For some reason, Saul places an oath on all the fighting men of Israel, commanding them to refrain from eating after defeating the Philistines. He says to his soldiers, “The man who eats food before evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies is cursed.” (1 Samuel 14:24) This seems almost like a boast. As a result of Saul’s foolish arrogance, no one eats. Even when they find honey on the ground in the forest, these men – out of fear – obey Saul and do not eat. As a result, they are all weakened and “worn out that day.” (1 Samuel 14:24)
Saul’s son, Jonathan, has not heard Saul’s command, so he dips the end of his staff in the honey and eats it. “When he eats the honey, he has renewed energy.” (1 Samuel 14:27) The other men, who have not eaten, “rush to the plunder” – presumably once evening has come – and “take sheep, cattle, and calves, slaughter them on the ground and eat meat with the blood still in it.” (1 Samuel 14:32) In this way, they each “sin against the Lord.” (1 Samuel 14:33) These men have not broken a man’s foolish command, but have disregarded God’s commandment.
Saul recognizes the seriousness of this disobedience; and calls for an altar to be built to the Lord. Oddly enough, this is “the first time he has built an altar to the Lord.” (1 Samuel 14:35) Afterwards, rather impulsively, Saul calls for his men to “go down after the Philistines tonight and plunder them until morning. Don’t let even one remain!” And his soldiers reply, “Do whatever you want.” (1 Samuel 14:36)
The priest reminds Saul that the Lord should be consulted. Saul asks God, but God does not answer. Saul decides the Lord is silent because “a sin has occurred today.” (1 Samuel 14:38) He calls for the death of that sinner, even if it proves to be his own son, Jonathan. Saul’s soldiers again say, “Do whatever you want” (1 Samuel 14:40) So, Saul casts a lot to determine if the sin is from the troops or from himself and Jonathan. The lot falls against Saul and Jonathan. Saul immediately wants to know what his son has done to make the Lord angry. Jonathan admits to eating a little honey. He also adds, “I am ready to die!” (1 Samuel 14:43)
But the troops intervene. They tell Saul that Jonathan “worked with God’s help today” and “accomplished a great deliverance for Israel.” (1 Samuel 14:45) In this way, “the people redeem Jonathan, and he does not die.” (1 Samuel 14:45)
Saul does not appear to fully grasp the foolishness of his command. Rather, he arrogantly wants to pursue and destroy all of the Philistines with famished, exhausted troops. He wants his vengeance before any man among his troops eats. When he becomes aware of the greater sin against the Lord – eating meat with the blood still in it – , he builds an altar but then decides upon a course of action without consulting God. Ignoring the greater sin, he then accuses his men and his son of breaking the oath he commanded. When the lot falls against himself as well as against Jonathan, it does not even occur to Saul that it may have been his foolish oath that angered the Lord. Instead, he asks his son, “Tell me what you did.” (1 Samuel 14:43)
The people stand between Saul – who is unjustifiably self-reliant – and his son, Jonathan who leans upon the Lord to accomplish the deliverance of Israel.