At this time the Israelites are oppressed under the hand of the Philistines. The Philistines won’t even allow the Israelites to have a blacksmith in their land because they don’t want Israel to have the ability to make weapons of war. This is when we first meet Saul’s son Jonathan. Jonathan, tired of being subjected to the Philistines, attacks the Philistines, igniting war between them and Israel. We see that Saul takes credit for his son’s heroic actions because Saul is a man who craves the praise of others.
So the Philistines organize a huge army to come and destroy the Israelites. When the Israelites see that they are in danger, they once again make a decision based on sight instead of faith in the Lord, and they go into hiding. Samuel tells Saul to wait seven days for him to arrive to offer sacrifices to the Lord on their behalf so that they would be ready for battle. However, Saul, afraid of losing his men who are starting to scatter by day seven, doesn’t wait on Samuel to arrive at the camp. Instead, Saul offers a burnt offering to the Lord, an act only the Levites were to perform (Numbers 8). Because Saul was more concerned about losing his men than obeying the Law, Samuel tells Saul – “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” Saul is going to remain on the throne for years, but in the meantime the Lord will train up a man after His own heart to replace Saul, whose heart desires status and prestige over the Lord.
Later in the story, the wisdom writer will say, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts the Lord shall be safe” (Proverbs 29:25). And when Jesus arrives on the scene, He will question the Jewish leaders saying, “How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44). Saul’s failure is due to his desire for the approval of man over the approval of the Lord.
However, Saul’s son Jonathan, who is unlike his dad and has great faith in the Lord, decides to sneak into the Philistines’ camp with his armor-bearer. He says to the armor-bearer, “For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or a few.” When the men hiding in caves hear the commotion of Jonathan and his armor-bearer defeating the Philistines, they come out to fight with them. “So the Lord saved Israel that day, and the battle shifted to Beth Aven.”
“And the men of Israel were distressed that day, for Saul had placed the people under oath, saying, ‘Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.’ So none of the people tasted food… But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath; therefore he stretched out the end of the rod that was in his hand and dipped it in a honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his countenance brightened.” When Saul discovers that Jonathan ate a little honey, he says that Jonathan shall die. “But the people said to Saul, ‘Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great deliverance in Israel? Certainly not! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.’ So the people rescued Jonathan, and he did not die.”
Saul’s foolish oath has several consequences:
1) Israelites could have had a greater victory if they had more energy.
2) The men sinned because they were so starving that when they could finally eat, they didn’t handle the meat properly and ate the blood (Genesis 9:4, Leviticus 17).
3) Saul almost killed his son Jonathan, who by faith in God provided victory for the Israelites.
Although Saul has a position and a title, Jonathan has the respect and influence of the people, which is far more impactful. Tomorrow Saul continues to show his disregard for the Book of the Law, which he should be reading every day per the Lord’s instructions for a king (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). Keep reading to see how glory seeking Saul once again disobeys the word of God. (1 Chronicles 9:35-39, 1 Samuel 13:1-5, 19-23, 6-18, 1 Samuel 14:1-52)