“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.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Saul looked the part of a king. Think about that in light of the initial reception on the part of both Samuel and God to their request to have one. Samuel was hurt and God was disappointed. But then God goes out and finds a king who looks the part in every way. He gives them exactly what they wanted. What gives?
Well, this could be a case of God giving them something that looked good, but was really a rotten apple that would leave them ruing their choice once they bit into it. For a long time that’s how I have understood this passage, but I have come to think that’s the wrong understanding for a couple of reasons.
First, God’s not vindictive like that. Now, if it were me, I’d probably think long and hard about doing something like that. You’ve asked me for something offensive? Oh, I’ll give it to you, but I’m going to make sure you regret your choice. Yes, we would think like that, but it isn’t in God’s character. He’s not looking to pay us back when we wrong Him. He doesn’t sulk like a child who didn’t get his way. And He’s not cynical. Doing that kind of thing injures relationships by breeding mistrust. That’s not God’s style.
Second, as you continue reading in the story of Saul, when he eventually blows it big time God is genuinely disappointed with him. Now, we have to be careful here lest we put God in a place where He didn’t know Saul was going to blow it. Of course He knew because He knows everything. All future possibilities are present to Him. But, He’s also a person who experiences the full range of personal emotions including disappointment. There was a possible future in which Saul succeeded wildly. God knew He wasn’t going to ultimately choose this one and was prepared for it, but that doesn’t mean He wasn’t still rooting for Him—and Israel with Him—to succeed. If God had given him to the people as a gift that was really a curse, this wouldn’t have been the case.
So then, what is really going on here? Why would God give the people Saul, someone who, again, truly looked the part of king? Because, as James would much later point out, God is the giver of good gifts. He doesn’t give junk. If He is going to give something to us, it is going to be good.
He wants to see us succeed. The people were demanding a king which, in the moment, was framed as a rejection of both Samuel and Samuel’s God. This was a sinful choice on their part. But, when God decided to give them one anyway, it wasn’t because He was forced into it. He wasn’t guilted in that direction. He wasn’t backed into a corner and left between a rock and a hard place. All of His decisions are freely made. When He agreed, it was because He knew they were going to ask and that this was going to be the particular path through history He was going to guide His people to bring His Messiah in order to save all of them. And so He gave something that was intended to be a blessing to them.
This is simply the kind of God we serve. His plans are for our good and for our blessing. If He does something for us—yes, sometimes even granting requests that in their origination are foolishly made on our part—it is because He plans to use it to move us in His direction. He knew the heart behind Israel’s request and He wasn’t happy with it. But He was going to seek to bless them (with the warning that this thing they wanted wouldn’t always seem so green as it did when they peered over the fence at their neighbors’ land), and so He gave them something intended for that. Our God is patient and kind and wise and good. He’s a God worth serving.