Saul’s foolishness (pt 1). 1 Samuel 14:23b-35

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 14:23b-35

Our story today is a continuation of what we have looked at over the last two Sundays. Starting in chapter 13, Jonathan started a revolt against the Philistine overlords. Saul went to Gilgal as Samuel instructed in chapter 10:8, but then disobeyed the Lord by not waiting for Samuel to come. Then Jonathan took the initiative again and attacked a Philistine outpost, which led to a great defeat of the massive Philistine army. Our story today has to do with the Israelites chasing the remnants of the Philistine army as they retreat.

Before we jump into our story, let’s take note of –

Saul’s spiritual state

 –  at this time. And I’ll just say that it isn’t good! He disobeyed the Lord’s specific command to wait for Samuel and Samuel responded to him in 13:13, “you have done foolishly.” He acted on his own and not based on God’s command, which is a good definition of foolishness.

And on top of this, he was unrepentant about what he did. So you can see that there’s a break in his relationship with God. And as a result he is disconnected from God’s guidance. Samuel left without giving him instructions for how to fight the Philistines. And when Jonathan acted in faith and was bringing about a great victory Saul was so caught off guard that although he asked the priest to seek God’s will, he stopped him so that he could go into the battle.

And this theme will continue. Saul doesn’t look to God for guidance as the leader of God’s people, but makes his own choices. That is, he acts foolishly.

1 Samuel 14:23b-35

14:23bAnd the battle passed beyond Beth-aven.

This would be west of Michmash along the path of the retreating Philistine army.

So the Israelites are chasing them, when Saul puts his army under an oath.

24And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.”

An oath is when you invoke God to curse you if you don’t fulfill the terms of the oath. Here Saul invokes a curse on his men, God’s judgment, if they eat food before evening.

Why the oath? Well, the men had already been through a lot and they are getting spread out over a large terrain chasing a scattering Philistine army. And so he does this to keep them focused and to push them further.

Remember, he doesn’t have any explicit instructions from God, since Samuel left, and he told the priest to stop seeking guidance. The oath seems to be a way of putting the fear of God in his soldiers, short of  instructions from God.

There is a word play going on here in Hebrew. The word for “laid an oath” looks very similar to the root word for “foolishness.” As we will see, Saul’s oath is very misguided.

So none of the people had tasted food.

25Now when all the people came to the forest, behold, there was honey on the ground. 26And when the people entered the forest, behold, the honey was dropping, but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath.

What a temptation! Huh? They’re exhausted and hungry and here’s an easy fix. But it says, “no one” ate of it. Now our culture doesn’t take oaths seriously. But in the ancient world, if you broke your oath you fully expected God’s judgment. That’s why it says, “they feared the oath.”

Jonathan is caused to stumble

27But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright.

So here is Jonathan, who has been fighting longer than anyone else and who wasn’t with Saul and the troops when the oath was given, because he took the initiative to start the battle, here he has a taste of honey and is strengthened. “Bright eyes” speaks to life and vigor. Even today we talk about whether some has a light in their eyes, when they are full of energy.

28Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day.’”

Jonathan finds out after it’s too late. He ate without knowing, but he’s now technically broken the oath and is cursed. Saul’s oath has caused him, the hero of the day and his own son, to stumble.

The oath’s effect on the people is noted –

And the people were faint.

Jonathan then expresses his criticism of his father and the oath.

29Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. 30How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.”

We’ve already seen tension between Saul and Jonathan, in that Jonathan didn’t tell his father that he was going to attack the Philistine outpost. Here he is outright critical.

If the soldiers could have eaten, just a little – the defeat of the Philistines would have been greater. Perhaps they would have broken the back of their rule once and for all. But since the soldiers are faint from hunger this can’t happen.

Not that they didn’t have success –

31They struck down the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon.

They chased them all the way back to Philistine territory. Aijalon is over 12 miles from Michmash, along the Philistine border. But it’s not what it could have been.

We are reminded again of the effect of the oath –

And the people were very faint.

Notice the progression – they had no food, they were faint, and now they are very faint. What’s the result?

The army is caused to stumble by Saul’s oath. It’s evening and so the oath is over.

32The people pounced on the spoil and took sheep and oxen and calves and slaughtered them on the ground. And the people ate them with the blood.

Eating with the blood in the meat is strictly forbidden. This command was given to Noah in Genesis 9:4 and it is repeated in the Law of Moses several times (Leviticus 17:10ff; Deuteronomy 12:16, 23-25).

They are so famished after a day of hand to hand combat and chasing the Philistines for miles they can’t wait to go through the proper procedure of draining the blood.

Our story ends –

33Then they told Saul, “Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood.” And he said, “You have dealt treacherously; roll a great stone to me here.” 34And Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people and say to them, ‘Let every man bring his ox or his sheep and slaughter them here and eat, and do not sin against the Lord by eating with the blood.’” So every one of the people brought his ox with him that night and they slaughtered them there. 35And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord.

So Saul steps up to stop the men from sinning and provides a solution, a stone that can be used to drain the blood. This is also referred to as an altar in v. 35.

But of course, it was his foolish oath that caused them to stumble; it made them susceptible to sin. But he takes no responsibility.

Notice also the hypocrisy here. He is furious about their sin, “you have dealt treacherously.” But he himself has not obeyed God or sought God’s guidance for the battle. 

What do we learn from this?

First of all, did you know that we are forbidden to eat blood? Acts 15:28-29

The Apostles and the Jerusalem council taught that Gentile Christians (us) are not to ingest blood. This is found in what is called the Apostolic Decree. This forbids eating blood, along with eating food sacrificed to idols, both spoken of in Leviticus 17. And it forbids us to be involved in any of the sexual activities that are spoken of in Leviticus 18.

Now, this isn’t a common thing, because our meat is butchered to drain the blood, but there are some dishes that contain blood. And we should not eat them! (If this is something new to you I invite you to study Acts 15 for yourself.)

But the key lesson of our story today is simple, don’t be foolish!

Saul here is a portrait of what it looks like to be foolish. He doesn’t obey God, but makes his own choices based on what he thinks is good and right.

And we see the results. Things don’t go well. He ends up undercutting his own goal of having a great victory over the Philistines. Instead it is lessened because his troops are starving. And he leads his son and the army to stumble. He takes a miracle victory connected to the faith of Jonathan and messes it all up. He makes trouble for Israel. And as we will see next time, as his foolishness continues, things get much worse.

Well what about us? What’s your spiritual state? Are you walking in fellowship with God? Or are you cut off from God because of your unrepentant sin? And so you are making decisions based solely on what you think is right and good.

The result is the same as with Saul. Things don’t go well for us. We wander around in darkness and futility. Even if we have outward success it is empty and meaningless. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” And as we’ll see next time Jonathan is almost killed!

Learn from Saul! That’s the message today. Learn from Saul. If we want God’s blessing in our life; if we want God’s purposes to be fulfilled, then we need to obey God’s commandments and seek out his guidance, even if what God says seems hard or risky. This is the path of wisdom.

10 promises you can stand on

Series: Faith in God

Last time we talked about how, to have real faith, you need a word from God to stand on.  And when you don’t have a word to stand on, it’s called presumption, because you are presuming upon God to do something that he never said he would do. This leads us to have unwarranted confidence, which can lead to wrong actions, which leads to a mess.

As we saw, one of the things we need to do to avoid all this is to know what God’s promises are – their context, the scope of what they cover, and the conditions that are attached. We need to know what they mean. We need to know God’s will so that we can have faith in this and receive from God.

So today, I want to give you 10 promises that you can stand on; that apply to you. And I hope as we go through this, God will speak to you about where you need more of him and his blessings and that you will latch on to this by faith.  

1. God will forgive your sins

 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” – Matthew 6:14

The condition certainly stands out right at the beginning. We have to give grace to receive grace. But if we do this, God tells us here, he will forgive our sins. As Psalm 103:12 says, God will remove our sins “as far as the east is from the west.” As 1 John 1:9 says, God will “forgive us our sins and . . . cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Others may not forgive us, we may struggle to forgive ourselves, but in faith we can stand on this promise that we are indeed forgiven by God.

2. God will give you the Holy Spirit

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” – Luke 11:13

In Luke 11 Jesus talks about asking with persistence in our prayers. And then he ends this teaching with this verse. So he is saying, ‘If we persistently ask for the Spirit, God will answer.’

It is the Spirit who gives us life. It is the Spirit who makes God’s presence known to us. It is the Spirit who gives us God’s guidance and comfort. It is the Spirit who empowers us to do God’s will and to minister in his name. So, this is a promise we all need. We need to be continually filled with the Spirit as followers of Jesus.

3. God will give you eternal life

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

This is a familiar and popular promise and rightfully so. Because of God’s love for us and  what Jesus has done for us, if we believe in Jesus, we will not be judged, but we will have eternal life. That is to say, right now. No waiting. God’s life comes into us and this will continue on forever.

4. Jesus will set you free from bondage to sin

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” – John 8:36

Just before this, Jesus talks about how “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” But the promise is that Jesus is both able and willing to set us free; to break the chains of our bondage so that we can serve God and live a new life.

This doesn’t mean that it will always be easy, and that there won’t be hard choices and difficult times ahead. But Jesus will give us what we need to remain free.

If this is where you are, I encourage you to claim this promise by faith. Ask Jesus to come and set you free.

5. God will provide for your material needs

“But strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” – Matthew 6:33

Notice the condition: seek the kingdom and his righteousness. Give this more thought and time than worrying about how you will gather up what you need for this life. And then, Jesus tells us, God will provide.

Now this is no promise of great wealth. In this scripture here (Matthew 6) the promise is for food and clothing. Like in the Lord’s prayer, we ask for daily bread. The promise is that God will give us what we need, not what we want. But yet, God’s provision is all we truly need.

6. God will providentially watch over you

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than sparrows.” – Matthew 10:29-31

Jesus spoke this to the disciples while teaching them about persecution and the danger of death. Jesus promises that God watches over us as his disciples and knows what goes on in our lives, down to the details.

If we find ourselves in danger, and we are walking with God – we don’t need to fear. God knows what’s going on. Whether it goes badly for us, or we are rescued, we know that we are in God’s loving hands.

7. God will give you wisdom

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” – James 1:5

We need to ask, and we need to ask in faith as James goes on to say. But if we do this, God will give us guidance and good judgment in how to make decisions and how to live our lives. And who doesn’t need wisdom, really, every day of our lives? What a great promise!“It will be given.”

8. God will give you peace

Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

We don’t need to be stressed out. Rather, we can lift up our burdens to the Lord, give them to him, and ask for his help. And the promise is that God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds to keep the stress away. Like a soldier keeping patrol.

Unless, of course we let our worries back in. We have to let go of them all, and give them to God knowing that he will take care of us.

9. Nothing God calls you to do will be impossible for you

“For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” – Matthew 17:20

 Jesus had commissioned and empowered the disciples to cast out demons as a part of their work. But they had a case they couldn’t handle. Why? Because they thought it was way too hard!

And so Jesus teaches them, and us, that whatever God calls us to do we will be able to do, if we simply trust in God to act for us in each situation. Even if it seems impossible, like moving a mountain from one place to another.

10. God will give you a blessed future

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven . . .. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

The promise is that Jesus will return. And when he does, all faithful Christians will be resurrected to new life, with a new body.

We have an amazing future ahead! Things might not be going well for us now, but we have blessings waiting for us. And we “will always be with the Lord.” We can keep this in mind when we are going through hard times. In faith, think on these things and be encouraged.

  1. God will forgive your sins.
  2. God will give you the Holy Spirit
  3. God will give you eternal life
  4. Jesus will set you free from bondage to sin
  5. God will provide for your material needs
  6. God will providentially watch over you
  7. God will give you wisdom
  8. God will give you peace
  9. Nothing God calls you to do will be impossible for you
  10. God will give you a blessed future

So these are some of the many “precious and very great promises” that God gives to us, to use the words of 2 Peter 1:4. We will not be presuming upon God if we ask for these things.

But we do have to trust in God to receive all that these verses talk about; to receive the blessings of God. As I have said several times now, without faith, we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7). But with faith, “all things are possible” (Mark 9:23). We can receive all that God has for us.

And let’s not be satisfied with what we have already received. We need to up our game! For instance, we need more of the Spirit, some of us need more deliverance, we all need more wisdom, peace in difficult times and power to do God’s will. Let’s raise our expectations and trust in God to act for us, standing on his promises.