Sermon on 1 Samuel 14:24-46 – “Blame Shifting”

Sermon for Sunday, February 18th, 2024 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

 

Old Testament reading:

[Gen 3:8-13 ESV] 8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

 

New Testament reading:

[Gal 6:1-5 ESV] 1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load.

 

Gospel reading:

[Mat 7:1-5 ESV] 1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

 

Scripture Reading:

[1Sa 14:24-46 ESV] 24 And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people had tasted food. 25 Now when all the people came to the forest, behold, there was honey on the ground. 26 And when the people entered the forest, behold, the honey was dropping, but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. 27 But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright. 28 Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day.'” And the people were faint. 29 Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.” 31 They struck down the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. And the people were very faint. 32 The people pounced on the spoil and took sheep and oxen and calves and slaughtered them on the ground. And the people ate them with the blood. 33 Then they told Saul, “Behold, the people are sinning against the LORD by eating with the blood.” And he said, “You have dealt treacherously; roll a great stone to me here.” 34 And Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people and say to them, ‘Let every man bring his ox or his sheep and slaughter them here and eat, and do not sin against the LORD by eating with the blood.'” So every one of the people brought his ox with him that night and they slaughtered them there. 35 And Saul built an altar to the LORD; it was the first altar that he built to the LORD. 36 Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and plunder them until the morning light; let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.” But the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.” 37 And Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into the hand of Israel?” But he did not answer him that day. 38 And Saul said, “Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today. 39 For as the LORD lives who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” But there was not a man among all the people who answered him. 40 Then he said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side, and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.” 41 Therefore Saul said, “O LORD God of Israel, why have you not answered your servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O LORD, God of Israel, give Urim. But if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped. 42 Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.” And Jonathan was taken. 43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.” 44 And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.” 45 Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die. 46 Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.

Introduction

Blame shifting.

It is a problem as old as time; we even see Adam shift the blame to Eve and Eve shift the blame to the serpent.

This is a big problem in our time as well. A common problem. Blame-shifting. It is part of that larger heading of “taking responsibility.” We when shift the blame we do not take responsibility for our own actions. When we shift blame we are more interested in focusing on the speck in someone else eye than in the log that is in our own eye.

Blame shifting is when a person tries to dodge responsibility for their words or actions by assigning the blame to someone else. It is an attempt to escape responsibility. And its an attempt to look like the good guy, not caught in sin but calling out someone else’s sin!

Well, we should be very careful to call out other’s sins. Indeed we must do so. We must rebuke error and sin. But we must speak truth in love.

But blame-shifting doesn’t speak truth in love. It is the hot potato attitude, “just get this away from me.” “I don’t care if someone else is burned, I just want to be safe.”

But while blame-shifting might be effective in distracting other people from your sins, it certainly won’t distract God. It is to compound sin. You are guilty of 1 sin, and now you try to deflect the blame and that is another sin. You’re only digging yourself deeper into a hole. Isn’t it about time to stop the blame-shifting and take responsibility?

Our account from 1st Samuel is an account of blame shifting. King Saul again is seen to oppose the Lord. He sins in multiple ways, and instead of repenting, he attempts to deflect blame by going after Jonathan and seeking to punish him. Saul sins in (1) making a rash vow, (2) not repenting of that vow, and not recognizing God’s laws and greater than his. And then he compounds his sin but seeking to put Jonathan to death.

But with that judgment that he pronounced, he will be judged.

The story can be summed up in 3 heading:
I. Honey on the Ground
II. Raw Meat on the Ground
III. Ransomed from a Sentence of Death

I. Honey on the Ground

The vow which Saul makes (and which get’s Jonathan into the mess) is a vow which Jonathan didn’t even know of.

Saul says “Cursed by the man who east food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” It is all about Saul. His vengeance. And he makes up this rule.

Saul says “you won’t eat anything today” and Jonathan never even hears the command.

Possible Jonathan (and his armor-bearer) are returning from that victorious fight they led out on their own. No wonder they didn’t hear the oath Saul pronounced.

And when Jonathan eats honey (and some sustenance was much needed after battle) then Saul wants to punish Jonathan, rather than acknowledging that the vow in the first place was stupid; it was rash.

You just can’t make vows like that. Saul laid the oath on the people. It was not one that they voluntarily opted for, nor one that God required.

Throughout the Scriptures we find that fasting is voluntary. Never is it commanded by God or required by Biblical law. And certainly a fast during a military action is unheard of and foolish. Perhaps fasting is best included in that great statement of Paul’s in Colossians 2:16 – “Let no on pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.” His point – these things are voluntary.

But Saul has overstepped making this fast, for personal reasons, to be obligatory for the people.

But Jonathan, who didn’t know about the fast oath, he eats honey that is dripping in the forest.

Jonathan “put the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright.”

Well, I am happier when I eat honey too.

Jonathan is really burned out. He is like a marathon runner 20 miles into the race. He needs carbohydrates. And getting some honey “gets him back in the game” when he finds honey in the forest.

You see Israel was a forested place (in parts) in those days. Now, we think of it as mostly a desert. The Jordan Valley is quite productive agriculturally. What happened to the land of Israel? Why the deforestation? Was is CO2 emissions? No, because the deforestation occurred before automobiles.

Incidentally, today the Arabs and Jews argue over whether the land was a desert or not during the Arab times of ownership a century ago. And I found some Arabs posting pictures from that time showing orchards with fruit growing. But the reality is seen in the background of the photos; the place was laid waste.

The “Greening Israel Project” says that with each kingdom that took over the land, more forests were destroyed. But that is not much of an explanation. They do explain that the Ottoman turks cut down the last of the trees for ties for a railroad going through Israel, connecting Europe and Africa. Before that, a common explanation is that there was “over-grazing” of animals. Well, I wasn’t there. But the Bible tells us that it was a land flowing with milk and honey in Biblical times.

Well Saul had said “don’t partake in the food, in the spoils.”

And his vow is for HIS own purpose. It is not to honor God, but to avenge himself.

“Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.”

With this rash vow of Saul we see his impatience problem again. He is so desiring victory that he wants his people to fight (and not eat) until the victory is won. But by not eating they are less able to fight and so the victory is diminished. The text says “For now the defeat about the Philistines has NOT been great.” The result of the battle was an Israelite victory, but a muted victory. It could have been better.

We see also a growing tension between Saul and Jonathan, between father a son. And a continued contrast. Saul is an awful leader. Jonathan is a good one.

II. Raw Meat on the Ground

Well, Jonathan ate honey on the ground. And the ground is not a clean place to eat food from. But I’d rather eat natural bacteria-killing honey off the ground than to eat raw meat.

That is what we see next. The people eating raw meat off the ground.

This is an unclean practice, both by modern standards and by Biblical law.

So this sin is caused indirectly by Saul’s pronouncement.

The people are so hungry that they “pounced on the spoil.” There is no time to cook when you are hungry. Maybe you’ve been there. I’ve caught myself eating while cooking a meal! I’m too hungry to wait for the cooking to be done!

So we have the people obeying Saul’s foolish command not to eat, and now it causing them to disobey God’s command.

They eat raw meat. What is wrong with rare steak? In Genesis 9 we find the prohibition against eating blood. God says to Noah “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”

In their haste they butchered the animals “on the ground” rather than suspending them so as to permit the blood to drain properly. It is always the case that drinking or eating blood is a no-no in the Scriptures. Even in the New Testament at the Council of Jerusalem when they say the Gentiles do not need to follow the food laws of the Jews, they yet say “refrain from drinking blood.”

So this is the real sin. Drinking of blood.

Saul might not even have known that this was a sin. Someone had to tell him. And then he had an altar set up so that the animals could be cooked cleanly.

But Saul’s ignorance here is unlike Jonathan’s. Jonathan couldn’t have known. Saul should have known better.

The eating of honey was against Saul, the eating of the raw meat was against God. Yet, which one is Saul concerned about?

Well, first Saul is most concerned about HIS victory. He wants to avenge the Philistines. So he says “let’s keep going.” Let’s go and plunder them. Only with the priests advice does Saul pause for a moment to seek the Lord’s will. And when God doesn’t answer, Saul knows that something is up. And what does he do? Repent and turn to the Lord? No, of course not.

He says “We’ll find out who is guilty and even if it is my son Jonathan, he shall surely die.”

Another foolish vow for Saul! He was foolish in commanding the fast, and now foolish in demanding the death of him who broke the fast, which he finds out through the Urim and Thummin that it was Jonathan.

III. Ransomed from a Death Sentence

Now he wants to put his own son to death.

But Jonathan is the best thing Saul’s got going for him! Jonathan wins battles. Jonathan obeys the Lord.

But Saul, rather than humbly admitting that HE was at fault, is willing to even kill his own son.

That is some drastic blame shifting.

It reminds me of an episode I saw of the hoarders television show. Just a mean lady who had made a mess of the place. And who does she blame. Not herself. It is the kid’s fault. And rather than admitting to her own fault, rather than cleaning up the place, I think she ended up having Child Protective Services take the children away, and she was GLAD for it(!) saying the whole time that the kids are the problem and she’s glad to see them go.

Well, is Jonathan the problem? Clearly not. Saul is the problem.

Saul has made a rash vow, which he should repent of, but continues to defend.

We are warned against rash vows in Ecclesiastes 5:2

[Ecc 5:2 ESV] 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.

Again Saul stubbornly refused to recognize his fault, his rash vow. But puts it on others. That finger that is pointing out, it really should be curving back at himself. Or, as it has been pointed out, when one finger points out, the other three point in.

We are to remember this. Admit our guilt. Take responsibility. Don’t shift the blame to someone else. This is not a good look. It is sinful. It will win you no friends. And it will cause tensions in your household, your workplace, and your society. Blame shifting is a recipe for disaster.

We have to be aware of this sin, and of the temptation to it. It is natural (and sinful) for someone mired in their own sin to look for a way to blind others to that truth. They quickly shift the focus to someone else’s sin. I hope that this sermon, and this text, will cause you to pause whenever you consider shifting blame. Pause and don’t do it.

And consider that sin of blame-shifting. Those who are so rough on others, are often are so light on themselves. It is the parable of the speck and the log. Let us be quick to recognize our own sins and to repent, and slow to point the finger at someone else.

Conclusion: Christ’s Ransom for OUR Sin

Jonathan is saved only because he is ransomed by the people. The knew better than to go alone with Saul’s folly. They knew Jonathan was innocent and they stood up for him. By intervening they ransomed Jonathan.

Jesus Christ is our ransom.

But there is a difference. Jonathan was innocent, we are guilty.

Jonathan had friends come to his rescue, but we were enemies of God.

If these people we JUST in ransoming Jonathan, than God is MERCIFUL and GRACIOUS in ransoming us.

We who were his enemies, are called his friends.

And Christ gave his life as a ransom for many.

And forgiveness for OUR sins. That is what we MUST acknowledge. Our sins are OUR sins. Don’t shift the blame to your circumstances, to your neighbors, your family, or heaven-forbid to God himself. Your sins are YOUR sins.

Don’t shift the blame saying I have an “ism”, a disorder or a syndrome. The disease isn’t at fault. You are. It is YOUR sin.

Don’t shift the blame regarding lust saying, “I was born this way” or “My bad thoughts were because of the way someone else dressed.” Your birth isn’t to blame. You are. Another person’s clothing isn’t to blame. It is YOUR sin.

Don’t shift the blame saying, “I have a personality disorder.” The disorder is not to blame for your anger, for your vulgar words, for your unkind words, for your unkind deeds. You are to blame.

Don’t shift the blame to your parents saying “I wasn’t taught well” or “I inherited the same trouble my father had.” They are not to blame for YOUR sins. You are.

Your sins are YOUR sins. Acknowledge them, admit them, ask for forgiveness from them.

And then there is the good news. Christ forgives OUR sins. He forgives YOUR sins. He ransomed you with His death on the cross. Your sin is so terrible that it caused the death of Jesus Christ himself. But God’s love is so great that Christ was willing to die for you.

And finally, consider this. With Christ there is the exact opposite of blame-shifting. Or, we could say, there is guilt-shifting. He shifts the guilt from us to him. He takes our sins willingly.

WHO would do that? Maybe for someone we love? But for an enemy?

[Rom 5:7-8 ESV] 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Christ, my brothers and sisters, has died for you. Ransomed you from impending death, and calls you to a life of holiness.

He calls you, among others thing, to not shift blame. He calls you to be gracious as he is gracious and to be holy and he is holy. Let us admit our sins, ask the Lord for forgiveness, and seek to live at peace with all men, not perpetuating trouble by shifting blame, but ending it where it started.

It is a great calling to be a Christian. It is a great calling to not shift blame. But if you live in this way, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you will have joy in your heart, and live without misplaced anger against others.

Let us pray for the Lord to work in that we take responsibility, mature in the faith. Let us pray.