When we consider the unhappy record of the life of Saul, we see that he is a man who fails to keep faith with God. He’s willing to follow God when it’s easy, but whenever things get difficult, he disobeys rather than confront the difficulty. In 1 Samuel 13, he offers the sacrifice that only a priest had a right to offer because he is worried about the Philistine army bearing down on him. In 1 Samuel 15, he spares the king and the livestock that God explicitly told him to kill. In 1 Samuel 28, he seeks out the witch of En-dor even though he knows very well that consulting a medium is against God’s law (and, indeed, has enforced that law himself). From beginning to end, he is a man deficient in moral courage.
However, there is one kind of law that Saul is willing to defend even at great personal cost—the law he invents himself. In 1 Samuel 14, Saul curses any man in the Israelite army who eats before evening.
This is a silly idea to begin with. Military-history geek that I am, I’ve noticed that it’s been true for thousands of years that armies that eat breakfast before battle generally beat those that don’t. The hungry army tends to run out of gas about 2 PM. Nonetheless, the Israelites obey this dumb commandment out of fear of Saul.
It so happens, though, that Saul’s son Jonathan doesn’t hear the commandment and, in mid-battle, eats some honey that he finds. Later, by divination, Saul discovers that Jonathan has disobeyed him. Only the intercession of the people prevents Saul from killing his own son over his foolish vow.
Today, we need to learn from Saul in both directions. Unlike him, we need to obey God’s law, even when it appears difficult or comes with a cost to us. However, we also need to be wary of fighting to the bitter end over something that God has not decreed.
In situations like that, our faithfulness to God isn’t at stake, but our own pride is. Too often, like Saul, we’re willing to go to the wall to get our own way, no matter the damage we do to ourselves, our relationships, or even the Lord’s church. Steadfastness in serving God is commendable. Steadfastness in serving ourselves is ungodly and destructive.
Whenever we sense ourselves gearing up for a confrontation, we must stop and ask, “Why am I making a big deal out of this?” Is there book, chapter, and verse that clearly indicates God’s will on the matter, or, instead, is this about our own interpretation of a difficult text? Worse still, could it be that this has nothing to do with God’s will at all? I know the feeling of self-righteousness as well as anybody, but all of us must remember that the anger of men does not approach the righteousness of God. If this is a dispute about us rather than about God, the godly thing to do is back down.