Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
1 Samuel 14
1 Samuel 14:1-14. Jonathan miraculously smites the Philistines‘ garrison.
the Philistines‘ garrison — “the standing camp” (1 Samuel 13:23, Margin) “in the passage of Michmash” (1 Samuel 13:16), now Wady Es-Suweinit. “It begins in the neighborhood of Betin (Beth-el) and El-Bireh (Beetroth), and as it breaks through the ridge below these places, its sides form precipitous walls. On the right, about a quarter of an acre below, it again breaks off, and passes between high perpendicular precipices” [Robinson].
Saul tarried in the uttermost part of Gibeah — Hebrew, “Geba”; entrenched, along with Samuel and Ahiah the high priest, on the top of one of the conical or spherical hills which abound in the Benjamite territory, and favorable for an encampment, called Migron (“a precipice”).
between the passages — that is, the deep and great ravine of Suweinit.
Jonathan sought to go over unto the Philistines‘ garrison — a distance of about three miles running between two jagged points; Hebrew, “teeth of the cliff.”
there was a sharp rock on the one side, and a sharp rock on the other side Bozez — (“shining”) from the aspect of the chalky rock.
Seneh — (“the thorn”) probably from a solitary acacia on its top. They are the only rocks of the kind in this vicinity; and the top of the crag towards Michmash was occupied as the post of the Philistines. The two camps were in sight of each other; and it was up the steep rocky sides of this isolated eminence that Jonathan and his armorbearer (1 Samuel 14:6) made their adventurous approach. This enterprise is one of the most gallant that history or romance records. The action, viewed in itself, was rash and contrary to all established rules of military discipline, which do not permit soldiers to fight or to undertake any enterprise that may involve important consequences without the order of the generals.
it may be that the Lord will work for us — This expression did not imply a doubt; it signified simply that the object he aimed at was not in his own power - but it depended upon God - and that he expected success neither from his own strength nor his own merit.
if they say, Come up unto us; then we will go up: for the Lord hath delivered them into our hand — When Jonathan appears here to prescribe a sign or token of God‘s will, we may infer that the same spirit which inspired this enterprise suggested the means of its execution, and put into his heart what to ask of God. (See on Genesis 24:12).
Behold, the Hebrews come forth out of the holes — As it could not occur to the sentries that two men had come with hostile designs, it was a natural conclusion that they were Israelite deserters. And hence no attempt was made to hinder their ascent, or stone them.
that first slaughter, which Jonathan and his armour-bearer made, was about twenty men, within as it were an half acre of land, which a yoke of oxen might plow — This was a very ancient mode of measurement, and it still subsists in the East. The men who saw them scrambling up the rock had been surprised and killed, and the spectacle of twenty corpses would suggest to others that they were attacked by a numerous force. The success of the adventure was aided by a panic that struck the enemy, produced both by the sudden surprise and the shock of an earthquake. The feat was begun and achieved by the faith of Jonathan, and the issue was of God.
the watchmen of Saul looked — The wild disorder in the enemies‘ camp was described and the noise of dismay heard on the heights of Gibeah.
Then said Saul unto the people that were with him, Number now, and see who is gone from us — The idea occurred to him that it might be some daring adventurer belonging to his own little troop, and it would be easy to discover him.
Saul said unto Ahiah, Bring hither the ark of God — There is no evidence that the ark had been brought from Kirjath-jearim. The Septuagint version is preferable; which, by a slight variation of the text, reads, “the ephod”; that is, the priestly cape, which the high priest put on when consulting the oracle. That this should be at hand is natural, from the presence of Ahiah himself, as well as the nearness of Nob, where the tabernacle was then situated.
Withdraw thine hand — The priest, invested with the ephod, prayed with raised and extended hands. Saul perceiving that the opportunity was inviting, and that God appeared to have sufficiently declared in favor of His people, requested the priest to cease, that they might immediately join in the contest. The season for consultation was past - the time for prompt action was come.
Saul and all the people — All the warriors in the garrison at Gibeah, the Israelite deserters in the camp of the Philistines, and the fugitives among the mountains of Ephraim, now all rushed to the pursuit, which was hot and sanguinary.
So the Lord saved Israel that day: and the battle passed over unto Beth-aven — that is, “Beth-el.” It passed over the forest, now destroyed, on the central ridge of Palestine, then over to the other side from the eastern pass of Michmash (1 Samuel 14:31), to the western pass of Aijalon, through which they escaped into their own plains.
Saul had adjured the people — Afraid lest so precious an opportunity of effectually humbling the Philistine power might be lost, the impetuous king laid an anathema on any one who should taste food until the evening. This rash and foolish denunciation distressed the people, by preventing them taking such refreshments as they might get on the march, and materially hindered the successful attainment of his own patriotic object.
all they of the land came to a wood; and there was honey — The honey is described as “upon the ground,” “dropping” from the trees, and in honeycombs - indicating it to be bees‘ honey. “Bees in the East are not, as in England, kept in hives; they are all in a wild state. The forests literally flow with honey; large combs may be seen hanging on the trees as you pass along, full of honey” [Roberts].
the people were very faint. And the people flew upon the spoil — at evening, when the time fixed by Saul had expired. Faint and famishing, the pursuers fell voraciously upon the cattle they had taken, and threw them on the ground to cut off their flesh and eat them raw, so that the army, by Saul‘s rashness, were defiled by eating blood, or living animals; probably, as the Abyssinians do, who cut a part of the animal‘s rump, but close the hide upon it, and nothing mortal follows from that wound. They were painfully conscientious in keeping the king‘s order for fear of the curse, but had no scruple in transgressing God‘s command. To prevent this violation of the law, Saul ordered a large stone to be rolled, and those that slaughtered the oxen to cut their throats on that stone. By laying the animal‘s head on the high stone, the blood oozed out on the ground, and sufficient evidence was afforded that the ox or sheep was dead before it was attempted to eat it.
the people rescued Jonathan, that he died not — When Saul became aware of Jonathan‘s transgression in regard to the honey, albeit it was done in ignorance and involved no guilt, he was, like Jephthah [Judges 11:31, Judges 11:35 ], about to put his son to death, in conformity with his vow [1 Samuel 14:44 ]. But the more enlightened conscience of the army prevented the tarnishing the glory of the day by the blood of the young hero, to whose faith and valor it was chiefly due.
So Saul fought against all his enemies on every side — This signal triumph over the Philistines was followed, not only by their expulsion from the land of Israel, but by successful incursions against various hostile neighbors, whom he harassed though he did not subdue them.
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