“Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. 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.”” (1 Samuel 14:29–30).
It sounded incredible at first. Saul led Israel into battle and thought of an ingenious way to rally the troops. A vow! No food until nightfall! No food until the foe is defeated! So hardcore, so devoted, so incredible.
Incredible, until the battle got going, that is. In the crash of weapons and the exhaustion of battle, the warriors fatigued. Saul’s son, Jonathan, had not heard his father’s vow. Finding some honeycomb, Jonathan ate. Someone saw him do it. The do-gooder spoke: “Your dad said we’d be cursed if we ate today. You’re cursed.”
But Jonathan balked: “My dad has troubled the land. It would have been much better if we’d been able to eat freely. Look at me! My eyes are brighter after eating this honey!” And, of course, Jonathan was correct. Saul had created a restriction that hindered — not helped — the battle.
This story serves as an excellent illustration of modern forms of legalism — “Restrict this! Restrict that! Be hardcore! Be devoted! Who cares if God made it clean? Who cares if God never forbade it! Be incredible and keep yourself from it!” This mindset forbids marriage from priests, wine from Christians, and fun from children. “We are hardcore,” it says.
But what seems incredible at first hinders in the end. It forgets — life is hard. God gave humanity grace — at the cross, but also in the honeycomb. Sometimes our eyes are brightened with a little leisure, a little married sex, a little food, a little laughter. The Pharisees created line after line so they wouldn’t cross God’s line. The sentiment is good, but the methodology can lead to bad. We do not want to cross God’s line, absolutely, but we also want to win God’s wars, so we do not create lines that He did not create, thereby harming the warriors.