Massachusetts, January 6, 2002
Samuel 14:24-30, 37-46 Saul's foolish vow
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.
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."
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?" . . .
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.
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.
then said to all the Israelites, "You stand
over there; I and Jonathan my son will stand
what seems best to you," the men replied.
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."
Jonathan told him, "I merely tasted a
little honey with the end of my staff. And now
must I die?"
said, "May God deal with me, be it ever so
severely, if you do not die, Jonathan."
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 shall 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.
Saul stopped pursuing the Philistines, and they
withdrew to their own land.
11:16-19 Eating and drinking
what can I compare this generation? They are
like children sitting in the marketplaces and
calling out to others, 'We played the flute for
you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and
you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating
nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.'
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and
they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a
friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But
wisdom is proved right by her actions."
said, "My father has made trouble for the
country. (1 Samuel 14:29)
I chose the title "How to Make Life More
Difficult" for today's sermon, I did not
intend it to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
However, as they say, "Life is what happens
when you've made other plans." The
experience of the last few days--though I hope
never to repeat it--did give me some excellent
material for today's sermon. So in addition to
the rest of what I want to say to you today,
here is a quick and easy way to make life more
1: Buy a computer
2: Install a new operating system.
me, this was quite sufficient to make life more
difficult! Step 2, in particular, has made my
life difficult for about a week now. First, I
had to reinstall the new operating system two or
three times--and most of my software along with
it--in order to get it working properly at all.
Then a few days after I'd finally gotten it
installed and working (I thought), all digital
hell broke loose. Now, after two solid days of
battling off several massive virus infections
and reinstalling things two or three more times,
each time correcting errors I made the last
time, I think I have things working again.
(Please, God?) And there are even a few
improvements over the way my computer was set up
of the obvious lessons in this for me is that
change is usually harder than we think it is
going to be--and the bigger the change, the
greater the challenges and obstacles that will
be thrown in our way. So here's a second,
surefire way to make life more difficult:
1: Make a major change in your life.
one point, when I was in the middle of about the
third or fourth re-installation, I was about
ready to throw in the towel and simply put my
computer back the way it had been before. But
there were things the new operating system could
do that the old one couldn't, and I realized
that if I went back, I would lose the benefits
that had caused me to upgrade in the first
considerations drive us on when we resolve to
make a change in our lives. When we make
promises and resolutions to ourselves that we
are going to change something in our
life--whether we do it as the traditional New
Year's resolution or at any other time--we have
generally decided that something about the way
things are now is broken, or just isn't as good
as it could be. Especially when it comes to
making a major change in our lives, we generally
don't do it unless we have a vision in our minds
of how life could be better if we carried
through on the change that we have decided we
want to make.
in itself, can and will make life more difficult
for a while. To use a simple--and real--example,
let's say I resolve not to stay up late anymore.
The minute I actually try to carry out that
resolution, I find that though my intentions may
have changed, my habits have not. I have been
used to getting a lot of work (or play!) done
late at night, and I have mentally arranged my
daily schedule with that in mind. So I hit
midnight, and I still have a lot of things to
do--things that need to be done by tomorrow
now I'm between a rock and a hard place. I can
go to bed as I'd resolved to do, but not get the
work done, with the consequences that flow from
that. Or I can stay up anyway, finish the work,
and feel bleary-eyed in the morning--not to
mention kicking myself all day for violating my
new resolution right off the bat.
can insert the appropriate New Year's resolution
into this situation. And sad to say, most New
Year's resolutions don't survive one week into
the new year. As soon as we find ourselves
between that rock and that hard place; as soon
as we find that we're actually going to have to
work and struggle and experience failure in our
efforts, we tend to drop our fine resolutions
and go right back to the way things were before.
But not without kicking ourselves for our
weakness, and digging ourselves even deeper into
the pit labeled, "It's no use. There's no
way I'll ever change for the better."
you want to make life more difficult for
yourself? Just promise yourself to break a
long-standing habit or change one of the less
desirable parts of your character, and you'll
have enough mental and emotional trouble to last
for quite a while.
yet, we humans are built so that we can never be
quite satisfied with ourselves if we are not
changing, learning new things, growing in new
ways. Not only does life become uninspiring if
we always do everything the way we've always
done it; but there are parts of ourselves that
just plain need changing. There are parts of
ourselves that are hurtful both to ourselves and
to the people around us. For example, even
though I use the excuse that I have to stay up
late because I have so much work to do, I end
out getting less done, because I'm tired the
next day and work much less efficiently than I
do when I've had a good night's sleep. Besides,
like anyone whose batteries are running on
empty, I can get downright grumpy and hard to
live with when I haven't had enough sleep.
we humans will keep on making our
resolutions--and breaking them almost as often
as we make them. Every once in a while, we will
actually succeed in changing something about our
lives--and that will give us the boost we need
to keep going. If it's something significant,
the change usually won't happen until we've made
several false starts, and then done a lot of
struggling, praying to God, and turning to
others for help in overcoming our old habits.
Change makes life more difficult. But if the
change is for the better, the difficulty will be
only for the short run; then the benefits will
take over, and bless us for the long run.
however, the promises and resolutions we make
for ourselves aren't so wise in the first place.
Sometimes even with the best of intentions, we
make life unnecessarily more difficult for
ourselves. And that brings us to our Old
Testament reading for today.
was the first king of Israel. Before that, the
people had been led by people such as Moses,
Joshua, the various "judges," and then
Samuel. None of these people were kings. All of
them were led directly by God as they, in turn,
led the people. So in effect, God was leading
the people through various human leaders who
were answerable directly to God.
this arrangement generally worked well, once the
people had been in their Promised Land for a few
generations, they had had enough of this
informal divine leadership, and demanded of
Samuel that he anoint them a king. After
resisting this request, and on God's behalf
telling the people how hard life would be if
they rejected God's leadership and insisted on
being led by a king, Samuel, prompted by the
voice of God, finally capitulated to the
people's demands and anointed a king to rule
king was Saul. Good-looking and very tall--he
literally stood head and shoulders above the
people (1 Samuel 9:2, 10:23)--Saul also turned
out to be headstrong, and often foolish. He did
lead the people in a few quick victories over
their enemies, which established his popularity
and his kingship. But then his new status went
to his head, and he began to disregard God's
orders as given through Samuel, and follow his
own way instead, whenever it suited him. Often,
his way was not very wise.
today's story, the Israelite army, under Saul's
leadership, was gaining a great victory over
their most intractable enemy: the Philistines.
This victory was precipitated by Saul's son
Jonathan, who bravely went out against the
entire Philistine army with only himself and his
armor bearer. Because of his faith that God
could give them the victory, the two of them
threw the Philistine army into a panic; and when
the rest of the Israelite army saw what was
happening, they rallied and routed the
Saul had bound his army by a strict--and
foolish--oath that they were not to eat any food
before the evening come and victory was gained
over their enemies. Jonathan, of course, was
already in the Philistine camp when his father
pronounced that oath, so he didn't know about
it, and he ate some honey as the troops moved
along through the woods. This set the stage for
the conflict that followed between Jonathan and
story is a lesson in how to make life more
difficult than it really needs to be. Saul and
his army already had enough difficulties for
that day simply in battling their enemies,
without adding more difficulties by binding
themselves not to eat anything while pressing
the battle forward. As Jonathan said, it would
have been better if the men of the army had
eaten something along the way to give themselves
more strength for the battle.
goes for our inner battles, too. God does
command us to overcome our inner enemies--those
bad habits and character flaws that we resolve
to change each year as the new year begins. But
we tend to make things even more difficult for
ourselves than they have to be. It's hard enough
to overcome a bad habit. But sometimes, thinking
it will be an incentive, we also deny ourselves
some simple, harmless pleasure that we enjoy
until we have overcome that bad habit or
character flaw. For example, we may vow not to
play a musical recording we especially like
until we have lost ten pounds or quit smoking.
is no need to afflict ourselves this way. God
put the pleasures of this earth here for us to
enjoy--as long as we are engaging in them
sensibly. Jonathan tasted a little honey, and
his eyes were brightened. We, too, need to taste
some of the honey of life's pleasures along the
way as we struggle against our inner enemies. So
to adapt a popular platitude: as you struggle to
fulfill your New Year's resolutions, don't
forget to stop and taste the honey. Amen.
© 2001 Bruce DeBoer
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