Being an itinerant judge for the region, Samuel only visited his hometown occasionally. The altar that he had previously constructed there, (the high place), had apparently become a sacred site that served as a local substitute for the ruined worship center at Shiloh.
Samuel was a respected elderly Levite. He was given the honor of pronouncing a blessing over the sacrifice. This ritual would have been part of the evening sacrifice to be held at sundown. Saul and his servant entered the city gate just as Samuel was “on his way up to the high place.”
The previous day the Lord “had revealed to Samuel” that he would send him “a man from the land of Benjamin.” God providentially directed the encounter that ensued between these three men. The Lord was fulfilling his promise to give Israel their new king.
God’s words to Samuel regarding Saul in 1 Samuel 9:17 are filled with irony. The word used for “will govern” in the Hebrew text holds a negative connotation. It can also mean imprisonment (2 Kings 17:4; Jeremiah 33:1), sterility (Genesis 20:18), silencing (Job 4:2), or holding back (2 Kings 4:24). In fact, 1 Samuel 9:17 is the only location in Scripture where the word can be taken to mean, “govern.”
Perhaps the writer was suggesting that the Lord had determined to use Saul’s time as king as a means of punishing the nation. Saul would literally fulfill the various meanings of this word. Even as he governed Israel, his policies and behaviors would hinder the nation and act as a sort of barrier separating Israel from God’s best for them.