When it came to leading God's people, King Saul seemed to take one step forward and then two steps back. Today on Truth for Life, we'll learn how his prideful decision resulted in greater sin among the people and almost cost his son's life. Alistair Begg is teaching today from 1 Samuel chapter 14. We begin at verse 24. Well, let me encourage you to turn again to this chapter.
I think it will be helpful for you to have it open in front of you. I don't want to set your expectations too high this morning, but you may have seen some people wearing stickers who were coming out of the first service this morning. The sticker simply says, I survived the second half of 1 Samuel 14.
I was quite amazed that they were able to put them together so quickly, but not surprised that they wore them so proudly. 1 Samuel 14, we stopped at verse 23 to give us time to get prepared for verse 24 and following. And I would just say to you that one of the things that struck me this week in preparing was the fact that when I prepare and write things that just come to my mind as I'm working in preparation, almost inevitably I write hymn lines down or I write hymns down or songs down—definitely—and not one single hymn came to my mind in 1 Samuel 14.
So that was a warning to me there. And also, I could not think of a proper way to outline the passage. I want you to know that, because it will become very obvious as we follow the narrative. A couple of things by way of observation before we actually settle to the text. One is to be aware of the fact that on a day in the future, Saul and Jonathan and his brother will actually die on the field of battle together. But here, in this particular passage, we discover that were it not for the intervention of the people, Jonathan would have died, would have been executed, as a result of this very rash oath which was taken by his father. He was going to be potentially executed not because of some dreadful heinous, horrible crime, but simply, as we saw in the text, as a result of him seizing the opportunity to refresh himself with a taste of honey. Actually, that was the only song lyric that came to mind, as I think about it now.
Yeah. And what it gives rise to is at least the passing observation that the relationship between Jonathan and his father Saul is increasingly strained as we follow the text. And I don't think it is too difficult to imagine how jealousy could have begun to embitter Saul even against his own boy.
After all, when he was sort of sitting on his hands, it was Jonathan who was taking the initiative, Jonathan who's going up against the Philistine garrisons—Jonathan and his armor-bearer in the first half of this chapter, who are making this very, very demanding advance in order that they might invade the enemy forces. And it just seems that somehow or another Saul is playing catch-up to his own son. And it caused me just to ponder what a sad thing it is when fathers are unable to rejoice in the progress and success of their children. It may not happen very often, but I do see it happen.
It's not unusual for fathers or mothers to bemoan the lack of success in their children, but it is a rather ugly thing when it happens in reverse. It's characterized in an old movie, at least for me. It was called The Great Santini. Why it was called great, because it wasn't really very great. But the part that was played by Robert Duvall was the part of Lieutenant Colonel Wilbur Bull Meacham, who was so consumed with himself that when he played basketball one-on-one with his son, he could not stand the possibility of losing to him. And so he used every angle available to him. He abused his son verbally, he humiliated him, and in one classic scene, a very ugly scene, he takes the basketball and he smacks his son with it very forcibly from close up. And I watched that with great pain. And then as his son finally defeats him in one of these games, Bull cannot applaud him.
He merely berates him and insults him. In Saul's case, it is his pride that has given rise to this rash vow. And extending that image just a little, it is a reminder to all of us in leadership that one of the marks of our ability to lead must surely be in the awareness that the time will come, sooner rather than later, when those who, if you like, run behind us now run faster than us. Always get their first serve in while we struggle.
Hit the ball longer than we are able to do. And one of the questions of significant leadership is when, in that transition, the person is able to stand aside, if you like, and say, Here he is. Or, as in Saul's case, when they can't. Along with that, and by way of observation, I think it is worth recognizing that when we study the specifics of this confrontation, or series of confrontations, what we have is a microcosm of the fact that relationships are broken in the world—in fact, that our world is broken—so that when we come to focus simply on these verses and then we move ourselves back, as it were, to take the whole picture of things, it will be helpful for us to remind ourselves that the storyline of the Bible makes it clear that God has made us to know him, to love him, to enjoy him. He's given us the world that he made in order to care for it. But the Bible makes clear to us that we have rebelled against his authority, and we have spoiled ourselves, and we've spoiled our world.
The wonderful good news, of course, is that God, because he is gracious, because he is loving, has sent his Son Jesus. And he sends his Son Jesus as the King, as the true King. And so, when we come to the story of Saul, who is, if you like, an imperfect king, one of the things that ought to happen to us is to say, Now, surely, if this king is unreliable, there must be a king somewhere.
And of course, then that takes us forward and on. So that is, we begin to see the failures of Saul. We discover that these failures point us to Jesus, who as king is everything that Saul failed to be. So when people say, Well, how do you find Jesus in the passage? Well, as you look at the passage, you say, It is the very absence of him that makes us think about him and look for him. With all that said, to the text and verse 24, where we're told that the men of Israel had been hard-pressed that day.
This is not the first time that we've encountered this phraseology. Back in chapter 13, the men of Israel were in trouble. They were hard-pressed on account of the enemy, and they went and hid themselves in all kinds of places. What is different here is that the people are now hard-pressed on account of the foolishness of Saul. Or, if you like, he has added to the difficulties that they face by coming up with this rash idea, where we have so in between day and Saul in that verse.
In the NIV, we have because. And the men of Israel had been hard-pressed that day because Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, I think that is probably right and helpful. You say, Well, why was he doing this? Well, it was fairly common for troops to take a vow of abstinence in order that they might go into the field of battle lean and mean. So there is precedent to it, and it is understandable. Where the problem lies is in leadership motivated by something other than simply making sure his troops are ready.
Because it would appear that what he's actually done has made them less than ready. A couple of times in the text, as you noted, it says, And the people were faint, and the people were faint, and the people were hard-pressed. You see that in this oath, which is there recorded for us in verse 24, you see that I think there's a little too much of Saul and not enough of Yahweh in it.
Notice his terminology. Curse be the man who eats food until it is evening, and I am avenged on my enemies. It's a touch of the I, me, me, mine here. As opposed to Jonathan's approach in the earlier part of the chapter, it may be that the Lord will work for us. Jonathan is an initiative taker and prepared to put himself on the line, but he does so in the awareness that it is the Lord who saves by many or by few. It is he who works for us. He knows that God has given him a part. It would appear here that Saul has got that reversed.
These enemies are my enemies, and I want to do something so that I myself am avenged. Remember, I think there's a hint of this before, when after the victory over the garrisons of the Philistines, Saul had the trumpet sounded so that all the people would hear the trumpet, and the word was reported that Saul had gained a great victory. Well, he hadn't gained a great victory. His boy did. He didn't. Again, you see, this great danger, I have enemies, I will avenge my enemies, and so on.
And so he comes up with this plan. And none of the people, we're told, tasted food. They're marching on an empty stomach. And now, to make it worse, verse 25, as they come into this clearing in the forest, it's a bit like arriving in Burton when all the trees are producing the maple that falls into those little buckets, and that's exactly what has happened to them.
And into the forest they come, and the opportunity for a sugar fix is right there before them. And nobody put his hand to his mouth, because they were afraid on account of the oath. Verse 26. However, Jonathan, who hadn't heard about that oath, he went ahead and dipped in. So we notice that, given that he hadn't heard, he wasn't acting in disregard for his father, he was not acting in disobedience to the oath the father had settled. In fact, when he's told about the curse—and there's always somebody who will come and say, you know, you shouldn't be doing this—your father strictly charged the people with the oath, saying, Cursed be the man who eats food this day.
And the people were faint. Now notice the response of Jonathan. My father has troubled the land.
He's troubled the land. It's reminiscent of what Samuel said to Saul, remember, back in chapter 13. He says to Saul, he says, You've acted foolishly in this one. That wasn't smart. And Jonathan is essentially saying the same thing. This isn't something that was a good plan. He failed to obey the command of God—that is, Saul—and now he's making commands of his own.
We'll just let that settle. It's very interesting, isn't it? How some of us, in failing to obey the clear commands of God, come up with some very interesting commands for other people. Why not just obey God's commands, instead of having to come up with your own?
Very straightforward. And so he says, That wasn't a good plan that my father had, and you can actually see that my eyes have become bright, because I tasted a little of this honey. In other words, he says, Cursed will be anyone who eats. And Jonathan says, Well, I'm eating. And look at me!
Mr. Bright Eyes. And they must have looked at him and said, Yeah, that would have been fantastic. I wish we'd done that as well. And then he goes on in verse 30, and he says, It would have been far better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found, because now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great. And then he says, You know, this hasn't really gone that well. The army needs sustenance.
My father has troubled the land. And if you look at me, you can see that the honey is working for me, the way a snickers bar at three o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon works for us as well. And so the fighting continues, verse 31, and no surprise, the people were faint. Now, the evening must have come between 31 and 32. Because remember, it was until evening. The meter was only running until evening.
No one was to eat until evening. So presumably, because they were so concerned to obey this vow, this oath, they were not about to go against it at this point. But now that the evening has come, you will notice what the people do. They pounced. They pounced on the spoil. It seemed almost inevitable that desire and opportunity would coincide and create virtually a feeding frenzy.
And the way that this is described here is like a bunch of high school boys who come on a gigantic pizza, you know, at nine o'clock in the evening. You look, and it's there, and you look, and it's gone. The evidence of it is all around, but the actual thing is gone. I was just, Oh, okay, it's gone. So this is what they've done.
Nobody goes, Would somebody like to say grace? No. No, no, no, no. Look, we're just doing what we're doing.
They slaughtered them on the ground, and the people ate them with the blood. That's the point. What point? Well, that is the one inviolable command that God had given. And so you have this peculiar situation, where you have a group of people desperately keen to make sure they obey the command that is a man-made command, while at the same time, then, unprepared to obey the command that is clearly a divine command. In fact, it was the man-made command which gave rise to their violation of the divine command. Now, we could pause on this, but we won't. Let me send you back to the book of Leviticus.
Make a note in your notes. If you're taking notes, Leviticus 17, and if you read there, the clear directive of God for his people and for those who sojourn in the land with his people is that when they sacrifice a creature, its blood is to be drained. They are not to eat it with the blood still in it. And the explanation that is given there in Leviticus 17 is that because animal blood atones for human sin, it is sacred and therefore ought not to be consumed by man. That the blood was the symbol of life itself, and life belongs to God. And so God has established it very clearly that that should be the case. People always ask me now about certain foodstuffs that we eat in Scotland, and if we're violating the command of Leviticus 17. Well, the fact is that we do not have animals, being sacrificed as a means of atonement.
Jesus has been sacrificed as the means of atonement, and therefore many of these ceremonial and pieces of the Old Testament have been completely subsumed and wrapped up in Jesus. But that is for another time. There's a lesson, though, I think, to be learned from this in passing.
Again, I have in my notes, I just put little parentheses, and this would be in parentheses, but I want to bring it home for us. Just this thought of being prepared to obey man-made rules and then finding ourselves violating clear commands of God. It's not an uncommon situation to find congregations where they have decided that there are a number of man-made rules that are essential to them.
They may be good, they may be bad, it doesn't really matter. But when they begin to predominate on the lives and the lifestyle of the people and press them in certain ways, it is not uncommon for man-made rules, restrictions, and taboos to be suddenly overturned in such a fashion that the violation, then, is of God's clear commands. Paul writes about this in Galatians, doesn't he?
He refers to these taboos and regulations as weak and miserable principles. In other words, he warns them about it. And when you find yourself caught up in that kind of thing, then you may well find that your life fits somewhere with the Pharisees to whom Jesus spoke when he said to them, You know, what I find interesting about you very religious individuals is that you hold on to the traditions of men while letting go of the commands of God.
It is a peculiar subtlety, and it is a real danger. Now, what is Saul's response to all of this unfolding story? Well, he says, what we're going to do is we're going to do it right.
And you have dealt treacherously, so roll a great stone to me here. So now he puts himself in the position, if you like, of the priest. He builds an altar in order that these things might be done properly. The sacrifices, the oxen, and so forth will be brought now.
They'll be sacrificed on this big rock, and then the blood will be able to flow from there and down onto the ground, and so, finally, that which will be consumed will not be in violation of the clear command. And what he's going to do in this regard is consider just why this has taken place and what it is going to mean. Interestingly, he is concerned that things would be done properly.
But there isn't the slightest suggestion that he recognizes that he hasn't done things properly. Just, again, a passing thought in terms of leadership. C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves, he says, Those like myself, whose imagination far exceeds their obedience, are subject to a just penalty. We easily imagine conditions far higher than we've actually reached.
If we describe what we have imagined, we may make others and make ourselves believe that we have really been there and so fool both them and ourselves. And Saul is facing that. That's a solemn warning for every one of us, isn't it? We need to be aware of violating God's commands by obeying man-made rules and traditions.
You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life. In today's message, Alistair noted that King Saul's imperfections and failures point us to Jesus, who is everything that Saul failed to be. Jesus is the storyline throughout the whole Bible, and that's why we teach the whole Bible. We trust that God, by His grace, will move listeners from merely having an interest in religion to enjoying a deep, committed relationship with Jesus. In addition to teaching from Scripture, we also carefully select books that will help you grow in your faith. Alistair's friend Sinclair Ferguson has written a devotional for Advent called The Dawn of Redeeming Grace. This book presents 24 daily readings about the Christmas story taken from Matthew's Gospel.
Sinclair helps us see the details in a way that may be easy for us to miss. For example, you'll view the extraordinary events of Jesus' birth through the eyes of Joseph. You'll explore more about the prophecy of Isaiah that was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. These insights from Sinclair will give you much to think about as you prepare for Christmas, so request your copy of the book The Dawn of Redeeming Grace when you donate at truthforlife.org slash donate. And if you'd rather mail your donation along with your request for the book, write to us at Truth for Life, P.O. Box 398000, Cleveland, Ohio.
Our zip code is 44139. In addition to this devotional from Sinclair for you, we're recommending a bundle of devotionals that Sinclair wrote for younger members of your family, specifically those in middle school years. Young teens are having to navigate a world where biblical views are increasingly in the minority, so this set of four books contains short daily readings about Jesus that assure middle school age children that their biblical beliefs are trustworthy and true and that Jesus is a friend on whom they can rely.
Sinclair draws from more than a hundred stories in the Bible. This brief daily format is perfect for the busy routines of students juggling homework, athletics, and extracurricular activities. If you have a young teen in your extended family or your friend group, you'll want to give them this four book set as a gift.
It's available for just eleven dollars, and you can view the books and purchase them online at truthforlife.org slash gifts. I'm Bob Lapine. We hope you have a wonderful weekend and are able to worship with your local church this weekend. Join us on Monday for the conclusion of today's message, where we'll find out why public acclaim is ultimately irrelevant, whether you're leading an army or a congregation. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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