When Samuel grew old, the leaders of the tribes of Israel came to him, feeling very concerned.
“You know you’re getting old,” they told him. “Who is going to lead us once you are gone? We need a strong leader and don’t have anyone to replace you. We want a king like the other nations have. You need to choose someone to succeed you.”
Each tribe hoped the king would be chosen from among them, showing, they thought, how much God favored them.
Samuel was sad to hear these words. He prayed to God to ask what he should reply.
“They don’t need any other King but Me,” God told him. “But if they can’t see that, give them what they want. I’m the one they’re rejecting, not you.”
Samuel returned to the leaders of the tribes. “Are you sure you want a king?” he asked them. “A king will charge you taxes and pass laws that you don’t agree with.”
“We’re sure!” the people insisted. “We want a king to lead us in battle and make us feel like we are the same as the other nations around us.”
So Samuel told the people to go home and wait for him to receive a message from God. Meanwhile, Samuel prayed and waited for God to show him who would become king.
There was a young man named Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest and least important of all the tribes. He was a whole head taller than other men. Some of his father’s donkeys had run off and Saul had been sent to search for them, along with some of his father’s workers. They traveled up and down the hills of Ephraim, but saw no sign of the donkeys. Saul was ready to give up.
“We’d better get home before my father becomes more worried about me than the donkeys,” Saul said.
“Let’s go see Samuel first,” one of the men told him. “He gets messages from God. Maybe he can tell you where the donkeys have gone off to.”
So they walked to the town where Samuel lived. God had told Samuel the day before that He would send him a young man from the tribe of Benjamin and that he should pour oil on his head to anoint him as soon as they met. Samuel was beginning to walk to the festival, still waiting for God to tell him who he should anoint once he got there, when Samuel approached him.
“Do you know where the prophet Samuel lives?” Saul asked Samuel, not knowing it was him.
“That’s me,” Samuel replied, and before Saul could ask his question, added, “Don’t worry about the donkeys that ran off three days ago. They have been found. You are about to become the most important man in all of Israel.”
Saul was shocked by this response. He did not know what to think of the strange answer.
Saul stayed with Samuel for the feast, and prepared to leave the next morning at sunrise. Samuel walked with him a little way, then stopped him.
Samuel poured oil on Saul’s head and told him he had been chosen by God. Amazed and speechless, Saul went home, not telling his family of what had happened, but it was clear he was a different person than before. He prophesied messages from God and many young men began to follow him.
A week later, Samuel called all the tribes together, to announce the name of the king that God had chosen for them. But when Samuel called Saul to come forward and be crowned, he could not be found. God told Samuel that Saul was hiding behind the luggage.
Several people pushed their shy new king forward so that everyone could see him.
“Now that’s what a king should look like,” people thought, admiring his height and handsome face. “Now we will be like the other nations.”
But God had never wanted His people to be like the other nations. He had wanted them to be different. But God also knew that His people had to choose Him willingly. He would not force them to follow them, and He would allow them to learn from their mistakes.