Saul’s Foolish Oath

24 Now the men of Israel were pressed to exhaustion that day, because Saul had placed them under an oath, saying, “Let a curse fall on anyone who eats before evening—before I have full revenge on my enemies.” So no one ate anything all day,
25 even though they had all found honeycomb on the ground in the forest.
1 Samuel 14:24-25 (NLT)

In the previous article, we have seen how Jonathan’s faith turned the situation around. The might Philistine army was shattered and the Philistines were running away. The Israelites were having a great time chasing and killing them. King Saul was in the offensive again. However he said something that was very unwise.

He laid a curse on anyone who ate before evening. He wanted to revenge. He was so bitter that he refused to eat anything until he could kill enough of his enemies and he subjected his soldiers to the oath. As a result no one dared to eat anything. How can you fight a war with hungry soldiers? It seemed that Saul himself had crippled his own army.

However the problem did not stop there. His son, Jonathan did not know about the oath. When he found some honey comb, he ate some honey. When told of his father’s oath, Jonathan found it silly. He knew that soldiers cannot fight with an empty stomachs. The need energy and morale to fight.

29 “My father has made trouble for us all!” Jonathan exclaimed. “A command like that only hurts us. See how refreshed I am now that I have eaten this little bit of honey.
30 If the men had been allowed to eat freely from the food they found among our enemies, think how many more Philistines we could have killed!”
1 Samuel 14:29-30 (NLT)

In other words, allowing the soldiers to eat will only produce better results. Not only that, after the Israelites had chased and killed the Philistines the whole day without food, they were very hungry. So, when they saw some cattle, they proceeded to eat tem raw with blood in the meat, which was a violation of Moses’ Law.

31 They chased and killed the Philistines all day from Micmash to Aijalon, growing more and more faint. 32 That evening they rushed for the battle plunder and butchered the sheep, goats, cattle, and calves, but they ate them without draining the blood.
33 Someone reported to Saul, “Look, the men are sinning against the Lord by eating meat that still has blood in it.”
“That is very wrong,” Saul said. “Find a large stone and roll it over here.
34 Then go out among the troops and tell them, ‘Bring the cattle, sheep, and goats here to me. Kill them here, and drain the blood before you eat them. Do not sin against the Lord by eating meat with the blood still in it.’”
1 Samuel 14:31-34 (NLT)

This is not the end yet. Next, Saul asked God whether they should continue to pursue the Philistines. God did not reply. According to their protocol, it means someone had sinned. The procedure to find out was to draw lots. Saul made another vow to kill the person who sinned regardless of rank.

They drew lots and found out that it was Jonathan who sinned. What was the sin? He took some honey when the king laid a curse on anyone who ate before evening. Since when does not obeying the king’s oath become a sin?

As the king, Saul represented God’s rule over his people. Therefore, his oath is God’s oath. Violation of the king’s oath is sin. Jonathan did not know about it but the Law had no provision for that. So, Jonathan was found guilty and according to the king’s latest oath, he must be put to death. King Saul had no choice but to kill his own son because of his oath. If he broke his own oath, no one s going to respect him anymore.

Fortunately, the rest of the Israelites pleaded for Jonathan’s life. After all, it was Jonathan that got them this victory. Jonathan’s life was spared.

What can we learn from this story? We have heard of thinking before talking. The more serious one is think of the consequences before making a promise or an oath. King Saul got a lot of problems doing that. Talk is cheap. Anyone of us can make promises. The problem is in keeping them. Before we decide to make any promise, we should ask ourselves the following questions:

1. Are we able to keep them?
2. What will the consequences be, if we keep this promise?

Unless, you can get positive answers for the above questions, do not make that promise. King Saul would have spared himself a lot of troubles if he had not made those oaths in the first place.


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