If you search you will have a difficult time finding a positive human father story in the Bible. God provides an incredible example of what it means to be a father, and the characters we meet through scripture rarely measure up. King Saul is no exception. In observing the world around us we have grown to expect that the character of the father will be inherited by his children. Jonathan illustrates that this is not always the case and his being an exception results in a very public family conflict .
Jonathan demonstrates complete confidence in God and little confidence in his father. He goes to attack the Philistines with only his armor-bearer to aid him and does not tell his father he is going. When Jonathan reaches the Philistine outpost he asks for God’s direction and God confirms that the attack should be made. There are twenty Philistine soldiers defending their position. It is important to note that Jonathan and his armor-bearer are climbing up the side of a cliff to make their attack. As a military tactic this is certain to result in death for the soldiers climbing up the cliff. Nothing is certain when God is involved and twenty Philistine soldiers die in the attack.
God sends panic to overwhelm the Philistine army and they turn and run with the Israelite army in hot pursuit. This should have been a great day of victory for Israel. Instead, it almost results in the death of Jonathan at the hands of his father. Saul binds the army with an oath that they will not eat on the day of battle. Jonathan does not hear the oath and eats some wild honey during the battle. When his fellow soldiers tell him of the oath he complains against his father and argues that the men would have been stronger if they had been permitted to eat.
Jonathan said, “My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. 30 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)
The next day the exhausted army disobeys God and eats meat with blood in it. Saul attempts to get direction from God, but God does not respond to his request for guidance. He assumes that someone has sinned and when the sinner is identified it is Jonathan. Then Saul continues his rash behavior and makes another oath promising that Jonathan will die. At this point something very unusual happens. The men of the army stand up for Jonathan and prevent Saul from killing him. Saul will remain king and lead the army into battle, but he will never achieve the victory that brings peace.
What about us?
The clear instruction of scripture is for children to obey their parents and for people to submit to the leaders. God desires order and these instructions are designed to bring peace to our lives. Unfortunately, we are all sinners. I am far from a perfect parent and I know I many times frustrated my children. When I have had the chance the lead I know I made mistakes that made it difficult for people to follow.
The easy application of this story is to avoid making rash oaths. In the Biblical narrative several heroes of the Bible make rash oaths in an attempt to attract God’s favor. God is not pleased and the consequences of keeping the oath are often disastrous. (see Judges 11:28-40)
The more difficult application is Jonathan’s following God and the impact that has on Saul’s leadership. If the choice is follow a human leader and disobey God or to obey God we must obey God. We must be cautious because most of the time the situation is not this clear. If we are honest most unwillingness to submit to leaders is the result of a difference of opinion driven by selfish desire. What the world sees is division and rebellion rather than a trusting people taking risks for their God.
I would recommend asking the following questions when choosing to disobey the clear direction of leaders whether in the government or the church:
- Am I being asked to disobey a clear command of scripture? If no, then I must obey.
- Am I being asked to do something that would clearly harm my neighbors? If yes, then I must disobey.
- Am I thinking more about my personal comfort or the needs of others? If my personal comfort, then I must obey.
Jesus did His best to make this simple for us.
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”(Mark 12:28-31 NIV)
It would be a good thing if the conflicts in our life were the result of a love for God and trust in God that were as strong as Jonathan’s. What questions do you ask yourself when you have to make a difficult ethical choice?