The Divine Donkey Chase Or…When Zuph is Enough
“A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs is steps.” Proverbs 16:9
We’re all familiar with the expression…and more likely than not, with the experience…of going on a “wild goose chase”. There is a goal you are hard pressed to accomplish, or there is a missing piece you are scrambling to locate, but with each setback and with every restart, what you are searching for only becomes more elusive and, therefore, more essential. We can all relate to this. We’ve all played our fair share of hide-and-go-seek with people, places, projects, and plans. But what about with purpose? Have you ever felt hidden from your purpose…or felt that your purpose was hidden from you? If so, then you’ve been on a divine donkey chase. It’s not quite the same as a wild goose chase, although at certain times and after countless reroutes it may feel like one. No, there is a distinct difference between the two types of searching. While both the wild goose chase and the divine donkey chase are launched by the shotgun of need and propelled by the desire to retrieve, only the runner of the latter returns with something in hand. Granted, it’s not what he set out to reclaim, but therein lies the divine element of the donkey chase…and the procurement of the hidden purpose.
I came across this contrast between goose chases and donkey runs while reading about Saul’s excursions in I Samuel 9. It is in this chapter that Saul is asked by his father to go and find some missing donkeys. But, prior to the misplaced donkeys in chapter nine, we read about some misplaced desires in chapter eight. Kish, Saul’s father, wasn’t the only one with a wayward herd; God had one of His own: the Israelites. A stubborn people, these tribes, and they had set their eyes to greener pastures…to neighboring pastures…to kingly pastures; and they wanted to graze there, under the protection of an earthly king. Turning their noses from the Provider of the fields, they sniffed after a person from the fold. Samuel warned them about the dangers of having an earthly king, but they demanded it…and God decreed it…and so it would be done, via a divine donkey chase.
It seems an unlikely connection, these missing donkeys and the appointment of a king, but when God is at work, the disconnected soon gives way to the perfectly connected. And so it was for Saul, as he set out in search for that which he would never find, only to return with that which he had never lost. Taking a servant with him, Saul set off in search of the missing animals. Over the course of three days, the two men traveled to five locations. And by the time they came to Zuph, Saul had had enough. He wanted to return home, fearing that his father would now be more concerned over his lost son than over his lost donkeys. But the servant had a suggestion. Maybe it was pointless, but since there was a prophet, a seer, in this particular location, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to ask him about the donkeys. After all, what did they have to lose…other than the still elusive donkeys? And so they went on into the city and found not only their man, but also God’s plan.
Samuel was the prophet who just so happened to be in the last city on the last day of Saul’s last attempt to ‘pin-the-tail-on-the-donkeys’. God had told Samuel about Saul. He knew Saul would be in Zuph by the end of the day and that by the close of the following day, Saul would be anointed as the future king of Israel. God knew this; Samuel knew this; Saul was clueless. All he knew was that he’d spent the last three days looking for donkeys and he was ready to return home. But, while “a man’s heart plans his way, the LORD directs his steps” (Prov. 20:24), and such was the case for Saul. What he thought had been a “wild goose chase” actually ended up being a divine donkey chase as his search netted a prophet, a plan, and a purpose. And the donkeys? Well, Samuel set Saul’s mind at ease by telling him they had been found and had returned home. Saul’s search never had been about finding his father’s donkeys but about finding his Father’s destiny. Saul was chosen to be the first king of Israel and to get him to his appointed position, God had to send him to an appointed person in an appointed place…via appointed donkeys.
So how does this speak to you and to me? Well, in much the same way as it did to Saul. Saul had an objective set before him and he set out to accomplish it. He knew what he was looking for and he was determined to find it. However, along the way…the way grew long. One day became three, three cities became five, and five dead-ends became more than enough reasons to give up. But just when Saul thought he’d come to the end of his rope, he found himself at the beginning of God’s rescue; when he thought he had nothing more to lose, God showed him he had everything left to gain. For Saul, his last place became his starting place; and in the land of Zuph, Saul found enough. Enough of God’s persistence, enough of God’s productivity, enough of God’s plan. All that he thought had been pointless proved to be purposeful and skillfully perfected in the hands of a Providential God.
And isn’t that how God works in our lives, too? When we set out in search of that missing piece, aren’t we often rerouted along the way and, in many cases, kept from ever finding that which we were looking for at the start? It’s frustrating. It’s energy-zapping. It’s heart-wrenching. It’s…it’s a wild goose chase! Or is it? Perhaps we’ve been looking at it all wrong. Perhaps instead of listening for the sound of flapping wings we should tune our ears to the sound of pounding hoofs. And, perhaps, we shouldn’t be so focused on what we’re looking for that we miss what we’re supposed to see…or where we’re supposed to be. On his search for donkeys, Saul went to five different locations. In his mind, or so I think, Saul must have felt that each stop brought him farther from his home and took him further from his goal. Little did he know that his course was not only perfectly mapped but also precisely measured. Had Saul made a direct route to Zuph, he would have arrived before Samuel got there and missed him altogether. Had he delayed in any of the cities longer than he had, he would have arrived in Zuph too late. Each detour was divinely ordained so that, just as Saul was entering the city, Samuel was leaving the city…and there their preordained steps met, and the seeker beheld the seer; and the wild goose chase became a divine donkey chase.
I don’t know about you, but for me this is just another example, another reminder, of God’s personal involvement in our lives. Not only is He sovereign over the big pieces, but He is a stickler over the little pieces. God chose Saul to be the first king of Israel. He could have appointed him in any number of ways but He chose some donkeys, a wise servant, a zig-zagged route, and a series of dead ends to lead Saul to the right place…to his starting place. Since God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, isn’t it likely that He still works in such a way? Could it be that, when what we’re seeking is still not found, it’s time to ask ourselves if we are on a divine donkey chase? Could it be that God never intended for us to lay hold of that which we are pursuing, but that He is simply leading us to the land of Zuph…to the place where He’ll be enough? Perhaps that is exactly what He is doing, which means the journey is not in vain nor the obstacles without merit. Not only has God ordered our steps, He has choreographed them. And, in perfect rhythm with His plan and in perfect time with His purpose, God will set our feet where they need to be…even if it takes a divine donkey chase to get us there!