Questions From Readers
When Saul’s soldiers ate meat along with the blood, why were they not executed, since that was the punishment set out in God’s Law?
These men did violate God’s law on blood, but they may have been shown mercy because they had respect for blood, even though they should have been more diligent about showing such respect.
Consider the situation. The Israelites under King Saul and his son Jonathan were at war with the Philistines. At a point when “the men of Israel themselves were hard pressed” in battle, Saul rashly took an oath that his men should not eat until the enemy was defeated. (1 Samuel 14:24) Soon his oath created a problem.
His men were winning a hard-fought battle, but the strenuous effort was taking its toll. They were famished and exhausted. What did they do in that extreme situation? “The people began darting greedily at the spoil and taking sheep and cattle and calves and slaughtering them on the earth, and the people fell to eating along with the blood.”—1 Samuel 14:32.
That was in violation of God’s law concerning blood, as some of Saul’s people told him, saying: “Look! The people are sinning against Jehovah by eating along with the blood.” (1 Samuel 14:33) Yes, the Law said that when animals were slaughtered, the blood had to be drained before the meat was eaten. God did not demand taking fanatical measures to drain the blood. By taking reasonable steps of drainage, his servants could manifest respect for the significance of blood. (Deuteronomy 12:15, 16, 21-25) Animal blood could be used in a sacrificial way on the altar, but it was not to be eaten. Deliberate violation was punishable by death, for God’s people were told: “You must not eat the blood of any sort of flesh, because the soul of every sort of flesh is its blood. Anyone eating it will be cut off.”—Leviticus 17:10-14.
Were the soldiers of King Saul deliberately breaking the Law? Were they showing absolute disregard for the divine law on blood?—Compare Numbers 15:30.
We need not conclude so. The record says that they were ‘slaughtering the animals on the earth and eating along with the blood.’ So they may have been making some attempt to drain the blood. (Deuteronomy 15:23) Yet, in their exhausted, famished state, they did not hang up the slaughtered carcasses and allow adequate time for normal blood drainage. They slaughtered the sheep and cattle “on the earth,” which could retard drainage. And they quickly cut meat from carcasses that might have been lying in blood. Hence, even if they had in mind obeying God’s law, they did not follow through in proper ways nor to an adequate extent.
The result was that “the people fell to eating along with the blood,” which was sinful. Saul recognized this and ordered that a large stone be rolled to him. He commanded the soldiers: “Bring near to me, each one of you, his bull and, each one, his sheep, and you must do the slaughtering in this place and the eating, and you must not sin against Jehovah by eating along with the blood.” (1 Samuel 14:33, 34) The guilty soldiers obeyed, and “Saul proceeded to build an altar to Jehovah.”—1 Samuel 14:35.
Slaughtering animals on the stone probably effected adequate blood drainage. Meat from the animals would be eaten away from where the slaughtering occurred. Saul may have used some of the drained blood on the altar in seeking God’s mercy toward those who had sinned. Jehovah extended mercy, apparently because he knew what attempts the soldiers had made even though they were very tired and hungry. God may also have taken into account that Saul’s rash oath had pressed his men into that desperate situation.
This account does show that an emergency situation is no excuse for disregarding divine law. It should also help us see the need for careful thought before taking an oath, for a rash vow can cause problems for us personally and for others.—Ecclesiastes 5:4-6.