After the Israelites demand a king “like all the nations” (I Samuel 8:1-22), Saul is chosen by God as the nation’s first monarch (I Samuel 9:1-10:8, 10:17-27). Initially only Samuel, Israel’s last judge and de facto national leader, and the king-to-be are privy to Saul’s destiny. Then, Samuel calls a national assembly at Mizpah (I Samuel 10:18) where the new king will be selected before the people and be officially presented (I Samuel 10:17-27).
The process by which Saul is chosen is unclear as he is selected without being physically present. It can be determined that the nation is aligned by tribe and that the choice is presented as a process of elimination. Though the method seems random by modern standards, it was acceptable during the period and seen as a way of insuring God’s will.
Anticipation builds as the options dwindle to Saul’s tribe (Benjamin) and clan (Matri) but the proceedings are quickly reduced to an anticlimax as Saul is nowhere to be found (I Samuel 10:20-21). The man who is assured of being the #1 pick in the draft has chosen not to attend. The expectant people are put into a quandary and they ask a question which reads literally, “Is anyone else as yet come here?” (I Samuel 10:22). After human efforts fail, God outs Saul - the would-be-king is hiding among the baggage.
Therefore they inquired further of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?” So the Lord said, “Behold, he is hiding himself by the baggage.” (I Samuel 10:22, NASB)Peculiarly, instead of putting himself forward when presented, Saul instead steps back, hiding by the baggage. The Hebrew, k@liy, clearly has a broad range of meaning as it is translated alternately “baggage” (ASV, CEV, ESV, NASB, MSG, NLT, NRSV, RSV), “supplies” (HCSB, NIV),“equipment” (NKJV) and “stuff” (KJV).
P. Kyle McCarter, Jr (b. 1945) designates that the:
Hebrew hakkēlîm...can refer to almost any kind of equipment or paraphernalia, so that exactly where Saul was hiding is something we cannot know with certainty. He may have been concealed in a stockpile of weapons or a store of cultic utensils or, as many translators have supposed, a collection of baggage. (McCarter, I Samuel (Anchor Bible), 193)The baggage may have been the necessary provisions for the national convention. Ronald F. Youngblood (b. 1931) suspects that it is indicative of the people’s high expectations:
The reluctant “leader” was subsequently found hiding among the “baggage” (I Samuel 10:22; the Hebrew word in this specific sense is elsewhere translated “supplies,” always in a military context, perhaps hinting at the major task that the people had hoped Saul would enthusiastically assume; cf. I Samuel 17:22, 25:13, 30:24; Isaiah 10:28). (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952], The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 3, 110)Regardless of what the term entails, Saul’s hiding place is a good one as the Israelites cannot find him without divine intervention.
A more pertinent question than where Saul is hiding is why the nation’s potential leader is lurking among its supplies. Some have speculated that with time to contemplate this life changing event, the future king is getting cold feet. Timidity would be a natural response to such responsibility. A Targum reference claims that Saul slips out for prayer and Bible Study. Most, however, interpret Saul’s absence in one of two polarizing ways: commendable modesty or a flaw in character.
Some have viewed Saul’s action as evidence that he possesses the necessary modesty to be Israel’s king (I Samuel 9:21). Prominent rabbis Rashi (1040-1105) and Radaq (1160-1235) support this theory. Saul’s absence is not necessarily incriminating as David, Israel’s model king and Saul’s successor, will also initially be absent when being chosen (I Samuel 16:10-12). Even so, given the tragic way Saul’s life will unfold, it is difficult for many to see his truancy as a sign of the king’s goodness.
Many have viewed Saul’s concealment as unwillingness to lead. From this perspective, it is Saul’s personal baggage that leads the leader into the nation’s baggage. Reluctant to take the position, Saul’s physical position screams, “Not me!”
If this is the case, Richard D. Phillips (b. 1960) understands Saul’s trepidation:
The context strongly suggests fear instead of humility as the reason that Saul hid himself. And who can blame him, since he was being called to step into God’s place! Perhaps Saul could see that God was angry and that his selection was God’s judgment on the nation. Given the difficulty of the task, we can hardly blame him for trying to get away. Nonetheless, Saul’s selfish neglect of duty foreshadows a pattern that will be repeated during his kingship. The people of Israel had desired a king who would give them the leadership edge enjoyed by the worldly nations, no longer willing to rely simply on God’s saving power. Here, then, is the kind of self-serving cowardice that they will have to get used to under human kings! (Phillips, 1 Samuel (Reformed Expository Commentary),163)Robert Alter (b. 1935) critiques:
This detail is virtually a parody of the recurring motif of the prophet-leader’s unwillingness to accept his mission. Saul the diffident farm boy had expressed a sense of unworthiness for the high office Samuel conferred on him. Now, confronted by the assembled tribes and “trapped” by the process of lot drawing, he tries to flee the onus of kingship, farcically hiding in the baggage. (Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, 48)From this perspective, Saul lacks true humility which would include depending on God. This stance is supported as fear fits the paranoia that will characterize Saul’s life. Though his action is highly irregular, it is typical of Saul.
Robert D. Bergen (b. 1954) explains that this inauspicious start is fitting:
Saul’s actions, however off, were consistent with the portrayal of Saul to this point; previously the king-designate had shut out both his servant (I Samuel 9:27) and his uncle (I Samuel 10:16) from any knowledge of his destiny. Saul’s vacancy at his own coronation suitably foreshadows a reign that would vacate responsibilities associated with the exercise of godly rule and perhaps suggest the lack of wisdom of those who preferred such a king to Yahweh. At the same time, divine assistance in the search for Saul reinforced the conclusion that Saul was indeed the Lord’s answer to Israel’s demand for a king “like the other nations.” (Bergen, , 2 Samuel (New American Commentary), 132)Clinical psychologist David A. Stoop (b. 1937) concurs, characterizing:
Saul’s fearful posture toward life is...seen in his response to being publicly anointed as king. He simply wants to avoid the whole process. The way he attempts to avoid being anointed king in front of all Israel is to hide. (Stoop, What’s He So Angry About?, 80)Whatever his motives for hiding, when discovered, Saul assumes the crown. Saul’s reluctance is completely ignored and the people accept him as king (I Samuel 10:23-24). On cue, they chant, “Long live the king!” (I Samuel 10:24, NASB).
Despite his awkward discovery, Saul’s impressive stature makes an even more immediate first impression. The only descriptor mentioned is that he stands a head taller than any of his peers: Saul is tall (I Samuel 9:2, 10:23). This detail adds to the story’s humor as the nation’s tallest man is theoretically the most difficult to hide, comparable to 7'6" Yao Ming attempting to hide in a Chinese national assembly. Aside from Saul, impressive height is a quality reserved for non-covenant people and Saul’s more ideal successor, David, will not share this trait (I Samuel 16:7). In picking Saul, the Israelites receive what they ask for - a king like all the nations (I Samuel 8:5) and his selection foreshadows the typical lack of godly commitment exhibited by most of Israel’s monarchs.
What motivates Saul’s hiding, modesty or timidity? Who is he hiding from? If Saul does not want the position, why does he attend the convention at all? Why would God select a king that did not want the responsibility? Have you ever known anyone to turn down a promotion? Have you ever gotten a position that you didn’t want? Would you follow a leader who did not want her position? Would you want to be a monarch? Are you currently hiding from anything?
Whatever Saul’s reasons, his concealment has a significant consequence: it provides another opportunity for God to demonstrate divine involvement in his selection. It is God, not the Israelites, who finds Saul (I Samuel 10:22). Despite one of the implicit desires in asking for a monarch being independence, once again, the Israelites are reliant upon God. And they have enough access to God to use divine assistance to find the ruler they have chosen instead of God.
Eugene H. Peterson (b. 1932) comments:
Once chosen, Saul is nowhere to be found! He has gone into hiding. Did that last sermon by Samuel put the fear of God in him? Did he have a premonition that despite all the signs of God’s Spirit in his choosing, the kingship was flawed from the start by the people’s God-rejecting ambitions, and it was going to be a rocky road ahead? The story does not provide us with Saul’s motives for hiding. What it makes quite clear, though, is that this whole king business was going to be a mixed bag, involving both God’s mercy and God’s judgment...And here is a telling detail: They are now forced to pray to God to help them find the king they have just chosen with God’s help, but against God’s will (I Samuel 10:22). God graciously condescends to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. (Peterson, First and Second Samuel (Westminster Bible Companion), 66)If the Israelites are close enough to God to find the concealed candidate, why do they seek a king? Is your trust in God’s leadership or in human rulers?
“Well, he’s always the tallest man in the room. He’s bound to end up leading something.” - Benjamin Franklin (Tom Wilkinson) to John Adams (Paul Giamatti) after Adams exclaims that George Washington is a “natural leader” in the HBO miniseries John Adams (2008)