When our first concern is what others think of us, it’s a recipe for trouble. Whether it’s minor embarrassment or bad decisions that affect an entire nation, caring too much about what others think leads to problems.
In 1 Samuel 14 & 15, we see two examples of King Saul’s bad decision making based on what others think. In chapter 14, it all starts with a rash oath the king takes:
24 Now the men of Israel were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, “Cursed be any man who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the troops tasted food.
25 The entire army entered the woods, and there was honey on the ground.26 When they went into the woods, they saw the honey oozing out, yet no one put his hand to his mouth, because they feared the oath.27 But Jonathan had not heard that his father had bound the people with the oath, so he reached out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it into the honeycomb. He raised his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened.
28 Then one of the soldiers told him, “Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, ‘Cursed be any man who eats food today!’ That is why the men are faint.”
29 Jonathan said, “My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey.
30 How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?”
31 That day, after the Israelites had struck down the Philistines from Micmash to Aijalon, they were exhausted.32 They pounced on the plunder and, taking sheep, cattle and calves, they butchered them on the ground and ate them, together with the blood.
1 Samuel 14:24-32 (NIV)
Saul’s oath gets Jonathan in trouble and leads his own men to sin by slaughtering livestock and eating meat with blood in it. Later, Saul is so obsessed with keeping his word for political expediency — not for reasons of integrity — that he doesn’t back off his oath and is willing to kill his own son:
37 So Saul asked God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into Israel’s hand?” But God did not answer him that day.
38 Saul therefore said, “Come here, all you who are leaders of the army, and let us find out what sin has been committed today.
39 As surely as the Lord who rescues Israel lives, even if it lies with my son Jonathan, he must die.” But not one of the men said a word.
40 Saul then said to all the Israelites, “You stand over there; I and Jonathan my son will stand over here.”
“Do what seems best to you,” the men replied.
41 Then Saul prayed to the Lord, the God of Israel, “Give me the right answer.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared.
42 Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and Jonathan my son.” And Jonathan was taken.
43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.”
So Jonathan told him, “I merely tasted a little honey with the end of my staff. And now must I die?”
44 Saul said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan.”
45 But the men said to Saul, “Should Jonathan die—he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the Lord lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God’s help.” So the men rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.
1 Samuel 14:38-45 (NIV)