Long Distance Quarterbacking

Saul therefore said, "Come here, all you who are leaders of the army, and let us find out what sin has been committed today. As surely as the LORD who rescues Israel lives, even if it lies with my son Jonathan, he must die." But not one of the men said a word.

Saul then said to all the Israelites, "You stand over there; I and Jonathan my son will stand over here."  "Do what seems best to you," the men replied.

Then Saul prayed to the LORD, the God of Israel, "Give me the right answer." And Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared. Saul said, "Cast the lot between me and Jonathan my son." And Jonathan was taken. Then Saul said to Jonathan, "Tell me what you have done."
      So Jonathan told him, "I merely tasted a little honey with the end of my staff. And now must I die?"

Saul said, "May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan."

But the men said to Saul, "Should Jonathan die—he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the LORD lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God's help." So the men rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.

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

After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them. 1 Samuel 14:38-47

Again, we find Saul making an odd promise to Jonathan: you will die, Jonathan, for eating honey when I told all the troops to fast. Fortunately, his men stood up for Jonathan (because as you know, when a king said, "you will die" you would certainly be put to death. He had that much authority). It's hard to know if this was a huge humiliation for Saul or not. I suspect it was because it was at that point that he stopped pursuing the Philistines and withdrew. Later he would fight all of his enemies, but now Saul was content to withdraw.

There always seems to be tension between the "troops on the ground" and those who make huge life or death decisions sitting in comfortable chairs in stress-free situations (not saying that Saul was in such a situation but he was removed from the battle somewhat). This doesn't just apply to military but to companies as well. Those who are on the floor making the product have a very different viewpoint from those who sit in day-long meetings trying to manage those on the floor. If you've ever been "on the floor" you know exactly what I'm talking about. And yet, when you're in that situation, it's difficult to implement what you consider wrongheaded decisions.

Please pray for the men and women in the Coalition Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan who must make split-second, life or death decisions based on very little information. Pray that they will be able to cope with what they consider to be wrongheaded decisions in the heat of the battle. Pray that their leaders in the field and in the command posts throughout the world will be wise enough to ask the "troops" the best local tactics to use in situations.

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God Did Not Answer Him

That day, after the Israelites had struck down the Philistines from Micmash to Aijalon, they were exhausted. They pounced on the plunder and, taking sheep, cattle and calves, they butchered them on the ground and ate them, together with the blood. Then someone said to Saul, "Look, the men are sinning against the LORD by eating meat that has blood in it."
      "You have broken faith," he said. "Roll a large stone over here at once." 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.

Saul said, "Let us go down after the Philistines by night and plunder them till dawn, and let us not leave one of them alive."
      "Do whatever seems best to you," they replied. But the priest said, "Let us inquire of God here."

So Saul asked God, "Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into Israel's hand?" But God did not answer him that day. 1 Samuel 14:31-37

You have to admit, there are some odd occurences in the Old Testament. This passage is one of them. The Israelites routed the Philistines. Someone told Saul that the men had eaten the meat and the blood. Then Saul built an altar to the Lord. Next when Saul is speaking to the Lord, the Bible says that "God did not answer him that day" even after Saul had built an altar to the Lord.

It's an odd passage because it seems disjointed. At first it seems as though Saul's men and Saul are in two completely different armies. Then it appears that Saul is trying to make amends with the Lord for the sins of his men. He offers a sacrifice, but hears nothing from God. It's not really clear what the silence from God means. Is God angry with Saul? Is He angry with Saul's men? What does the silence mean? We don't know.

What about us? When we try to hear God's voice and His will for our lives, and He is silent, what does it mean? Does it have to mean anything? You see, sometimes we think that God must be speaking to us all the time about stuff. And often we think that we've got to blurt out everything to God. Sometimes you just need to be comfortable sitting in silence in the presence of one another. Nobody needs to say a word. It's a healthy silence, one that we experience often in our relationships with others.

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Not Far

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

The entire army entered the woods, and there was honey on the ground. When they went into the woods, they saw the honey oozing out, yet no one put his hand to his mouth, because they feared the oath. But Jonathan had not heard that his father had bound the people with the oath, so he reached out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it into the honeycomb. He raised his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened. Then one of the soldiers told him, "Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, 'Cursed be any man who eats food today!' That is why the men are faint."

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 14:24-30

The Old Testament has some very interesting examples of oaths and promises. This oath was that any man would be accursed if he ate before Saul avenged his enemies. Jonathan is oblivious to the oath until one of the soldiers tells him about it. So what's Jonathan's response? In essense he says, "My father doesn't know what he's talking about. We're in battle. We need our strength. Eat up while you can, Boys!"

So now the troops must have been conflicted. On the one hand, the Saul the Father told them to do one thing - and it was under an oath. On the other, the Jonathan the Son, who happens to be the immediate commander, remanded the oath and pursuades the men that eating would give them strength. Who do the men immediately under Jonathan's authority obey. Disobedience to either is a "life or death" issue for them.

Pray for the military in your country. They have difficult and thankless jobs. Many are required to live and operate in war zones and must obey orders in the heat of battle. Obeying orders in peacetime is not always easy; war multipies those difficulties. Pray that many will seek and find God, for He is not far from each of us.
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On God’s Watch

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.
Saul’s lookouts at Gibeah in Benjamin saw the army melting away in all directions. Then Saul said to the men who were with him, “Muster the forces and see who has left us.” When they did, it was Jonathan and his armor-bearer who were not there.
Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God.” (At that time it was with the Israelites.) While Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the Philistine camp increased more and more. So Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.”
Then Saul and all his men assembled and went to the battle. They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords. Those Hebrews who had previously been with the Philistines and had gone up with them to their camp went over to the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. When all the Israelites who had hidden in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were on the run, they joined the battle in hot pursuit. So the LORD rescued Israel that day, and the battle moved on beyond Beth Aven.
1 Samuel 14:15-23

God has an interesting way of mixing things up. “It was a panic sent by God.” It was all God and it’s kind of foolish to think otherwise in life. We try and strive and plod and think we’re making great progress, and to some degree we are, but God has it all under control. Think God is sitting in his Huge Rocker fretting over the leader of Iran and what he’ll do once he gets nukes? Laughable. Think God’s concerned about the North Korean leader and his antics? Not a bit. And closer to home, do you think the President of the United States, past or present, is getting away with anything while God is on the throne? Not a chance.

Leaders often use the phrase “on my watch” to indicate the time he or she was in office. “That won’t happen on my watch,” or “It happened on the previous President’s watch” are very common statements. Kingdoms come and go but they are all on God’s watch. God has outlasted the kingdoms and rulers and subjects and all the evil that has ever existed. He’s not going away despite the fact that he was tossed out of the schools and out of the public arena in the West. Just because a few overzealous bureaucrats and leaders dismiss Him as being irrelevant, God isn’t going away (think about that last statement. Who’s the irrelevant one?).

  • He will be praised in the schools by those who seek Him.
  • He will be praised at work and at the office and in Capitol buildings throughout the United States.
  • He will be praised by those who seek Him in #10 Downing Street.
  • He will be praised by those seeking Him in the Chinese government.

Walls cannot keep Him out. Doors cannot lock Him in.

So, while Saul assembled his men to fight, God went before the Israelites to pave their way. He was in control of the world then, He’s in control now.

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Their Kids Need Prayer

One day Jonathan son of Saul said to the young man bearing his armor, "Come, let's go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side." But he did not tell his father. Saul was staying on the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree in Migron. With him were about six hundred men, among whom was Ahijah, who was wearing an ephod. He was a son of Ichabod's brother Ahitub son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the LORD's priest in Shiloh. No one was aware that Jonathan had left.
On each side of the pass that Jonathan intended to cross to reach the Philistine outpost was a cliff; one was called Bozez, and the other Seneh. 5 One cliff stood to the north toward Micmash, the other to the south toward Geba.
Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, "Come, let's go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few."
"Do all that you have in mind," his armor-bearer said. "Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul."
1 Samuel 14:1-7

Jonathan's still a teen and decides he wanted to be heroic. Kids do that. He could have been easily killed. But he and his body guard weren't and they caused no small commotion in the Philistine camp. The rest of the chapter recounts what exactly happened.

This devotional is simple. Often the children of leaders get overlooked. The parents are the leaders, but the kids are still under scrutiny for actions that are typical of kids growing up. They don't get a chance to grow up without bodyguards and protection and cameras and adoring fans. It can be wearisome because they didn't sign up for the job but are still under the same light.

Pray for the children of the leaders who are over you. They carry a burden of the public spotlight that you and I don't have to carry. Pray also that the parents will instill into those kids character-building traits: honesty, courage, decency. Pray that God would soften their hearts towards Him.

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Strange Bedfellows

Saul and his son Jonathan and the men with them were staying in Gibeah in Benjamin, while the Philistines camped at Micmash. Raiding parties went out from the Philistine camp in three detachments. One turned toward Ophrah in the vicinity of Shual, another toward Beth Horon, and the third toward the borderland overlooking the Valley of Zeboim facing the desert. Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, "Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!" So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plowshares, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened. The price was two thirds of a shekel for sharpening plowshares and mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening forks and axes and for repointing goads. So on the day of the battle not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them. Jonathan Attacks the Philistines Now a detachment of Philistines had gone out to the pass at Micmash. 1 Samuel 13:16-23

By the tone of the passage, you'd think that the Israelites and Philistines were best friends. Nothing could be further from the truth. And yet, the Israelites had to depend on the Philistines to sharpen their tools and weapons. You have to know that the Philistines were thinking of ways to deceive and defeat even as their weapons were in the repair shop.

It has been said that "politics makes strange bedfellows." What is meant by that is that sometimes out of necessity you have to make friends with people you despise. In fact we have another saying that goes right along that: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Let me give you a concrete example. In the early 1980s the United States was friends with the Afghans. They had absolutely nothing to offer the United States except that we were enemies with the Soviet Union. When the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the United States immediately sought ways of befriending some fairly unsavory character in Afghanistan. Those same people today are using some of the technology and weaponry against the United States as it fights terrorists.

Most countries make strange pacts and agreements with other nations. Thank God for his sovereignty over the nations! Praise Him that He has the entire universe under control despite the odd and even evil alliances nations must make.

Nothing surprises Him. He is in control.

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Rut Roh!

Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him. "What have you done?" asked Samuel.
Saul replied, "When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, 'Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD's favor.' So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering." 
"You acted foolishly," Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command."
1 Samuel 13:10-14

"Rut Roh!" That will probably be the only reference I ever make to the cartoon character Scooby Doo but it certainly fit here. You can almost hear Saul gulp when he realizes that Samuel is nearby. No kind of explaining away would work. Saul had erred and tried to cover over it. 

"You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command."

Seems like a very harsh punishment, doesn't it? It was Saul's first real test as King of Israel and he failed miserably. Again, as in a previous devotion, we don't know the extent of the agreement between Saul, Samuel and the Lord, but Saul didn't really put up a fight so he knew he was in the wrong. How would you like to continue on as King after that kind of rebuke, and from a man that Saul had to have respected greatly.

Throughout this series on the Kings of the Old Testament I will again ask you to pray for your leaders. Pray for the judges who must make wise choices and discern many difficult cases. If you're in the U.S. pray for the Supreme Court Justices by name: John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, David Souter, John Paul Stevens,
Clarence Thomas. Pray that God would guide them as only He can.

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Do the Right Thing

The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Micmash, east of Beth Aven. When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul's men began to scatter. So he said, "Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings." And Saul offered up the burnt offering. 1 Samuel 13:5-10

The Philistines clearly outnumbered the Israelites. The Israelite cowered in fear. Then as the Israelites were scattering, Saul decides to offer a burnt offering, hoping that the Lord would look favorably upon that sacrifice. It's not recorded, but Samuel had told Saul to wait for him for seven days. Scripture doesn't tell us what the actual agreement was. Saul waited but Samuel didn't show. The new King Saul was impatient. He obviously trusted the prophet of God to arrive when he said he would. It's clear from the following text (starting at verse 11) that Saul knew the right thing to do but didn't do it.

Again, we see our leaders knowing the right thing to do in many instances but failing to do it. It seems it's like that in issue after issue after issue. One of my favorite quotes is from a radio show host and columnist in Minnesota, Joe Soucheray, "If we don't stay on them, they're gonna get it wrong."

Pray that our leaders and politicians do the right thing in every circumstance. Many, many things are black and white. They are non-negotiable. Those are the "things" I'm referring to.

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Saul’s First Military Battle

Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years. Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Micmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin. The rest of the men he sent back to their homes. 1 Samuel 13:1-2

Saul is starting to step into his reign. He's a young man with great ambitions. From the Scripture, he uses his "resources" carefully. No more than is absolutely necessary to finish the job. He entrusted his son Jonathan with a third of the men to go to Gibeah. Jonathan himself couldn't have been more than fifteen or sixteen. Ruling a land at 30 takes a lot of wisdom and courage. At such a young age, you will be criticized and harassed with every action you take.

We have seen rulers around the world who were very young. Many came into power through their parents. There are young leaders of varying degrees of power in all of our lands. We probably can't pray for these leaders enough. There are thousands of pressures and temptations to do things that would give them gratification in the short term but would undermine the laws of their land. Pray for your leaders.

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