‘Lord, I pray for those whom I love and who love me. I thank you for these relationships. I pray that I may reach out to them in greater love and faithfulness. Amen.’
Jonathan eats honey
24 Now the Israelites were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!’ So none of the troops tasted food.
25 The entire army entered the woods, and there was honey on the ground. 26 When they went into the woods, they saw the honey oozing out; yet no one put his hand to his mouth, because they feared the oath. 27 But Jonathan had not heard that his father had bound the people with the oath, so he reached out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it into the honeycomb. He raised his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened. 28 Then one of the soldiers told him, ‘Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, “Cursed be anyone who eats food today!” That is why the men are faint.’
29 Jonathan said, ‘My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?’
31 That day, after the Israelites had struck down the Philistines from Michmash to Aijalon, they were exhausted. 32 They pounced on the plunder and, taking sheep, cattle and calves, they butchered them on the ground and ate them, together with the blood. 33 Then someone said to Saul, ‘Look, the men are sinning against the Lord by eating meat that has blood in it.’
‘You have broken faith,’ he said. ‘Roll a large stone over here at once.’ 34 Then he said, ‘Go out among the men and tell them, “Each of you bring me your cattle and sheep, and slaughter them here and eat them. Do not sin against the Lord by eating meat with blood still in it.”’
So everyone brought his ox that night and slaughtered it there. 35 Then Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first time he had done this.
36 Saul said, ‘Let us go down and pursue the Philistines by night and plunder them till dawn, and let us not leave one of them alive.’
‘Do whatever seems best to you,’ they replied.
But the priest said, ‘Let us enquire of God here.’
37 So Saul asked God, ‘Shall I go down and pursue the Philistines? Will you give them into Israel’s hand?’ But God did not answer him that day.
38 Saul therefore said, ‘Come here, all you who are leaders of the army, and let us find out what sin has been committed today. 39 As surely as the Lord who rescues Israel lives, even if the guilt lies with my son Jonathan, he must die.’ But not one of them said a word.
40 Saul then said to all the Israelites, ‘You stand over there; I and Jonathan my son will stand over here.’
‘Do what seems best to you,’ they replied.
41 Then Saul prayed to the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Why have you not answered your servant today? If the fault is in me or my son Jonathan, respond with Urim, but if the men of Israel are at fault, respond with Thummim.’ Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared. 42 Saul said, ‘Cast the lot between me and Jonathan my son.’ And Jonathan was taken.
43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, ‘Tell me what you have done.’
So Jonathan told him, ‘I tasted a little honey with the end of my staff. And now I must die!’
44 Saul said, ‘May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan.’
45 But the men said to Saul, ‘Should Jonathan die – he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the Lord lives, not a hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he did this today with God’s help.’ So the men rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.
46 Then Saul stopped pursuing the Philistines, and they withdrew to their own land.
47 After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. 48 He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them.
49 Saul’s sons were Jonathan, Ishvi and Malki-Shua. The name of his elder daughter was Merab, and that of the younger was Michal. 50 His wife’s name was Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaaz. The name of the commander of Saul’s army was Abner son of Ner, and Ner was Saul’s uncle. 51 Saul’s father Kish and Abner’s father Ner were sons of Abiel.
52 All the days of Saul there was bitter war with the Philistines, and whenever Saul saw a mighty or brave man, he took him into his service.
Saul’s command, forbidding his men from eating before battle, seems highly eccentric. One scholar suggests that even though fasting as a sign of mourning was common in that period, there is no evidence for its use before battle. Quite the opposite in fact. An army marches on its stomach, says the old adage. Once again, Saul’s inadequacies are cruelly highlighted.
Jonathan is the transgressor in this story, eating honey while under a food ban. There is no intention on his part; he was unaware of his father’s edict. But his reaction, on hearing his father’s order, is breath-taking. He accuses him of bringing trouble on the country. He expresses what everyone is hiding. Sugar gives energy, much needed in physical combat, so why make your army’s life harder than it already is?
Jonathan’s comment seems raw. He breaks a family taboo and offers a critique of his own dad. Speaking as a son, father and grandfather, I know this is tricky ground, but all families and all good relationships need this kind of honest evaluation from time to time.
‘Father, forgive me for the times when my decisions have badly affected those closest to me. I pray that you would help me live in such a way that I might better understand the needs of others.’
Deeper Bible study
‘… the blood of Jesus … purifies us from all sin.’1 Give thanks!
Saul’s understanding of God makes a fascinating study! He’s keen on the idea of fasting. He makes sincere oaths. He insists that the priest is to hand for any decisions that need to be made. Yet somehow he misses the point! It says a lot for his soldiers that no one questioned the command to fast before fighting – Saul was clearly a gifted leader, whom others followed (vs 47,48,52); yet he could dither about following up a military advantage, and now he’s prepared to kill his son – the one who has brought victory! Fortunately, the people had more sense!
Jonathan had a lot of common sense, too (vs 29,30): ‘How much better … if …’. He points out how much more God could have done if only the troops had eaten. Sometimes our strongly held convictions and practices, however pious they may sound, actually get in the way of what God wants us to do. Fasting, for example, can be a helpful spiritual discipline for some, but it should never be used to bribe God into giving his support to our ventures. How much better if we just got on with what he has asked us to do!
A consequence of Saul’s foolishness was the sheer hunger of his troops who understandably fell upon the meat they’d captured as spoil. The Mosaic Law stipulated that blood should not be eaten.2 The life of the animal was in the blood, so to eat blood was to despise life. Also blood atoned for human sin and was therefore sacred and should not be consumed.3 However, the troops were so famished that they ignored that rule and were in danger of sinning against the Lord. Saul finally gets his act together and rectifies the problem, but it’s perhaps significant that the altar he builds is his first (vs 34,35).
Our foolishness, however well meant, can sometimes lead others into sin. Ask God to help you be wise in your leadership.
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Isaiah 27,28; Philemon 1
Pray for Scripture Union
Faith Guides in local churches are an integral part of the Revealing Jesus framework. Ask God to call and envision more people to sign up as Faith Guides, so they can accompany children and young people in their community on their faith journey.