Acts 13:21

Chester Alan Arthur, Vermont Capitol.

Sunday, 1 January 2023

“And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. Acts 13:21

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

In the previous verse, Paul mentioned the giving of judges to Israel for about four hundred and fifty years. With the time of the judges ending, the time of the kings began. Paul explains that beginning with the words, “And afterward.”

Samuel was the final judge of Israel. Israel was a theocracy with the Lord as their King at this time. The judge was appointed to lead the people under the authority of the Lord. However, Israel desired a change in this arrangement, and so after this time of judges, “they asked for a king.”

To anyone who knew the recorded account of this act, it would be a reminder of the people’s rejection of the Lord. For Paul to bring this up is not a lesson in the right attitude of the people. Rather, it is a reminder of exactly the opposite –

“Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, ‘Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.’
But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ So Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day—with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.’” 1 Samuel 8:4-9

After this, Samuel instructed the people on the additional burdens they would face with a king over them, warning them. And yet, the record says –

“Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, ‘No, but we will have a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.’
21 And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he repeated them in the hearing of the Lord. 22 So the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Heed their voice, and make them a king.’” 1 Samuel 8:19-22

With that remembered, Paul next says, “so God gave them Saul the son of Kish.” The name Saul means “Asked for.” It is thus a biblical pun. The people asked for a king and the Lord gave them a king as they had asked for. His father was Kish. The name comes from qosh, a snare. Hence, his name means Snaring. This very well may be a pun as well. Israel had ensnared itself in asking for a king.

After Saul’s initial conquests, Samuel called to renew the kingship (1 Samuel 11:14), and so the people were called together at Gilgal. During this coronation, Samuel reminded them of their wickedness in asking for a king. This was acknowledged by the people –

“Now therefore, stand and see this great thing which the Lord will do before your eyes: 17 Is today not the wheat harvest? I will call to the Lord, and He will send thunder and rain, that you may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking a king for yourselves.”
18 So Samuel called to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.
19 And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of asking a king for ourselves.” 1 Samuel 12:16-19

This is what Paul is implicitly reminding those gathered in the synagogue. Though not apparent yet, he will tie all of this in with the people’s rejection of Jesus. For now, he continues this verse with, “a man of the tribe of Benjamin.”

This is to be implicitly understood as a mark of the Lord’s disfavor if for no other reason than that the Messiah was promised to come through Judah, not Benjamin (Genesis 49:10). Benjamin’s blessing by Jacob was that he was a ravenous wolf that devours the prey and divides the spoil. It is not at all unlike the reign of Saul. But more, Benjamin was the smallest tribe, having been almost utterly wiped out by the other tribes for its defense of the horrifying actions of the people of Gibeah as is recorded in Judges 19 and 20. With that, Paul finishes the verse with “for forty years.”

This is not recorded in the Old Testament, although Paul’s stating it means that it was understood to be so. Various chronologies have been provided and explanations have been made to justify Paul’s words. One explanation is that the times of Samuel and Saul have been combined. Hence the words of the previous verse “until Samuel the prophet” mean that the reigns of Samuel and Saul are combined into forty years. Others have developed timelines showing how Saul could have reigned forty years. In the end, Paul has stated a literal time that was accepted within the synagogue as factual.

Life application: The Bible records actual events from Israel’s past to reveal God’s purposes and intent for the time of the New Covenant. The time of the judges was one of constant apostasy and then turning back to the Lord. The people’s asking for a king that would rule over them was to be taken as a rejection of the Lord as well.

And yet, some judges and kings directed the people to the Lord, exalting Him above their own reigns. Others turned from the Lord in varying degrees. Each of these stories is given as a lesson for us to see something about Israel’s need for the Messiah to come and rule. Without knowing what is recorded in the Old Testament, we have a void in our understanding of why we need the Lord as our Head. The proclivities of man necessitate it and the biblical stories of the Old Testament highlight this fact.

Be sure to read the Old Testament as well as the New. In it, you will find the state of man in need of God’s Messiah. In His coming, we see how Jesus fulfills each and every need.

Lord God, thank You for the giving of Your Son so that we can have an eternal Leader who can reveal to us the extent of Your greatness for all ages to come. In Him, we have all of who You are in a form that we can see and understand. Yes, thank You for the sending of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.