Saul was never the king Israel needed, and the clues begin, quite powerfully, at the very moment he pops onto the scene. And the first piece of bad news is Saul’s father, Kish (1 Sam 9:1-2).
Though some think that the name Kish means ‘bow’ or ‘power’, more convincing is evidence that the name comes from the Hebrew verb ‘qosh,’ root of the common verb ‘yaqosh‘, meaning to set a snare or lay a trap. ‘Qosh‘ occurs only once in the Bible, where the prophet Isaiah speaks of those intent on doing evil who “ensnare” others (Isaiah 29:21).
Not a good start, Saul.
The picture of Saul’s lineage develops when we see who else came from Kish, including what significance the name Kish took on for surrounding cultures. Powerful monarchs in ancient Mesopotamia adopted ‘King of Kish’ as a title of great prestige, derived from the name of the ancient Sumerian city Kish. Some have connected this title to Nimrod, mighty ruler of Babel, and the title even came to evoke the sense ‘King of the Entire World,’ ‘King of all the Earth.’ Remind you of anyone?
Into such power and trickery, Saul was born. And like his father, Saul was an impressive sight: ‘choice and handsome,’ ‘taller than any of the people.’ Simply put, Saul was a looker. But if that weren’t enough to raise our suspicions (ahem, Goliath 1 Sam. 17:4, 2 Cor. 11:14), we come onto the sequence of the lost donkeys.
Now the donkeys belonging to Saul’s father Kish were lost, and Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the servants with you and go and look for the donkeys.”1 Samuel 9:3
God really emphasizes these donkeys, in fact. By my count, the poor wandering donkeys are mentioned 7 times (!) in this early part of the story of Saul. The donkeys are lost, the donkeys have now been missing three days, for the life of him Saul can’t find those darn donkeys. Say that seven times fast.
Saul even relates the lost donkey story again later (sheesh, Saul, give it a rest), saying to his uncle, ‘When we saw that they could not be found, we went to Samuel.’ So who actually finds the lost donkeys? Certainly not Saul. 👀
If you have been following along, you might recall that the humble donkey is charged with a rich, important and ROYAL biblical symbolism. What I haven’t mentioned yet is that the donkey goes way back in Israel’s history, back to when Jacob summons his 12 sons together, leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel, and prophesies their future (Gen. 49). And wow look here: It is Judah whose family line will tie “his foal to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine.”
But oh dear this is more bad news for Saul, son of Kish, son of the earth. For sadly, Saul is NOT of the line of Judah but rather of the line of Benjamin. Hear Jacob’s prophetic words for this son (v. 27):
Benjamin is a ravenous wolf;
In the morning he devours the prey,
And in the evening he divides the spoil.
Well, here we have it: Hunters will be hunters. And with this, God has nearly brought us full circle. The picture is almost in focus. We already know how horribly the story of Saul ends, but this early imagery gives us a strong indication of how badly it began and where it’s all headed and fast.
And if we were in any doubt at all, when Samuel gathers all the tribes of Israel near, when it becomes clear that Saul the son of the mighty Kish is to be king, where is Saul?
Behold, he is hiding himself by the baggage.
Saul has here hit a new low in his mimicry of Adam and Eve in the Garden (Gen. 3:9-10). And it’ll get lower still.
But let’s stop here for now. Because what we know already is that Saul the handsome coward is no Jesus Christ, and God is making that abundantly clear. This beautiful offspring of Kish, towering child of (seeming) power, snaring son of all the earth is no match for Jesus Christ, the Lion of Judah (Rev. 5:5).
And what a dark horse is our Jesus, the one who
has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him (Isa. 53:2).
Jesus may be no looker like Saul, but that’s God’s wonderful irony, His proportional play.
And unlike Saul, Jesus our True King knows just where the donkeys are. He tells the disciples, and off they go (Mark 11:2).
6 The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them,
7 and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats.
8 Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road.
9 The crowds going ahead of Him, and those who followed, were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;
Hosanna in the highest!”
10 When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”
11 And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”