1 – The King Who Tried to be a Priest 13:1-15
Have you ever tried to be someone else for day? Whether it’s a costume party, or a day where you perform the duties someone else would usually do at your workplace, or in your home, we usually quickly find how lacking we are in certain skill departments or that our disguise is seen through.
Saul was king of Israel. He had been reluctant at first, but the role had grown on him, and he was beginning to hit his stride, assembling an army (13:2) to defeat enemies. It didn’t take long for Saul’s new role to be tested by the Philistines. They got sick of Israel’s boldness that came from having a king, and they sent an intimidating army to fight Saul and his fledging troops. (13:5).
The sight of the Philistine army, with all their chariots, advanced weaponry(13:19-22), horsemen, and innumerable foot soldiers, sent most of Saul’s army into hiding (13:6-7) and those who didn’t run off, were trembling. ( 13:7b).
Saul waited a seven days for Samuel, and when Samuel didn’t show to give the offerings to clear the way for battle, Saul took matters into his own hands and took on the role of priest (13:9), ‘forcing himself to do it’ (13:12).
Samuel turns up as soon as Saul has done this and rebukes him for his foolishness (13:13).
Calling someone a fool in this context isn’t so much calling them an idiot. ‘A fool says in his heart there is no god’ – this is a person who lives as though God doesn’t exist. Samuel is accusing Saul here of acting like a person who doesn’t believe in God, or that He will act.
Saul’s foolishness in taking a role that was not his cost him dearly. Saul’s family could’ve been blessed, but instead, it would pass on into history without anymore kings in the lineage.
2 – The Man Who Would be After God’s Own Heart 13:14
In not obeying God, Saul showed that although God had given him a new heart (10:9), Saul had not used that new heart to set his affections on God.His allegiance was still to himself. He was still more concerned with his appearance before men than what God had declared him to be.
The Lord had sought a man after His own heart, and Saul had proven he was not that man.
The man God sought would trust God for victory, not act in fear, but faith.
Israel’s choice had been Saul. Tall, handsome, valiant in battle, but selfish.
God’s choice would be a man whose heart was not only made right, but a man who had a place in God’s heart. Someone who knew God and was known by God.
3 – The Prince Who Trusted in God’s Saving Power 13:16-14:23
Saul may be king, but it seems as though his son Jonathan is performing most of the heroic acts that the people had wanted in a king (8:20).
While Saul hides away in a cave with a depleted and weaponless army, seeking the questionable company and counsel of Eli’s great-grandson, as his spiritual advisor (14:2-3), Jonathan instead acts in faith, trusting God to do a work (14:6).
He knows God is not limited by human numbers (14:6b). He would’ve known the story of Gideon, who only had 300. Saul here has 600, and Jonathan is convinced God can save his people with many or with few.
This side of the cross we know God can not only save his people not with 600, or 300, or with 2, but ultimately, with One.
Jonathan and his brave armour bearer take on the garrison of the Philistines, and set a panic through the camp that leads to a resounding victory for the Israelites, and the Lord saved Israel through Jonathan (14:23).
We are left to wonder, as we consider Jonathan’s faith and courage, why couldn’t he replace his father as king? God’s appointed king that would be after His heart, could not come from Saul’s line. The sins of the father have consequences for the son.
4 – The Cursed Son 14:24-52
The Israelites were ‘hard pressed’ before the battle (13:6) when they were hiding in caves out of fear of the size of the army, and then after the Philistines scatter, and the Israelites chase them down, they are ‘hard pressed’ (14:24). They are an army of only 600, chasing thousands, they were exhausted and weary, and their valiant king that they asked for is about to make it worse.He announces a curse on anyone who ate any food until the end of the day after the battle was done. (14:24b).
Jonathan had not heard his father make this oath, and when he finds some honey, he eats it, not knowing the consequences. The people who witness him eat are fearful for his life. Jonathan’s response to them is one of common sense (14:29-30).
His father had ‘troubled the land’ by this foolish oath, and now the complete victory of the Philistines would not be possible because a depleted army was now a physically weakened army.
The army was faint, and as the day ended, and the requirement of the foolish oath passed, the people were so hungry, they ate raw meat. (14:31-35).
In forcing the people to comply to a foolish oath, Saul had forced them to sin against God’s law.
We would do well to note the lesson of holding people to oaths that may have good intentions for victory over the enemy, but their true result is to make people fearful of men, weak in the flesh, and may cause them to sin against God’s law.
Foolish promises forced upon people by weak leaders lead a people to ruin, not victory. It is oppressive to the life of a people to place fear in the hearts that they must ‘obey’ something based on particular whim of particular person at a particular time, and the end, the people may well ‘obey’ it, but to the detriment of their obedience to God’s clear commands in other areas, and all the while, they are becoming faint with a burden they were never meant to bear.
Saul, after all this has happened,again uses the discredited priest to determine why God has not answered him in the question of whether they should pursue the Philistines further(14:36-42).He reasoned there was sin in the camp, and was prepared for whoever the person was that was in error, to be punished. (14:38-39). Jonathan is chosen by the lot of Urim and Thummim to be held accountable for the breaking of his father’s foolish oath.
“I tasted a little honey…Here I am: I will die.”
The foolishness of the whole situation is evident to everyone but Saul it seems, and the people intercede for Jonathan’s life and he is spared from the wrath and stupidity of his father. (14:44-46).
There is nothing more detrimental to the well being of children, the overall dynamic of family and society as a whole, that when men fail as to be the fathers God has instructed them to be. Especially ‘spiritual’ men and men in leadership positions who are not the faithful, self-sacrificing, humble and loving fathers they should be.
Any man who is willing to sacrifice his own child on the altar of his own ego, or perception of personal importance of their ministry are not only not fit for fatherhood, but not fit to be God’s representative.
Saul is being an ‘anti-father’. He is the antithesis of the Heavenly Father, in being willing to take the life of his son, but only to save himself, not others. Saul nearly puts his own son to death as a result of a foolish promise. God allows His only Son to die as a result of His eternal promise.
The son here is not being condemned to die for the sins of the people, or for his own sin, but for the sin of the father.
Saul is preaching an anti-Gospel, and the people, to their credit, will have none of it.
5 – The Greater Jonathan
Saul returns home, and let the Philistines go after the people ransom Jonathan, and from then on his kingship is marked by valiant victories against his enemies (14:48) and further failures.
We know of his disobedience in ch 15, but the downward spiral has already begun with his unlawful sacrifices, failure to act in faith, oppression of the people by forcing foolish promises on them and taking the best of everything, and the near killing of his son.
Saul’s start has been filled with examples of why choosing second best will have disastrous consequences.
Jonathan is a shining light in a history filled with rebellious and wicked sons of leaders, both good and bad. Jonathan shows us even sons of imperfect fathers can be great men of faith.
There is of course, a Greater Jonathan that comes to mind as we look at this story.
The Greater Jonathan that truly obeyed His Father, even unto death, and still became King.
The Greater Jonathan didn’t just bravely face unnumbered foe and put the evil armies to flight by a great act of courage, but defeated the final enemy of all men.
There is a Son Who was willing to die to save the people, and intercedes for God’s people rather the people interceding for him.
In the Cross, Jesus Christ shows the obedience of the perfect Son, and we see the perfect love of a True Father.
The best thing about trusting in His sacrifice is that it saves us from bearing foolish burdens, and frees us to acts of love and faith for a King who will never crush under a load that we are not intended to bear.
God is concerned for His own glory and honour, but unlike Saul, He will not coerce or force His people, or His own Son, or deny His own character to see it done.
God is looking for a people who are after His heart – a people that are acquainted with Him, know His saving works, and trust Him alone for a great deliverance.
What does your heart trust in?
What you can do?
What you can make others do?
Or what God has done?