RASH DECISIONS ON THE PART OF LEADERSHIP CAN PLACE THEIR TROOPS AT RISK
God had given Saul a taste of victory – not because of his own bravery and effective leadership but rather because of the bold faith of his son Jonathan. Still Saul was quick to give himself the credit and think that he could do no wrong. Instead of being careful to inquire of the Lord, he rashly makes some decisions that are very self-serving and that end up putting his troops at risk – damaging their strength and morale.
Contrast between Jonathan and Saul throughout this section
I. (:1-15) BOLDNESS IS ADMIRABLE WHEN SUBMITTED TO GOD’S GUIDANCE —
JONATHAN’S BOLD ATTACK ON THE GARRISON OUTPOST PUTS THE PHILISTINES ON THE RUN
A. (:1) Jonathan’s Initiative to Launch a Mission
“Come and let us cross over to the Philistines’ garrison that is on yonder side.”
1. Two Person Mission – Just Jonathan and his armor bearer
2. Kept Mission Secret from Saul (father and king) – did not think he would get his permission or support
B. (:2-5) Surrounding Circumstances
1. (:2) Saul camped out with 600 troops outside of Gibeah
2. (:3a) Ahijah wearing priestly ephod = Potential was there to consult the Lord
Ryrie: “The ephod was used to consult God in a time of crisis. This was probably done by means of the Urim and Thummim attached to the breastplate of the ephod (see notes on Exod. 28:6-30). By yes and no questions the wrong choice between two alternatives could be eliminated.”
3. (:3b) Secret nature of mission emphasized
“And the people did not know that Jonathan had gone.”
4. (:4-5) Geography of the situation
C. (:6-10) Plan to Determine God’s Will Regarding Engaging the Enemy
1. (:6) Confidence of Jonathan
a. Based on having God on his side
(as opposed to the “garrison of the uncircumcised”)
b. Based on the Power of God that is not constrained by the Weakness of Man
“perhaps the Lord will work for us, for the Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few”
Davis: “Jonathan was perhaps recalling the historical events surrounding Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites (Judg. 7:4 ff).
2. (:7) Support of His Armor Bearer
“Do all that is in your heart; turn yourself, and here I am with you according to your desire.”
3. (:8-10) Mission Hinges on Sign from the Lord to Go Ahead
“then we will go up, for the Lord has given them into our hands; and this shall be the sign to us.”
D. (:11-12) Execution of the Plan
Worked like clockwork; took advantage of the bravado and false confidence of the Philistines (who had superior numbers)
Guzik: “This was a difficult climb. Jonathan was not the kind to say, ‘Well, it would be nice to do this. But the rocks are steep and there are a lot of Philistines up there. Let’s just pray instead.’ No; he got down on his hands and knees and climbed! If we only want victory, or want to be used by God when it is easy, we won’t see much victory and we won’t be used very much.”
E. (:13-15) Extent and Impact of the Successful Mission
1. Killed about 20 Men
2. Shook up the Entire Philistine Army
“And there was a trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. Even the garrison and the raiders trembled, and the earthn quaked so that it became a great trembling.”
II. (:16-23) WINNING IS CONTAGIOUS –
IT’S EASY TO RALLY THE TROOPS WHEN VICTORY IS OBVIOUS
A. (:16) Positive Report from the Spies:
1. Confusion and Chaos in the Camp of the Enemy
“behold the multitude melted away; and they went here and there”
2. Supernatural Events: Earthquake and thunder
B. (:17) Identification of Jonathan as the Instigator (accompanied by armor bearer)
C. (:18-19) Aborted Attempt to Seek the Lord’s Guidance
1. (:18) Saul Starts to Seek the Lord’s Guidance
Gordon: explains that instead of the ark of the covenant, “the reading of the LXX therefore has obvious advantage: ‘Bring the ephod.’” ???
2. (:19) Saul Changes His Mind –
things are going so well he doesn’t want to take the time
Fatal Flaw: too impatient to wait upon the Lord!
D. (:20-22) Israelite Soldiers Rally as the Rout Snowballs
1. (:20) Saul and His Soldiers Rally
2. (:21) The Hebrew Mercenaries Switch Back to the Winning Side
Davis: “Some scholars feel that these individuals were probably slaves captured from Israel in previous raids; however, it seems more likely that they were professional soldiers or mercenaries who had sold themselves into military service. When the Israelites were victorious, they changed their allegiance and fought with Saul.”
3. (:22) Even the Cave Cowards Want In on the Action
E. (:23) Summary:
“So the Lord delivered Israel that day, and the battle spread beyond Bethaven.”
III. (:24-30) SOMETIMES A LEADER PUSHES THE TROOPS TOO HARD
A. (:24) Excessive Demands by Leadership Creates Unnecessary Problems
“Now the men of Israel were hard-pressed on that day”
The battle brings enough pressure with it; unwise for leaders to increase the pressure burden.
Ryrie: “So desirous was Saul of avenging himself against his enemies that he neglected the needs of his own men and swore a foolish oath which almost cost the life of his son.”
B. (:25-26) Unnecessary Problem for the People: Hunger and Weakness where God had provided Sustenance and Strength
“behold, there was a flow of honey; but no man put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath.”
C. (:27-28) Unnecessary Problem for Jonathan: Ignorance of the Rash Regulation Led to Culpable Violation
1. Consequence of Disobedience: “his eye brightened”
2. Consequence of Obedience: “the people were weary”
Saul had reversed God’s whole program of blessing and cursing.
D. (:29-30) Critical Assessment by Jonathan
“My father has troubled the land. See now, how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. How much more, if only the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.”
Bottom Line: Saul’s rash leadership cost the Israelites an opportunity to achieve an even greater victory.
IV. (:31-35) SOMETIMES A LEADER POINTS THE FINGER OF BLAME AT EVERYONE BUT HIMSELF
A. (:31a) Victory Can Easily Lead to Carelessness
Impressive victory despite the fatigue.
B. (:31b-32) Fatigue and Pressure Make Us More Susceptible to Temptation
Guzik: “On this day of battle, because of Saul’s foolish command, the people were so hungry they broke this command. Their obedience to Saul’s foolish command led them to disobey God’s clearly declared command. This is always the result of legalism!”
C. (:33) The Leader Deflects Criticism by Pointing the Finger of Blame at the People
Even though he had weakened them and made them vulnerable to the temptation
D. (:34-35) The Leader Can Use the Trappings of Religion to Disguise His Own Guilt
Significant: “It was the first altar that he built to the Lord”
V. (:36-46) RASH DECISIONS HAVE A WAY OF COMING HOME TO ROOST
A. (:36-37) Sin Obscures Our Ability to Discern the Will of the Lord
1. Admirable that Saul wants to take further initiative against the Philistines
2. Admirable that Saul wants to first inquire of the Lord and discern His will
(although maybe this was at the prompting of the priest)
3. Admirable that Saul recognized that there was a problem that needed to be addressed before proceeding
But blind to the reality that the problem was with his own pride rather than the ceremonial violation in ignorance by his brave son of the faith.
B. (:38-43) God Is Willing to Expose Sin if We Let Him – the Casting of Lots
Why didn’t Jonathan just step forward and confess?
C. (:44-46) God Provides Surprising Grace and Mercy in Time of Need
Works through the people to spare Jonathan the death sentence due him.
Saul and Jonathan were both willing to have Jonathan die … was Saul perhaps inclined to do away with someone he now viewed as a rival for the people’s loyalty?
Blaikie: “All this shows Saul plunging and floundering from one mistake to another, and crowning his blunders by a proposal so outrageous that the indignation of the people arrests his purpose. The idea that the work of the day shall be wound up by the execution of the youth through whom all the wonderful deliverance has come, and that youth Saul’s own son, is one that could never have entered into any but a distempered brain. Reason seems to have begun to stagger on her throne; the sad process has begun which in a more advanced stage left Saul the prey of an evil spirit, and in its last and most humiliating stage drove him to consult with the witch of Endor.”
Yet having said all that … it must be noted that OT saints had a very high regard for any type of oath sworn before the Lord … so the foolishness lies more in the oath itself than in the execution of the punishment.
VI. (:47-52) SUMMARY OF SAUL’S MILITARY LEADERSHIP
A. Numerous Conquests Against the Enemies of Israel
“he fought against all his enemies on every side”
“and wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment”
B. Particular Commendation for Bravery Against the Amalekites
“And he acted valiantly and defeated the Amalekites”
C. (:49-52) Employed the Best People in Positions of Leadership
“and when Saul saw any mighty man or any valiant man, he attached him to his staff.”