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.
1 Samuel 14:24-46. (MICHMASH, AJALON.)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
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.
(Footsteps of Truth.)
(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
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.)
Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening.
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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