Saul is in hot pursuit of the Philistines after Jonathan got the ball rolling. It is a LONG and HARD battle. Saul makes a vow that none would eat until evening. But Jonathan didn’t hear that directive.
We are returning again to the battle ground. We left Jonathan in the Philistine garrison where he kicked things off by stepping out in faith that the Lord could save by many or by few. He put himself in God’s hands and ‘laid a fleece’ where God’s answer was shown through the mouth of the Philistines. Attack or stand still? He got the attack answer from the Lord and willingly followed through.
Saul’s forces were drawn into the battle when they saw the hand of the Lord at work on the enemy. The Philistines were falling all over themselves and killing their own comrades. This is where we left our story the last time and where we will pick it back up again today.
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Jonathan and Abishi keep working their way through the Philistine garrison cutting down men as they move. They have little time to take note of Saul’s troops on the way to join them. The Philistines are fleeing between the two Israelite fronts.
Saul’s men are on ‘quick march’ as they need to get to the battle in a hurry. Saul wants to keep his troops focused on the task ahead. He wants NOTHING to distract them from their sole purpose; pursuing and killing every last Philistine. To this end, he calls out to them.
“Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies” (verse 24b).
He is their king. He is their commander. And he is the voice they MUST obey. This company of men will NOT rest, even for a snack break until the enemy is routed or until evening.
The men respond in agreement with a shout “Long live the king” as they continue in their pursuit of the Philistines. There is no time to lose.
The two forces continue to approach one another as the Philistines are driven between them. Jonathan and Abishi see Saul’s forces as the gap narrows between the two. Finally they are reunited and continue to pursue the enemy.
The battle has been raging on for many hours. The whole company is hungry and tired. Their strength is lagging but they press on. The fleeing Philistines lead the Israelites into the forest. This is no ordinary forest for in this forest there is something special. This forest holds a bounty of honey. So much honey that it is dripping on the ground. It could be such a help to the tired and hungry men.
But Saul made the people promise not to eat until evening. It doesn’t matter that they are hungry. They are forbidden to even taste food. There is no other option but to press on.
Jonathan sees the gift before him for what it is; renewed strength to fight on. He dips the tip of his spear into the honey and brings it to his mouth to eat. Immediately he feels his energy being revived. But before he can reach out to take another morsel he is stopped by one of the other soldiers.
“Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day’” (verse 28b).
Jonathan is shocked by this information. He had not heard the command. He also regarded Saul’s words as begging for trouble. The men need to fuel for the fight. He shares his concerns with the men.
“My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey” (verse 29).
Jonathan will takes no more honey for himself. He will not fulfill his need for more food while those around him take in none. He will also not knowingly disobey the word of his king or the Lord. Jonathan knows too that the victory Israel could have commanded has been cut short by their lack of energy from lack of food. “
How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemy that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great” (verse 30).
Israel continues to pursue the Philistines until evening, hungry or not. They slaughtered them from Michmash to Aijalon. The people of Israel could go no farther. Their energy was spent. They were ravenous! They were so hungry that they didn’t care what they ate.
The Philistines had left behind sheep, oxen and calves in their wake. The soldiers fell on these like a pack of hungry wolves. They barely had taken the animal’s life before beginning to eat. They did not bother with the ritual draining of all the blood from the animal. They didn’t even wait for the animal to be cooked. They needed nourishment and they needed it NOW!
One of the priest observed the men’s behavior and reported it to Saul.
“Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood” (verse 33a)!
Saul was appalled at their behavior. His voice is heard throughout the camp as he thunders his rebuke. “You have dealt treacherously; roll a great stone to me here” (verse 33b). Two men quickly do as he commands. Several of the priests have gathered to him after hearing his voice. Saul puts them into service.
“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’” (verse 34a).
Saul’s message is quickly relayed throughout the camp and the people respond to his command. They bring their animal to the stone Saul had laid out and prepare it the way the Lord had commanded of them.
Saul was pleased with the battle. He was pleased with the people’s obedience to both him and the Lord. And he wanted to offer thanks unto the Lord. He built an altar on the place where the people had brought their animals for slaughter.
After seeing to the completion of the altar and the reviving of his men, Saul was ready to inflict even more damage to his enemies. He had seen the hand of the Lord in action this day and he wanted to keep going in it until every last Philistine who had entered into the land of Israel was dead and their goods plundered.
“Let us go down after the Philistines by night and plunder them until the morning light; let us not leave a man of them” (verse 36a).
Now that they were well fed and rested, the men were ready to follow wherever Saul led. “Do whatever seems good to you” (verse 36b) they said.
Ahijah turned to Saul and said; “Let us draw near to God here” (verse 36c).
Saul thought this was a very wise idea. The day had moved so quickly that there was little time to consult the Lord. Also the people had just sinned against the Lord and Saul wanted to make sure the Lord was still on their side and would fight for them.
Saul presented his question to the Lord through His priest. “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will You give them into the hands of Israel?” (verse 37).
The priest closed his eyes and waited for the Lord to speak through him. Saul and all those watching waited with baited breath to hear the answer from the Lord. Minutes ticked away with nothing coming from the priest. Finally the priest opens his eyes and speaks to Saul.
“The Lord has not answered. I cannot give you any direction.”
Saul is certain that the Lord is silent because of some sin of the people. Saul called out to the people; “Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today. For as the Lord lives who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die” (verses 38-39).
Silence descended on the entire group. None wanted to be the one who had caused the silence from the Lord. Some of the men who had been near Jonathan in the forest wondered if possibly his unknowing actions were the cause. Others wondered about the meat they had eaten in such haste possibly being the reason. Their hearts were very troubled so they remained as silent as the Lord had been.
Saul will not be deterred. He intends to uncover the sin and remove it so the favor of the Lord will rest on Israel again. He presented another plan. “You shall be on one side, and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side” (verse 40a).
The people knew that this would put them in no danger if Jonathan’s actions earlier in the day were the cause of the Lord’s silence. As Saul was not going to relent they agreed to this division. “Do what seems good to you” (verse 40b) they replied.
Saul turned again to the priest. He made his request to the Lord through the priest once again. “O Lord God of Israel, why have You not answered your servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O Lord, God of Israel, give Urim. But if this guilt is in Your people Israel, give Thummin” (verse 41).
The priest reached inside his ephod and drew out a stone. He held his hand before the king and then opened his fingers. In his palm was the Urim. Saul had to steady himself. He was certain it would have gone the other way but he was determined to follow through and find the answer from the Lord.
Saul looked deeply into the priest’s eyes. “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan” (verse 42a).
After the priest had returned the Urim to his pouch and mixed it, he reached in again. This time the Thummin rested in his palm once it was opened; the stone representing Jonathan.
Saul’s heart was breaking! His son had somehow sinned. He turned to address Jonathan. “Tell me what you have done” (verse 43a).
Jonathan knew immediately the sin he was guilty of when the stone was pulled. It was not an intentional sin but he was guilty of it none the less. Jonathan answered his father truthfully for there was nothing that was hidden that would not be revealed by the Lord. “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die” (verse 43b).
Saul had to keep his word no matter how hard it might be. He had made a vow to the Lord and his son would now pay the price for that vow. He put his hands on Jonathan’s shoulders and turned him to face him. “God do so to me and more also…” Saul took a deep breath, then continued. “…you shall surely die, Jonathan” (verse 44).
The people immediately interceded out for Jonathan. “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day” (verse 45a).
Saul bowed to the wisdom of the people’s words. He knew the truth in them and the heart of his son. He was certain this was not a deliberate sin on Jonathan’s part and he was proud of how his son laid his life in his father’s hands. “So be it. Jonathan shall live. We will test the Lord no further. We will return home. There will be another day to deal with the Philistines that remain.”
The people were greatly relieved to hear Saul’s answer. The group began to disperse. Preparations had already begun for the night. Tents were laid and sentries assigned as they all settled in for the night. Tomorrow they would return home, ready to be called on again in Israel’s time of need.
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I have a couple of question here. Why didn’t Jonathan come clean in the beginning? He could have gone to Saul as soon as things settled down and told him what had happened. Did Jonathan not think it a big deal afterwards? Did he think his father would be none the wiser? Did he repent to the Lord?
Saul made the mistake of putting Israel under an oath that was counterproductive to what he wanted from them. Then he made a second mistake by passing sentence before he even knew the matter to be judged. Jonathan should have come clean but Saul should have had enough sense to not create the problem in the first place. This king had a LOT to learn! He KEEPS stepping in ‘it’ and will continue to do so for the rest of his reign.
Father God, thank You for protecting Jonathan. He didn’t even bring up the fact that he hadn’t heard his father’s words. He offered no excuses or explanations and was ready to accept his father’s judgement. He was a man worth interceding for.
I wish my sins were so easily explained. I KNOW when I miss the mark. I wish I would always do what I wanted Jonathan to do, come clean right away, but I miss that mark frequently too. Not nearly as much as I used to but often enough to know that I still have a long way to go. I’m too good at hoping I won’t be found out. I even have special procedures to make sure PEOPLE don’t find me out but NOTHING is hidden from You. And YOU are the one I DESIRE to please.
Draw me Holy Spirit quickly back to You when I start to stray. Remind me of the peace that fills my heart when it is in tune with Yours.
Thank You Jesus for purchasing forgiveness for me; past, present and future. That doesn’t give me license to sin but security in knowing that You welcome me with open arms whenever I repent. Help me walk closer to You every day. I want to make You proud of my and the changes that You have authored within me.