“‘Follow me,’ Jonathan told his armor-bearer, ‘for the Lord has handed them over to Israel.’ Jonathan climbed up using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer behind him. Jonathan cut them down, and his armor-bearer followed and finished them off. In that first assault Jonathan and his armor-bearer struck down about 20 men in a half-acre field… Saul said, ‘Let’s go down after the Philistines tonight and plunder them until morning. Don’t let even one remain!’ …. But the priest said, ‘We must consult God here.’ So Saul inquired of God, ‘Should I go after the Philistines? Will You hand them over to Israel?’ But God did not answer him that day” (1 Samuel 14:12-14; 36-37, HCSB).
At the beginning of 1 Samuel 14, Jonathan, King Saul’s son, and his attendant attacked a Philistine garrison. Meanwhile, Saul remained encamped on the other side of the pass with about 600 Israelite troops. In that assault Jonathan and his attendant killed about twenty Philistine soldiers.
Then panic erupted in the Philistine camp. Saul and his troops noticed the commotion among the Philistine troops.
Saul started to inquire of the Lord about what was happening in the Philistine camp by conferring with the priests who carried the ark of God. Deciding he might lose the opportunity to rout the Philistines, Saul gathered his troops and attacked and “struck down the Philistines that day from Michmash all the way to Aijalon” (vs. 31), a distance of about 15 miles.
Saul decided to renew the battle the next day and he again inquired of God whether he should go after the Philistines or not. “But God did not answer him that day” (vs 37). From Saul’s distorted theological perspective he was convinced that sin was present in the camp that was preventing the divine assistance.
It turns out the supposed sin was Jonathan’s disobedience to a direct order by King Saul that Jonathan had, in fact, not even heard Saul issue because he was single-handedly attacking the Philistine garrison.
Saul determined that Jonathan must be executed for disobeying his orders, but the Israelite troops interceded in Jonathan’s behalf and Saul relented from executing his son (vs. 44-45).
So why does God seem to favor Jonathan’s impulsive decision to attack the Philistines and not favor Saul’s contemplative actions when he stops to inquire of the Lord before attacking the Philistines?
The answer to that question in this rather complicated story seems to hinge on the fact that Saul, for the most part, had retreated from the Philistines while Jonathan had decided to challenge them.
In other words, Jonathan was operating under the prime directive from God to completely destroy the Philistines while Saul was obeying God on his own terms.
Saul’s obedience was pretense while Jonathan’s obedience was offense!
God honored Jonathan’s action and not Saul’s inaction because Jonathan was obeying the prime directive from God–to completely destroy the people groups inhabiting the promised land.
As King over Israel Saul was morally responsible to uphold the prime directive. When he didn’t uphold the prime directive it was morally reprehensible!
God even gave Saul another chance to obey Him by completely destroying the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15. Again Saul responds according to his own terms by only partially obeying God and, ultimately, Saul was rejected by God as King over Israel: “Saul and the troops spared (King) Agag, and the best of the sheep, cattle, and choice animals,as well as the young rams and the best of everything else. They were not willing to destroy them, but they did destroy all the worthless and unwanted things. Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel, ‘I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned away from following Me and has not carried out My instructions'” (1 Samuel 15:9-11, HCSB).
Saul’s behavior in this story would be something akin to a modern Christian asking God if he or she should preach the gospel or witness to someone about Jesus or not.
After all, isn’t taking the gospel to all people our prime directive? Then we each have the responsibility to carry out this prime directive in our personal lives according to God’s plan for each of us.
You could call it your sub-prime directive!
So, you don’t have to keep going back and asking God what your assignment is when God has already given you an assignment! Otherwise, you are behaving like Saul who only inquired of God to try to assuage his troubled faith in God.
God mainly desires our obedience to His will–His prime directive. And we use that prime directive (and your sub-prime directive) as a baseline for what actions we need to take (or not take) in living our daily lives.
Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention is better than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22, HCSB)