David Guzik's Commentary on the Bible
1 Samuel 14
1 Samuel 14 - VICTORY OVER THE PHILISTINES
A. Jonathan’s adventure in faith.
1. (1 Samuel 14:1-3) Jonathan’s proposal.
Now it happened one day that Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who bore his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistines’ garrison that is on the other side.” But he did not tell his father. And Saul was sitting in the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree which is in Migron. The people who were with him were about six hundred men. Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the Lord’s priest in Shiloh, was wearing an ephod. But the people did not know that Jonathan had gone.
a. It happened one day: At the beginning, there was nothing in this day that indicated it would be a remarkable day. But it would! On this day, God would win a great victory through the bold trust of Jonathan.
i. “God is ever on the outlook for believing souls, who will receive his power and grace on the one hand, and transmit them on the other. He chooses them, that by them he should make his mighty power known.” (Meyer)
b. Said to the young man who bore his armor: Every “officer” in the Israelite army had an “assistant” known as an armor bearer. The armor bearer would help the officer in fighting and administration of the army. They would often simply carry the armor and weapons of the officer, so they were known as armor bearers.
i. “Armor-bearers in ancient times had to be unusually brave and loyal, since the lives of their masters often depended on them.” (Youngblood) Later, God would raise up a special armor bearer for King Saul: a young man named David.
c. Come, let us go over to the Philistines garrison: The Israelites were in a military conflict were victory, from all outward appearance, was impossible. They were vastly outnumbered, and were greatly surpassed in military technology. Yet Jonathan is bold enough to go over to the Philistine garrison just to see what the LORD might want to do.
i. Jonathan probably was awake at night, offended and outraged at the way these godless Philistines were oppressing the Israelites. He was mad at the way it seemed so hopeless and how the people were just waiting around, discouraged. As he lay awake that night, perhaps a thought suddenly came into his mind: “Shamgar!” Shamgar? Jonathan probably remember him from his Bible. After all, Judges 3:31 describes how Shamgar killed 600 Philistines with a sharp stick. Jonathan probably thought, “Well, if God could do it through Shamgar, He could do it through me!”
ii. As Jonathan thought about it more, he considered there was no way the LORD had forsaken Israel. Sure, the odds were great against them. But God was greater than the odds. God had promised to do great things for Israel. He promised that Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight; your enemies shall fall by the sword before you. (Leviticus 26:8) He had won great victories against great odds before, as in the days of Gideon or Samson. God gave this land to Israel, not to the Philistines. God could do it! Why not now? Why not today? Why not through me?
iii. “This was a rash and foolish attempt, if it be examined by common rules; but not so, if we consider the singular promises made to the Israelites, that one should chase a thousand, [and so forth], and especially the heroical and extraordinary motions which were then frequently put into the minds of gallant men by God’s Spirit, whereby they undertook and accomplished noble and wonderful things; as did Samson, and David, and his worthies.” (Poole )
d. He did not tell his father: Why not? It may have been just an oversight, or something easily and properly explained. Or, it may have been that Jonathan deliberately did not tell his father, because he believed his father would have simply said “no.”
e. Saul was sitting: What a contrast! The bold, brave, king is simply sitting . . . under a pomegranate tree while his son boldly goes over to the Philistine garrison. Saul is there, the priest with the ephod is there (as sort of an “army chaplain”). They sit back while Jonathan bravely trusts God.
f. The mention of Ichabod seems almost unnecessary. Why would we need to know that the priest with Saul, Ahijah, was the nephew of Ichabod? Probably, God wants us to associate the meaning of Ichabod’s name with where Saul is at spiritually. Saul’s royal glory is almost gone, and it is appropriate that he associates with a relative of “The Glory Has Departed.”
g. The people did not know that Jonathan was gone: This indicates that Jonathan did not go over to the Philistine garrison out of a desire for personal glory. If that was his motivation, he would have told at least a few people that he had gone over.
2. (1 Samuel 14:4-5) Jonathan finds a strategic position.
Between the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistines’ garrison, there was a sharp rock on one side and a sharp rock on the other side. And the name of one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. The front of one faced northward opposite Michmash, and the other southward opposite Gibeah.
a. Between the passes . . . there was a sharp rock on one side and a sharp rock on the other side: On his way to the Philistine garrison, Jonathan sees something that any military man would notice. He sees a strategic position - a narrow path through a pass, with large, sharp rocks on either side. A few men could easily fight against a much larger number at this strategic place.
b. If Jonathan would have never decided, Come, let us go over to the Philistines’ garrison that is on the other side (1 Samuel 14:1) he would have never found this strategic place. God guided Jonathan as Jonathan was boldly trusting God, and acting on that bold trust.
3. (6-7) Jonathan’s bold proposal.
Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the LORD will work for us. For nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few.” So his armorbearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Go then; here I am with you, according to your heart.”
a. It may be that the LORD will work for us: For Jonathan, this was more than a reconnaissance expedition. He wanted to see what God could do through two men who would trust him and step out boldly.
i. Jonathan knew the need was great. Israel was already hopelessly outnumbered and demoralized.
ii. Jonathan knew God wanted to use someone. His father, King Saul, just wanted to sit under a pomegranate tree. Something had to be done, and Jonathan was willing to be used by God to do it.
iii. Jonathan knew God wanted to work with someone. Jonathan could have just prayed that God would rain down fire from heaven on the Philistines. But Jonathan knew that God uses the bold action and fighting spirit of His people. “It was not Jonathan that was to work with some help from God; it was the Lord that was to work by Jonathan.” (Blaikie)
b. For nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few: What wise courage in God! Many in Israel probably believed this as a theological truth. But few believed it enough to do something. Jonathan’s faith was demonstrated by his works.
i. Nothing restrains the LORD! Do we really believe it? Or does the title of J.B. Phillips’ book describe us: Your God is Too Small. We often feel that God is restrained in one way or another. In reality, the only thing that could be said to restrain God is our unbelief. In Matthew 13:58, it says of one time in Jesus’ ministry, He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief. God’s power is never restrained, but His will may be restrained by our unbelief. He may choose not to act until we partner with Him in trust. God had a trusting partner in Jonathan!
ii. By many or few: What did it matter? Who cares about the odds or the point spread when God is on your side? The odds were already against Israel. Did it matter if it was a million-to-one or a thousand-to-one? Numbers or odds did not restrain God, but unbelief could. Jonathan never read the New Testament, but he had a Romans 8:31 heart: If God be for us, who can be against us?
iii. Notice where Jonathan had the emphasis. He had little faith in himself, but great faith in God. It wasn’t “I can win a great victory with God’s help.” It was “God can win a great victory through even me.” As Meyer says, “He had the smallest possible faith in himself, and the greatest faith in God. His soul waited for the Lord; in Him was centred all his hope, and from his gracious help he expected great things. All he aspired to was to be humble vehicle through which the delivering grace of God might work.”
c. Go then; here I am with you: These words from Jonathan’s armor bearer must have cheered Jonathan greatly. When we step out in faith, encouragement can make all the difference for good. And discouragement can make all the difference for evil!
i. God was going to use Jonathan, but He wasn’t going to use Jonathan alone. Almost always, when God uses a man, he calls others around that man to support and help him. They are just as important in getting God’s work done as the man God uses. So, if you can’t be a Jonathan, then find a Jonathan - and attach yourself to him as like Jonathan’s armor bearer.
4. (1 Samuel 14:8-10) Jonathan proposes a test.
Then Jonathan said, “Very well, let us cross over to these men, and we will show ourselves to them. If they say thus to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place and not go up to them. But if they say thus, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up. For the LORD has delivered them into our hand, and this will be a sign to us.”
a. Very well: This indicates that Jonathan took the support of his armor bearer as confirmation.
b. This will be a sign to us: In his step of faith, Jonathan wants to know he is really being led by God. So he proposes a test: they will show themselves to the Philistine guards. If they respond one way (“Come up to us”) Jonathan will know God wants them to fight and win the battle. If the guards respond another way (“Wait until we come to you”) Jonathan will know God does not want them to fight this day.
c. Jonathan is showing wisdom, not unbelief. To this point, he is not acting on a specific, confirmed word from God. Instead, he is following the bold hope and impression of his heart. He is humble enough to know his heart might be wrong on this day, so Jonathan asks God to guide him.
i. This is not the same as Gideon’s setting of a fleece (Judges 6:36-40). Gideon had a confirmed word of God to guide him, and he doubted God’s word. Jonathan was not doubting God’s word, he was doubting his own heart and mind.
ii. Jonathan is prompted by faith. Significantly, he does not demand to know the whole battle plan from God in advance. He is willing to take it one step at a time, and let God plan it out. Faith is willing to let God know the whole plan and know our part one step at a time.
5. (1 Samuel 14:11-14) Jonathan and his armor bearer attack the Philistines.
So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines. And the Philistines said, “Look, the Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden.” Then the men of the garrison called to Jonathan and his armorbearer, and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you something.” Jonathan said to his armorbearer, “Come up after me, for the LORD has delivered them into the hand of Israel.” And Jonathan climbed up on his hands and knees with his armorbearer after him; and they fell before Jonathan. And as he came after him, his armorbearer killed them. That first slaughter which Jonathan and his armorbearer made was about twenty men within about half an acre of land.
a. Look, the Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden: At this time of crisis, the Israelites were hiding anywhere they could (1 Samuel 13:6). It was reasonable for the Philistines to think these were Hebrew deserters surrendering to the Philistines because they thought it was better than hiding in a hole!
b. Jonathan said to his armorbearer, “Come up after me, for the LORD had delivered them into the hand of Israel.” What an exciting moment this must have been for Jonathan! His bold trust in God had been confirmed by a sign, and now he knew God was going to do something great.
c. Jonathan climbed up on his hands and knees with his armorbearer after him: This was a difficult climb. Jonathan was not the kind to say, “Well, it would be nice to do this. But the rocks are steep and there are a lot of Philistines up there. Let’s just pray instead.” No; he got down on his hands and knees and climbed! If we only want victory, or want to be used by God when it is easy, we won’t see much victory and we won’t be used very much.
d. And they fell before Jonathan: Jonathan knew that the battle was the LORD’s, yet he knew God would use him to fight. When Jonathan saw God’s confirming sign, he didn’t lay down his sword and start praying that God would strike them all down. He prayed, made sure his sword was sharp, and trusted that God would use him to strike them all down!
e. And as he came after him, his armorbearer killed them: “Jonathan knocked them down, and the armour-bearer despatched them.” (Clarke)
6. (1 Samuel 14:15) God attacks the Philistines.
And there was trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and the raiders also trembled; and the earth quaked, so that it was a very great trembling.
a. There was trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people: It seems that the Philistines, under a divine confusion, instantly awoke that early morning with the thought “We are attacked by enemies in our midst!” Then rushing about, they thought their fellow Philistines might be the enemy, so they began to fight one another, and kill one another!
i. It didn’t matter if the Philistines greatly outnumbered the Israelites, and had far better weapons. God was more than able to set the Philistines against each other. If the Israelites had no swords, the LORD would use the swords of the Philistines against the Philistines!
ii. “It is not strange if the Philistines were both astonished and intimidated; God also struck them with a panic terror; and withal, infatuated their minds, and possibly put an evil spirit among them, which in this universal confusion made them conceive that there was treachery amongst themselves, and therefore caused them to sheath their swords in one another’s bowels, as appears from 1 Samuel 14:16 and 1 Samuel 14:20.” (Poole )
iii. “Possibly God blinded their eyes or their minds, that they could not distinguish friends from foes. Compare Judges 7:22; 2 Kings 6:18; 2 Chronicles 20:23.” (Poole) “But God, where he pleaseth, can easily trouble the fantasy, and make men to mistake; as we see daily in melancholy persons, who looking through a black cloud, as it were, see all things black, dark, cross and hurtful.” (Trapp)
iv. Trapp’s comment on this section seems good, if I could only understand it: “As anyone was in their way, they knocked him down: being smitten with such a scotama or acrisis, a giddiness of the brain, or blindness of judgment, that they knew not their friends from their foes in that distemper and hurrycomb.” What on earth is a hurrycomb?
b. The earth quaked, so that it was a very great trembling: Jonathan and his armor bearer had done their part. Now God was doing his part. Jonathan could use his heart and his sword, and he did. But what Jonathan could not do - send a great earthquake to terrify the Philistines - God did. Often we wait around for God to do what we can do. But God will often do miracles - what He alone can do - if we will do what we can do.
c. The very great trembling must have terrified the Philistines. But it would have comforted Jonathan and his armor bearer. They would have been confirmed in their confidence in such a great God.
7. (1 Samuel 14:16-19) Saul learns of the battle.
Now the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and there was the multitude, melting away; and they went here and there. Then Saul said to the people who were with him, “Now call the roll and see who has gone from us.” And when they had called the roll, surprisingly, Jonathan and his armorbearer were not there. And Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here” (for at that time the ark of God was with the children of Israel). Now it happened, while Saul talked to the priest, that the noise which was in the camp of the Philistines continued to increase; so Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.”
a. There was the multitude, melting away: Imagine how this must have looked to the watchmen of Israel! They were keeping an eye on the huge army of the Philistines, and the army starts to melt away before their eyes.
b. Call the roll: Why? Did it matter? What Saul should have done was go and fight the Philistines at this strategic moment. Instead, he was probably worried about who was leading the battle, and who would get the credit.
c. Bring the ark of God here: Why? What for? Saul is probably trying to look spiritual here, but what did he need to seek God about? There is a time to go aside and pray, and there is a time to get your sword out and fight. Saul didn’t know what time it was!
d. While Saul talked to the priest . . . the noise which was in the camp of the Philistines continued to increase; so Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.” It is strange that at this moment, Saul would not know what to do. His insecurity and fear and self-focus have paralyzed him. It was time to fight. But eventually, the noise of God and Jonathan fighting against the Philistines becomes so loud, that Saul knows he has to fight to. So, he tells the priest “Withdraw your hand.” This means, “Stop seeking and answer from God with the urim and thummin,” which were held in a pouch in the priest’s breastplate.
i. Trapp calls Saul’s words here “Words of profane impiety . . . it is now no time to consult with God, for we know well enough what we have to do, and will take our opportunity.”
8. (1 Samuel 14:20-23) Saul fights in the battle and a great victory is won.
Then Saul and all the people who were with him assembled, and they went to the battle; and indeed every man’s sword was against his neighbor, and there was very great confusion. Moreover the Hebrews who were with the Philistines before that time, who went up with them into the camp from the surrounding country, they also joined the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. Likewise all the men of Israel who had hidden in the mountains of Ephraim, when they heard that the Philistines fled, they also followed hard after them in the battle. So the LORD saved Israel that day, and the battle shifted to Beth Aven.
a. They went to the battle: It has taken a long time for Saul, the leader of Israel, to start leading. Now he is following God and Jonathan into battle.
i. Why was Saul just sitting . . . under a pomegranate tree when Jonathan was boldly trusting God for the victory? Probably Saul’s insecurity had made him so afraid to fail that he didn’t want to do anything. Now he will only go into battle because it seems like a “sure thing.” We are far from a bold trust in God when we will only do what seems to be a “sure thing.” Go out and do something bold. If you fail, and God wasn’t really with it the way you thought He would be, then you still have tried. The armchair quarterbacks and back seat drivers have nothing to say to you!
ii. These were the hold-backs, who were out there to fight the Philistines, but didn’t enter the battle until the odds were in their favor. Better to come out then than never, but how much better to have the bold trust of a Jonathan!
b. Moreover the Hebrews who were with the Philistines before that time . . . also joined the Israelites: It seems that many in Israel had the insecure heart of Saul. These Hebrew deserters to the Philistines probably hated their masters, but were afraid to stand free in the LORD. They would only come out for Israel when victory was assured.
i. These were the sell-outs, who had forsaken Israel and supported the Philistines when it seemed Israel was a “loser” and the Philistines were the “winners.” Better to come out then than never, but how much better to have the bold trust of a Jonathan!
c. Likewise all the men of Israel who had hidden in the mountains of Ephraim . . . they also followed hard after them in the battle: Others in Israel, when the Philistine oppression became severe, simply fled (1 Samuel 13:6-7). They were afraid to come out for Israel when things were bad, but now that victory seems assured they will join in the battle.
i. These were the hide-outs, who had left the scene of battle and stood on the sidelines until it seemed “safe.” They would not stand for the LORD until the odds seemed to be in their favor. Better to come out then than never, but how much better to have the bold trust of a Jonathan!
c. So the LORD saved Israel that day: God really used Jonathan, but it wasn’t Jonathan’s victory. It was the LORD’s victory. God was just waiting for someone with the bold trust of Jonathan!
i. Josephus says there were 6,000 Philistines killed in this rout. And all groups of people had a hand in the victory - the hold-backs, the sell-outs, and the hide-outs. But there was no doubt who led the battle: the boldly trusting Jonathan. Which of these groups of people are you most like?
d. God wins the same kind of victories today. In fact, one military man read this account and used Jonathan’s exact strategy to win an important battle. Here is the story from Major Vivian Gilbert, a British Army Officer:
In the First World War a brigade major in Allenby’s army in Palestine was on one occasion searching his Bible with the light of a candle, looking for a certain name. His brigade had received orders to take a village that stood on a rocky prominence on the other side of a deep valley. It was called Michmash and the name seemed somehow familiar. Eventually he found it in 1 Samuel 13:1-23 and read there: “And Saul, and Jonathan his son, and the people that were present with them, abode in Gibeah of Benjamin but the Philistines encamped in Michmash.” It then went on to tell how Jonathan and his armour-bearer crossed over during the night “to the Philistines’ garrison” on the other side, and how they passed two sharp rocks: “there was a sharp rock on the one side, and a sharp rock on the other side: and the name of the one was Bozez and the name of the other Seneh.” They clambered up the cliff and overpowered the garrison, “within as it were a half acre of land, which a yoke of oxen might plough.” The main body of the enemy awakened by the melee thought they were surrounded by Saul’s troops and “melted away and they went on beating down one another.” Thereupon Saul attacked with his whole force and beat the enemy. “So the Lord saved Israel that day.”
The brigade major reflected that there must still be this narrow passage through the rocks, between two spurs, and at the end of it the “half acre of land.” He woke the commander and there read the passage through together once more. Patrols were sent out. They found the pass, which was thinly held by the Turks, and which led past two jagged rocks - obviously Bozez and Seneh. Up on top, beside Michmash, they could see by the light of the moon a small flat field. The brigadier altered his plan of attack. Instead of deploying the whole brigade he sent one company through the pass under cover of darkness. The few Turks whom they met were overpowered without a sound, the cliffs were scaled, and shortly before daybreak the company had taken up a position on “the half acre of land.”
The Turks woke up and took to their heels in disorder since they thought they were being surrounded by Allenby’s army. They were all killed or taken prisoner. And so, after thousands of years British troops successfully copied the tactics of Saul and Jonathan. (Keller, The Bible As History, pages 179-180)
B. Saul’s foolish oath and its consequences.
1. (1 Samuel 14:24) Saul compels the army of Israel under an oath.
And the men of Israel were distressed that day, for Saul had placed the people under oath, saying, “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.” So none of the people tasted food.
a. Saul had placed the people under an oath: Jonathan, in his bold trust in the LORD, had just struck a mighty blow against the Philistines. God had totally routed and confused the Philistine army. Now it was the job of the army of Israel, under King Saul, to finish the job by striking down the fleeing Philistine army. And on this day of battle against the Philistines, Saul declared a curse. “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.”
i. On the surface, this sounds so spiritual. “Let’s set today aside as a special day of fasting unto the LORD. We want God to do a great work, so we should fast today. And I should enforce this among the whole army with a curse.” What could be wrong with that?
b. It was wrong because Saul’s focus was wrong. Notice his focus: before I have taken vengeance on my enemies. Saul, don’t put the army of Israel under an oath so that you can take vengeance on your enemies. If that is how you regard this battle, then just fast yourself! Saul shows that even in the midst of doing something spiritual like fasting, his focus is on himself, not the LORD.
i. Saul’s desire is not the glory of God. It is the glory of Saul. He was not the first one, nor the last one, to command “religious” or “spiritual” acts for his own glory, not the glory of God. The focus here is not on the LORD, or on the LORD’s victory, but on Saul’s commanded fast.
c. It was wrong because Saul’s motive was wrong. It is possible that Saul genuinely did something he thought would please God, but this is unlikely. It is more probable to see two darker motives behind Saul’s curse.
i. He may have been acting out of a false spirituality. Before, when he first learned that the Philistine army was melting away, he “acted spiritual” by calling for the priest to bring the Ark of the Covenant and inquiring of God through the priest (1 Samuel 14:16-19).
ii. Or, Saul may have been acting out of insecurity, doing this to draw the focus on himself. Saul had been concerned with just who it was leading this attack (1 Samuel 14:17), because he knew the army and the nation would cherish this person as a hero. Now, through this curse, he puts the focus back on himself. That day, no one would be thinking much about Jonathan, because their hunger would always remind them of Saul’s curse.
d. It was wrong because Saul’s sense of authority was wrong. Cursed is the man. Says who, Saul? Since when did you have the authority to proclaim such a curse? Are you now the spiritual leader of the nation? If any such fast was to be declared, and curse attached to it, the prophet Samuel had the spiritual authority to do it, not king Saul.
e. It was wrong because Saul’s promised punishment was wrong. Cursed is the man. That’s a little heavy handed, don’t you think? If Saul wanted to call for a voluntary fast, that was one thing. He might have said, “I’m fasting today before the LORD. I will not eat any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies. If anyone wants to join me, they are welcome.” But instead of leading by example and inviting the army of Israel to follow, he placed the people under an oath.
i. This in itself has a bad taste to it. We can imagine Saul standing before the whole army of Israel, and saying, “All right everyone. Raise your right hand and swear an oath before God” and then leading them in this forced, manipulated promise. Saul had probably left that assembly of the army thinking he had really done something (“What a great promise they all made!”). He had really done something all right; he had done something really bad. It is always wrong to place someone else under a promise or under an oath. If it isn’t on their heart to put themselves under the oath, it doesn’t do any good to force them under it.
f. It was wrong because Saul’s timing was wrong. The day of decisive battle is not the day to command the troops that they do not eat. They need the energy, and they need the focus on the job at hand. They don’t need the discouragement and the distraction of a forced fast. It was more important to achieve a complete victory over the Philistines that day. It’s not that there was anything wrong with fasting itself, but that it wasn’t the right time. It was Saul’s day to fast, not the LORD’s day to fast.
g. It was wrong because the result among the army of Israel was wrong. No matter what Saul’s motive was, it was a foolish thing to do. On this day of battle when the morale of Israel should have been the highest, and when the physical energy of Israel should have the strongest, instead the men of Israel were distressed that day. Because none of the people tasted food, the army was weak and discouraged on a day when they should have been strong and excited.
2. (1 Samuel 14:25-30) Jonathan unknowingly breaks the oath and is told of his offense.
Now all the people of the land came to a forest; and there was honey on the ground. And when the people had come into the woods, there was the honey, dripping; but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath; therefore he stretched out the end of the rod that was in his hand and dipped it in a honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his countenance brightened. Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed is the man who eats food this day.’ “ And the people were faint. But Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. Look now, how my countenance has brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now would there not have been a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?”
a. There was honey on the ground: This was provision from God! The Israeli army was hot on the pursuit of the fleeing Philistines. They were all tired and hungry. They needed energy to continue the pursuit and finish the battle. And here is honey on the ground!
i. “There were many wild bees in that country, and Judea is expressly said to be a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Clarke)
ii. They really did need the energy. “The mopping-up operations after a rout were all-important if the maximum benefit from the victory was to be reaped, but pursuit of the enemy involved an exhausting, unremitting journey over steep hills for hours on end.” (Baldwin)
iii. A taste of that honey would have given the soldiers the kind of sugar-rush energy they needed to carry on the battle.
b. No one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath: This group of soldiers all saw the honey. It was dripping, right in front of their eyes. Yet Saul’s foolish oath prevented them from receiving what God had put right in front of them!
i. This must have been torture for the soldiers. And there was the honey, dripping. Right in front of their eyes! They want the honey. They need the honey. God provided the honey. But a foolish, legalistic command from Saul kept it from them. How this must have discouraged and embittered the soldiers!
c. But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath: Jonathan ate some of that honey! Immediately, it did the weary soldier well: his countenance brightened. He needed the energy to fight, and here it was, provided by God.
i. We may wonder at what exactly is meant by Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath. Did this mean that Jonathan did not know of the oath? Or, did he hear of the oath from others, but say to himself, “Well, since I wasn’t there, my father never charged me with this oath. I never heard him say any such thing.”
d. My father has troubled the land: Perhaps Jonathan should not have said this. There was a sense in which he was undercutting his father’s authority before the troops here. If there were anything to say, it would have been best to say it to his father directly. However, despite all that, Jonathan was exactly right!
i. King Saul had indeed troubled the land with his pseudo-spiritual command to fast. Because of his command, the people were faint on a day when they should have been strong. They were weak and distracted. The victory could have been greater if the people could have eaten!
ii. You really can’t say it better than Jonathan did: How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now would there not have been a much greater slaughter among the Philistines? (1 Samuel 14:30)
3. (1 Samuel 14:31-35) The soldiers of Israel sin because of Saul’s foolish command.
Now they had driven back the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. So the people were very faint. And the people rushed on the spoil, and took sheep, oxen, and calves, and slaughtered them on the ground; and the people ate them with the blood. Then they told Saul, saying, “Look, the people are sinning against the LORD by eating with the blood!” So he said, “You have dealt treacherously; roll a large stone to me this day.” And Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people, and say to them, ‘Bring me here every man’s ox and every man’s sheep, slaughter them here, and eat; and do not sin against the LORD by eating with the blood.’” So every one of the people brought his ox with him that night, and slaughtered it there. Then Saul built an altar to the LORD. This was the first altar that he built to the LORD.
a. The people rushed on the spoil . . . and the people ate them with the blood. God specifically commanded Israel that they should always properly drain the blood from an animal before they butchered it.
i. Deuteronomy 12:23-25 is one place where God commanded this: Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life; you may not eat the life with the meat. You shall not eat it; you shall pour it on the earth like water. You shall not eat it, that it may go well with you and your children after you, when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD. Since the blood was the picture of life in any animal or man (for the blood is the life), God would not allow Israel to eat meat that had not been properly bled. Instead, it was to be given to God by pouring it out on the earth. Life belongs to God, not man, and this was a way to declare that.
b. On this day of battle, because of Saul’s foolish command, the people were so hungry they broke this command. Their obedience to Saul’s foolish command led them to disobey God’s clearly declared command. This is always the result of legalism!
i. Jesus said it plainly to the legalists of His day: For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men . . . All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. (Mark 7:8)
ii. We often think that legalistic rules will keep people from sin. Actually, the opposite is true. Legalistic rules lead us into sin, because they either provoke our rebellion, or they lead us into legalistic pride.
iii. Paul said it powerfully in Colossians 2:23 : These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
c. You have dealt treacherously: Saul is blaming the people for what is really his own fault. He should have never made such a foolish commandment, and his commandment provoked the people into sin. But in his pride, insecurity, and foolishness, Saul set the people up to sin.
i. Of course, this does not excuse the sin of the people. They are accountable for their own sin before God. Yet Saul is also accountable. Jesus referred to this principle when He said, For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! (Matthew 18:7)
d. Slaughter them here, and eat; and do not sin against the LORD by eating with the blood: Saul set up a stone to properly butcher the animals, and also built an altar to the LORD. At least Saul is doing some of what is right after he had done what was wrong.
4. (1 Samuel 14:36-39) In response to God’s silence, Saul makes another foolish oath.
Now Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night, and plunder them until the morning light; and let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.” Then the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.” So Saul asked counsel of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will You deliver them into the hand of Israel?” But He did not answer him that day. And Saul said, “Come over here, all you chiefs of the people, and know and see what this sin was today. For as the LORD lives, who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” But not a man among all the people answered him.
a. So Saul asked counsel of God: This was good. Saul should have sought the counsel of God. We shouldn’t think that everything Saul did was bad before the LORD.
b. He did not answer him that day: Saul inquired of the LORD through the priest. It is likely that the priest used the Urim and Thummim to inquire of the LORD.
i. The use of the discerning tools of Urim and Thummim is described on a few occasions (Exodus 28:30, Numbers 27:21, 1 Samuel 28:6; Ezra 2:63, Nehemiah 7:65) and their use may be implied in other passages (Judges 1:1; Jdg_20:18; Jdg_20:23).
ii. The names Urim and Thummim mean “Lights and Perfections.” We aren’t sure what they were or how they were used. Most think they were a pair of stones, one light and another dark, and each stone indicated a “yes” or “no” from God. The High Priest would ask God a question, reach into the breastplate, and pull our either a “yes” or a “no.”
iii. On this occasion, the priest would probably start inquiring of the LORD with this question: “LORD, do you want to speak to us today?” Because we are told He did not answer him that day, probably when this question was asked, the stone that indicated “no” kept being drawn out.
iv. Many would consider the Urim and Thummim as crude tools of discernment. In fact, they are better than the tools many Christians use today. It would be better to use the Urim and Thummim than rely on feelings, or outward appearances, or to simply use no discernment!
c. Why did the LORD not answer him that day? Saul was convinced the problem was that some violated his commanded oath. When he said, know and see what this sin was today, he was convinced the sin was among the people instead of in himself.
d. Saul was so sure of being right he pronounced another oath: For as the LORD lives, who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.
i. Of course, if Saul knew that it was Jonathan who had violated his oath, he would never had said this. But he was so caught up in being right, that he adds this foolish vow to his previous foolish commandment.
ii. Saul was very good at making religious oaths and promises. But that didn’t mean very much, because he was not good at having a heart after God, and he was not good at keeping the oaths he made.
iii. “Strange perverseness! He who was so indulgent as to spare wicked Agag, chapter 15, is now so severe as to destroy his own worthy son: he that could easily dispense with God’s righteous and reasonable command, will not bear the violation of his own rash and foolish command; because his own authority and power is concerned in this, and only God’s in the other.” (Poole)
e. Not a man among all the people answered him: The people knew that Jonathan had eaten of the honey, and Saul’s sentence of death on anyone who had eaten must have sent a chill up their back. All the people loved and respected Jonathan, and they knew that Saul was in the wrong. But no one wanted to answer Saul!
5. (1 Samuel 14:40-44) Jonathan is implicated by the casting of lots.
Then he said to all Israel, “You be on one side, and my son Jonathan and I will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.” Therefore Saul said to the LORD God of Israel, “Give a perfect lot.” So Saul and Jonathan were taken, but the people escaped. And Saul said, “Cast lots between my son Jonathan and me.” So Jonathan was taken. Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, and said, “I only tasted a little honey with the end of the rod that was in my hand. So now I must die!” And Saul answered, “God do so and more also; for you shall surely die, Jonathan.”
a. Saul and Jonathan were taken, but the people escaped: Saul wanted to find the wrong doer by the casting of lots. They would separate people into two groups, then select one group by a “low” or “high” roll of something like dice. You would continue to narrow the selected group until you found your man. First, Saul wants everyone to know that he and his son Jonathan are innocent, so that is the first division. Imagine Saul’s shock when the lot indicates that he and Jonathan are the guilty group!
b. So Jonathan was taken: This must have shaken Saul. He had pronounced a death sentence on whoever ate in violation of his forced vow. And Saul, instead of admitting that his commandment and his death sentence were foolish, hardens in his foolishness, and declares “God do so and more also; for you shall surely die, Jonathan.”
i. Saul was willing to kill his son rather than to humbly admit that he is really at fault. Saul started out as a humble man (1 Samuel 10:21), but his once impressive humility is being overtaken by pride. “But he that maketh so much ado about eating with the blood, makes nothing of spilling the blood of innocent Jonathan, and of swearing bloody oaths at the same time . . . Saul seemeth to have been a very great swearer, rapping out oath upon oath, which belike he thought he might do by authority.” (Trapp)
c. Why did God allow the lot to pick out Jonathan? “Not in answer to Saul’s prayers, which God valued not. But, (1.) To show that he is the dispenser of lots; (2.) To humble Jonathan, who was in danger of being puffed up too much with the joy of his victory; (3.) To discover Saul’s hypocrisy.” (Trapp)
i. “The holy oracle told the truth, but neither that oracle nor the God who gave it fixed any blame upon Jonathan, and his own conscience acquits him. He seeks not pardon from God, because he is conscious he had not transgressed.” (Clarke)
ii. Perfect lot in the Hebrew is very close to the word for Thummim. They no doubt used the Urim and Thummim as the way to cast the lot.
6. (1 Samuel 14:45-46) The people rescue Jonathan from execution.
But the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great deliverance in Israel? Certainly not! As the LORD lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people rescued Jonathan, and he did not die. Then Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.
a. Certainly not! As the LORD lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day: Happily, the people finally stand up to Saul’s foolishness. They simply will not allow Jonathan to be executed. They knew that Jonathan was working for the LORD that day, not against the LORD.
b. Was this right? Should Jonathan have been executed? No; he should not have been executed for three reasons. First, the oath itself and the pronouncement of the death penalty on the oath breaker were simply bad and foolish laws, and should not have been enforced. Second, Jonathan broke the oath in ignorance. Finally, God’s approval was evident from His great blessing upon Jonathan (he has worked with God today).
i. Which had more to do with the victory won that day? Was it Saul’s foolish regulation or Jonathan’s bold faith in God?
c. And the Philistines went to their own place: The implication in this phrase is that the victory might have been much greater if not for Saul’s foolish oath.
7. (1 Samuel 14:47-52) Saul’s many wars and his family.
So Saul established his sovereignty over Israel, and fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the people of Ammon, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he harassed them. And he gathered an army and attacked the Amalekites, and delivered Israel from the hands of those who plundered them. The sons of Saul were Jonathan, Jishui and Malchishua. And the names of his two daughters were these: the name of the firstborn Merab, and the name of the younger Michal. The name of Saul’s wife was Ahinoam the daughter of Ahimaaz. And the name of the commander of his army was Abner the son of Ner, Saul’s uncle. Kish was the father of Saul, and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel. Now there was fierce war with the Philistines all the days of Saul. And when Saul saw any strong man or any valiant man, he took him for himself.
a. So Saul established his sovereignty over Israel: This last passage in the chapter is all about Saul’s strength. And Saul was strong. He established his sovereignty over Israel. He fought many successful wars. He had a large and influential family. And the strength of his army grew (when Saul saw any strong man or any valiant man, he took him for himself). Saul’s strength was broad over many areas.
i. “Ishbosheth, Saul’s other son, is here omitted, because he intended to mention only those of his sons who went with him into the battles here mentioned, and who were afterwards slain with him.” (Poole)
b. Yet, if his strength was broad, it was shallow. Because Saul was not a man after God’s own heart, because his own relationship with God was more about image than substance, his kingdom cannot last. The weakness of Saul has been seen here and there; but in the next chapter it will be fully exposed.
i. “Saul alone was to blame. He had not only missed the greatest opportunity of his life, but he was already enwrapping himself in the unbelief, the jealousy, and moroseness of temper in which his sun was to be enshrouded while it was yet day.” (Meyer)
Visit Our Sponsors
Search This Commentary
Genesis-Leviticus: The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Revised Edition, Volume 1
The Divine Comedy, I. Inferno. Part 2: Commentary
CBD Price: 49.99
Ruth: Continental Commentary Series [CCS]