Introduction: God had just reduced Saul’s army from 3,000 men to only 600 men (1 Sam. 13:2, 8, 15). He did this to test the faith of Saul, his son Jonathan, and their troops. Hundreds of years earlier, God reduced Gideon’s army from 22,000 to 300 men in order to defeat a massive army of 135,000 Midianite troops. At that time, God tested the faith of Gideon and his soldiers (Jdgs. 7). These accounts are important because they reveal how God tests the faith of leaders. Today, the warfare that we fight is spiritual. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12). Through the contrast between Jonathan and Saul, God reveals several lessons on being a faithful leader.
First, Jonathan apparently knew that his father Saul lacked the courage to attack the Philistines. Thus, without telling his father, he courageously fought with the Philistines with just one other person. From this, God reveals that a faithful leader acts boldly in spiritual warfare. Second, before fighting the Philistines, Jonathan and his armor bearer encouraged one another. From this, God reveals that a faithful leader encourages others and draws comfort from believers. Third, when Jonathan acted in faith, God blessed him with the strength to kill 20 Philistines. Through Jonathan, God also created terror and confusion amongst the rest of the Philistines. From this, God reveals that a faithful leader enjoys His blessings in spiritual warfare. Fourth, unlike Jonathan, Saul did not act with faith when God caused a terror amongst the Philistines. Yet, even though Saul was not a worthy leader, God remained faithful to the Jews by defeating the Philistines. From this, God reveals that even when our leaders are faithless, He remains faithful to His people. Fifth, after God defeated the Philistines, Saul made a foolish vow that none of his soldiers could eat during the rest of the battle to uphold his honor. This ultimately led his hungry men to sin against God. From this, God reveals that a leader without faith can cause others to sin. Sixth, after causing others to sin, Saul sought God’s direction. But God did not answer him. Saul then almost killed his son before the people stopped him. From this, God reveals that a faithless leader will have hindered prayers and put others at risk. Finally, after God won this battle, Saul fought many wars and sought to build his dynasty. Yet, he failed to give God the credit. He also took away many of the Jews’ God-given freedoms. From this, God reveals that a faithless leader acts for his own glory and not for God.
Jonathan’s bold plan to attack the Philistines with just his armor bearer. The fight with the Philistines began with Jonathan’s plan to attack with on his servant and without telling Saul: “1 Now the day came that Jonathan, the son of Saul, said to the young man who was carrying his armor, ‘Come and let us cross over to the Philistines’ garrison that is on the other side.’ But he did not tell his father. 2 Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah under the pomegranate tree which is in Migron. And the people who were with him were about six hundred men, 3 and Ahijah, the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the priest of the Lord at Shiloh, was wearing an ephod. And the people did not know that Jonathan had gone.” (1 Sam. 14:1-3). This was the second time that Jonathan attacked the Philistines without Saul’s knowledge. Jonathan previously began the war without Saul’s involvement when he attacked a Philistine garrison at Geba. Saul then took credit for his attack (1 Sam. 13:3-4). Jonathan obviously knew that his father would not start a fight. This is emphasized by the fact that Saul was relaxing under a tree with a priest while his son fought. Thus, Jonathan acted with faith while Saul did not. The reference to Ahijah’s uncle Ichabod also was an ominous future sign for Saul’s kingship. “Ichabod” means “the glory has departed.” It was the name that a woman gave to her son after God’s Shekinah Glory left Israel with the ark. “And she called the boy Ichabod, saying, ‘The glory has departed from Israel,’ because the ark of God was taken and because of her father-in-law and her husband.” (1 Sam. 4:21). The glory of Saul’s kingdom would soon depart from him as well.
All things are possible with God when you have faith and rely upon His strength. Jesus once revealed that “‘With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”’ (Matt. 19:26(b); Mk. 10:27(b); Lk. 1:37). “Is anything too difficult for the LORD?” (Gen. 18:14(a)). “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jer. 32:27). Job likewise boasted: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2). “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Ro. 8:31). Yet, a believer’s faith is perfected in weakness. “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” (2 Cor. 12:9). The faith of Jonathan was perfected by attacking with only one other because only God could prevail.
Fear is “false evidence appearing real”. The Lord is the only thing that you are to fear (Prov. 1:7). And this is defined as hating evil (Prov. 8:12). “The fear of man brings a snare. But he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” (Prov. 29:25). When God wanted to reduce the size of Gideon’s army, the first thing He did was to dismiss every soldier who felt afraid (Jdgs. 7:3). God did not want any person fighting in His army who feared the enemy. Such a person had no trust in Him: “When you go out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you.” (Dt. 20:1). “He shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, you are approaching the battle against your enemies today. Do not be fainthearted. Do not be afraid, or panic, or tremble before them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.’” (Dt. 20:3-4). If you fear anything other than God your faith is lacking. Although David was the smallest man in his family, he feared no evil or any enemy because he had faith that God was fighting for him. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?. . . Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear; though war arises against me, in spite of this I shall be confident.” (Ps. 27:1-3). “I fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Ps. 23:4). “How blessed in the man that fears the Lord . . . He will not fear evil tidings” (Ps. 112:7). “Say to the anxious heart, ‘take courage, fear not.” (Is. 34:4). Is there any person, thing, or enemy that you fear? If so, Satan may use that fear to ensnare you and cause your faith in Jesus to falter. Without faith, you are of no use in God’s army. Without faith, it is “impossible” to please Him (Heb. 11:6).
When you walk with God, your enemy will also flee from you. When you walk in faith and obedience, God promises to install fear into your enemy and cause them to flee from you: “One of your men puts to flight a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, just as He promised you.” (Josh. 23:10). “The LORD shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.” (Dt. 28:7). ‘“But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword; five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.’” (Lev. 26:7-8). When you take refuge in God, He promises to be a shield to the evil attacks of the enemy: “Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” (Prov. 30:5; 2 Sam. 22:31). With His help, Jonathon killed 20 Philistines (1 Sam. 14:12). His power also allowed David to kill Goliath (1 Sam. 17:50-58). He does not want you to fear any enemy (Ro. 8:15). Are you walking in faith and obedience so that He can act on your behalf to cause your enemies to flee?
Jonathan and his armor bearer encourage each other. Although Jonathan acted bravely, it is important to note that he did not act alone. Before fighting, he and his armor bearer encouraged each other. “4 Between the passes by which Jonathan sought to cross over to the Philistines’ garrison, there was a sharp crag on the one side and a sharp crag on the other side, and the name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. 5 The one crag rose on the north opposite Michmash, and the other on the south opposite Geba. 6 Then Jonathan said to the young man who was carrying his armor, ‘Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the Lord will work for us, for the Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few.’ 7 His armor bearer said to him, ‘Do all that is in your heart; turn yourself, and here I am with you according to your desire.’” (1 Sam 14:4-7). Satan is a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8) and God’s people are called “sheep,” animals without natural defenses (e.g., Jo. 21:16, 27). Thus, like Jonathan and his squire, believers are called upon to encourage and protect each other.
Jonathan and his armor bearer encourage one another1
Fight with your brothers and sisters in Christ in one accord. As His sheep, God offers you protection as part of His flock when you are connected to fellow believers: “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:25). Being with others should include encouragement. “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13). “But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.” (Heb. 13:22). Like Jonathan and his armor bearer, believers in Christ are also commanded to “fight the good fight of faith . . . ” (1 Tim. 6:12). Believers are also called upon to fight in His army (2 Tim. 2:3). It is also not enough to merely fight with your brothers and sisters, you must also act with one accord as the Spirit leads the body (Eph. 4:3). For example, after Gideon’s 300 men routed the enemy, He called upon others in the nearby hill country of Ephraim to join in the pursuit of the fleeing enemy (Jdgs. 7:24-25). Only by working together could the Jews capture the enemy. Through this example, God provides lessons on working with others in spiritual warfare. Yet, you must also be motivated by love when you act with others: “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” (Col. 3:14). Jonathan acted both with one accord and with love. In contrast, Gideon soon showed no love in his actions. Shortly after defeating the Midianites, he killed every Jewish male citizen of Succoth after a perceived slight (Jdgs. 8:13-17). Are you acting with others with both love and one accord in the Spirit? Or, are you acting alone for your glory?
Jonathan waits for God’s confirmation and then courageously defeats the enemy. Before attacking the Philistines, Jonathan first looked for confirmation of God’s will. When he then acted in faith, God delivered Jonathan’s enemies to him. “8 Then Jonathan said, ‘Behold, we will cross over to the men and reveal ourselves to them. 9 If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you’; then we will stand in our place and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for the Lord has given them into our hands; and this shall be the sign to us.’ 11 When both of them revealed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines, the Philistines said, ‘Behold, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves.’ 12 So the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor bearer and said, ‘Come up to us and we will tell you something.’ And Jonathan said to his armor bearer, ‘Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hands of Israel.’ 13 Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, with his armor bearer behind him; and they fell before Jonathan, and his armor bearer put some to death after him. 14 That first slaughter which Jonathan and his armor bearer made was about twenty men within about half a furrow in an acre of land. 15 And there was a trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. Even the garrison and the raiders trembled, and the earth quaked so that it became a great trembling.” (1 Sam. 14:8-15). Today, the battles that believers fight are mostly spiritual (Eph. 6:12). Yet, if you can act with the same faith and courage as Jonathan, God will also fight your battles.
Jonathan and his armor bearer trust God to fight the Philistines2
Trust God to fight your battles. The people assumed that they needed a king to “go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Sam. 8:20). Yet, God used Jonathan and one assistant to create chaos and confusion amongst the Philistines (1 Sam. 14:14-15). God previously defeated Pharaoh’s mighty armies at the sea. “The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is His name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea; and the choicest of his officers are drowned in the Red Sea.” (Ex. 15:3-4). He also previously used Samuel with no military training to defeat the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:10-14). He also used the female judge Deborah with no military training to help the Jews to fight the Canaanite king named Jabin and his military commander named Sisera (Jdgs. 4:6-7). He further used another judge named Shamgar to defeat 600 Philistines with only a sharp farming tool (Jdgs. 3:31). He also gave Samson the power to kill a 1,000 Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone: “He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, so he reached out and took it and killed a thousand men with it.” (Jdgs. 15:15). Indeed, God’s hand was present in each of the Jews’ many victories. Moses explained “The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Dt. 31:8). God was also able to defend the Jews more efficiently than any king could. He did not require the Jews to field standing armies on a continual basis. Instead, He called the men of the 12 tribes to assemble small armies as needed. His system was effective because He did everything to guarantee victory. The Jews only needed to show up in faith. Do you trust God to go before you to fight your battles?
When you have faith, God will also be a terror to your enemies. Because of Jonathan’s great faith and God’s actions, the Philistines “trembled, and the earth quaked so that it became a great trembling.” (1 Sam. 14:15). Just as He did with Jonathan, God promises that He can use the few to defeat the many. “But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword; five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.” (Lev. 26:7-8). “One of your men puts to flight a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, just as He promised you.” (Josh. 23:10). As another example, when Jacob’s family repented of their sins at Shechem and acted with obedience, God placed a terror upon their enemies: “As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob.” (Gen. 35:5). After God crushed the Egyptians at the Red Sea, Moses celebrated God’s: “Terror and dread fall upon them . . ..” (Ex. 15:16(a)). As the Jews journeyed to the Promised Land, God repeatedly promised to deliver the Jews through a “terror” that He would place upon their enemies: “I will send My terror ahead of you, and throw into confusion all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.” (Ex. 23:27). “The Lord shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.” (Dt. 28:7; 2:25; Lev. 26:7-8; Nu 10:9, 35; Isa. 54:17). Joshua also promised the Jews that those who cling to God would see their enemies flee (Josh. 23:10). For those who are obedient and take refuge in Him, He promises to be a shield against the enemy’s fiery darts: “He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” (Prov. 30:5(b); 2 Sam. 22:31). Are you clinging to Jesus when you need protection?
God confirms His Word to strengthen your faith. It was not a sin for Jonathan to look for a sign from God because God had not spoken to Jonathan. In contrast, Gideon sinned when he asked for two signs with a fleece from God after God had already told him that He would protect him and kill the Midianites (Jdgs. 6:16, 36-40). Yet, even after Gideon sinned by testing God, God knew that Gideon was filled with fear being forced to fight with only 300 men. Thus, He sought to encourage him by inviting him to spy on the Midianites camp where he would overhear of prophecy of the Jews’ victory: “9 Now the same night it came about that the Lord said to him, ‘Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hands. 10 But if you are afraid to go down, go with Purah your servant down to the camp, 11 and you will hear what they say; and afterward your hands will be strengthened that you may go down against the camp.’ So he went with Purah his servant down to the outposts of the army that was in the camp.” (Jdgs. 7:9-11). When a matter is not made clear by the Word, the Spirit may confirm God’s will for you.
Be encouraged and led by the Spirit. Not everyone has Jonathan’s faith. Some are more likely to have a wavering faith like Gideon. God knows when your faith is weak. When you let His Spirit lead you, He will encourage you: “On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul.” (Ps. 138:3). “He said, ‘O man of high esteem, do not be afraid. Peace be with you; take courage and be courageous!’ Now as soon as he spoke to me, I received strength and said, ‘May my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”’ (Dan. 10:19). “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Ro. 8:14). If you are feeling weak or depressed, are you praying in faith for Him to strengthen and encourage you?
Saul responds to God’s victory by worrying who would get the credit. After God had already won the battle by causing the Philistines to flee, Saul’s first action was to call for a roll call of his troops out of concern that some other leader would get credit for the battle. Yet, even without a faithful response from Saul, God was faithful to defeat the Philistines. “16 Now Saul’s watchmen in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and behold, the multitude melted away; and they went here and there. 17 Saul said to the people who were with him, ‘Number now and see who has gone from us.’ And when they had numbered, behold, Jonathan and his armor bearer were not there. 18 Then Saul said to Ahijah, ‘Bring the ark of God here.’ For the ark of God was at that time with the sons of Israel. 19 While Saul talked to the priest, the commotion in the camp of the Philistines continued and increased; so Saul said to the priest, ‘Withdraw your hand.’ 20 Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and came to the battle; and behold, every man’s sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion. 21 Now the Hebrews who were with the Philistines previously, who went up with them all around in the camp, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. 22 When all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines had fled, even they also pursued them closely in the battle. 23 So the Lord delivered Israel that day, and the battle spread beyond Beth-aven.” (1 Sam. 14:16-23). Saul had no more faith than the many Jews in his army who had previously hidden in fear (1 Sam. 13:6). They came out to join in the battle only after God had already defeated the Philistines. Like the cowardly soldiers, Saul only thought of himself. He was worried about his reputation because he was not leading the battle. He then called for the ark to create the appearance that God was directing him to victory. Yet, at one point he could no longer continue his charade of false piety with his priests. “Eventually, the noise of God and Jonathan fighting against the Philistines became so loud that Saul knew he had to also fight. So, he told the priest ‘Withdraw your hand’ This meant, ‘Stop seeking an answer from God with the urim and thummin,’ which were held in a pouch in the priest’s breastplate.”’ (David Guzik on 1 Sam. 14).3
God alone saved Israel. If Saul had faith, he would have known that God alone was responsible for the Jews’ victory. This is emphasized here by the statement: “23 So the Lord delivered Israel that day, . . .” (1 Sam. 14:23). Almost identical language is used to describe God’s miracle in saving the Jews from Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea: “Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.” (Ex. 14:30). The confusion that God created through Jonathan amongst the Philistines was similar to the confusion that He created through Gideon and his 300 men amongst the Midianites: “When they blew 300 trumpets, the LORD set the sword of one against another even throughout the whole army; and the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the edge of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath.” (Jdgs. 7:22). When God wins your battles, will you give Him the credit?
Saul’s foolish vows caused his men to sin. After God had already won the battle, Saul made a foolish vow for his own honor that caused both Jonathan and Saul’s men to needlessly sin: “24 Now the men of Israel were hard-pressed on that day, for Saul had put the people under oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food before evening, and until I have avenged myself on my enemies.’ So none of the people tasted food. 25 All the people of the land entered the forest, and there was honey on the ground. 26 When the people entered the forest, behold, there was a flow of honey; but no man put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. 27 But Jonathan had not heard when his father put the people under oath; therefore, he put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened. 28 Then one of the people said, ‘Your father strictly put the people under oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food today.’’ And the people were weary. 29 Then Jonathan said, ‘My father has troubled the land. See now, how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much more, if only the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.’ 31 They struck among the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. And the people were very weary. 32 The people rushed greedily upon the spoil, and took sheep and oxen and calves, and slew them on the ground; and the people ate them with the blood. 33 Then they told Saul, saying, ‘Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood.’ And he said, ‘You have acted treacherously; roll a great stone to me today.’ 34 Saul said, ‘Disperse yourselves among the people and say to them, ‘Each one of you bring me his ox or his sheep, and slaughter it here and eat; and do not sin against the Lord by eating with the blood.’’ So all the people that night brought each one his ox with him and slaughtered it there. 35 And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord.” (1 Sam. 14:24-35). Jonathan lamented “29 Then Jonathan said, ‘My father has troubled the land.” (1 Sam. 14:29(a)). While describing what Saul did, Jonathan used language that was similar to what Joshua said to Achan after his sins brought judgment upon all of Israel: “Joshua said, ‘Why have you troubled us? The LORD will trouble you this day.’ And all Israel stoned them with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.” (Josh. 7:25). In both cases, one faithless person caused many to suffer.
Saul’s actions caused his hungry men to violate God’s Law. By depriving his soldiers unnecessarily of food, Saul caused his soldiers to later disregard God’s Law regarding the consumption of blood. “32 The people rushed greedily upon the spoil, and took sheep and oxen and calves, and slew them on the ground; and the people ate them with the blood.” (1 Sam. 14:32). God’s prohibition against drinking blood is one of the most repeated rules in the Bible. He gave this rule to Noah immediately after the Flood (Gen. 9:4). Moses repeated this rule eight additional times in the Torah. ‘“It is a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings: you shall not eat any fat or any blood.’” (Lev. 3:17; 7:26; 17:10, 14; 19:26; Dt. 12:16, 23; 15:23). When it came time for the disciples to decide what laws from the Torah would apply to believers in Christ, the disciples repeated the prohibition against drinking blood two times in the book of Acts. Moreover, aside from the Ten Commandments, this was one of only three laws from the Old Testament that Christians were commanded to keep. Because this rule was part God’s covenant with Noah (and not just the Jews) it was considered a universal covenant with all mankind: “but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.” (Acts 15:20, 29). Saul caused his men to commit this sin by starving them in battle.
God refuses to answer Saul’s prayers as he compounds one foolish vow with another. Instead of seeking God’s counsel before the battle, Saul waited until after the battle to seek God’s direction. Yet, because Saul had caused others to sin and then blamed others for his actions, God did not answer him. “36 Then Saul said, ‘Let us go down after the Philistines by night and take spoil among them until the morning light, and let us not leave a man of them.’ And they said, ‘Do whatever seems good to you.’ So the priest said, ‘Let us draw near to God here.’ 37 Saul inquired of God, ‘Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will You give them into the hand of Israel?’ But He did not answer him on that day. 38 Saul said, ‘Draw near here, all you chiefs of the people, and investigate and see how this sin has happened today. 39 For as the Lord lives, who delivers Israel, though it is in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.’ But not one of all the people answered him. 40 Then he said to all Israel, ‘You shall be on one side and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.’ And the people said to Saul, ‘Do what seems good to you.’ 41 Therefore, Saul said to the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Give a perfect lot.’ And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped. 42 Saul said, ‘Cast lots 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 and said, ‘I indeed tasted a little honey with the end of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am, I must die!’ 44 Saul said, ‘May God do this to me and more also, for you shall surely die, Jonathan.’ 45 But the people said to Saul, ‘Must Jonathan die, who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.’ So the people rescued Jonathan and he did not die. 46 Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.” (1 Sam. 14:36-46). In addition to failing to pray at the right time or when he was not sinning, Saul needlessly used a system of lots to determine if Jonathan had broken his vow. Saul knew that Jonathan had broken Saul’s vow. The use of lots was another act of false piety to make it look as though he was pursuing after God’s will when he wasn’t. Saul started off his walk with humility (1 Sam. 9:21; 10:21). Now, out of pride, he would have killed his son before admitting error if the people had not intervened.
Saul makes a foolish vow4
God previously warned that He would not hear the prayers of His rebellious people. When the people previously rejected God as their king, God warned that He would not hear their prayers when the Jews cried out for relief: “18 Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.’” (1 Sam. 8:18). Here, He refused to answer Saul’s prayers. Throughout the Old Testament, God warned that intentional sin would cause Him not to respond to the sinner’s prayers for relief from their sins: “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but they will not find me.” (Prov. 1:28; Job 35:12; Micah 3:4). “They cried for help, but there was none to save, even to the LORD, but He did not answer them.” (Ps. 18:41; 66:18; Is. 1:15; 59:2-3(b)). “Therefore thus says the LORD, ‘Behold I am bringing disaster on them which they will not be able to escape; though they will cry to Me, yet I will not listen to them.”’ (Jer. 11:11).
Sin can also “hinder” your prayers to God. Jesus repeated these warnings in the New Testament (Jo. 9:31). His blood can forgive any sin (1 Jo. 1:9). Yet, Peter warns that unrepentant sin can still “hinder” a believer’s prayers (1 Pet. 3:7). Is there a sin you need to repent of? If so, repent so that your prayers will not be hindered before Jesus.
Christ can annul our foolish vows. Through faith in Christ, you will one day also be married to Him in heaven (Eph. 5:23-30; Rev. 19:6-8; 21:2). As a future bridegroom, He can annul a vow that you make if it is not Biblical (Nu. 30:5; 8). If you have made a foolish vow, He can also annul them when you repent.
Saul engages in war for his own glory. After God won this battle against the Philistines, Saul fought many wars. Yet, he did not credit God. He also took away the Jews’ freedoms during these wars. “47 Now when Saul had taken the kingdom over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, the sons of Ammon, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines; and wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment. 48 He acted valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, and delivered Israel from the hands of those who plundered them. 49 Now the sons of Saul were Jonathan and Ishvi and Malchi-shua; and the names of his two daughters were these: the name of the firstborn Merab and the name of the younger Michal. 50 The name of Saul’s wife was Ahinoam the daughter of Ahimaaz. And the name of the captain of his army was Abner the son of Ner, Saul’s uncle. 51 Kish was the father of Saul, and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel. 52 Now the war against the Philistines was severe all the days of Saul; and when Saul saw any mighty man or any valiant man, he attached him to his staff.” (1 Sam. 14:47-52). Saul’s sons are stressed here to emphasize that the glory of Saul’s victories went toward building his dynasty. Samuel had previously prophesied that Saul would have no dynasty (1 Sam. 13:13-14). Saul was likely trying to prove this to be false.
Saul sought to build a kingdom for his own glory5
The fulfillment of God’s warning about the loss of freedoms from a king. The last verse of this chapter states that “when Saul saw any mighty man or any valiant man, he attached him to his staff.” (1 Sam. 14:52). This was a fulfillment of the loss of freedoms that Samuel warned would happen with a king. “10 So Samuel spoke all the words of the Lord to the people who had asked of him a king. 11 He said, ‘This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots.”’ (1 Sam. 8:10-11). When people place their faith in leaders, they frequently give up freedoms.
Give credit to God for your successes. Saul did not credit God in his victories because he was more concerned about building his own power. The great leaders in the Bible all gave credit to God alone for their victories. For example, Joseph gave credit to God for his ability to interpret dreams: “Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.’” (Gen. 41:16; see also, Zech. 4:6). Paul also clarified that a believer’s abilities come from God alone: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,” (2 Cor. 3:5). “For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed,” (Ro. 15:18). Do you credit Jesus for your successes? Or, like Saul, do you use your God-given successes to build up your own empire on Earth?