Panic Sent By God – 1 Samuel 14

Now that the relationship between Saul and Samuel had deteriorated beyond repair, he appointed himself a priest from the family line of Eli. Ahijah was the priest who had accompanied Saul’s army in their pursuit of the Philistines and was wearing the ephod that housed the Urim and the Thummim. Saul needed a man of God by his side as Samuel had deserted him for not keeping the command of the Lord.

Ahijah perhaps needed Saul even more to establish the legitimacy of his priestly lineage. A lineage that was cut from the grace of God due to the sins of Eli and his sons. Samuel leaving Saul in the lurch and him having to appoint Ahijah out of fear of the opposing army fulfilled the words God spoke to Eli about his descendants.

Then everyone left in your family line will come and bow down before him for a piece of silver and a loaf of bread and plead, “Appoint me to some priestly office so I can have food to eat.

1 Samuel 2:36 (NIV)

Jonathan Attacks the Philistines

Saul and his men were stationed on the outskirts of Gibeon and perhaps were hiding in a cave or gathered under a tree (the translation is ambiguous). They were lying in wait seemingly without a plan of action. But unbeknownst to Saul, his son Jonathan and his armour-bearer headed towards the Philistine outpost. They traversed over the cliffs of Bozez and Seneh and reached the camp of the enemy. Then Jonathan said to his armour-bearer,

“Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few. ”

1 Samuel 14:6 (NIV)
The Twin Cliffs of Bozez and Seneh – HolyLandPhotos.org

Bozez and Seneh literally mean slippery and thorny. Such terrain is not only difficult to navigate through but no one would take such efforts when the enemy was waiting on the other side. For a young prince like Jonathan, it was uncharted territory but he was putting all his trust in the God of Israel. It seems that Jonathan had more faith in God than his father as he is fearlessly approaching the corridor leading up to the camp of the Philistines while Saul is waiting for his priest to tell him what to do next. Also due to the weapon shortage, Jonathan was one of only two men with proper weapons, the other one being his father Saul. Perhaps he had read about Gideon and Shamgar who took down the multitudes of the opposing army and was expecting God to do the same for him that day. He waited for a sign from God before he attacked the enemy head-on and was able to kill twenty men that day.

Panic Sent by God

Then panic struck the whole army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God.

1 Samuel 14:15 (NIV)

Saul’s lookout reported back to him how the Philistine army was fading away and it is then that Saul regains his confidence and musters his army to head for battle. They realised that Jonathan and his armour-bearer were not with them. Saul did not know what to do so he told his priest to bring out the Ark of God. However, the uproar in the Philistine camp was growing more and more and before Ahijah could even bring out the Urim and the Thummim, Saul asked him to withdraw his hand.

Initially, Saul was not sure about his decision but seeing the retreating Philistine army he regains his confidence and without even consulting God he ordered the men to attack the Philistines. Saul had lost the connection he had with God and his prayer to God was only a way for him to understand which territories he must conquer next. He did not understand God’s will anymore and was simply interested in expanding his territory.

Even for us, when we start our careers our relationship with God is a close one but as soon as we start gaining confidence in our craft we start losing touch with Him. Bound by our daily routines, we pray and give our tithes and offerings but our connection with God is broken. We simply go through the motions of being a Christian without following what God wants for our life.

Saul’s Vow

Now the Israelites were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, “Cursed be anyone who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the troops tasted food.

1 Samuel 14:24 (NIV)

For Saul, chasing the Philistines was not about following God’s order or even exacting revenge for his fallen countrymen. It was a personal vendetta for him, one which he wanted to avenge at any cost. In the middle of a war when the soldiers are already distressed, asking them to fast is an absurd decision. Saul is depending on his deeds and thinks that he can please God to gain favour by fasting. Not only is this his personal foolishness of not realising what God wants from him, but he is also forcing others to do the same.

He is not carrying out God’s will but is asking God is to help him with his own will. Maybe this is also a team-building exercise with his fellow warriors as he thinks that they all should take the vow of fasting together. But Jonathan is not aware of his father’s vow and unknowingly breaks it when he dipped the end of his staff in wild honey and proceeded to eat it. The soldiers informed Jonathan of the vow that Saul made all of them take that day.

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?”

1 Samuel 14:29-30 (NIV)

That day the Israelites had struck down the philistines after a long battle and we’re exhausted. When they saw the blunder they could not help themselves but pounced on the cattle and started to butcher them on the ground and eat it with blood still in it. Seeing the hungry men breaking one of the oldest commands of the Lord (Genesis 9:4), Saul had to break his oath and build an altar for purifying meat for his people.

Then he said, “Go out among the men and tell them, ‘Each of you bring me your cattle and sheep, and slaughter them here and eat them. Do not sin against the LORD by eating meat with blood still in it.’” So everyone brought his ox that night and slaughtered it there. Then Saul built an altar to the LORD; it was the first time he had done this.

1 Samuel 14:34-35

Altars were built as a means to worship the God of the Heavens and the Earth. But people had started using these sacred structures as multi-utility altars. Cain and Able sacrificed their first fruit offerings on altars. The Mosaic laws had provisions for sacrificing guilt and thanksgiving offerings that involved these structures. They were used to commemorate a newfound land or as milestones (Jacob set up altars on his way to his uncle’s home). The priests were assigned a quota from the meat that was sacrificed by the people on the altar of the lord. Something that was initially built with the intention of praising God had been turned into merely a convenient stone to drain the blood of their meat.

Saul is starting from the bottom up as he thinks that the altar is only needed for purifying his meat. God had lifted His grace from Saul’s life but Saul thought that the fault lay with everyone else but him. When God does not answer him, he thinks that the people who ate the animal with blood still in it are to blame for God’s anger. This was another Panic sent by God but this time in the camp of the Israelites. Saul thinks this is a sure-fire way of punishing the offenders who broke his oath and in the process will get God’s approval for killing the people who broke the law.

This is satan’s strategy in our lives also as his agenda is to instil fear in the hearts of people about God. Saul thinks that the fault was with the hungry soldiers who had eaten meat along with blood still in it. He still did not understand that God had departed from him. When he does not get a response from God he uses this opportunity to punish the people who broke his vow but the Urim and the Thummim fell on Saul and Jonathan. In order to maintain his image of authority over his men, he is ready to kill his son but eventually is overruled by the people who witnessed God work through Jonathan that day.

Then Saul stopped pursuing the Philistines, and they withdrew to their own land.

1 Samuel 14:46 (NIV)

Saul kept recruiting might and brave men in hopes of building the strongest army that could conquer the world. However, without God, all his efforts were futile as he had lost the faith of his own people and his remaining days were spent in war with his neighbouring princess and in chasing his successor David. He never had peace in his kingdom as he did not want to listen to God’s voice but tried to secure his kingdom with his own wisdom and understanding.

Discussion Questions

  • V6: Why did Jonathan leave to confront the Philistines alone with his armour-bearer?
  • V19: Why is Saul asking the priest to withdraw his hand?
  • V24: “Cursed be anyone who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” Why did Saul make such a vow?
  • V35: Why does Saul build the altar to God?
  • V37: Why is God silent and not giving Saul an answer?
  • V39: Why is Saul rashly declaring to kill the guilty party?

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