Lots going on in 1 Samuel chapter 9. We meet Saul, whose name comes from sha-al “to ask”. Like the opening of chapter 1 we get a 4 generation geneology. But where is the land Zuph? This a geographical designation not attested anywhere else. The only other occurrence of “Zuph” is a person’s name- a person in the genealogy of (drum roll please) Samuel! Elkanah in 1 Samuel 1 (and 1 Chron. 6:35) is attested as a descendant of Zuph. So, Saul is wandering into the land of Elkanah’s clan. Back to where the story starts in chapter 1. Saul has left Benjamin, and is in Ephraim, a long walk for a few donkeys! But his route is weird. He goes to the hill country of Ephraim then back to Benjamin, then into Zuph (in the hill country of Ephraim). His wandering looks aimless.
How does Saul’s servant know there’s a “man of God” (i.e. a prophet or “seer”) in that town? Presumably they are at Ramah, where Samuel’s home is. We have read that all Israel knows of Samuel. But how does Saul not know what his servant does about Samuel?
There’s a play on words in the Hebrew words Saul utters, “what can we bring the man”. What can we bring is spelled the same as “what is a prophet” oddly enough. Cool eh? Hebrew puns.
In verse 11 we see another type scene. A young man, on a journey, running into some young ladies at a well… sound familiar? Wells are synonymous with young love in the Old Testament. It is where the hero meets his soon-to-be-beloved. But wait, Saul leaves without a young lady to carry on an epic romance with (like Isaac-Rebecca or Jacob-Rachel and Moses-Zippora). Alter calls it an “aborted type-scene”- the story gets cut off, just like Saul’s heroic saga as king will be cut off prematurely.
The ladies’ response is quite hilarious actually. It gets cleaned up in English, but in Hebrew it’s like the incoherent babble you’d hear from a pack of 13 year old girls if Justin Bieber showed up. Literally the say “he is, look, hurry ahead, now, for today he has come to the city for sacrifice today to the people at the high (place)”. Intentional confused speech? This type of structure (or lack thereof) is uncommon to the speech patterns in 1 Samuel. So it’s like that on purpose. These ladies are worked up, and have lost the ability to speak normally- they’re hoping to be the damsel in this romantic episode. Well, Saul as handsome as they come in Israel we are told; a full head taller than everyone. A group of young ladies meeting this guy should end with a marriage and a noteworthy historical figure born in a chapter or two. But not here.
Interesting that the sacrifice is happening at the High Place. Isn’t Israel supposed to avoid worship at the High Places (e.g. Numbers 33:52)?
But now, Samuel knows Saul is coming, and they meet at the gate. Wait, doesn’t Saul have to hurry so he won’t miss the sacrifice at the High Place? But Samuel is at the gate. Hmmm.
Saul is a Benjamite. Not just the wrong tribe, but a small clan, and of course, Saul is from the region around Gibeah. Read Judges 19-20 and see what Gibeah is like… to summarize, Saul is from Sodom and Gomorrah. Not a likely candidate. In 1 Samuel 11:4 Gibeah is even called “Gibeah of Saul”. Sodom is the new royal city. Wow. Not only should he not be king (not even on Saul’s radar yet), but Saul can’t believe he’s being invited to eat with Ephraimites. Gibeah’s reputation is for mistreating guests in the most horrific ways possible. One would assume a resident of Gibeah wouldn’t get a gracious reception anywhere in Israel.
In verse 24 we find out what meat was set aside… a thigh. Meat was set aside especially for Saul. Sounds like he’s being treated well. But check your cuts of meat… thigh is not exceptional. Not bad, but it’s not like Saul got prime rib here. Also, unless I’m mistaken the thigh isn’t Kosher. Oops.