The Sin of the Famished

And the people rushed on the spoil, and took sheep, oxen, and calves, and slaughtered them on the ground; and the people ate them with the blood” (v. 32).

- 1 Samuel 14:31-35

We saw yesterday that Saul’s rash oath, by which he bound his troops to an involuntary fast, results in a lessthan- resounding victory for Israel. Being weakened by their hunger, the men cannot fight with maximum effectiveness. The Israelites do drive the Philistines from Michmash to Aijalon, some 15 miles to the west, but by the end of the day the troops are “very faint.” They have been pushed almost to the edge of human endurance, and that leads to another unintended consequence of Saul’s oath. When the sun finally sets, releasing them from the threat of Saul’s curse (see v. 24), the men can think of nothing except food. Therefore, they seize some of the animals they captured from the Philistines, slaughter them “on the ground,” and eat them “with the blood.” The problem here is that, in their haste, the men do not kill the animals properly so that the blood drains from the carcasses. God strictly prohibited His people from eating meat with blood in it (Lev. 3:17; Deut. 15:23), for blood was reserved for atoning sacrifices (Lev. 17:10–12). The “life” of a creature was said to be in the blood; therefore, bloody sacrifices taught the Israelites that atonement for sin was costly, even to the price of life. Today, when we speak of atonement by “the blood of Christ,” we are saying that He saved His people by sacrificing His life for them.

When this sin of the people is pointed out to him, Saul is horrified, recognizing that his men are violating God’s law. However, he makes no acknowledgement of the role his oath might have played in their sin. Still, he responds in a decisive and admirable way. He directs that a large stone be set up and that his aides circulate through the army to instruct the men to bring their animals to the stone to be slaughtered. Thus he makes provision for the proper killing of the animals, that his men might eat meat without the blood still within it.

Then, we are told, “Saul built an altar to the Lord.” The text also notes that this is the first altar he has built, but as far as Scripture reveals, it is also the last. His intention may be to give thanks to God for the day’s victory. More likely, however, he intends to offer sacrifices to atone for his men’s sin with the meat. It is a sad conclusion to this day that the king must beseech God to forgive his men for a sin he helped to cause them to commit.

Coram Deo

No man can see all the repercussions that will ripple outward from a decision. Only God can see the end from the beginning. But leaders ought to give thought to the possible consequences of their actions. Pray that God will bless His church with leaders who have wise judgment and who make decisions only after bathing them in prayer.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 32:8
Proverbs 23:19
Isaiah 46:10
Hosea 8:14

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