There was a Benjaminite named Kish… He was a prominent person. He had a son named Saul, a handsome young man. – 1 Samuel 9:1a,2a (NET)
Israel is going to receive its first king. The author reports that “the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do everything the people request of you. For it is not you that they have rejected, but it is Me that they have rejected as their king. Just as they have done from the day that I brought them up from Egypt until this very day, they have rejected Me and have served other gods” (8:7-8a). One should here recognize the fact that the proximate cause of Israel’s request for a king stemmed from Samuel.
You see, “In his old age Samuel appointed his sons as judges over Israel… But his sons did not follow his ways. Instead, they made money dishonestly, accepted bribes, and perverted justice” (8:1,3). It was for this reason that “all the elders of Israel gathered together and approached Samuel” and “said to him, ‘Look, you are old, and your sons don’t follow your ways. So now appoint over us a king to lead us, just like all the other nations have” (8:4a,5).
So some may point fingers of blame and rebellion at the people of Israel, and one can certainly understand the words on offer from the Lord to Samuel, comforting him by saying that it is the Lord of Israel that has been rejected and not him, but it must be borne in mind that it is Samuel’s sons that are the issue. Had Samuel been a better father he might have prevented Israel from traveling the route of monarchy. Without getting off track, this issue of being a poor father can serve to partially explain David’s affinity for Samuel. At the same time, however, part of the covenant God’s words to Moses included an insistence that the people would indeed ask for a king, with the Creator God giving directions as to the proper response, so there was always an aura of inevitability about the whole thing.
Samuel then goes to seek out a king to set over the people of Israel. Because the story introduces Saul immediately after “The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do as they say and install a king over them’” (8:22a), the reader knows that, when hearing the description of Saul, that this is the one that the God of Israel has chosen to be anointed as king over His people. It is said that Saul was “a handsome young man. There was no one among the Israelites more handsome than he was; he stood head and shoulders above all the people” (9:2).
Whether one realizes it or not, this is the beginning of a pattern as it relates to the monarchy. Also, through a continued paying of careful attention, this talk of a man being handsome, when presented to a people that absolutely defines themselves by the story of exodus, with that story naturally including the story of Joseph (which explains how Israel came to be in Egypt in the first place so that there could be a resulting exodus), could very well remind the people of Joseph, who was described as being “well built and good-looking” (Genesis 39:6b).