24. And the men of Israel were distressed that day, for Saul had placed the people under oath, saying, “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.” So none of the people tasted food.
The Israelites become weak with hunger as they attempted to pursue the Philistines because Saul had made them take this foolish vow. Why should the people not eat any food until evening when they were in the midst of the strenuous exertion of chasing their enemies? This injunction could only hinder them in their efforts.
It seems clear that Saul undertook this vow in an attempt to compensate for his earlier, unfaithful actions. When he failed to obey Yahweh, he tried to appease Him with a religious act. This is how those who are religious rather than in relationship to God often behave. Yet such a show of piety did not really impress Yahweh, and it only really was a hindrance to their efforts against the Philistines. While Jonathan won a great victory this day by his act of confidence and faith, Saul could only make things difficult through his disobedience and spirit of empty religion instead of true submission.
25. Now all the people of the land came to a forest; and there was honey on the ground.
As they pursue the Philistines they come to a forest. As they enter it, they find honey there just sitting on the ground as if it were waiting for them. This should not be too surprising to us, for particularly when honey is stored in a tree, the comb breaks down and the result is that the honey runs out on the ground. Apparently there was a large population of bees in this forest, and quite a few of their hives had sprung a leak and left honey on the ground. So here was a bountiful provision of the LORD for His hungry people in their efforts to fight for His nation, yet Saul has forbidden them to touch it. God’s provision is kept from them by Saul’s unwise religion.
26. And when the people had come into the woods, there was the honey, dripping; but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath.
As the army passes through the woods the honey was actually dripping like rain down around them, but they could not take it into their mouths, for they all respected the oath Saul had commanded them to take. God seems to be mocking Saul’s empty gesture. Perhaps some of the combs had been broken open by the same earthquake that took place that so frightened the Philistines, though it did not touch the Israelites and their army.
27. But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath; therefore he stretched out the end of the rod that was in his hand and dipped it in a honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his countenance brightened.
Jonathan, however, was not present when Saul made them take this foolish oath, but was off winning the battle for them by his faith and reliance upon Jehovah. Therefore, he did not hear about this vow his father made the people take. In his ignorance, then, he helps himself to some of the honey by dipping the end of his rod or staff into a honeycomb and then sucking the honey off the end of the staff. The result is that he is strengthened, as all the people could have been if Saul had not acted so foolishly.
28. Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed is the man who eats food this day.’” And the people were faint.
One of the other soldiers sees him do this, for Jonathan has now rejoined his fellows, and so this person informs him of the curse his father laid upon them if they ate any food that day. We are told once again that the people were faint because of hunger. God seems to be emphasizing for us the unwise character of Saul’s oath.
29. But Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. Look now, how my countenance has brightened because I tasted a little of this honey.
Jonathan upon hearing of this can plainly see his father’s mistake. He has caused trouble for his own army, and brought difficulty on his own people. Jonathan points out how a little of this honey has revived him, but no one else can eat it because of this oath. How much better it would have been if Saul had obeyed God in the first place, rather than trying to appease Him afterwards with this unnecessary vow!
30. How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now would there not have been a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?”
Jonathan realizes that their victory over the Philistines would have been greater if the people were allowed to eat and be strengthened by food. They probably had been living with very poor provisions until the defeat of the Philistines provided them with the spoil of their camp. Yet they could not eat of that spoil, nor of anything they found on the way as they pursued the Philistines, at least, not until evening. Now with this honey on the ground they had an excellent chance to strengthen themselves for the battle, but they could not do it. If they had been able to eat and be strengthened, Jonathan reasons, would not the victory over the Philistines have been much more complete?
31. Now they had driven back the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. So the people were very faint.
They chase the Philistines all that day, driving them back from their land all the way from their camp at Michmash to the city of Aijalon. Aijalon means “Field of Deer.” It was a Levite city in the original territory given to Dan. Dan did not act very zealously to take control of the land allotted to them, however, with a significant part of their tribe moving to the very northern part of the land. So it seems this city was later taken over by Benjamin when Dan moved north. It may have been under the control of the Philistines at this point, since it was on their border. Having driven the Philistines back, the people are now very weak and tired.
32. And the people rushed on the spoil, and took sheep, oxen, and calves, and slaughtered them on the ground; and the people ate them with the blood.
When the sun goes down they are so hungry that they rush on the spoil from the Philistines, slaughter the sheep, oxen, and calves on the ground right there, and start in eating them without draining the blood out first. Yet eating flesh with the blood still in it was forbidden by God’s law. They were supposed to drain the blood out when they slaughtered animals and not eat it, as we can see from Leviticus 17:13-14.
13. And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust.
14. For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.
Yet the people were so hungry in this case that they did not bother with this procedure, as they should have done.
33. Then they told Saul, saying, “Look, the people are sinning against the LORD by eating with the blood!”
So he said, “You have dealt treacherously; roll a large stone to me this day.”
Some report this to Saul, probably the army commanders. As leaders among the people they would have been more familiar with the law. Saul realizes that his army has transgressed God’s law. Thus yet another bad outcome of his unwise oath takes place. If Saul hoped to impress God with his zeal by having the people take this vow, it has not worked out for him, for now his army has actually transgressed the law, something which is unlike to impress God at all. Yet Saul immediately works to put things right. He has them roll a large stone to him.
34. Then Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people, and say to them, ‘Bring me here every man’s ox and every man’s sheep, slaughter them here, and eat; and do not sin against the LORD by eating with the blood.’” So every one of the people brought his ox with him that night, and slaughtered it there.
Then Saul sends his commanders to disperse among the people and instruct them to bring the oxen and sheep they have chosen to eat to this stone to slaughter them before they eat them. On this stone, they will be able to tip the animal down to drain out the blood, as the law demands they do. By doing this they will avoid sinning against Jehovah by eating meat with the blood still in it.
Saul’s command is reported to the people, and they obey, bringing their oxen with them to the stone to slaughter them there before they eat them rather than slaughtering them wherever they happen to be and ignoring the command about blood.
35. Then Saul built an altar to the LORD. This was the first altar that he built to the LORD.
Now Saul builds an altar to Yahweh, perhaps to go along with the slaughtering of these animals, so this can be turned into an act of worship rather than just of slaughter for meat. Notice Saul continues to display great religious activity in an attempt to cover his sin. Yet Yahweh is never truly impressed by such things. Saul’s heart was not right with God, and all the religious activity in the world could not cover over that fact.
We read that this is the first altar that Saul built to Yahweh, and it is interesting that he built it under such circumstances. As pointed out earlier, we have reason to believe that Saul’s family may not have been as religious or put as much emphasis on worshipping the true God as it might have done. But it is interesting that the first time Saul acts in such a religious way is while he is trying to cover up for a serious breach and failure of faith. From this kind of attempted cover-up we can see the kind of heart Saul really had. Sadly, his heart was not right with his God, as it should have been.
36. Now Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night, and plunder them until the morning light; and let us not leave a man of them.”
And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.”
Then the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.”
Saul wants to follow the Philistines that night and finish them off for good. They had been oppressing Israel for some time now, and they had perhaps never had them at a disadvantage like they did now. They could take advantage of this to plunder them and thoroughly purge them so that not a man is left of them. This will leave them in such a state that they will probably never be able to bother God’s people again. The people in the army like the idea, but the priest wants to consult with God first to make sure that this is in accord with His will. This was a good suggestion on the part of the priest. Indeed, it would have been better for Israel if they would have consulted with the LORD like this more often, at least, if they followed it up by listening to what He said.
37. So Saul asked counsel of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will You deliver them into the hand of Israel?” But He did not answer him that day.
Saul takes this advice and asks counsel of the LORD. Does God wish him to go down after the Philistines? Will He continue to deliver them into Israel’s hand? These are the questions Saul wants answered. Yet the LORD refuses to answer him on this day.
We believe that the consultation with the LORD was probably by means of the Urim and Thummim. These appear to have been two colored marble-like objects, one white called “Urim” for “Perfections,” and the other black and called “Thummim” for “Lights.” Urim meant “innocent” or “no,” whereas “Thummim” brought guilt to light, or meant “yes.”
How would the LORD not have answered by Urim or Thummim? We really do not know. Maybe they had a set of preliminary questions they asked to make sure the LORD was answering them properly by the stones? Yet it also could have been that the LORD caused neither of the stones to appear or be drawn out of the ephod, the bag the priest wore around his neck, if He had no answer to give. This whole thing was a supernatural means of consulting God, and He may have caused things to happen with it that would not be possible to happen from a natural standpoint.
38. And Saul said, “Come over here, all you chiefs of the people, and know and see what this sin was today.
Saul realizes that Jehovah not answering is a sign that someone has sinned. Therefore he calls the chiefs of the people so they can get together and discover what the sin was that caused Jehovah not to answer.
39. For as the LORD lives, who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” But not a man among all the people answered him.
Saul makes another rash oath, saying that even if the sinner is Jonathan his son, he will die. Actually, it was Jonathan his son! For it seems Saul did not just bind not eating on all the people who were present to hear and take the oath, but also upon all his army wherever they were, so that Jonathan too was under the oath, though he did not realize it. Yahweh was not pleased by this rash oath and its outcome, and so He did not answer Saul’s questions. It seems quite likely that He was angrier with the unfaithful Saul than He was with the courageous and believing Jonathan.
Saul uses the phrase “surely die” which we are familiar with from the words of God in Genesis 2:17, that eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil would cause one to “surely die.” The Hebrew phrase is actually a repetition of the same word, or “dying you shall die,” if we would put it in English. This phrase, while always true when used by God, often fails when used by men. The use just previous to this in the Scriptures was in Judges 13:22, wherein Manoah, Samson’s father, thought he and his wife would surely die after they saw God, but he was wrong. Saul was wrong here, as we will see. Yet Saul does manage to use these words and then almost carry them out in I Samuel 22:16, though he misses his intent by one person who escapes.
The people keep silent when Saul says this. No one confesses to the deed. How many of them knew what Jonathan had done it is hard to say, but news will often travel very fast. They probably know what Saul doesn’t. Perhaps he is the only one among this convocation of leaders who does not know that it is Jonathan his son who has caused this by breach of his oath.
40. Then he said to all Israel, “You be on one side, and my son Jonathan and I will be on the other side.”
And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.”
Saul first wants to determine if the fault is in him and Jonathan or in the rest. Probably he is figuring to get them out of the way first. Yet could it be that he is wondering if it is he himself with whom God is angry? Certainly his actions this day have done little to recommend him before God. At any rate, it seems highly unlikely that he suspected his son Jonathan, the hero of the day, as being the one to have caused the problem.
41. Therefore Saul said to the LORD God of Israel, “Give a perfect lot.” So Saul and Jonathan were taken, but the people escaped.
Now Saul speaks directly to Yahweh God of Israel. He requests that He will give an accurate lot. This “lot” was with the Urim and Thummim, those two stones that the priest would draw out of his ephod. Saul asks Yahweh God to give the right answer, since it appears He had refused to answer this way before. This time there is an answer, and Saul and Jonathan are chosen by Urim or “Lights,” bringing their guilt to light.
42. And Saul said, “Cast lots between my son Jonathan and me.” So Jonathan was taken.
Knowing now that the fault lies in either himself or his son Jonathan, Saul commands the Urim and Thummim to be drawn between them. It reveals the truth: that the fault lies with Jonathan. I wonder, was Saul upset or relieved? Certainly he had done several things that were blameworthy this day!
43. Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.”
And Jonathan told him, and said, “I only tasted a little honey with the end of the rod that was in my hand. So now I must die!”
Saul commands Jonathan to tell him what it is that he has done. Jonathan reveals his “crime” of tasting a little honey with the end of the rod he carried. Notice that he does not offer any excuses, though certainly he had a very good excuse in that he did not know of the rash oath Saul had made the people take not to eat any food. He had been too busy acting in faith to bring about Israel’s victory! Yet he does not offer this excuse. Instead, he simply states that he knows death is the penalty according to Saul. His actions even in this are worthy of commendation.
44. Saul answered, “God do so and more also; for you shall surely die, Jonathan.”
Saul is ready to carry out his second rash oath and execute Jonathan. He repeats his solemn oath that dying Jonathan shall die. He even calls on God’s name in declaring it. Notice how fast he is to bring in God’s name on the very day he had failed to follow God’s instructions and so had lost his hold on the kingship!
45. But the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great deliverance in Israel? Certainly not! As the LORD lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people rescued Jonathan, and he did not die.
The cooler heads of the people prevail. They point out that Yahweh used Jonathan to produce a great victory this day. Should he then be executed on the same day when he has accomplished deliverance? They do not think so! So they make an oath of their own, insisting that not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, considering that he has been God’s agent this day. They do not believe it would be right to execute him because of Saul’s rash oaths. So they rescue him, and he does not die, though Saul was willing to bring this about. Saul’s words are overruled, and Jonathan does not die.
We cannot help but think, as we consider this story, that one day more than a thousand years later, a Son of a much greater King did die on the very same day He accomplished great deliverance in Israel, for it was in fact His death that accomplished this deliverance.
46. Then Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.
Because God would not go with them as a result of Jonathan’s breaking Saul’s rash oath, Saul realizes he must give up pursuing the Philistines and let them return home. So Saul heads back to his home, and the Philistines return to their own land.
47. So Saul established his sovereignty over Israel, and fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the people of Ammon, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he harassed them.
So Saul establishes his sovereignty over all Israel. It could be that some parts of Israel had ignored his claims up to this time, but his valiant work in rescuing them from the Philistines changed their minds. Or it could be because at this time Saul expands his campaigns to fight against all Israel’s enemies on every side. The Philistines were mostly a threat to the southern and western parts of Israel, like Judah, Simeon, Benjamin, Dan, and Ephraim. The northern and eastern tribes might have barely felt threatened by these foes, and so did not feel the reign of Saul to be so necessary for their own safety and help. At this time, though, when Saul starts to fight Israel’s enemies on all their other borders, these tribes too feel the advantages of his reign, and so come to fully back and support him.
So we read that Saul fights Israel’s other enemy neighbors at this time. First of all is Moab, which means “From a Father,” and is one of the nations descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot. They were east of Israel, and so probably were the biggest threat to the tribes east of the Jordan, like the tribe of Reuben, which was on their border. Next is Ammon, which means “Son of My Relative,” and was the other nation descended from Lot. They were northeast of Israel, so would have threatened the tribes east of Jordan, like Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh. Edom, which means “Red,” was the nation descended from Jacob’s brother Esau. They were southeast of Israel, so would have been the biggest threat to Judah and Simeon. Next we read that he fought the kings of Zobah. Zobah means “Station,” and appears to have been a part of the country north of Israel. Today we call this “Syria,” though in that day it was called the land of Aram. During much of Israel’s later history this country was united as one nation, but at this time it was split into several nations, Zobah being one of them. Zobah was north of Israel, so would have threatened tribes like Asher, Naphtali, Zebulun, Issachar, and the misplaced members of Dan who moved to the north. Finally, he fought the Philistines, meaning “Immigrants,” as we have already read. These were southwest of Israel, and threatened the tribes of Judah, Simeon, Dan, Benjamin, and Ephraim.
Notice that Israel was all but surrounded by enemies except where they bordered the sea! The only exception to that we know of from the record of the days of David was the nation dominated by Tyre, which we call the nation of Phoenicia, which bordered them on the northwest. Yet in spite of the multitude of all these enemies, God gave Saul the victory over them wherever he turned.
48. And he gathered an army and attacked the Amalekites, and delivered Israel from the hands of those who plundered them.
Finally, we read that Saul also gathered an army and attacked the Amalekites, which means “Dwellers in a Valley.” These were some of the remnants of the Canaanites whom Israel had failed to destroy, as they had been commanded, when they took over the land. The Amalekites were south of Israel, so they were again a nation that would have threatened Judah and Simeon. As far as we can tell, there also were tribes of Amalekites east of the Dead Sea, and some dwelling still in the land scattered among the Israelites. Saul was probably fighting the ones south here.
So Saul carried out his campaigns, and managed to rid Israel of all those who plundered them. God used him to give rest to His people, and to set up the coming times of prosperity under David and Solomon. It seems Saul did not finish the work, however, for David still had to fight many wars with these same nations during his own reign.
49. The sons of Saul were Jonathan, Jishui, and Malchishua. And the names of his two daughters were these: the name of the firstborn Merab, and the name of the younger Michal.
Here we have an account of Saul’s family. First we have a list of Saul’s children. His sons are listed first. His oldest son Jonathan, which means “Jehovah Has Given,” we have already met. Jishui, which means “He Resembles Me,” was his second son. Malchishua, which means “My King is Wealth,” was his third son. Notice the downward trend in names here. We go from thinking of Jehovah’s gift, to thinking of Saul himself, to thinking of wealth. Not a good trend!
Next, we have a list of Saul’s daughters. The oldest is Merab, which means “Increase.” The younger daughter is Michal, or “Who is Like God.” These daughters will be important to the story later, as we will see.
50. The name of Saul’s wife was Ahinoam the daughter of Ahimaaz. And the name of the commander of his army was Abner the son of Ner, Saul’s uncle.
We continue to read of more of Saul’s family. First is his wife Ahinoam, which means “My Brother is Delight.” She is the daughter of Ahimaaz, which means “My Brother is Anger.” When we realize that they often did not name their children right away, but instead waited to see something of their personality first, we can understand how such names came about. Probably his parents observed Ahimaaz, when he was just a baby, and they saw his brother teasing him. The baby became so filled with rage at his brother that they named him Ahimaaz. When Ahimaaz grew up and had a baby daughter, he saw her as an infant interacting with her brother. In this case, though, he was playing with her, and she was absolutely delighted. So the man whose name means “My Brother is Anger” names his own daughter “My Brother is Delight.”
Now we read that Saul’s army commander was Abner, which means “My Father is a Lamp.” He is the son of Ner, which means “Lamp.” I suppose there is no need to explain how Abner got his name, then! Abner, we read, was Saul’s cousin, the son of his uncle. It seems that they had no problem with nepotism in those days. Indeed, a king figured he could count more on the loyalty of his own family members, and so placing them in positions of power was quite common.
51. Kish was the father of Saul, and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel.
We continue with Saul’s family. His father’s name was Kish, which means “Bent,” and we have already seen that he was a man who did not have a Godly reputation. Ner the father of Abner was the brother of Kish, and they both were the sons of Saul’s grandfather Abiel, which means “God is Father.”
52. Now there was fierce war with the Philistines all the days of Saul. And when Saul saw any strong man or any valiant man, he took him for himself.
Of all the wars Saul fought with the nations around Israel, it seems that the war with the Philistines was the longest and bitterest. Indeed, this war was not concluded until well into the reign of King David. To aid in this war, Saul conscripts strong men into the army at will. Thus Samuel’s words are coming true of Saul, that, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.” I Samuel 8:11-12. This is indeed the way Saul acted, and Samuel’s warning to them came true. God’s words are never spoken idly, but they will always come to pass in their time.