A New Perspective on Saul: the Donkey King Eclipsed by the Baggage King

1 Samuel 9–10 likens Saul to a donkey who refuses to fulfill his kingly responsibility to save God’s people from the hand of their enemies (1 Sam 10:1; 8:20). In 1 Samuel 9:4, the author emphasizes three times that Saul’s donkeys could not be found. When the lot of kingship falls on Saul in 10:21, the author uses the same uncommon Hebrew phrase to describe how Saul could not be found, thereby likening him to a donkey and underscoring the need for a better king. Moreover, after predicting multiple divine signs that will take place to confirm God’s intention to make Saul king, Samuel commands Saul in 1 Samuel 10:7 to “do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you.” These phrases are associated with military action (Judg 9:33; Deut 20:1; Josh 1:9), and in context they tell Saul to defeat the garrison of the Philistines when he arrives back in his hometown (1 Sam 10:5). However, like a stubborn donkey, Saul refuse to obey this command, thereby failing in his kingly role to save God’s people from the hand of their enemies (1 Sam 10:1).

When Samuel gathers Israel to unveil their new king, in the climactic moment when Saul could not be found, Israel asked in 1 Samuel 10:22a, “is there a man still to come?” The Lord directly responds in the same verse that this man to come has hidden himself “among the baggage”—a phrase that refers to Saul in the near sense but David in the far sense. Later in 1 Samuel 16:21, David is recruited by Saul as his “baggage” (armor) bearer using the same Hebrew term from 10:22b. Beyond this similarity, there are various parallels between Saul’s preparation for kingship and David’s preparation: (the items mentioned in 1 Sam. 10:3 and 16:20; the anointing by Samuel in 9:16 and 16:12; God’s presence with them in 1 Sam 10:7 and 17:33).

The true king David remains “hidden” in his role “among the baggage/armor” (as an armor bearer) until he encounters Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. In this battle, there is a seven-fold hyper-focus on David’s “hand” (1 Sam 17:40 [2x], 46–47, 49–50, 57). This focus calls to mind the 1 Samuel 10:7 command to do “what your hand finds to do”—a command that Saul disobeyed and that David obeys in slaying Goliath. David delivers his people from the hand of the Philistines by his faith in YHWH (1 Sam 17:46–47), and thus he shows he is the true king who will save God’s people from the hand of their enemies/the Philistines (1 Sam. 9:16; 10:1).

4 thoughts on “A New Perspective on Saul: the Donkey King Eclipsed by the Baggage King”

  1. Kevin M. McClure
    There is a lot going on in that passage about the donkeys and the contrast between Saul and David, but I’m not convinced that this understanding of it is providing a plausible explanation. I think those are his Dad’s lost donkeys. . . and later, in contrast, David’s Dad’s sheep, etc.

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