1 Samuel 14:24
Now the men of Israel were in distress that day, for Saul had placed the troops under an oath, saying, "Cursed is the man who eats any food before evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies." So none of the troops tasted any food.
Sermons
RashnessB. Dale 1 Samuel 14:24-46
A Bad Saving of TimeWayland Hoyt, D. D.1 Samuel 14:24-52
Acting from Mere ImpulseJ. A. Muller.1 Samuel 14:24-52
Great Issues Hang on a King's Rash WordFootsteps of Truth.1 Samuel 14:24-52
Saul's WilfulnessW. G. Blaikie, D. D.1 Samuel 14:24-52
The Rash OathHelen Plumptre.1 Samuel 14:24-52
1 Samuel 14:24-46. (MICHMASH, AJALON.)
Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, etc. (ver. 24). Rashness is often a cause of trouble; and some persons might profitably ponder the advice once given by the town clerk of Ephesus, "Do nothing rashly" (Acts 19:36). It is also, sometimes, very sinful, as it was in Saul. Whilst pursuing the Philistines, and wishing to exterminate them, he imposed a solemn oath upon the people not to take food until the evening under penalty of death. This rash oath was followed by two others of a similar nature (vers. 39, 44), all indicating the recklessness and wilfulness of his course. His concern for the law (vers. 33, 34), his erection of an altar (ver. 35), his asking counsel of God before going to spoil the enemy by night (ver. 37), his eagerness to ascertain by lot the cause of the silence of the oracle (ver. 41), were not an exhibition of genuine piety; they were rather a substitute for it, and the fruits of an unsanctified, blind, and passionate zeal; and the death of the noble Jonathan, if it had taken place, would have completed his folly and sin. Consider his rashness as -

I. REVEALING A WRONG STATE OF MIND.

1. Inconsideration. His oath was uttered without deliberation (Ecclesiastes 5:2). He did not consider whether it was according' to the will of God, nor what its consequences might be. He did not afterwards reflect how far the transgressions of others and the silence of Heaven might be due to his own fault, and he did not apparently recognise his fault when plainly set before him.

2. Insincerity. "It did not proceed from a proper attitude toward God, but was an act of false zeal in which he had more regard to himself and his own kingly power than to the cause of the kingdom of Jehovah" (Keil).

3. Vainglory. "That I may be avenged on mine enemies." "In this prohibition there was a secret pride and misuse of power, for he desired to force, as it were a complete victory, and then appropriate the glory of it to himself."

II. IMPOSING A NEEDLESS BURDEN upon others. Once and again it is said "the people were faint" (vers. 28, 31). They were exhausted with severe and prolonged exertion, famished with hunger, and unable to continue the pursuit. Their suffering was great, their power diminished, their temptation strong. But Saul had thought only of himself. Rulers should seek the welfare of their subjects rather than their own glory; and all men should consider the effect of their resolutions, promises, and commands on other people, and use their influence over them for their good.

III. OCCASIONING GRIEVOUS SIN in them (vers. 32-35). They avoided one offence only to commit another with a rashness equal to that of Saul himself (Genesis 9:4; Deuteronomy 12:16; Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 7:27). He censured and checked them. Would that he had also censured and checked himself! But men who severely condemn the faults of others are often blind to their own, even when the former reflect and are occasioned by the latter (Psalm 19:12, 13). The altar, erected doubtless with a view to the presentation upon it of thank offerings for the victory, was still more needed for the sin offerings (expiatory) which ought to have been offered on behalf both of ruler and people (Leviticus 4:13, 22).

IV. IMPERILLING INNOCENT LIFE. Not having heard the oath, Jonathan, in unconsciously violating it (ver. 27), was morally blameless. Yet his act could not be passed by with due regard to the great name in which the people had been adjured. It interrupted Divine communications (ver. 37), and resulted in his being chosen by the lot (ver. 42). Again Saul should have been led to consider his own error as its cause, and a trespass or guilt offering might have sufficed (Leviticus 5:4). To inflict the "curse" would be wholly unjust, as is implied in Jonathan's simple, mild, and submissive remonstrance (ver. 43). But Saul's last oath was more reckless than his first; it was ignorant and wilful, showed more concern about the literal fulfilment of his word than humble and faithful obedience to a higher will, and brought him to the brink of a great crime.

"Take then no vow at random: ta'en in faith
Preserve it; yet not bent, as Jephthah once,
Blindly to execute a rash resolve,
Whom better it had suited to exclaim,
I have done ill,' than to redeem his pledge
By doing worse"


(Dante, 'Par.' 5.)

V. BRINGING DEEP HUMILIATION (ver. 45). The ominous silence of the people (ver. 39) is followed by their unanimous and resolute voice, in which reason and justice, conscience and God, speak with irresistible might. They set their will in opposition to his, and he is compelled to submit. His purpose is frustrated. "The son is raised above the father, and the people above the king." But although his sin is now forced home upon him, of voluntary submission there is no sign. Rashness and self-will are sure to meet with a check, and happy is he who lays to heart the lesson which it teaches.

VI. DEFEATING ITS OWN AIMS. (ver. 46). "My father hath brought disaster on the land," etc. (vers. 29, 30; Joshua 7:25). The completeness of the overthrow of the enemy is marred. The opportunity of inflicting a fatal blow upon them is lost. "And there was sore war against the Philistines all the days of Saul" (ver. 52). That which begins in rashness ends in disappointment and grief. - D.







And the men of Israel were distressed that day: for Saul had adjured the people.
One little sentence, spoken in a moment of passion by King Henry the Second, brought a lifetime of remorse and penance and humiliation, and made him responsible for a murder which his calmer soul abhorred. He had been hearing of repetitions of troubles brought about by his great Chancellor, a Becket, and in a moment of exasperated temper exclaimed, "Of the cowards that eat my bread, is there none will rid me of this turbulent priest?" Too soon, and toe eagerly, the hasty words were acted upon. The anger of the moment was responsible for a deed which the lifetime of remorse and humiliation could nor undo.

(Footsteps of Truth.)

That Saul was now suffering in character under the influence of the high position and great power to which he had been raised, is only too apparent from what is recorded in these verses. No doubt he pays more respect that he has been used to pay to the forms of religion. But how are we to explain his increase of religiousness side by side with the advance of moral obliquity and recklessness? Why should he be more careful in the service of God while he becomes more imperious in temper, more stubborn in will, and more regardless of the obligations alike of king and father? The explanation is not difficult to find. The expostulation of Samuel had given him a fright. The announcement that the kingdom would not be continued in his line, and that God had found a worthier man to set over His people Israel, had moved him to the quick. There could be no doubt that Samuel was speaking the truth. Saul had begun to disregard God's will in his public acts, and was now beginning to reap the penalty. He felt that he must pay more attention to God's will. If he was not to lose everything, he must try to be more religious. There is no sign of his feeling penitent in heart. He is not concerned in spirit for his unworthy behaviour toward God. He feels only that his own interests as king are imperilled. It is this selfish motive that makes him determine to be more religious. Alas, how common has this spirit been in the history of the world! Louis XIV has led a most wicked and profligate life, and he has ever and anon qualms that threaten him with the wrath of God. To avert that wrath, he must be more attentive to his religious duties. He must show more favour to the Church, exalt her dignitaries to greaser honour, endow her orders and foundations with greater wealth. But that is not all. He must use all the arms and resources of his kingdom for ridding the Church of her enemies. For twenty years he must harass the Protestants. What the magnificent monarch did on a large scale, millions of obscurer men have done on a small. It is a sad truth that terror and selfishness have been at the foundation of a great deal of that which passes current as religion. But it is all because what he calls religion is no religion; it is the selfish bargain-making spirit, which aims no higher than deliverance from pain; it is not the noble exercise of the soul, prostrated by the sense of guilt, and helpless through consciousness of weakness, lifting up its eyes to the hills whence cometh its help, and rejoicing in the grace that freely pardons all its sin through the blood of Christ, and in the gift of the Holy Spirit that renews and sanctifies the soul. The first thing that Saul does, in the exercise of this selfish spirit, is to impose on the people an obligation to fast until the day be over. Jonathan was a true man of God. He was in far nearer fellowship with God than his father, and yet so far from approving of the religious order to fast which his father had given, he regards it with displeasure and distrust. Godly men will sometimes be found less outwardly religious than some other men, and will greatly shock them by being so. God had given a wonderful deliverance that day through Jonathan. Jonathan was as remarkable for the power of faith as Saul for the want of it. At worst, it was but a ceremonial offence, but to Jonathan it was not even that. But Saul was too obstinate to admit the plea. By a new oath, he devoted his son to death. Nothing could show more clearly the deplorable state of his mind. In the eye of reason and of justice, Jonathan had committed no offence. He had given signal evidence of the possession in a remarkable degree of the favour of God. He had laid the nation under inconceivable obligations. All these pleas were for him; and surely in the king's breast a voice might have been heard pleading, Your son, your firstborn, "the beginning of your strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power"! Is it possible that this voice was silenced by jealousy, jealousy of his own son, like his after-jealousy of David? What kind of heart could this Saul have had when in such circumstances he could deliberately say, "God do so, and more also, for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan"? But, "the Divine right of kings to govern wrong" is not altogether without check. A temporary revolution saved Jonathan It was one good effect of excitement. In calmer circumstances, the people might have been too terrified to interfere. So the people rescued Jonathan, that he died not. Evidently the military spirit ruled in Saul, but it did not bring peace nor blessing to the kingdom. Once off the right rail, Saul never got on it again; rash and restless, he doubtless involved his people in many a disaster, fulfilling all that Samuel had said about taking from the people, fulfilling but little that the people had hoped concerning deliverance from the hand of the Philistines.

(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)

We have to propose the question, "What, in recording this passage, did the Holy Spirit mean that we should learn from it?" We shall not be long in perceiving that there is brought before us, chiefly, one more painful defect, in Saul's general conduct, and that the consequences associated with that defect are very distinctly described: it is one, too, which is fat from being uncommon. In codes of laws drawn up by man this defect is not indeed set down by name, and signalised as a sin, though humanity bleeds under its effects, but it is condemned, and justly so, by that "commandment" which is "exceeding broad." We refer to the habit of inconsiderateness — the habit of acting from mere impulse, of allowing merely momentary feeling to sway, without pausing to ask whither the act which we perform, or the step on which we decide, will lead us, and how it will affect other persons besides ourselves. It, is truly a melancholy instance which this chapter describes. To pronounce a curse at, all was presumptuous, where there was no direct command of God to be infringed; and more, what personal pain it inflicted — what actual disadvantages it involved — what further mischief it would have done, if the matter had been left in the King of Israel's hand! How different all would have been, if, instead of following the mere impulse of an excited mind, he had thought for a moment, and, when prompted to issue his decree, had paused to ask. How will this affect my people? how will it operate in the end? But where, in this imperfect world, can we turn our eyes without meeting scenes and circumstances which cause us, involuntarily, to say within ourselves, "What a difference there would have been here if there had been more of reflection and less of mere impulse."

I. WE MAY GATHER A SUGGESTION OR TWO FROM THIS PART OF SAUL'S HISTORY, FOR OUR OWN CAUTION AND ADMONITION.

1. Let us remember that this inconsiderateness, this acting from mere impulse, is commonly the result of an overweening regard to self. It was not Saul who commenced this engagement, but he could not bear not to have the most prominent place in the affair, and he must do something to make himself both seen and felt — he must make his authority evident, though the result of his decree would inevitably be the misery of his people all that day. His love for his own dear self, and the manner in which all his thoughts centred around that favourite object, are discernible in the very words of the imprecation, "Cursed be the man that, eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies." Let us make the interests of others the object of our regard in all we undertake. Never let us think of ourselves without, at the same time, thinking of others too. The habit of attaching importance to others' convenience, to others' comforts, to others' feelings, will, under God, prove a great preservative against acting from mere impulse.

2. This habit, which we condemn, even though it may involve no serious consequences to others, is manifestly wrong, because it is decidedly atheistic. It affords no room for God; it makes no reference to Him. "In all thy ways acknowledge Him" is a command which needs no other basis than the simple fact that there is a God, and that we are His feeble and dependent creatures. Nehemiah was in the habit of associating God with everything, of putting Him in His proper place: Saul allowed Him perpetually to be out of sight. Hence the difference between the practice of the two men. The one acted deliberately, because he acted prayerfully; the other acted from impulse, because it was no part of his habit to recognise his dependence upon God.

3. Acting from impulse, while it often results in the infliction of mischief on others, is not less to be deprecated on account of the injury which hasty and intemperate men occasion to themselves, and chiefly in this respect — the bitter and enduring bondage into which their thoughtlessness often brings them. Think, then, before you act; pray, before you put your purpose into practice. Consider others as well as yourselves. Direct design to do wrong has slain its thousands; but the inconsiderateness of mere impulse has slain its tens of thousands. "None of us liveth to himself."

II. THE NARRATIVE ALLOWS US TO DRAW SOME FEW GENERAL INFERENCES AS TO THE CHARACTER OF SAUL'S PERSONAL RELIGION AT THIS TIME.

1. It leads us to perceive how strangely partial his religion was in its operation. Saul's religion was not of a very deep character; it was of that order which allows its professor to be vastly more affected by the neglect of something outward and formal than by the indulgence, within himself, of a wrong and impious state of mind. It puts us in mind of that most thorough manifestation of hypocrisy, of which the New Testament contains the record, when the accusers and betrayers of Jesus shrunk back with sanctimonious step from the threshold of the judgment hall and would not set foot within it, "lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover." And yet, though their consciences would not allow them to do this, the very same consciences, when Pilate came out to them, and declared that Jesus was innocent, presented no obstacle to their murderous cry, "Crucify him: — not this man, but Barabbas."

2. Even in the discharge of properly religious duties Saul was tardy and dilatory; and when, at last he was found doing that which was right he appeared to act, quite as much as when he did wrong, from mere impulse. That it should never have entered his mind to build an altar to God before, this was the point on which the Spirit of God directed that the sacred historian should pronounce emphatically. How keenly significant is that parenthetical sentence — "The same was the first altar which he built to the Lord!" It seems to say to us, God notices when you build the first altar, when you first set it up, whether it be in the secret chamber or in the family. He knows the date of each secret religious transaction, keeps account when it was done, add how long an interval transpired before it was entered upon.

3. It was of a kind which allowed him to put God on one side, when he was too busy to attend to Him. Real, religion will ever put God first — first, as the Object whose glory is sought; and first, as the Being on whose aid we must, in the spirit of humble dependence, rely. The multiplication of duties and engagements in this busy world may sometimes press heavily upon the religious professor; but at such seasons they really serve as tests of character. If he be truly what he professes to be, his sincerity will be seen in this, that he will not allow his busiest cares to interfere with fellowship with God.

4. It does not appear to have been characterised by the slightest self-suspicion, end there is constantly to be detected throughout a singular want of humility. It never seems to have entered his thoughts that he could, by any possibility, have been in the wrong; but he was most ready to suppose that anyone else might be to blame. In the right direction of the lots as they were cast, it was the evident design of God to bring out to view the evil of Saul inconsiderateness. He was the only culpable person, and God made that fact evident. Now, one would have thought; that if anything could have brought him to a sense of his error, it would have been the discovery that his rash decree and oath had implicated his own son, Jonathan, in liability to suffering and death. But, no! he did not see it; he would not see it. Our indignation rises when we hear him say, "God do so and more also: for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan;" and we are ready to exclaim, "What! another oath? Has not one done mischief enough? cannot you see it? do you not feel it?" Nothing can exceed the hardening influence of that professed religion which leaves a man unsuspicious and ignorant of himself.

(J. A. Muller.)

Though Samuel could not spare time to seek the mind and will of God, he would follow the devices of his own heart, and lean to his own understanding. He made a rash vow. He stands here as a warning to me and you When we have been very much pressed with business or hurried with distress, how short have we been in prayer! how remiss in seeking the Lord! And then, when our conscience was a little uneasy, we have tried to quiet it with some foolish resolutions, thereby bringing ourselves into bondage and sin. As if the more to expose the folly of Saul's vow, the wearied and worn Israelites come to a wood where delicious food was ready to drop into their mouths; they might almost have eaten as they ran. Ah, Israel! how kindly would your heavenly, your rejected King, have supplied and refreshed you, while the king whom you have chosen does but distress and oppress you. A soldier of Jesus knows what it is after climbing some craggy rock, and after many a hard struggle with his enemies, to get a taste of that precious word which is sweeter than honey to his mouth (Psalm 119:103). His downcast eyes are lightened — he again sees him who is invisible — he is satisfied with marrow and fatness, and praises his God with joyful lips. The poor people became extremely faint for want of food; and as soon as ever the set time was expired, they flew upon the spoil, and, ravenous as they were, did eat, with the blood, thus breaking a direct command of God, while they had so scrupulously kept the commandment of a man God had commanded them not to eat the blood of the sacrifices: probably this command was given to keep up a lively remembrance that it was blood, even the blood of Jesus only, that could atone for sin. Saul puts a stop to this, and, with a further show of devotion, — builds an altar unto the Lord Alas, poor Saul! thou art not the only one of whom it will be said, "He did many things, but left undone the one thing needful." Though this oath of Saul was so rash and foolish, yet how sacred is an oath with our God. Though only one, and he the well beloved Jonathan, had broken it. and that too ignorantly, still God must avenge a broken oath. Oh, righteous Father! what a warning, what a word of comfort is here! Poor swearer! it has a dark side for thee. Will God thus remember, thus take notice of a curse? And wilt thou dare to curse thyself, thy wife, thy children, thy neighbour, thy cattle, thine eyes, thy limbs, and then say, "Tush, God hath forgotten?" Instead of profiting by the trouble that his rash oath had already brought, upon the people, Saul adds yet another, saying, "As the Lord liveth, which sayeth Israel, though it be in Jonathan, my son. he shall surely die." The people, wiser than the headstrong king, rescue the well-beloved Jonathan, giving him, in a few words, as high a character as can be given of a worm. "He hath wrought with God." To walk with God, and to work with God, should just form the summary of a believer's life and occupation. It is not confined to one or two of his children, but this honour have all his saints.

(Helen Plumptre.)

Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening.
It is plain enough, this refusing the people time for eating that they might swiftly pursue, was really a pernicious saving of time; was really a hindrance rather than a help. For, through lack of food, the people became so exhausted that they could not pursue. This bad saving of time is but an illustration of the sort of time-saving many of us are frequently at in these last years of the nineteenth century! How frequently young people make such bad saving of time when they refuse themselves the food of preparation for future service, by using the time of their youth in too great devotion to other things. The young man in business whose attention is on the simple getting through anyhow with his duty, is making this bad saving of time. The young woman whose chief care is society rather than thoroughness and deftness in the knowledges and services that specially belong to women, is making such bad saving of her time. They set Michael Angelo at carving a statue in snow. Lost time for the great sculptor, for the statue being finished could only melt. Such as these are carving statues out of snow, and poor ones at that.

2. How frequently people make such bad saving of time when, like Saul refusing to let the people take time for eating, they refuse to take time for the duty next them, and use that time in dreaming about or dreading the duty.

3. How frequently people make bad saving of time by refusing to seize the present time for becoming Christians, using the time meanwhile for the pursuit of other things.

(Wayland Hoyt, D. D.)

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