1 Samuel 14:24-35 When fasting becomes a hindrance
1 Samuel 14:24-35
And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people had tasted food. Now when all the people came to the forest, behold, there was honey on the ground. And when the people entered the forest, behold, the honey was dropping, but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright. Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day.’” And the people were faint. Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.” They struck down the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. And the people were very faint. The people pounced on the spoil and took sheep and oxen and calves and slaughtered them on the ground. And the people ate them with the blood. Then they told Saul, “Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood.” And he said, “You have dealt treacherously; roll a great stone to me here.” And Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people and say to them, ‘Let every man bring his ox or his sheep and 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 they slaughtered them there. And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord.
While Jonathan and his armor bearer broke away from the troops to confront the Philistines, Saul instituted a fast in a bid to secure God’s help to defeat the enemy. Jonathan’s initial success in confronting the Philistines at the garrison jolted the Israelites into action. However, Saul’s call to fast incapacitated the entire army and robbed them of a convincing victory over the Philistines. Saul’s leadership wasn’t effective because his dependence was not on God, but rather on religious activities. During the days of the gospel, the Jews fasted for the coming of the Messiah. The irony was that they could not recognize Jesus when He finally came among them because their true dependence was not on God. Similarly, many churchgoers despite their frequent prayers and fasting remained weak and indecisive, because their true dependence was not on God but on religious activities.
Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies – Israel’s military campaign was laborious and the men were distressed. Saul added to the distress by instituting a fast with the purpose of securing God’s help. Saul was late in joining in battle, now that he is involved, he ought to make a reasonable job of it. However, as events turned out, his contribution had a negative effect. By his rash oath he caused unnecessary problems for Jonathan, the army and the whole campaign.
My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey.” – Jonathan, unaware of his father’s oath, acted in ignorance and his eyes have become bright (his strength returned to him) having eaten the honey. Jonathan in retaliation of his father’s prohibition accused him of having troubled the land as the enforced abstinence from food had rendered them incapable of a convincing victory over the enemy.
Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood – It is clear that Saul’s oath had not only incapacitated the men, and caused problems within his ranks. And now a breach of a priestly law that prohibits eating meat prior to draining the animal off its blood. At evening when the oath expired, the men, famished from the fast pounced on the enemy’s livestock and ate meat with the blood.
And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord – Saul built an altar to the Lord not as an expression of gratitude for Israel’s victory, but to make restitution for the people’s infringement of eating meat with blood. It is interesting that this is the first altar that Saul built for it hints at Saul’s mode of relationship with God which leaned towards a fear of punishment as opposed to gratitude and celebration. Hence, he is always fearful of making the wrong move that may incur God’s wrath and sudden retribution.
- Once God’s will is apparent and His presence felt, it is time to advance and pray no longer. Prayer and fasting must not be used as compensation for our indecisiveness or lack of courage; we cannot pray to receive resoluteness and courage per se. But we can pray to commit our lives into God’s hands, and His presence and courage will come when God sees our change of heart. Saul was not secure in God’s faithfulness and lovingkindness whereas Jonathan is. Saul instituted a fast to compensate for his unbelief, whereas Jonathan took proactive action against the enemy. While Saul seemed pious in his “dependence” on the ark, his heart was not dependent on God; he did not commit his life to Him. Jonathan did not have the ark or the sacred lots (Urim and Thummim) but God was with him to make decisions according His will and to empower him to fulfill it (see Philippians 2:13).
- There is stark difference between dependence on religious things (or activities) and dependence on God. Some depend on religious activities like prayer, fasting, and bible study to make them feel secure with God. True faith is a direct dependence on God’s faithfulness and lovingkindness. Saul was dependent on the ark and the sacred lots (Urim and Thummim) to provide a sense of security, although his life is not fully committed to God. By committing our lives to God who is our Lord and Provider, His presence and favor will immediately descend upon us. The believer’s spiritual disciplines like prayer, bible study and fasting are but means and processes that will help him draw near to God who is the very source of wisdom and strength.
- Our God will not punish us according to our sins, for He is not an angry God. The desire of God is for all humanity to be blessed and not to be punished. Therefore, He does not punish sinners for their rebellion but waits patiently for them to turn from their life of self-centeredness and sin. However, He punished the Israelites for a time not to exact justice for their sins but to move them in the direction of righteousness. Nevertheless, the bible says there will be condemnation for those who vow never to honor God as Lord of their lives. Hence, God’s discipline must be seen in the light of God’s love that is to bless and not to harm. Saul was constantly in fear that disaster would suddenly come upon him for he had no assurance of God’s love and Fatherhood. He has never build an altar to God as an act of gratitude, his first altar is a feeble attempt to avert God’s wrath because of sin. The psalmist says,
The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. Psalm 103:8-11
- Are you frequently petrified and indecisive at work? Do you have a tendency to procrastinate? Your indecisiveness and procrastination is due to your lack of confidence of the future. Confidence arises when you fully commit your plans by submitting to God and letting Him lead the way. Perhaps, it is time to commit your burdens concerning relationship, career, family and finances to Him by obeying His instructions.
- Do you find your daily bible reading and prayers lacking in effectiveness and depth? Bible reading and prayer functions as channels through which you receive assurance, peace, wisdom and confidence from God. Spiritual discipline regenerates our heart and connects us to the source of life, which is God. One who seeks God’s hands may have his physical needs met. But one who seeks God’s face will have his heart regenerated with the virtues that bring enduring blessings. Perhaps, it is time to seek His face and not just His hands of provision.
- Are you constantly fearful of incurring God’s wrath and punishment? The fear comes from the lack of understanding of God’s character, and ignorance in the ways of righteousness. Most of the time, a wrong life choice brings suffering because we are reaping the natural consequences of foolishness, which God did nothing to cause it. However, meditating on the word will give us wisdom to discern the ways of prosperity and walk in it.
Dear Lord, as I commit my life into your hands, take away my fear and give me your Spirit of sonship. In boldness, I confront the things that I have been procrastinating and accomplish the tasks that are given to me. I endeavor to seek your face and to understand your will for my life. I am confident that as I seek your Kingdom first, you will fulfill all my needs. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.