Lawrence Boadt writes,
Chapters 8 through 15 then move on to describe how Israel got a king. The danger from the Philistines was so great that the tribes themselves realized they would not have a chance unless their forces were united more effectively under a single military leader. They even lacked iron weapons such as the Philistines had, having to fight with less effective bronze (1 Sam 13:19-22). The people begged Samuel to give them a king “as other nations have” (1 Sam 8:5). Samuel warns them of the dangers of giving so much power to one person, but they insist, and God gives in, telling Samuel: “At this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin whom you are to anoint as commander of my people Israel. He will save my people from the hands of the Philistines for I have witnessed their misery and heard their cry for help” (1 Sam 9:16). Yet only a chapter later, Samuel says, “Today you have rejected the Lord your God who delivers you from all your evil and disasters, by telling him, ‘No! Set a king over us’” (1 Sam 10:19). Thus even the early traditions show a mixed reaction to the decision to have a king.
Most scholars see at least two separate strands of tradition. One can be called the pro-Saul version. It is found in 1 Samuel 9:1-10:16 and 11:1-15. The other version is an anti-Saul source found in 1 Samuel 8:1-22, 10:17-26, and 12:1-25. The book’s editors have joined these two accounts and made them into a statement which gives both sides of the issue. It reveals that Samuel was reluctant to have a king, but accepted the people’s demands when God made the choice evident in Saul, who stood “head and shoulders above the rest of Israel” (1 Sam 9:2).
One of the things that stood out to me in this reading of this section of 1 Samuel was the statement that as Saul “turned away to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart” (1 Samuel 10:9). This is what we each need God to do for us, give us a heart of flesh in place of a heart of stone (Ezekiel 11:19). However, just as clearly, Saul had a heart that wavered in his service to the Lord. This becomes evident as the story progresses. However, even at the beginning, we see Saul wavering, as he tries to run away from kingship, hiding himself “among the baggage” (1 Samuel 10:23).
God helps the wavering Saul by providing him with warriors whose hearts God has also touched (1 Samuel 10:26). Then, after the provocation of Nahash the Ammonite, we see the spirit of God come upon Saul in power and his anger is greatly kindled (1 Samuel 11:6). The spirit of God seems to work here in Saul in a way similar to that of Samson in the book of Judges. There seems to be little if any connection between what the rest of the Bible would see as moral holiness and the work of the spirit in Saul.
Despite the fact that Samuel sees Israel as going down a wrong road by choosing to have a king, he says, “far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you” (1 Samuel 12:23). This is a good reminder to all of us that we need to continue to pray for family members, friends, and others, even when we think, or especially when we think, they are making wrong choices. There comes a time when we need to stop talking to others about what we perceive to be their wrong choices and continue talking to God about the matter.