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Fast Days: Samuel I Chapter 14: A Dangerous Fast Print E-mail

Fasting16 And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeath-benjamin looked; and, behold, the multitude melted away, and they went hither and thither. {P}


17 Then said Saul unto the people that were with him: 'Number now, and see who is gone from us.' And when they had numbered, behold, Jonathan and his armour-bearer were not there. 18 And Saul said unto Ahijah: 'Bring hither the ark of God.' For the ark of God was there at that time with the children of Israel. 19 And it came to pass, while Saul talked unto the priest, that the tumult that was in the camp of the Philistines went on and increased; {P}

and Saul said unto the priest: 'Withdraw thy hand.' 20 And Saul and all the people that were with him were gathered together, and came to the battle; and, behold, every man's sword was against his fellow, and there was a very great discomfiture. 21 Now the Hebrews that were with the Philistines as beforetime, and that went up with them into the camp round about; even they also turned to be with the Israelites that were with Saul and Jonathan. 22 Likewise all the men of Israel that had hid themselves in the hill-country of Ephraim, when they heard that the Philistines fled, even they also followed hard after them in the battle. 23 So the LORD saved Israel that day; and the battle passed on as far as Beth-aven. 24 And the men of Israel were distressed that day; but Saul adjured the people, saying: 'Cursed be the man that eateth any food until it be evening, and I be avenged on mine enemies.' So none of the people tasted food. {S}

25 And all the people came into the forest; and there was honey upon the ground. 26 And when the people were come unto the forest, behold a flow of honey; but no man put his hand to his mouth; for the people feared the oath. 27 But Jonathan heard not when his father charged the people with the oath; and he put forth the end of the rod that was in his hand, and dipped it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes brightened. 28 Then answered one of the people, and said: 'Thy father straitly charged the people with an oath, saying: Cursed be the man that eateth food this day; and the people are faint.'

29 Then said Jonathan: 'My father hath troubled the land; see, I pray you, how mine eyes are brightened, because I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much more, if haply the people had eaten freely to-day of the spoil of their enemies which they found? had there not been then a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?' ”

The Da'at Soferim suggests that King Saul instituted this fast because he carried the weight of a sin at the beginning of the battle. He had been warned by the prophet Samuel to wait for the prophet before making a pre-battle offering. Saul was hesitant to assert his authority over the people who were abandoning the king as the Philistines approached for war. They would not enter battle without first making an offering and the king did not want to bring the offering until Samuel appeared. The king chose to give in to the people rather than insist on following Samuel’s instructions; he offered the sacrifice. Although Israel was winning the battle, the king wanted to repair the damage of the sin, and instituted the fast. I would add that Shaul probably sensed that this was a time of Divine Beneficence and imposed the fast to use this period of blessing to repair the damage of the sin.

However as Jonathan points out, “My father has troubled the land; see, I pray you, how my eyes are brightened, because I tasted a little of this honey. How much more, if happily the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found? Had there not been then a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?” Imposing on soldiers a fast in middle of a battle is not a wise thing. A fast imposed in guilt will lack the clarity of, “My eyes are brightened,” and will not serve its purpose.

We do not fast in guilt. We fast as a constructive action. We do not deny ourselves physical sustenance as a punishment. We fast as a statement that without the Beit Hamikdash we lack our most basic needs.

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