1 SAMUEL 13 and 14
Saul was an impetuous and impatient king; he had Jonathan attack a Philistine outpost in order to provoke a counterattack, so that the whole army of Israel would be forced to assemble behind Saul. Unfortunately, he stirred up a hornets’ nest and the Philistines retaliated with their heavy weaponry. The Hebrew civilians hid wherever they could, and the army waited nervously and impatiently for Samuel to come to bless them in seven days’ time (see 1 Samuel 10:8). But Samuel was late and Saul ‘jumped the gun’, offering unauthorized burnt-, and fellowship-, offerings that only a priest should present to God. Inevitably Samuel arrived just after Saul had finished and was very angry; it was never God’s intention that the king should act independently of theocratic rule. It seems harsh, but Saul was a Spirit-filled man with a prophet and priest on hand to deliver the commands of the Lord; Saul had no excuse for disobeying the Lord and was therefore treated with no mercy. Essentially, God said that his sons would not succeed him as king.
Saul’s ill-equipped army nevertheless continued resolutely to attack the Philistines. Jonathan and his armour-bearer sought the Lord and, with his permission, attacked a Philistine outpost and killed about twenty men. Suddenly, a great panic sent by God struck the whole enemy army and they began to attack one another in the confusion. This encouraged the Hebrew army and even those who had deserted or hidden rejoined it. They pursued the enemy, destroying it as it retreated in chaos.
And then a strange event occurred: Saul, impetuously, had put the entire Israelite army under an oath not to eat until the end of the day’s battle. This severely inhibited their effectiveness in the mop-up operation; however, Jonathan did not know this and ate some honeycomb that he found. When, later, Saul went to enquire of the Lord, there was no answer – always a sure sign of collective sin in the ranks. So he sought the Lord for the culprit, and it turned out to be Jonathan himself (of course!); Saul, the impetuous, was all for having his own son executed, but the army rescued him and prevented it. This episode demonstrates the danger of binding oneself with reckless promises, and also the way that one man’s sin can influence the destiny of an entire community, in terms of God’s blessing and his presence.
Saul was a successful warrior king and did win large-scale victories over the surrounding kings, delivering Israel and subduing all enemy raids against the nation. This represented probably the high point of his reign; it was all downhill from tomorrow’s reading onwards!