement about him fearing God or loving the Love his God, or anything like that.
And without God, Saul just cannot be a good king. He may have some qualities that will help him lead, but when trouble arises (as it inevitably does) where will he go?
This, I’ve found is our situation in life: trouble will arise, and where will we go? You can try to figure things out yourself. And if you’re really smart and wealthy you may have some success, for a while. And perhaps you may go ask a friend, even a wise counselor. But there will be times where NO MAN can give you the solution to your problem. You’ll need to reach out to the Lord in prayer and seek his guidance.
B. Wandering Donkeys (v. 3-4)
Then we have the first of our providential encounters for Saul.
The Donkeys of Kish have gotten out.
And if you’ve ever chased after animals you know how difficult this is.
They say “herding cats” is difficult. I’ve never tried. But I did try herding cattle once. A group of 30 or 40 of us, high schoolers at the time, out on a field trip in Oklahoma. And I really wonder if the people there were messing with us, but they asked for our helping bringing in some cattle. And let’s just say it didn’t work.
Then, on one other occasion, in seminary, the UPS man had opened the gate to a neighbors property and a horse got out. It was running wild down the road. I tried to help, but what do you do?
Well, I did learn once, from a farmer-friend in North Carolina, the way to herd up goats anyways. It’s actually very easy. You put food in a bucket and shake it, and they all go where you go. Easy peasy.
Well, Saul is off donkey-hunting. And the point of all of this is that he didn’t head that way himself, he’s being led in his search for the donkeys. This is the first of multiple steps ultimately culminating in Saul meeting Samuel and being proclaimed king.
And who directed these steps? God did.
That which seems like wandering, is in fact all directed in the plan of God.
The pass through the hill county of Ephraim. No donkeys.
They pass through the land of Shalisah. No donkeys.
They pass through the land of Shaalim. No donkeys.
Do you see that God is leading them? A discovery of the donkeys in any of these places would have ended their quest, but the Lord’s plan must be fulfilled.
So they come to the land of Zuph, where the prophet Samuel is. This is no coincidence.
II. Saul guided by the advice of a slave. (v. 5-10)
We then have the 2nd Providential Encounter for Saul. It is the guidance of a slave. This is the servant of Kish who has come with Saul on the search for the donkeys. And they can’t find them anywhere.
And I should explain what I mean by “providential.” This is not just “good fortune” or “luck.” Providential is from “providence” – the directing of God. That has become an old-fashioned word. The Providence of God. But that is what is going on in this chapter – God’s guidance, his providence each step of the way.
Well, Saul and the slave/servant with him cannot find the lost donkeys. They’ve looked high and low. And they’ve been led to the city of Zuph. And Saul is starting to think that they’ll never find the donkeys and they should just cut their losses and return home; he’s concerned that his father Kish will be concerned for him.
But never once does Saul pray to the Lord or seek the Lord’s guidance. The slave, however, is more spiritual than Saul. Saul is goodlier, but not godlier. He has great size and fine appearance, but knows not the ways of the Lord. Saul doesn’t even know that he has come to a city where there is a prophet of God. But the slave knows. He says “Let’s go see him, maybe he’ll be able to help.”
Saul is so out of accord with the religion of his people that he even thinks the prophet requires payment, a gift of some sort. Imagine that, profit for the prophet. And Saul doesn’t have anything of value on him, but when the slave shows a quarter shekel then they are off to see the wonderful prophet of Zuph.
Again, in this providential encounter, it is not Saul who had the idea of where to go. He’s being directed by outside forces, all in the plan of God.
III. Saul directed by the women at the well. (v. 11-14)
The third providential encounter then happens at the well.
And there they run into some women who say that seer (what a prophet was called in those days) has just arrived in the city.
These women provide a good example for us. Matthew Henry says “We should always be ready to give what assistance we can to those that are enquiring after God’s prophets, and to further them in their enquiries.”
This event is providential, both that the prophet is there and that the women are there to direct Saul on his way.
Each step Saul takes is being directed by God towards him being crowned king. And he knows nothing of it yet.
That might cause us to pause and think “What is God doing with us?” He has grand things planned THAT WE DON’T EVEN KNOW ABOUT! That is why, more recently, I’ve been praying “Lord bless us in ways that we don’t even know to ask for!”
IV. Saul crossing paths with Samuel. (v. 14- 27)
Then there is a fourth providential encounter. Saul crosses paths with Samuel, just as God has planned. Samuel just happens to be walking by, but that too is just how God has planned it.
And God has told everything to Samuel ahead of time.
15 Now the day before Saul came, the LORD had revealed to Samuel: 16 “Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel.
And then when Saul arrives, the Lord tells Samuel “”Here is the man of whom I spoke to you! He it is who shall restrain my people.”
So there can be no doubt who is to be king.
The people have asked Samuel to chose a king, now, with God’s direction, he is doing so.
When Samuel and Saul meet, Samuel blesses him in a number of ways:
First, he says “I am the seer.” “You’ve found the guy you’re looking for.”
Then, he says “Let’s eat,” which is a great thing to hear your guest say when you’ve been traveling.
Third he says “don’t worry about the donkey’s, they’ve been found.” How does it know that! He’s a seer.
Fourth, the good treatment continues with a bed on the roof in the welcomed cool desert nice.
And then, last but not least, the next day Samuel says “I will make known to you the word of God.”
Here, what is in view, is not the Scriptures or the Word of God generally, but the specific message that God has chosen Saul king. That will come in the next chapter.
TRUTH: We want to look at this truth. A distinction in the will of God. It is often called the decretive will and the preceptive will. Or similarly, the secret will and the revealed will of God.
In God’s secret or decretive will, ALL THINGS come to pass as he ordained and directs them. And Samuel, as we’ve seen, naturally is moved along his course through the will of God.
But Samuel does not follow the revealed, preceptive will of God. Samuel does not generally obey the commands of God. He does not seem to know the Lord at all. He doesn’t pray to him, he doesn’t hope in the messiah, he doesn’t do as God commands. And that’s where the trouble lies.
Saul’s obedience to his earthly father is commendable. Unlike the sons of Eli and the sons of Samuel, this son of Kish is obedient to his father. He goes on the search for the donkeys, and he cares for his father not wanting him to worry. But for all his earthly obedience, there is little evidence of obedience to his heavenly father. And for all his height and handsomeness, he does not know the Lord.
That leads us into the first of three applications.
1. Let us be more concerned with how God sees us (internally) than how other people see us (externally).
I don’t think Saul, in the material so far, is vain. He doesn’t bask in his wealth, good looks, or height. But, he doesn’t depend on God. He doesn’t need to, so he thinks.
And that is a blessing in our poverty, our lack of power, and yes, even our lack of good looks. The blessing is that we NEED TO RELY ON GOD. If you were perfectly rich or good looking, you could get by on those things. But that is not how God wants us to live, and that’s not what God wants us to trust in. We are to trust in God alone, being concerned with our INWARD appearance, looking into the mirror of the soul, asking “Am I following the Lord?” Looking to correct our faults, not our hair or our makeup.
2. Recognize that God is guiding even your path.
When it appears like Samuel is wandering, it is in fact exactly where the Lord wants him to be. His “wanderings” are guided by God.
Does it feel like you wandering in life? Perhaps you feel aimless, directionless, guide-less.
Let us recognize that because of God’s providence, because of his decretive will, ALL THINGS you do also are governed by God.
Homework: Here is some homework. I rarely give homework. Consider this: some series events that has brought you here. How did you get, hearing the word of God? You were born, something led you to this place, then something else, and then something else. Perhaps it is difficult to identify what did lead you here. Everything did! But let’s limit the homework to 4 answers. Here are the “coincidences” that brought me here. Your move to the area, caused by a job perhaps? Your coming to the church, caused by a friend perhaps? Samuel was led by donkeys, by a slave, by women at the well, and by a chance meeting with Samuel. What has God brought you through to get here?
When you do this homework, I think you’ll realize that God has YOU exactly where you are to be. Therefore, YOU ARE NOT WANDERING. YOU ARE NOT LOST. What might feel like wandering is all overseen by God.
Yet, you and I don’t always do as God commands. Against the preceptive will of God, we are sinners. We seldom obey God’s commands. There, we need direction. We need the Word of God to direct, and Jesus Christ to save us from our sins. So let us seek the Lord.
3. Let us Seek Divine Help.
Third application. Let us always seek divine help, like the servant in this story. Things are not going well. A multiple-day search for the lost donkeys has come up with nothing. So he seeks the counsel of God through the prophet Samuel.
We should also go to God through the words of the prophets in the Scriptures. Ann we can go to God through Jesus Christ in prayer.
When we’ve lost a herd of donkeys, or a domestic cat, we don’t pray to a saint of lost things, but directly to God.
As we conclude then, let us take this advice, and pray to the Lord for his guidance. Let us pray.