While finishing off a bunch of Philistines, Saul had his troops take a ridiculous oath: “Let a curse fall on anyone who eats before evening – before I have full revenge on my enemies” (I Samuel 14:24b, NLT).
Saul’s son Jonathan, had slipped into the enemy camp and set off the chaos that enabled the Israelites to get the upper hand. He, however, knew better than to take any credit. He told his armor bearer who had accompanied him: “The Lord will help us defeat them!” (I Samuel 14:12b). Jonathan knew their only hope of victory was in the Lord.
But tired and hungry on his way back to Saul’s camp, Jonathan “dipped the end of his stick into a piece of honeycomb and ate the honey” (I Samuel 14:27a). And even when Saul learned that it was his own son that had done this, he exclaimed, “you must die! May God strike me and even kill me if you do not die for this” (I Samuel 14:44b).
Now why was he out to kill Jonathan? For breaking the oath he’d made his men swear. Problem is, though, Jonathan couldn’t possibly have taken the oath – he wasn’t in Saul’s camp at the time his father ordered it.
But just as he had his excuse for not waiting on Samuel as the Lord had instructed at Gilgal, Saul felt justified in demanding Jonathan’s death.
“But the people broke in and said to Saul, ‘Jonathan has won this great victory for Israel. Should he die? Far from it! As surely as the Lord lives, not one hair on his head will be touched, for God helped him do a great deed today.’ So the people rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death” (I Samuel 14:45). So Jonathan’s life was spared.
What had Samuel told Saul after he’d disobeyed the Lord at Gilgal (see First Samuel 13)? “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. Had you kept it, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after His own heart” (I Samuel 13:13b-14a).
Seems to me that would have been a huge wake-up call for any king. But not Saul. He continued to willfully disobey the very One who had allowed him to rule over Israel.
So what do we find Saul doing next? Samuel delivers another message from the Lord, telling Saul, “This what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek... Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation” (I Samuel 15:2a, 3a).
But here is what happened: “Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs – everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality” (I Samuel 15:9).
Getting rid of “what was worthless or of poor quality” was enough to satisfy Saul. As if God wasn’t capable of providing far greater things for Saul, this unwise king hung onto things he considered of value while rejecting the One of priceless worth.
And Saul wasn’t through digging his hole, either. Samuel finds him in Gilgal and Saul greets him with these words: “I have carried out the Lord’s command!” (I Samuel 15:13b).
No he hadn’t. Y’all have heard me say this countless times: partial obedience is disobedience. Saul partially obeyed and considered that close enough. That’s not what God expects, folks; it’s all or none. And Saul was in for another hard lesson.
Copyright © 2013
Judy Woodward Bates