Most of us like receiving positive feedback for our accomplishments, especially if we're in a leadership role, but today on Truth for Life, we'll find out why public praise is ultimately irrelevant, whether you lead a business or a small group or a congregation or an army. Alistair Begg is teaching from the 14th chapter of 1 Samuel. He comes up with this plan. And none of the people, we're told, tasted food. And now, to make it worse, verse 25, as they come into this clearing in the forest, 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, 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 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. 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. 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. He's used a rock, and now, in verse 36, he's on a roll. Saul said, Let us go down after the Philistines by night, plunder them till morning light.
Let us not leave a man of them. And they said, Okay, do whatever you want. So he says, Let's go. And then the priest said, Let us draw near to God. How embarrassing is that, when you're just about to launch into something, and it's your wife who says, Don't you think we ought to pray about this? You say, Oh, yes, of course. I was just going to mention that. I had a whole thing planned about that, yes?
Flat-out untruth. What a shame that Saul, who should be the one who's inquiring of God, finds the priest to say to him, Excuse me, don't you think we should draw near to God? And so Saul then inquired of God. He inquired of God. Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into the hand of Israel?
But there was no answer. Now, what you then have in this little section that follows is the kind of material that can so easily derail the average home Bible study group. And this is why I said that it is important to stand far enough back to say what we have here in the collapse of Saul should point us to the triumph of Jesus, so that when we begin to lose our way in the passage, if we get caught up in the weeds, if you like—and we find ourselves delving into it in such a way that it generates more heat than it generates light—the background to this you can find in the earlier part of the Old Testament. And as you read again in Leviticus at your own leisure, you can fill in the blanks. These verses that unfold here about who's done what are about all we know about this process of a sacred lot. Ironically, this is the same process that was used for setting apart Saul as king.
Sometimes when I get in a passage like this, I go to the living Bible, and so I want to read to you how the living Bible translates this. Then Saul said to the leaders, Something's wrong. So, the fact that God has not answered him, he attributes to a problem with sin. He's good on that. What he's not so good at is in recognizing that he's the problem. That's the reason I read from the four loves, in case you're wondering.
Often the problem is in the leader. And so, he said, Something's wrong. We must find out what sin was committed today. I vow, by the name of the God who saved Israel, that though even the sinner be my own son Jonathan, he must surely die. Now, whether he introduces Jonathan as the most unlikely person or whether he actually is referencing him because of all that we've said already, we can't tell.
Nevertheless, even if it's Jonathan, we're going to go through with this. But no one would tell him what the trouble was. That's actually the second lyric. The sound of silence.
Sorry. But not only was God silent, but all the people were silent. Because none of the people would shop Jonathan.
No one would tell him what the trouble was. So then Saul proposed, Jonathan and I will stand over here, all of you stand over there. And the people agreed. And this Urim and Thummim are like two disks that were held in the breastplate of the ephod of the priest.
Leviticus chapter 8. And they could give either a yes answer or a no answer or a no answer. Not an answer. And so, we're going to stand over there, you stand over here, and we're going to find out what the answer is. And the people agreed. And then Saul said, O LORD God of Israel, why haven't you answered my question?
What's wrong? Are Jonathan and I guilty, or is the sin among the others? O LORD God, show us who is guilty. And Jonathan and Saul were chosen by sacred lot as the guilty ones, and the people were declared innocent. So now we've got it down to just two.
We know that the problem with the sin is not in any of the people. After all, they kept that oath, even though the issue of the violation apparently is now not something that's on his mind. And Saul said, Now draw lots between me and Jonathan. And Jonathan was chosen as the guilty one. Well, you say to yourself as you read this, this is not going in the way that we thought it should. And so he looks at his son, and he says, Tell me what you have done.
Tell me what you have done. Well, of course, that is what Samuel had said to Saul, wasn't it? Saul, what have you done? And the answer comes from Jonathan, Well, I tasted a little honey. It was only a little bit on the end of a stick, but now I must die. I think there's sarcasm in that. I don't know whether you agree. I think he's probably saying, Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, I did something really bad.
Yeah, I had a little bit of honey. Yeah, I deserve to die. It's absurd. And the absurdity of it is revealed in the fact that the people now speak up. And when the people speak up, they intervene on behalf of Jonathan. Then the people said, verse 45, Shall Jonathan die, who has worked his great salvation in Israel? The people realized the role that Jonathan had played, unlike Saul himself.
Far from it! As the LORD lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day. You see, the inference—he's actually been doing what you as the king should be doing. All you're doing is coming up with rash oaths that have made us very faint and, in terms of Jonathan's assessment, have spoiled us. And the victory that we had against the Philistines was only a marginal victory. If we had food in our stomachs, we might have been able just to pound them into oblivion.
But it's an ongoing issue. And so the people ransomed Jonathan so that he did not die. Well, it's quite amazing, isn't it, that verse 46 then says, And Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place. This is a real crisis for Saul, and it really is the end of his effective kingship. The people now realize that the king is foolish and the son is faithful.
They essentially issue a vote of no confidence. His reign is over, and the Philistine problem remains. But then you have verses 47–52. And when you read it during the week, you probably find yourself saying, Well, how can it end in this way in 46 and then in 47? And as you read on, down in 48, it's describing Saul as doing valiantly, and it is describing how militarily he's a great success, and so on. Well, what you actually have here is akin to what you have in John chapter 20 and 21, where John, in writing his Gospel, says there were many more things that were done by Jesus, and they haven't all been written down, because if they were all written down, there isn't a book that is big enough to contain them. When you come to this summary statement, you ought to think of it in those terms—that what is being described here is a comprehensive description of the totality of what went on with Saul.
And there is no question that militarily he often was able to step up. That's the record of the victories. In other words, the real battle for Saul—his failure did not actually happen on the field of battle against his enemies. The real failure for Saul, his failure was in the battleground of his heart. It was, You have done a foolish thing. You didn't trust me. You didn't obey me.
That was where the battle failed. Loved ones, don't kid yourself. Neither will I. It is perfectly possible to succeed in the public forum, to enjoy the attributions that come with it, and to fail in the battleground of one's own heart. God is the God who searches our hearts and knows us. Nothing is hidden from his gaze. That's why the approbation of the crowds—whether the soldiers in the army or the congregation in the seats—is ultimately irrelevant before the searching gaze of God.
Militarily a success, personally, privately, a failure. Then, in verse 49, a little reference to his family. You say to yourself, now, why do we get all the fact that Abner was his cousin, the commander of his army was his cousin? Why do we have this?
Well, I don't know. Except everybody has a family. You know, my love for the queen, she has a family. When I think of her in her early nineties, and I think about the stories about her family that are presently in the papers, I say, you know, you can be the queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, but you're still gonna deal with your family. She has children.
She has grandchildren. And I think that this is here at least to remind us of the simple yet obvious fact that the public life of King Saul—indeed, the public life of all leadership—is framed by the events of everyday family life. That, to quote a cliché that I've learned since living here, King Saul puts his pants on the same way as everybody else. So when I'm tempted to judge him for his lack of obedience, I have to say, But I'm guilty of lack of obedience. When I look at him and say, But he surely should have trusted God, I have to say, But I surely should have trusted God so many times when I didn't. And the final observation is that this story is really a tragedy. It's a tragedy.
If we were setting much of it to music, it would inevitably be in the minor key. Because Saul is actually one of the great tragic figures—not only of biblical history but of history in general. Because think about it. Think about how he ranks along with others in the story of the kingdoms of the world, who got off to a great start but ended pretty miserably. I mean, think back to chapter 9.
Do you remember chapter 9, all those weeks ago? When he emerges, and here he is, taller than anybody else and handsome beyond anybody's expectations. I mean, if his picture was in his yearbook, girls would be cutting it out and putting it on their noticeboard. That's how handsome this guy was. His little paragraph about what he was going to do would have explained, you know, that he really had things under his control.
And he was there in the top five percent of those most likely to succeed. But it's a tragedy. So why would the tragedy be recorded in this way? Well, in order to lead us to the victory of Jesus. The tragedy of King Saul finds us saying, Is there then a king who triumphs, who obeys the will of the Father, who always trusts? And the answer is Jesus. And that kingdom of Jesus is a kingdom that has triumphed over sin, dying in our place, over death, which all of us face.
He has triumphed over that, he has ascended to the Father, and he is reigning, and one day he will return. So I look in there, and I say, Well, I get it now. I'm supposed to learn from the history. I'm supposed to realize that all the things that were written in the past were written for my instruction, for our instruction, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. But what kind of hope is there in this sad, tragic picture of Saul collapsing?
Well, it's supposed to take us from there to here. That's why the Bible's written the way it is—so that we will look on, and we will meet Christ. Jesus comes as the one priest to bear our sins. He comes as a prophet to speak God's Word with absolute clarity. And he comes as a king to reign over our rebellion. King Saul, in spite of his military victories, failed on an important battlefield, the battlefield of his heart.
He trusted in his own abilities rather than trusting in God's commands. You're listening to Alistair beg on Truth for Life. Alistair will be back to close the program with prayer in just a minute. You often hear Alistair begin our program with a call to open your Bible. Well, over the years we've had many requests to make available a large print Bible so that it's easy to follow along.
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Our address is truthforlife at post office box 398000 Cleveland, Ohio 44139. And as a way of saying thanks when you make a donation today, we want to invite you to request an Advent devotional titled The Dawn of Redeeming Grace. This is the perfect book to help you reflect on how the events of the first Christmas fulfill God's eternal plan of salvation. Now here is Alistair to close with prayer. Our God and our Father, we thank you for the Bible and we thank you for Jesus. And we pray that in your kindness you will help us to navigate this difficult passage that you'll bring home to our hearts that which is beneficial to us, and that you will save us from tangential runs that would only lead to confusion and even error. So we commend ourselves again to you. We thank you that you come to welcome us, you come to put yourselves in the place that we deserve to be for our rebellion, and that you bid us come to you and rest in you. So may then the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one today and forevermore. Amen.
I'm Bob Lapeen. Does God give us credit for partial obedience as if he's grading on the curve? King Saul thought so. We'll find out what happened to him as you join us tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life. Where the Learning is for Living.
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