I Samuel 14:24–48: Jonathan Eats Honey
I decided to go with the NIV title for this post, “Jonathan Eats Honey,” even though it’s not very descriptive of the passage. Maybe “Saul Makes a Rash Oath” might have been better. Anyway…
In the last passage, the Israelites were having a great victory against the Philistines, and it was clearly Jonathan, not Saul, who started the ball rolling. However, as this passage begins, we find out that the men are having trouble continuing the battle, because Saul has bound the army under a rash oath:
Now the men of Israel were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, “Cursed be any man who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the troops tasted food. (verse 24)
To make matters worse, when the army reaches a particular forest, they find an abundant amount of honey on the ground, just “oozing out” (verse 26) of the hives, which is probably torture for them, since they are already hungry.
And, to make matters even worse, Jonathan doesn’t know that Saul has made this oath, and goes ahead and eats some of the honey. He doesn’t even eat a lot; he just dips his staff into the honeycomb, and raises his hand to his mouth—at which point his eyes brighten (verse 27). But, as we’ll see, it’s enough. And, as soon as he’s eaten the honey, one of the other men notices, and tells Jonathan about the oath:
Then one of the soldiers told him, “Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, ‘Cursed be any man who eats food today!’ That is why the men are faint.”
Jonathan said, “My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?”
In any event, the Israelites complete their battle against the Philistines, and as soon as the battle is over, the men pounce on the plunder, and start butchering animals to eat. They’re in such a rush to get food into their bellies that they even eat the food with the blood still in it. This is reported to Saul, and he tells the men that they are breaking faith with God by eating meat with blood still in it; he has a large stone set up, where the animals can be slaughtered properly. He also builds an altar to the LORD, and verse 35 tells us that this is the first time he’s done this.
After this, Saul decides to go back after the Philistines again, that very night, and continue plundering them until dawn. The men tell Saul that they’re with him, to do whatever seems best, but the priest suggests that they inquire of the LORD first. So they do, and Saul asks Him if they should go after the Philistines, but God doesn’t answer.
This worries Saul, and he has all of the men gathered, so that he can find out who has committed what sin, that has caused the LORD not to have favour with them. Saul separates the people into two groups: himself and Jonathan, and everyone else. When lots are drawn, the lot goes to Saul and Jonathan, and then when lots are cast between the two of them, the lot goes to Jonathan.
Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.”
So Jonathan told him, “I merely tasted a little honey with the end of my staff. And now must I die?”
Saul said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan.”
But the men don’t let Saul kill Jonathan; they won’t let Jonathan be put to death, because he is the one who has brought about this victory over the Philistines. So Saul discontinues his battle with the Philistines, who withdraw to their own land.
We are then told that Saul has enemies on every side: The Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites, the kings of Zobah—Zobahites?—and the Philistines. But we’re told that he inflicts punishment on them wherever he turns (verse 48), and that he also defeats the Amalekites, delivering Israel from their hands.
Some disjointed thoughts:
One of the causes of Saul’s problems might be evident in the first quote I cited, when he says that he is avenging himself on his enemies. It seems to me that Saul might have been better off if he’d treated the Philistines as God’s enemies, and seen himself as carrying out God’s revenge, rather than his own.
When Saul makes this rash oath, which really seems like a bad idea, I have to wonder to myself: Is this purely Saul’s foolishness, or is this also partially God’s judgement of Saul, for breaking faith with Him? It’s the type of question you can’t actually answer—you might as well start debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin—but it’s a question that occurs to me anyway.
When Saul admonishes the men for “breaking faith” with the LORD, I have to wonder to myself: is this hypocrisy, after Saul’s own actions, or has he actually learned his lesson? Based on what I know of Saul, I’d lean toward the former; it’s always easier to accuse someone else of their sins than to clearly see your own.
When Saul decides to draw lots, to find out who has committed the sin, it’s rather silly to divide the people into two groups, of himself and Jonathan and everyone else, but I think the reason Saul does this is that he assumes he already knows who has committed the sin. I’m guessing that Saul is assuming that the LORD is angry with the men, for eating meat with blood still in it. So he’s probably taken aback when the lot falls to himself and Jonathan. (And I wonder, when he has the second lots drawn between himself and Jonathan, if he was mentally going back over the day, trying to find a sin of his own that might have made God angry.) That being said, maybe the LORD was angry with the men, for eating meat with blood still in it, even though it was Jonathan’s actions that He was calling attention to.
When I read about Saul saying to Jonathan, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely,” if Jonathan doesn’t die, I think to myself that God will deal with Saul; for this and all of his other actions.
Despite Saul’s mistakes, and the fact that the LORD is no longer favouring him, He does give Saul some success. He may not approve of Saul as a king for Israel, but He will still use him for His purposes, in saving the Israelites from their enemies.