Jonathan said, “My father has made trouble for the country.”
1 Samuel 14:29a (NIV)
Have you ever been in a situation in which you suddenly realize that the person in charge has no business being the person in charge? I call it the “uh-oh” moment, as in “Uh-oh! If this is the person in charge, then all of us are in deep Shinola.”
There is an amazing scene in the mini-series Band of Brothers, based on the true story of a paratrooper company preparing for D-Day in World War II. Their company commander had turned them into one of the best units in the entire army, but he was a poor leader in the field. His men had their “Uh-Oh” moment as they contemplated jumping behind enemy lines with him in charge. They had no respect for him, and they knew that he would get them all killed. At the risk of being court-martialed and shot for committing treason, they wrote letters refusing to serve in combat under their commander. They were dressed down and punished, but the letters had their intended effect. The company commander was reassigned and a truly gifted leader rose up within the company to replace him.
In today’s chapter, the author of 1 Samuel introduces two important themes in the story. First, we find that Saul’s son, Jonathan, is a courageous warrior, has qualities that his own father lacks, and the young man seems to have his act together. It is Jonathan who, by faith, acts on his own to attack the Philistines and unleash the panic that ultimately leads to Israel’s victory. This is contrasted with his father, Saul’s, own erratic and poor leadership. This is the other overarching theme of the chapter.
Saul starts to seek God’s guidance but then fears that waiting on a word from God could lose him the advantage so he acts on his own. Later, he follows through with seeking God’s guidance but then gets angry and impatient when God doesn’t answer. Saul foolishly makes his men swear an oath not to eat until the end of the fighting with the Philistines. As the battle does on all day, his men become famished and weary. Jonathan, who wasn’t even present when the men swore the oath, eats some fresh honey he finds in the field. When his fellow soldiers tell him about the oath his father made everyone swear, even Jonathan has an “Uh-Oh” moment as he realizes that his father’s leadership has only served to hurt their cause. When it becomes clear that Jonathan ate the honey, Saul acts to have his own son killed for insubordination. Jonathan’s fellow soldiers rise up against this injustice and demand that Saul refrain from carrying out the sentence. They recognize that it was Jonathan, not Saul, to whom they owe a debt of gratitude for the victory that day.
These early episodes in Saul’s career as Israel’s first king only foreshadow what is to come. Along my life journey, I’ve learned that leadership at all levels requires a certain tension between confidence and humility, between decisiveness and wisdom. Every leader makes mistakes, but I have observed a big difference between those who learn from their mistakes and those who are incapable or unwilling to do so. I read one commentator this morning who described Saul as an ego-centric leader. I thought that hit the nail on the head.
As I wrap up another work week this morning, I can’t help but once again think about my own leadership. I have been honored to hold many positions of leadership along life’s road. Here in the quiet, I can quickly think of times that others may have had “Uh-Oh” moments as I failed and made some serious mistakes. However, I’ve done my best to learn from those mistakes and not repeat them. Failure is a powerful teacher if one has the wisdom to be taught.
I’m afraid we’re going to find out that Saul was a poor student.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.