Now the donkeys belonging to Saul’s father Kish were lost. (1 Samuel 9:3)
No one likes to lose their donkeys. In fact, people don’t enjoy losing anything. Loss is frustrating.
And Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the servants with you and go and look for the donkeys.” (v. 3)
Out goes Saul, a young man who was an impressive guy in his time (v. 2). He was “a man of standing” and tall (vv. 1,2). So this not-so-basic guy begins to tromp around his neighborhood – and eventually outside it – to find the missing donkeys.
Sounds like Saul’s got a great day ahead of him. Just wait—
The story gets better.
So he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and through the area around Shalisha, but they did not find them. (v. 4)
Saul looks for a while. But he doesn’t find the missing donkeys.
They went on into the district of Shaalim, but the donkeys were not there. (v. 5)
He looks some more. This time he goes further, into the next district. No donkeys. At this point Saul and his servant have left whatever was going on at home to spend their day walking through hills and around town looking for, yes –
Then he passed through the territory of Benjamin, but they did not find them. (v. 4)
Ready to give up on the wayward mules? Saul was.
When they reached the district of Zuph, Saul said to the servant who was with him, “Come, let’s go back, or my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us.” (v. 5)
Saul has his wits. The search is over, and like a good son, he doesn’t want to make his father anxious by his delayed absence. Enough time has passed that the search has been labeled fruitless in comparison to their personal safety.
But the servant replied, “Look, in this town there is a man of God; he is highly respected, and everything he says comes true. Let’s go there now. Perhaps he will tell us what way to take.” (v. 6)
Now, regardless of what we think about this servant’s theology, he has offered a good last resort. Of course a prophet could tell us where the donkeys have gone! They decide to try it.
On the way, like normal young men, they ask some young women for directions (v. 11). Saul and the servant are led straight to the prophet Samuel, and what luck! They hear there’s a feast happening (v. 12).
So their day gets better – thus far. But it had been full of frustration, disappointment, and fruitless exertion.
Ever feel this way?
Frustrated with a task? Disappointed by unmet expectations? Did you pursue those expectations and end up with dashed hopes and a whole lot of energy spent?
In my own life, the worst kind of disappointment looks like Saul’s: repetitive. We need perspective in these times, which is exactly what Saul needs at this point in the story. And it’s exactly what the Lord gives us in his Word. Peek behind the scenes:
Now the day before Saul came, the LORD had revealed this to Samuel: “About this time tomorrow, I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him leader over my people Israel; he will deliver my people from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked upon my people, for their cry has reached me.” (vv. 15-16)
Read those two verses again. God says he sent Saul to Samuel, at a pre-ordained time of day.
The donkeys. The missing donkeys. They are no accident.
Ever surprised by what the Lord uses to accomplish his purposes?
Not only are the lost donkeys no accident, but so is the choice of man sent after them. The Lord knows Saul and has hand-picked him for a purpose: to lead the nation of Israel, deliver his people, and answer a national prayer.
Saul has no idea of God’s appointment for him at this point in the story.
He just lost his donkeys.
Now, there’s so much to learn from this portion of God’s Word, but here’s the point: God appointed Saul’s disappointment for a purpose greater than Saul could see.
The Disciple’s Disappointment
Disappointment is too light a word for what the disciples must’ve felt as they saw their Lord fixed on a cross. How many weary ministry days had they been through, and all for this? Their ultimate hope was literally dying before their eyes. The Son of God, their friend and teacher and Lord, is hanging on a cross.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10)
And yet the LORD tells us through his Word that this was his will. He put Jesus, his only Son, to grief. Why? Jesus was making an offering for his people, embodying the answer to their cries for salvation, not from the Philistines, but from sin. He was answering not only a national prayer, but a generational prayer from the beginning of time. Christ was crushing the serpent’s head in his very death.
Trust in God’s Appointment
We know the end of these stories. Saul became king of Israel, and Jesus rose from the dead. The disciples could not have imagined the empty tomb three days later.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?’ (Romans 11:33-34)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:18)
Jesus suffered so our disappointment would not be ultimate. Because of our sin, we deserve much worse than unmet expectations from a holy God. Yet Christ willingly left his throne in heaven and embraced suffering that he might bring us near to him.
May your disappointments bring to mind Christ’s provision for your greatest need – reconciliation to God – through his appointed death on the cross.
May you see your disappointments as evidence of God’s hand at work in the details of your life, orchestrating your appointments according to the wisdom of his will.
What’s disappointing you right now? Are you frustrated? If you’re in a “lost donkey” season, take heart:
Three times Saul did not find the donkeys. Three days Christ lay dead in a tomb.
Don’t forget the rest of these stories.