The law is a harsh taskmaster because it requires perfection. The purpose of the law given to Moses was to enable the Israelites to attain God’s standard which is perfection. God said to Abraham, “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Gen 17:1). It is a mistake to assume that your standing with God will improve by keeping some aspects of the law while ignoring others or by being a religious person that attempts to keep all the law. Unless you keep all the law perfectly your entire life, it does you no good to attempt it.
Saul assumed that he would gain favor with God my making all of his men fast while they were fighting the Philistines. It says in 1 Samuel 14:24 that he adjured the people which means he bound them with an oath or made a covenant with them making it a law that no one could eat any food until evening under penalty of death. By doing this, Saul was using his authority as king in an inappropriate way. It was as if Saul was adding a commandment to God’s law and was expecting God’s standard of perfection to apply to it. In other words, if they kept the commandment then they would be blessed and if not, they would be cursed.
Unfortunately, Saul’s son Jonathon was not aware of the command to not eat food and he ate some honey while he was away from the rest of the army. When it was discovered that Jonathon had eaten something, the people convinced Saul not to kill him. It would have been better for Saul to have never made the oath than to make it and not keep it. It says in Leviticus 5 that when an oath is made, a man is guilty if he breaks it even if he is unaware of the oath.
Whatsoever uncleanness it be that a man shall be defiled withal, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty. Or if a soul swear, pronouncing with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall pronounce with an oath, and it be hidden from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty in one of these. (Leviticus 5:3-4)
The next time Saul received an instruction from the LORD, he and the people conspired to disobey the LORD and took it upon themselves to decide who should live or die among their enemies, the Amalekites.
But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly. (1 Samuel 15:9)
Only God has the “complete, sovereign freedom to liberate human beings” (6299). Saul’s decision indicates that he was usurping God’s authority and allowing the people to dictate his behavior rather than God. The LORD spoke to Samuel saying, “It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments” (1 Samuel 15:11).
One of the key characteristics of human beings is free will. God does not force us to obey him and he will not take our freedom away even if it causes us to interfere with his plan for our lives. Saul was transformed into another man, but he still had a sin nature and was able to exercise his free will.
When it says that the LORD repenteth that he made Saul king, it means that he turned to a new course of action (5162). God’s plans cannot be thwarted, he is able to correct the course of events and does so whenever we choose to go our own way. The thing that we need to be aware of is that we will be left behind if we become useless to God’s efforts.