In 1 Samuel 14, we find that the people of Israel had just experienced a great, miraculous deliverance in battle. Once the battle was over, Jonathon decided to taste some honey because he was faint. He did this unwittingly, not realizing that his father (King Saul) had commanded that no one eat. Seeing that the honey gave Jonathon strength and feeling their own need for some sustenance, the people began falling on the spoil and killing and eating the meat with the blood. This was a transgression and sin against God. Saul demands that a stone be brought for the people to kill their animals and prepare the meat in accordance with the law and not to eat the blood with the meat.
In the 2nd part of verse 35, we read that Saul went on to build an altar to the Lord and then it states that this was his first altar that he built to the Lord. The Bible doesn't declare with certainty how long Saul had been king at this point, but we do know that it was at least for a while. Chapter 13:1 tells us that he had been king for 2 years when he began to assemble his army that went with him in chapter 14.
This brings to mind some questions:
1) Why was this his first altar? Since Abram left Ur of the Chaldees, the people of Israel were always identified as people of the altar. Every place they stopped, they would build an altar to God and establish the place of worship. Why then did Saul wait at least 2 years into his kingship to establish his own personal worship with his God? Did he not realize the importance of being on the same side as God? Did he not remember the stories of the children of Israel as they came through the wilderness and found God to fight for them and drive the people out of the land?
2) Did he intend to build an altar earlier but just never got around to it? It is certain that he was an extremely busy man. Anyone in a position of leadership understands well the truth that there are never enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to be done each day. Perhaps he simply put it off until he cleared his schedule a little.
3) Why was this "need for God" so much greater than previous problems that he faced? Shortly after being anointed king, he had to call the people to go to war to save one of the tribes. It would seem like this would have been a pretty good situation for the first altar. We are talking about the well-being and life of his people.
We know he built the altar because he needed to hear from God and get God's answer to some questions he had. I find that at so many points in this "decision-making process" he suffered from a lack of truly spiritual vision. Let me explain what I mean by this, his "vision" only saw his need when it dealt directly with himself and what he perceived to be the most important thing, the obedience of the people to his command.
Not only was he "egocentric" in his vision, but he was impulsive in his decisions. In chapter 13, we read that Samuel delayed in coming and Saul decided that it was important for him to take a responsibility on himself that did not belong to him and offered the sacrifice in the place of the priest. In chapter 14, we read that he was required a fast of everyone so that "he could be avenged of his enemies".
We also see that he sometimes did what he thought best and rationalized the results instead of just obeying the Lord. We see this in chapter 13 (the offering of the sacrifice) and chapter 15 (the Amalekites). I think it is safe to say that Saul made several grave errors that eventually cost him the kingdom. But where did all these errors start? Didn't we read earlier that he was a very humble man. Once he was anointed, he didn't go home and trumpet the news. In fact, when Samuel came to present him to Israel as the king, he was found hiding among the stuff. So, how did this humble man who started his reign listening to and obeying the word of God come to this point? How did he fall so far?
I think it all points back to the few words at the end of 1 Samuel 14: 35. This was the first altar he built to the Lord. For whatever reason, he let his reign start and proceed (for at least 2 years) without establishing his OWN personal worship to his God. He just sort of figured he could handle it okay.
How often are we guilty of the exact same thing? Oh sure, we don't build a physical altar of stones like they did in that time, but we certainly DO build altars every day in our lives and ministries. I wonder if sometimes the altar that I am building is actually built to my own ego, to my own reasoning, or to my own (little g) god. How often am I creating (for myself) my own problems in some future time?
Saul's problem in chapter 15 was not that he tried to do God's work, it was not that he saved the best animals for sacrifice to God, nor was it that he spared the life of the king. His problem started way back yonder when he didn't build his first altar to God. Hyde® tools says on their website (www.hydetools.com) "for a better finish, start with Hyde." It could be said this way, "for a better finish, start right". The problem manifested itself because he didn't start right. When the results of the problem were finally seen, it was too big of a problem for him to fix.
The encouragement that I find from this passage is to make sure I have built my altar "before I need it" as I never know when I'm going to need to hear from God in a special way. Each and every day, I must establish my own personal altar of worship with my God. I can't rely on the altar of my pastor, my parents, my friends, or my family. My altar must be my own. No other altar will do. The good news is that God wants to meet with me and will do so if I will come to Him.
So, I leave you with this question: How is your altar with God? Do you have one? Have you used it lately? Don't wait to check on it later. Take a few minutes right now and make sure everything is ready for worship.