After leading them faithfully for most of his life, Samuel is rejected by God's people who demand a king to rule over them. God sends Samuel to find the first King of Israel, a man who is everything the Israelites think they want.
Samuel stood on top of the hill that rose up next to the town of Ramah and looked east across the streets and houses to the shores of Lake Galilee in the distance. Behind him the sun was setting and he could see its light twinkling off the waves of the lake. It looked like fire, with flames of red and gold. Samuel took a deep breath and let out a sigh. He was feeling his age. Many years had passed since God had spoken to him that night in the tabernacle and now he was an old man. Every year Samuel had travelled in a great circle that took him around the whole land of Israel. He'd visited every town, helping the people with their problems, settling their arguments and showing them how to live life God's way.
Samuel remembered the very first problem he'd had to deal with – the people had lost the golden box of God, the one that had the Ten Commandments inside it. It had been stolen by their enemies, the Philistines. Samuel knew they couldn't take back the box by force, the Philistines were too powerful. So he'd gone back to the tabernacle, knelt down and prayed. He'd prayed every day for seven months. As the months went by the people of Israel began to hear stories of terrible things happening in the land of the Philistines. Wherever they took the golden box their towns were filled with thousands and thousands of rats and the people began to find lumps growing on their bodies. Finally they could stand it no longer and the Philistines put the box on a cart, tied two cows to the front and set them off. The cows took the box straight back to the land of Israel, never stopping and never even looking to the left or the right. When the people of Israel saw the box returning they danced for joy and they knew in their hearts that God had chosen the right man to lead them. From then on they listened to everything that Samuel said and the Philistines had never bothered them again.
Now Samuel had a new problem; he was getting too old to lead the people. He had two sons, Joel and Abijah, and he'd tried to train them so that they could take over from him. But Joel and Abijah were dishonest, they made bad decisions and they didn't follow God.
Samuel looked down towards the town and saw twelve men coming up the hill towards him. He'd been expecting them; they were the leaders of the twelve great families of Israel – the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulon, Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin. The men stood in front of Samuel and bowed their heads in respect. Then the leader of the family of Judah, the largest of the twelve tribes, stepped forward and said:
“Master, you are old now, and your sons aren't following in your footsteps. Give us a king to rule over us like all the other countries have.”
Samuel looked at the men without saying a word and then he closed his eyes. He stood there in silence for a few minutes and then opened his eyes again.
“Don't you understand?” he asked them, “You already have a king, his name is the LORD. If you demand a human king he will give you one. But be warned, this king will make your men fight in his armies and your women work in his palaces. He will take one tenth of everything you own and everything you grow. You will be his slaves.”
“No!” said the leader of Judah, “You're wrong, we'll be like the other countries, with a king to lead us and fight our battles for us.”
“As you wish,” replied Samuel, “now go back to your homes and wait.”
The next day Samuel left the town of Ramah and set off to find a king for the people of Israel. He followed his usual path around the country until he came to the land of the tribe of Benjamin. When he reached the town of Zuph he stopped to rest and the people asked him to join them for a feast and to bless the food for them. Whilst the feast was being prepared, Samuel sat at the gate of the town watching the people come and go. As each man walked by Samuel said to God “Is this the man you have chosen to be king of Israel?” but God said nothing. Then, in the distance, Samuel saw a man approaching the town, a man like no other. He was tall; the tallest man Samuel had ever seen, no one else even reached his shoulders. His body rippled with muscles and his face was handsome, like a finely carved statue.
“He looks like a prince among men,” Samuel thought to himself.
“No”, came the voice of God, “not a prince, a king, he is the chosen one.”
As the man reached the gate he walked straight up to Samuel and in a deep voice he said:
“My name is Saul the son of Kish, the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. I have come here looking for the man of God.”
“I am that man,” Samuel told him, “why are you looking for me?”
“My father has lost his donkeys and I am trying to find them. Perhaps God can tell you where they are.”
Samuel bowed his head for a few moments then he looked at Saul and said:
“The donkeys are safe, they've already been found. God didn't bring you here to lead donkeys; he brought you here to lead his people. You are to be king of Israel.”
Saul began to protest – “This cannot be, I am from the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest tribe in Israel and my family is the smallest of all the families in my tribe.”
But Samuel took no notice. He led Saul into the town and as the feast began Samuel sat him in his own chair at the head of the table. It was a sign that God had chosen Saul to be the new leader of Israel. Now the people had what they wanted – a king who was tall and strong and handsome, who would lead them and fight their battles for them. What could possibly go wrong?