The unclothing of a king
So Saul went to Naioth in Ramah. The Spirit of God came upon him as well, and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth in Ramah He even stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel. He lay there naked all that day and night. (For that reason it is asked, ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’) 1 Samuel 19.23-24
Reading through the book of Samuel is quite entertaining and full of intrigue. Chapter 19 is no different from the rest of the book, but it does provoke us to ask questions especially: why does Saul prophesy? Why does he strip off his clothes? Both I think are related to one another. The context for this story is crucial. First: Saul has prophesied once before, immediately before he was appointed king. Second: Saul’s kingdom has now been prophetically removed and so as the Spirit of God has departed from him, he receives a spirit of prophecy, but he does this in a markedly different manner: naked before Samuel.
How should we interpret such a thing? The first way is by reading Samuel well. The book of Samuel is the book of two kings: Saul and David. Saul is the king chosen by Israel who was a head taller than everyone else and David was chosen by God who was short and ruddy. The heart of one ends up being devoted to himself and the heart of the other was devoted to God. So here in 1 Samuel 19, the story is transitioning from Saul to David. Although Saul’s initial few actions were promising, he ended up being a failure. He took rash oaths; he killed Israelites and priests out of anger and envy; he offered illicit sacrifices. He was a failure because he did not follow God’s laws and instructions. David on the other hand, even in his sin is a repentant sinner whose heart seeks after God.
So in chapter 19, as Saul is being unclothed, David is in a sense being clothed. Saul has lost his right to the throne. I would suggest that there may also be a parallel between Saul’s prophesying naked in chapter 19 versus his non-naked prophesying in chapter 10. In chapter 10, he seems to hold promise. The Spirit of God has descended on him, and he is prophesying with the prophets. What a position of honor that he seems to be in. But in reality his prophesying becomes a sham. The reality of his nature is revealed: he is without honor, his revealed nakedness is an parable of the shameful way that he has handled his kingship. His works are revealed, and this trajectory continues on in the story of his life until at the end of his life, he avoids the oracles of God and goes to the witch of Endor.
So what are we to do with such a shaming of the first king of Israel? We can especially be glad for the work of the new covenant. For those in the New Covenant, the Spirit of God is a seal on his chosen. This implies something really quite profound. There is not appointed in leadership someone without a renewed heart. Now there are imposters and charlatans and unconverted ministers, but here in the Old Testament the people of God is a mixed multitude in the sense that some follow Yahweh according to Yahweh’s commands while many follow their own ways, but they are all people of God because they are under the mosaic covenant. Ultimately the failure of Israel displays the failure of the Mosaic covenant, and it shows the need for a better covenant that renews hearts and minds. Saul is the first of many anointed kings who fail to uphold Torah.
In the new covenant, God has given each repentant sinner, each elect person, a new heart and mind, and this is a radically different people who have been justified and who are being sanctified so that one day they will fully know God and be known. There will one day be no need for each one to teach his neighbor but all will know truly. ‘For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.’