How to Spot a Kingly Failure (I Samuel 14:24-52)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 14:24–14:52
Crying for a King
I. Our Goal This Morning
This morning, we have one goal. Our goal is to deliberately read, carefully consider, and faithfully interpret the Bible in order to hear this morning from God himself. The Bible and only the Bible is God's word to us. And when we have heard from God, our goal is live in light of what God has shown us. Amen?
And so this morning, with this goal in mind, we return to our study in the book of I Samuel. Turn there with me, if you will, to I Samuel 14:24.
II. The Passage: "My Father Has Troubled the Land” (14:24-52)
Now to understand where we are in this story we need to remember several key points:
1) Saul was raised up to be king over God’s people Israel, 2) He was called to deliver the people from their oppressive neighbors, the Philistines, 3) In chapter 13, Saul’s son Jonathan attacked a Philistine garrison, 4) in response the Philistines mobilized a massive army, 5) at the beginning of chapter 14, Jonathan again attacked the Philistines and began a massive offensive that eventually pulled in all the Israelite warriors.
But the rest of the story that resumes in 14:24 actually begins with a flashback. This takes place before the Israelite forces are drawn into the fighting that Jonathan and his armor-bearer began, as we read about at the beginning of this chapter.
So let’s do this. We’ve got 28 verses to work through here, so let’s simply read through this story, and then after that we can make some observations about and think about the significance of what we are about to hear. Let me read starting in 14:24...
And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people had tasted food. 25 Now when all the people  came to the forest, behold, there was honey on the ground. 26 And when the people entered the forest, behold, the honey was dropping, but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. 27 But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright. 28 Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day.’” And the people were faint. 29 Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.”
31 They struck down the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. And the people were very faint. 32 The people pounced on the spoil and took sheep and oxen and calves and slaughtered them on the ground. And the people ate them with the blood. 33 Then they told Saul, “Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood.” And he said, “You have dealt treacherously; roll a great stone to me here.”  34 And Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people and say to them, ‘Let every man bring his ox or his sheep and slaughter them here and eat, and do not sin against the Lord by eating with the blood.’”
So every one of the people brought his ox with him that night and they slaughtered them there. 35 And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord.
36 Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and plunder them until the morning light; let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.” But the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.” 37 And 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 that day. 38 And Saul said, “Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today. 39 For as the Lord lives who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” But there was not a man among all the people who 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, “O Lord God of Israel, why  have you not answered your servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O Lord, God of Israel, give Urim. But if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped. 42 Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.” And Jonathan was taken.
43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.” 44 And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.” 45 Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die. 46 Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.
Now these last six verses, 47-52 are a summary of Saul’s royal accomplishments. This kind of summary, this description of Saul’s family, is the kind of thing that one would see again and again in the book of Kings. This kind of summary typically marks the end of the account of a particular king. So even though there is another story about Saul in chapter 15, this really is the formal end of the account of Saul’s reign. Look at verse 47...
47 When Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the Ammonites, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines. Wherever he turned he routed them. 48 And he did valiantly and struck the Amalekites and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them.
49 Now the sons of Saul were Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malchi-shua. And the names of his two daughters were these: the name of the firstborn was Merab, and the name of the younger Michal. 50 And the name of Saul's wife was Ahinoam the daughter of Ahimaaz. And the name of the commander 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 There was hard fighting against the Philistines all the days of Saul. And when Saul saw any strong man, or any valiant man, he attached him to himself.
Please notice this: that even though Saul accomplished many things, we are told in verse 52, that he never overcame the Philistines. He fought against them his entire reign. And as we’ll see at the end of I Samuel, Saul will, in fact, die at the hands of the Philistines.
III. Perspective: Not the King They Needed
Now the first question we have to ask ourselves here is, “When the original writer sat down to pen these words, what did he want to communicate to his readers through these accounts about King Saul? Why are they included here?” Once we can establish the intention or purpose of the original writer, then we can talk about how these things are significant for us here today.
I think what we need to see about King Saul, and what we will see very clearly in the next chapter, is that everything that the book of Samuel tells us about Saul has been written down in order to tell us why he was a kingly failure. Saul was the kind of king the people wanted (i.e. big and royal looking), he was the kind of king the people deserved (after rejecting God as their true king), but he was not the king God's people needed.
This is true for several reasons. This section that we just looked at gives us at least five reason why Saul was not the kind of leader God's people needed.
We won't go back and read all of the verses, but you can see from the five points on your outline how the different parts of this passage reveal different reasons why Saul was a kingly failure. For example, look back at the first verse of our section for this morning, verse 24. We learn from that verse that:
1. A kingly failure is more concerned about his own agenda than God's. (14:24a)
Notice the pronouns Saul is using in verse 24:
And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.”
As the leader of God's people, why is Saul more concerned about his vengeance, rather than the honor of God's name and the good of God's people? Why are the Philistines described as “my enemies” rather than the enemies of God or the oppressors of God's people?
And the oath itself, this oath that Saul lays on the people, is certainly not part of God's instructions. Where did Saul come up with this stupid plan? What is obvious here is that, even though Saul is supposed to be guided by God through God's law, and God's prophet, and sometimes God's priest, he instead is guided by his own agenda.
This failure is the overarching problem; it is the root problem in regard to Saul's kingship.
This is precisely why in the last chapter, chapter 13, Saul's disobedience was condemned by Samuel the prophet with these words, (13:14) But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
God's people needed a king who lived fully under the kingship of God. Saul was not that man.
But look at how Saul's “me-centered” agenda leads to other kingly failures. For example, we see in verses 24-30 that...
2. A kingly failure is more interested in using people than caring for them. (14:24b-30)
Saul was not concerned about the welfare of his soldiers. If he was, he would have allowed them to eat and be strengthened, right? Jonathan’s taste of honey and Jonathan's words of wisdom both prove the point that Saul's rash and self-absorbed decision was not only hurtful in terms of the welfare of each individual soldier, but also in terms of the battle's outcome.
When Saul looked at his men, he only saw tools to be used for the sake of his agenda. He didn't see God's people who needed to be shepherded, to be cared for.
We see yet another problem in verses 31 through the first part of 33. We see there that...
3. A kingly failure aids and abets others in disobedience. (14:31-33a)
In verse 31 we read that Israelites pursued the Philistines some sixteen miles to the west and southwest. But we also read that this pursuit, combined with their lack of food, had taken a severe physical toll on the people.
And all this sets the stage for the people’s sin in verse 32. Going all the way back to Noah, God routinely commanded the people not to eat meat with blood in eat. Blood was a symbol for life, and God used this prohibition to teach them about the sacredness of life. But the soldiers were so hungry that they were not going to waste time worrying about blood. They needed food.
Now even though Saul did not order the men to eat blood-soaked meat, he did create the circumstances; he is guilty of creating a breeding ground for sin. His failure to lead God's people help aid and abet the failures of God's people. Do you see that?
Now, in the second half of verse 33, all the way through verse 37, we discover a fourth troubling feauture in terms of Saul's character.
4. A kingly failure invokes God simply when it is convenient. (14:33b-37)
In those verses, 33b-37, we see two separate situations. In the first half of that passage Saul is dealing with the bloody meat issue, and in the second half of the passage, he is planning for a night attack against the Philistines.
But did you notice in both of those episodes that Saul never introduces the subject of God. Someone else always brings God to his attention. “Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood.” (v. 33) ...But the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.” (v. 36). And when others bring God to his attention, Saul is quick to invoke the name of God. He is quick to be religious.
But in both cases, it is extremely convenient to include God in things, isn't it? In both instances Saul can look like the hero; more importantly, he can look like the godly hero. That's not to say that Saul didn't believe in God. Saul believes in God, but he seems to believe that God exists in order to affirm our agendas, rather than us living for God's purposes.
I think we find one last problem in verses 38-46. I think we see in those verses that...
5. A kingly failure is usually zealous about the sins of others rather than dealing with his own. (14:38-46)
What we need to be very clear about in verses 38 through 46 is that God is, in fact, communicating through the priest and the Urim and Thummim. Now, remember, the Urim and Thummim were probably like flat stones, maybe one light and one dark, maybe they had something written on them. But they were somehow used to discern God’s will. That's what's happening in these verses. Because God is silent about Saul's battle plans, Saul believes there must be unconfessed sin among the soldiers.
So when Jonathan is identified as the culprit, Saul assumes two things: that Jonathan's guilt is confirmed and that Saul's own oath is being validated. But I believe the bigger picture of chapters 13 and 14 should lead us conclude that Jonathan is singled out, not because he is guilty of breaking Saul's oath, but ultimately, so that Saul will see the foolishness of his oath. That very point is made by the other leaders when they rescue Jonathan from Saul's punishment.
They argue persuasively that Jonathan cannot die, because Jonathan was the one God used to accomplish victory! And isn’t it amazing that in spite of Jonathan’s strong words in verses 29 and 30, about his father’s oath, he is willing to die if it is necessary for the sake of Israel’s victory? Jonathan is the kind of leader God's people need. But because of his father's disobedience and God's judgment, Jonathan will never be king. No one from Saul's household will reign, ever again.
But look at this: even when his own son's life is on the line, Saul is unwilling to consider the very oath that Jonathan is guilty of violating. Can't Saul see that God's law does not require Jonathan's death? Can't Saul see that this oath is a result, not of a righteous and responsible royal decree, but of his own rashness and self-centeredness?
But that's the problem. He can't see his own sin. He can only see Jonathan's sin. And because he is blinded by self-righteousness, Saul must deal harshly with sin. Sin must be dealt with...just as long as it isn't his sin in the crosshairs.
No, Saul was not the king God's people needed. That much is clear from these verses.
IV. Practice: Who is the Kingly Failure?
But what exactly are we to make of this story in terms of application? What could we possibly take from all of this? The case against Saul is laid out pretty clearly here. But what about us today? What about all of us who are not Saul? What spiritual lesson is there for us? Don’t make an oath? Don’t break an oath? Make sure the troops are well fed? It’s always better to confess your sins right away? Honey can provide a good sugar rush?
Well, I think that even though there is historical and cultural distance between us and Saul, I think the spiritual distance is incredibly small. Listen again to the way this passage describes Saul:
He was more concerned about his own agenda than God's.
He was more interested in using people than caring for them
He aided and abetted others in disobedience.
He invoked God simply when it was convenient.
He was usually zealous about the sins of others rather than dealing with his
Do any of those things describe you? Oftentimes, those things fit to me a tee. In fact, the Bibles describes all of us, every single one of us, as kingly failures. Listen to what God said about mankind when he first created us:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (1:26)
Did you know that you, that I, that we were made to reign? But listen to what happened to this race of kings and queens that God created to have dominion over the earth:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things…28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:21-23; 28-31)
That’s all of us; every single one of us. We are kingly failures, because we were made to reign for the glory of God, and yet, we have chosen instead to reign in His place. We have chosen instead to play god over our lives and over the lives of others.
Which of us, every day, does not find himself or herself more concerned about our own agenda, rather than God’s. It’s usually, “What does Bryce want?”, not “What does God want?”
Which of us has not been more interested in using people, instead of caring for them? Which of us has not viewed a member of the opposite sex simply as a tool to get what we want, either as a means of pleasure or as a source of security or to establish our own worth?
Which of us has not aided and abetted others in their disobedience? Which of us has not pushed another person to the point of temptation with our bitterness or with a cold shoulder or with verbal abuse or with completely unrealistic expectations? Which of us has not either exasperated or neglected our children to the point that they act out in response?
And which of us has not invoked God simply when it was convenient? Which of us has not acted religious when it would help us fit in; when it would help us get ahead? Which of us has not brought God into the conversation simply to gain the moral high ground; in order to look holier…in order to appear righteous? Which of us, steers clear of God when it will cost us something, but draws God in when we have the chance to justify our own sin?
And which of us, is not more zealous about the sins of others, while at the same time, remaining blind to our own failures and weakness and prejudices and tendencies and rationalizations and conceits? Which of us is not more likely to judge another, rather than repent of our foolishness; to condemn rather than confess?
Can’t we see…can’t we see what this all means? The best way to spot a kingly failure is to look in the mirror. Right? Saul could never come to grips with the fact that he was a kingly failure. Can you? Can I? We have tried to rule our own lives. To use the old Tears for Fears song title, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. And because we have tried and failed, because we have failed by simply desiring to try, be coveting God’s throne, we’re all condemned under His perfect justice.
One thing is clear from God’s word: God rejects kingly failures.
So what hope do we have this morning? To be better failures? To decrease the severity of our failure-hood? To be better educated failures? To do more charity work, to cover over our failure-hood? Maybe the answer is to deny that we are failures. Maybe we should pretend like we are all kingly successes by minimizing or blaming someone else for our failures.
Listen to what the Apostle Paul was 1) willing to admit and 2) was eager to hold out as our only hope: Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (I Timothy 1:15)
Paul could admit that he was a kingly failure…”the worst”. But he could also point out the only reason for hope. If any of us are willing to refer to Jesus Christ as Savior, we have to ask ourselves, everyday, “What has he saved me from? How is saving me now? From what will he ultimately save me?”
He saves from our kingly failures. He saves us from being kingly failures…from the consequences of being kingly failures.
Who is the king we need? Who is the king we, every single one of us, needs this morning? Listen again to Paul in Philippians 2:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God [though he sat on God’s throne as God the Son…though He was King of the universe…he], did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped [a thing to be clung to], 7 but [instead he] made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The cross of Jesus, the death of Jesus confirms for us that Jesus was more concerned about God’s agenda than His own. He was more interested in caring for people than using them. His suffering and death aided and abetted others for the sake of obedience. He invoked God when it was terribly inconvenient…and they crucified him for it. And not having any of His own, He was unusually zealous about the sins of others rather in order to deal with those sins, in order to forgive those sins on the cross.
The song we sang a short time ago says it all: "I'm forgiven, because you were forsaken. I'm accepted; you were condemned. I’m alive and well, your spirit is within me, because you died and rose again. Amazing love, how can it be, that you my king would die for me? Amazing love, I know it's true. It's my joy to honor you. In all I do, I honor you."
Through faith, through faith alone, simply by trusting that we can do nothing but believe that Jesus did everything, through faith, by God’s grace, that favor we do not deserve, God can take kingly failures like us and make us royal success in Christ. Scripture itself says:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him… (II Timothy 2:11b, 12a)