Saul had never known such anxiety as he was feeling right now. Fresh in his mind were the events of his sin against God--how he had sacrificed the offering without the priest because of his impatience. More poignant in his mind was Samuel's pronunciation of doom on him. "You have done a foolish thing," he had said. "You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, He would have established your kingdom of Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after His own heart and has appointed him ruler of His people, because you have not kept the LORD's command." Saul's regret was not over his sin, but over the fact that God would establish someone in his place. He vividly remembered the raids that the Philistines had brought against him and the Israelites in the time following his sinful action, until they had no swords left-only his son Jonathan and himself still carried a spear and swords. The fresh air under this pomegranate tree did nothing to encourage him, and his body guard of six-hundred men--including the priest's grandson--did little to give him a sense of security. He knew he was at the mercy of the Philistines. That was why he had commanded all of the Israelites to fast until he had avenged himself on his enemies. Perhaps if they fasted, God would have mercy and save him from his enemies.
Saul's heart lept in fear as footsteps pounded on the dusty path.
"The lookouts come, your majesty!" the surrounding men cried out to him. He could sense the uncertainty in their voices, too. The seconds that passed were long as he awaited the news. Was it good, or bad? He could only imagine the worst. The situation seemed so hopeless, yet he couldn't help but harbor some hope in his heart.
The lookouts came up, panting with excitement. The excitement translated into their voices as they told how the Philistines seemed to be in a panic, an unprecedented confusion so vast that it shook the ground. Their only explanation was perhaps some of the Israelite soldiers had secretly led an attack. "Muster the forces and see who has left us," they cried.
Saul sent a messenger at top speed to rally the troops. It wasn't long before they were gathered and accounted for. Jonathan! Jonathan was the one missing--and so was his armor-bearer!
Saul turned to Ahijah, the grandson of Eli the high priest.
"Bring the ark of God," he ordered. He would not be going into battle without it. But even as he was talking, the confusion of the Philistine camp became greater. "Withdraw your hand," he said instead. It was too great an opportunity. Then he assembled the troops who already showed hope and excitement, and ordered them to advance on the Philistines.
As they charged upon their adversaries they found the Philistines fighting each other in their utter confusion. It was too good to be true! As time went on, Israelites who had deserted the army began to appear and join their brothers in the battle, making their force greater. They pursued the Philistines who fled before them, exhilaration pulsing through the veins of every man as he wielded his weapon in defense of his wives and children. They steadily gained ground and began to enter the woods in their pursuit. The day was half gone by the time they traversed those woods, and the stomachs of the men were feeling their oath to Saul. Jonathan, Saul's son was in the heat of the battle. His excursion with his armor bearer this morning had used some of his energy and he began to feel the effects. Suddenly a man ahead of him stumbled. The man quickly picked himself up and looked back to see what had caused him to fall. A beehive! A large, fallen beehive! The hunger that tore at that man's stomach was almost unbearable. The honey that oozed from the comb nearly melted his tastebuds and other soldiers began to pause and look hungrily at that golden sweetness. They would have immediately pounced on it, but for the fact that they could hear fresh in their minds the oath they had taken to not eat anything until sundown. They knew the consequences of breaking an oath. Jonathan ran up and paused to see what interested them. He saw the beehive and cried out in joy as he quickly approached it. Sticking the end of his staff hungrily into the comb, he brought it to his mouth and ate. The honey satisfied and refreshed him immediately--he could feel his energy returning with haste. As he ate, however, the men cried out in fear.
"No, Jonathan!" they cried. "Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, 'Cursed be anyone who eats food today!' That is why the men are faint."
Indignation filled Jonathan's heart. He had been away when his father had ordered the men to take the oath, and had not known about it. "My father has made trouble for the country," he said. "See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?"
But men from other sections of the army were passing them in hot pursuit of enemy men, and they joined in again. Jonathan was much revived and ran and wielded his sword and spear with greater energy and efficiency than before, but the lack of food was telling on his fellow soldiers. After they had pursued the Philistines from Mikmash to Ahijalon, the men were exhausted. They fell upon the Philistine camp and slaughtered animals right there, eating raw meat because of their ravenous hunger.
Someone came up to Saul. "Look, the men are sinning against the LORD by eating meat that has blood in it!" the man said.
Remembering his former sin that had cost him dearly, Saul would not take the risk of angering the LORD God again. Perhaps he could even appease God now.
"You have broken faith," he said to the man who had spoken. "Roll a large stone over here at once." The stone was rolled to him, and then he said, "Go out among the men and tell them, 'Each of you bring me your cattle and sheep, and slaughter them here and eat them. Do not sin against the LORD by eating meat with blood still in it.'"
So everyone brought their ox that night and slaughtered it there. Then Saul built an altar to the LORD; it was the first time he had done this.
*******So. In this true story, Saul, king of Israel had commanded his Israelite men not to eat until sundown, because he wanted victory over his enemies. I don't know for sure if he was asking his men to fast before God so that God would perhaps have mercy on him, or if Saul wanted them to fast to show dedication and loyalty. Either way, they took an oath that they would not eat until sundown. First of all, is this a very good idea? If Saul wants victory over his enemies, is it a positive thing to not eat anything before the intense exercise that will ensue? As we see, this is NOT a good idea! Jonathan, who had not been there when his father made the men swear, regained his energy because he ate, and had more success than his fellow soldiers.
This was a wrong thing for Saul to do, for three reasons. First, he was making the men suffer for his sin. It was his sin in the first place, his sin of sacrificing the offering without priest Samuel merely because he was impatient and thought he could do it (guys, God is holy. Only the consecrated priests were supposed to sacrifice the offerings on behalf of the people), that had caused God to remove His blessing from Saul--which included in a large part, God's blessing over battles. When God's blessing was over an Israelite battle, I don't think there is one instance where they weren't successful. By making the men fast, Saul was either trying to win back God's approval, or secure his success by enforcing loyalty and dedication.
The second reason, is that the Philistines weren't just Saul's enemies. They were God's enemies, too, because of their sin. By making the Israelite soldiers fast, Saul's men weren't able to destroy the enemies of, not only their king, but God, as fully as they should have. You saw it in Jonathan's words, "How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?"
The third reason Saul was wrong to make the men go without food, was that he caused them to sin before God. God had commanded them not to eat meat with the blood still in it--we can find this in His covenant with Noah, in Genesis 9:4, as well as in Deuteronomy 12:16. Yet the Israelite soldiers, because of the oath Saul had commanded them to take, were ravenous with hunger to the end that they sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel, by killing Philistine livestock and eating the meat with the blood still in it.
What can we learn from this historical event? Let's apply the story to our own lives. We ALL have battles, don't we? For Christians it may be the battle against our flesh, or it may be the battle of a trial, physical or spiritual. We see in this story that the men who went into battle hungry, didn't have nearly so much success as they could have. Their energy failed them, they weren't fit to fight, they weren't prepared to fight their battle with the greatest level of success. You know where I'm going with this, don't you? Do you, as a Christian, ever go into a battle hungry? Do you ever encounter spiritual conflict, when your spiritual belly is empty? When your plate of spiritual meat and potatoes still sits untouched on your bookshelf? Yes! I have. When you go through that battle, do you find it a struggle to keep your head above water? It's kind of difficult to be eating in preparation for the battle, while you are fighting the battle, no? Don't you always realize that you really should be 'doing your homework' before the test? You would be so much more ready and equipped to fight this battle, right?
So, here is our lesson for today: Don't go into battle hungry. Be eating the spiritual food of God's word before the battle He takes you through, so that you will be prepared, and be equipped to wield your sword with energy and success. That doesn't mean you don't eat during your battle. You can see how Jonathan stopped to eat honey in the middle of the battle and it reenergized him for the rest of it. We don't eat and eat and eat, and then stop for a few weeks at a time, and then do it again. We eat, and we need to eat, consistently in order to, not only get strength, but keep up our strength. So please, let us not starve ourselves until we find it too late, and we are in the midst of a battle on an empty stomach. Let us together, feed ourselves consistently on God's word and prayer, so that we might have greater success for His glory in our battles!
Congratulations if you made it all the way through this post! Do you have any thoughts on this subject? Did you like the semi-retelling of 1 Samuel 14? Let me know in the comments below <3
I hope you have a great week!
*The story section of this post is a re-telling, or dramatization, of the Biblical event found in 1 Samuel 14. As a human author, I am subject to error, although God's word is inerrant.*