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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 13

Bridgeway Bible CommentaryBridgeway Bible Commentary

Verses 1-14


Preparing to fight the Philistines (13:1-14)

Israel’s regular army consisted of two divisions, one under the command of Saul, the other under the command of Saul’s son Jonathan. Other fighting men were called to join the army when needed. Such a need arose when Jonathan attacked a Philistine camp, and the Philistines replied by sending a large army to attack Israel (13:1-6a).
In a time of national emergency, Saul was apparently to go to Gilgal, where he was to wait seven days for Samuel to arrive. By that time, Israel’s leaders would have gathered the army together. Samuel could then offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the nation, and pass on God’s instructions to Saul (see 10:8). The current Philistine attack tested Saul’s obedience. But rather than wait for Samuel, he offered the sacrifice himself. Probably his action resulted partly from impatience and partly from the desire to have complete power, religious as well as political (6b-9). Samuel saw that Saul’s action was really a rebellion against the authority of God. As punishment God would one day take the kingship from him and from his family (10-14).

Verses 15-23

War against the Philistines (13:15-14:46)

After Samuel left Gilgal, Saul took his troops and joined with the other section of the Israelite army, which was under Jonathan. Together they prepared for the battle against the Philistines (15-18). The Philistines were confident of victory, partly because for many years they had so controlled metal-working activities in the area that the Israelites owned hardly any weapons. This enabled the Philistines to raid throughout Israel without fear of strong resistance (19-22). In addition they controlled the mountain pass by which the Israelites hoped to attack them (23).
Jonathan, however, without telling his father, worked out a daring plot to attack the Philistines. To begin with he took his armour-bearer, climbed up the rocky slope on the other side of the pass, and approached the Philistine camp (14:1-7). The two men tricked the Philistines by pretending they were deserting from the Israelite army. The Philistines relaxed their defences and welcomed the supposed deserters. Jonathan and his servant then attacked the unsuspecting enemy and killed twenty men (8-14). Panic quickly spread through the Philistine camp (15).
On hearing of the Philistines’ confusion, Saul hurriedly assembled a fighting force and went out to do battle. He was so eager to seize the opportunity to attack the enemy that he did not wait to receive God’s directions through the priest (16-20; see v. 3). Israelites who had earlier deserted to the Philistines or hidden themselves in fear suddenly returned to Saul’s side and joined in the battle (21-23).
Saul put a curse on any soldier who stopped to eat that day, as he wanted to carry the battle on unbroken till the Philistines were destroyed. It was a stupid curse, for tiredness and hunger prevented the Israelites from being fully successful (24-30).

As soon as night fell, the soldiers ate freely. By eating food that was forbidden by God’s law, they showed that, although they feared to break the king’s command, they did not fear to break God’s. Saul was distressed when he heard what the people had done (31-35; cf. Leviticus 17:14). He was even more distressed when he learnt that God would not guarantee him victory in a proposed night attack on the Philistines. Assuming that one of his soldiers was responsible for this hindrance to God’s help, he added to his previous rash curse an equally rash vow to punish the offender (36-39).

When it was revealed that Jonathan was the offender, Saul gave a further demonstration of his unpredictable nature. He did not carry out his vow, but heeded the voice of those who demanded Jonathan’s release (40-46).

Bibliographical Information
Fleming, Donald C. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 13". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bbc/1-samuel-13.html. 2005.
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