When the Israelites came to Samuel and demanded a king, they were not looking for the kind of godly monarch that they were supposed to prize according to Deuteronomy 17:14–20. They wanted a king modeled after the kings of the other nations, one who would glory in his own strength. They were, in effect, rejecting the kingship of God Himself. Nevertheless, the Lord decided to give His people what they wanted, telling Samuel to appoint the one whom God would reveal (1 Sam. 8).
We meet the first king of Israel in today’s passage: Saul, son of Kish, from the tribe of Benjamin (9:1–2). Saul’s story has an ignoble end (chaps. 15; 31), and there are clues to this effect in the narrative when Saul is introduced. First, Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin (9:1), which was more wicked than the other tribes of Israel during the era of the judges. One town of Benjamin in particular, Gibeah, treated guests just as Sodom treated the angels who visited Lot, and the rest of Israel had to go to war against the Benjaminites when they defended Gibeah despite its atrocities (Judg. 19–20). That the first king of Israel was from this wicked tribe should have warned the Israelites that the king they were getting might not turn out to be the blessing they had hoped for.
Second, 1 Samuel devotes much attention to Saul’s appearance, focusing on his handsomeness and height (1 Sam. 9:2). Scripture does not usually give many details about the appearances of people, so any extended description of outward physical characteristics encourages us to pay attention. We learn that Saul was the best-looking man of Israel in his day. As far as externals, he fit the profile of the ideal monarch. Of course, it is no sin to be handsome. Godly Joseph and David, for instance, were also handsome men (Gen. 39:6; 1 Sam. 16:12; 17:42). But their looks were of secondary importance compared to their personal righteousness, so the Scriptures mention their attractiveness only in passing. But for Saul, the best thing that could be said about him was that he was good looking. He looked the part of the king, but he lacked the good character the true king of God’s people must have.
But the Lord had chosen Saul as the first king of Israel as a judgment on His people for looking for the wrong things in a monarch. A series of providential events would lead Saul to Samuel for his anointing. As one commentator put it, Saul went looking for a donkey but came back a king (1 Sam. 9:3–10:27).