Updated: May 19
Just to put it in context, In the past few days we have read about Joshua who led the Israelite nation into the land promised to the descendants of Abraham and Jacob. After Joshua died Israel was led by a series of Judges, one of whom was Samson and we read about the birth of Samuel yesterday and the day before.
But Israel wanted a king, like the nations around them. They are essentially rejecting God as their king. So on God’s instruction Samuel anoints Saul and Saul becomes the first Israelite king.
Saul is everything that you might want to look at in a king. He is young, the most handsome man around and he was a head taller than anyone else. But Saul is a human and has flaws like any other of us.
In our reading today the Philistines have been doing their thing and fighting with Israel again. Saul is camping with a small army across a ravine from the large Philistine army.
Saul’s son Jonathan, and his servant show tremendous faith in God and creep across the ravine in the night. God is with Jonathan and his servant and together they begin to fight the Philistines and amazingly, they begin to win.
The noise of confusion in the Philistine camp draws the attention of Saul and his army. Saul tells the priest with him not to bother consulting God about whether or not he should fight this battle. Saul says there is not time. I suspect that he also doesn’t want to allow someone else to claim a victory that could be his!
Saul then turns to his men, he doesn’t want any delays so he makes them swear a vow, that on consequence of death, they will not eat anything until the battle is won. And so, they all head off and join the battle.
Saul has made two mistakes here, one is not consulting God before making big decisions and the second is not realising that the army will need nourishment to get them through the day. Later, when Jonathan, who wasn’t there for the not eating vow, eats a little wild honey, his strength is instantly restored.
The Israelites win the battle this day but not as decisively as they could have done. They have chased the Philistines 18 or 20 miles, fighting as they go and all on an empty stomach. When night falls and the vow no longer applies, the Israelite men begin to eat the cattle and sheep of the Philistines. But they are so tired they ignore the Israelite law concerned with how to prepare meat.
Saul, so unconcerned about consulting God earlier is now concerned that the men are sinning and insists that they do things properly. Perhaps Saul is also now aware of his earlier mistakes because now that the men have eaten and are revived he wants to continue fighting through the night and chase that elusive decisive victory he believes God will deliver.
The men are all willing to follow Saul again, but the priest insists that God is consulted first.
So Saul prays. He simply asks “Shall I attack the Philistines? Will you give us victory?”
On this occasion, God is quiet.
So Saul wants to know who has sinned. He declares that even if it is his son Jonathan he will kill whoever has caused God to turn away from him. It is another rash decision.
So Saul asks God if it is the men who have sinned by eating meat not prepared properly. But it is not the men.
The blame lies with Jonathan who sinned when he ate honey after the Israelites had vowed not to eat anything.
It was an inadvertent mistake and according to Israelite law, Jonathan simply needed to make a trespass offering to God. But because of Saul’s rash vow earlier in the day and again just now, he feels he has no choice but to kill his own son.
Thankfully the army of men intervene and defend Jonathan ascribing the day’s victory to Jonathan’s act of faith in God.
It seems to me that God had started something with Jonathan’s act of faith and Saul had got in the way of that. Saul’s hasty decisions had caused the Israelite army to be weakened and caused his son to sin.
And, I think, caused Saul’s leadership to be compromised.
It is always good and right to question God before making big decisions. When we act hastily and make promises we haven’t thought through, we can get in the way of what God is doing. Seeking God in prayer and talking with people we trust spiritually will help us make good decisions that align with God’s purposes and stop us from getting in the way of Him doing incredible things.
But it also occurs to me that on those days when we get up late, or have a lot to do and we say to ourselves, that we won’t spend time with God right now, that we want to start our day immediately, that we are behaving just like Saul and getting in the way of God’s plans for our day.
This is a lesson that I need to learn!
Tomorrow is our group study day. So don’t forget to bring your difficult questions for your friends and group leaders to discuss. Be honest about any changes you have successfully or unsuccessfully made in your life this week ask for help from your friends and offer support to others in the group that have struggled.
On Friday I’ll share what I have learned from a prayer of King David’s, said towards the end of his life.