In the Torah (the first 5 books of the bible), God did not require soldiers to refrain from eating during battle; it was a command conceived of by Saul in an apparent effort to gain the Lord’s favor. Saul’s zeal is understandable; because victory over Israel’s Philistine persecutors could only be accomplished with the Lord’s help. Saul thought it was appropriate for Israel’s soldiers to prepare for battle by dedicating themselves. On the other hand, Saul’s use of the phrase “until I have avenged myself on my enemies,” (1 Samuel 14:24) suggests that his motivation for fighting the Philistines was personal revenge, not zeal for the Lord.
Saul’s demand that his soldiers deny themselves food at the very time when caloric needs were at their greatest was ill-conceived. As a result of Saul’s misguided and foolish zeal, the warriors “were hard-pressed on that day.” (1 Samuel 14:24)
The battle left the roads and entered the woods as the Philistines attempted to evade the Israelites. Honey, an efficient and convenient source of energy, was discovered “on the ground” (1 Samuel 14:25). Although “there was a flow of honey” (1 Samuel 14:26) from bee hives, they were afraid to eat it (1 Samuel 14:26).
Jonathan, however, disobeyed his father and violated the oath in ignorance. The action strengthened him, a fact expressed by the Hebrew idiom “his eyes brightened” (1 Samuel 14:27). Jonathan’s actions did not go unnoticed, a soldier informed him of the oath his father forced the army to take, the accompanying curse, and the unfortunate results.
Jonathan’s response concerning his own father, casted an ominous shadow on Saul’s destiny. But Jonathan did not stop his criticism there; in assessing his father’s actions, Jonathan noted that his father’s foolishness had prevented an even greater triumph (1 Samuel 14:30).