Summary: It wasn’t enough that Saul had Go’s Spirit within him. He also needed to respond to the Spirit’s prompting with obedience. We need to listen to God’s voice and respond as he would have us respond. "Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed tha
When you think about it, being a Christian is a simple thing at one level, but it’s a multifaceted thing at another. And it’s so easy to get confused about what matters. At one level all you need is faith in Jesus Christ. At another level you need to be in a Church, you need to read your Bible. You need to obey certain laws, etc. And some people put a lot of weight on one aspect over another. But here in this passage today we discover that there’s only one thing that really matters in being a follower of God. That’s that we remain faithful to him and do what he tells us to. All the other things, the religious observance, the Bible reading, the witnessing to our neighbours, it’s all secondary to this one thing, putting God first. At the end of the passage we read: "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams." All the religious observance in the world won’t count if we ignore the word of God.
Now, as I said last week, on the surface, the life of Saul is marked by his battles against the surrounding warlords. In fact the writer summarises his life that way at the end of ch14: "47When 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. 48He did valiantly, and struck down the Amalekites, and rescued Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them." But there’s a lot more to the story than that. While Saul was a great military leader he failed at a number of points, most importantly in the way he related to God. He seemed to be still stuck in a near pagan view of God. He saw the Lord as a talisman to be reached for whenever he was in trouble. He saw religion as a way of rousing his troops. But he never seems to grasp the concept of a living God who watches over his actions and who cares whether or not he listens to him. Mind you, he’s never the out and out rebel against God. He always maintains an outward vestige of piety at least. He mostly does what God tells him. And when he doesn’t, he always has a ready excuse at hand, like the schoolboy who hasn’t done his homework.
Now of course, that means he isn’t much different to most people today. Most people are able to give an excuse for their disobedience. Most people are generally good people, on the surface at least. And like Saul, few people today have any concept at all of a God who relates to his people on a personal basis. But that’s mostly through ignorance. Saul didn’t have that excuse. He was part of the people of God. He’d had Samuel teaching him how to govern them and how to worship the Lord. But still he didn’t seem to understand.
We’ve skipped over ch14, but there we find Saul making a foolish decision in the hope that it’ll inspire his army. He makes a vow that his army will fast all day until they’ve defeated the Philistines. So none of his men are able to eat anything to sustain them during a hard day of battle. Now on the surface it sounds like a very devout thing to do. Show that you’re serious about worshipping God, show that you truly believe that it’s God who brings you victory. But in reality it’s just a political ploy and a foolish one at that. The result is that by the end of the day they’re exhausted because they’ve been battling away in the heat of the day without any nourishment.
But it gets worse. You see, Saul has made this oath while Jonathan has been off making a fool of the Philistines and in fact initiating what turns out to be a major victory. So he doesn’t know anything about it. And in the middle of the day he comes across a beehive with honey dripping out of it. So what does he do? Well, what would anyone do? He dips his staff in the honey and has a good mouthful. And immediately his eyes brighten. And we see the folly of Saul’s vow. If his men hadn’t been bound by his oath to God they would have all been refreshed and able to continue the pursuit with a new burst of energy.
But that isn’t the real problem. The real problem is the vow that Saul’s made. You see, Saul has vowed that if any of his men eats that day they’ll be put to death. But this is Saul’s own son. He’s the one who’s brought about this victory in the first place. So Saul’s men object. They’ll have nothing to do with Jonathan being put to death, even if Saul did make an oath to that effect.