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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 14

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



It will be remembered from our study of the Book of Numbers that the history of Israel’s wilderness sojourn, covering a period of about forty years, was extremely abbreviated, with only a few events of that whole period being recorded. We have another example of this same Biblical phenomenon in this chapter, where all of Saul’s wars during his forty-year reign are covered in a single short paragraph.

There is a reason for this in both cases. In that of Israel’s wanderings, God had rejected that generation, forbidding their entry into Canaan; and for that reason, practically no importance whatever could be attached to whatever they did during the intervening time. For that reason, little was recorded. Even the things which were written about that period, “were written for our examples” (1 Corinthians 10:11 ASV), “as a warning … for our instruction” (RSV), and “for our learning” (Romans 15:4).

Exactly the same thing is true here. The previous chapter revealed that God had rejected Saul’s continuing dynasty; and whatever Saul did afterward was of little or no importance whatever, except that in a brief record of his mistakes, the instruction of future generations might be accomplished.

What a commentary lies in these facts for all mankind! Once the destiny of a life has been set by one’s decisive behavior, and once the trajectory of his life has been determined, if his life moves firmly in a direction against the will of God, nothing whatever that he may do afterward is of any importance, except in the event of his ultimate repentance and the reversal of his conduct.

As noted above, Saul’s wars were very slightly recorded, but there is an exception in the victory against the Philistines revealed in this chapter. Why? The answer lies in the shameful and sinful behavior of Saul which prevented the victory from being complete and which led to a perpetual war with the Philistines all of Saul’s life, ending finally in his death on Mount Gilboa.

Philbeck enumerates Saul’s sins as: “(1) Entering the battle of Michmash without awaiting divine counsel (1 Samuel 14:19); (2) invoking an egotistical and pagan curse which deprived his army of the necessary food to support their victorious pursuit of the Philistines; (3) causing his army, through fatigue and hunger, to eat meat improperly bled (a violation of God’s law); and (4) condemning his son Jonathan to death.”(F1) The people had sense enough to overrule that last stupid and unjustifiable sin of their king.

It is the record of these sins in the extent that they might instruct all generations of men that justifies the extensive report of events in this chapter.

Verses 1-5


“One day Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who bore his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side,” But he did not tell his father. Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah under the pomegranate tree which is at Migron; the people who were with him were about six hundred men, and Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli the priest of the Lord in Shiloh, wearing an ephod. And the people did not know that Jonathan had gone. In the pass by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistine garrison, there was a rocky crag on one side and a rocky crag on the other side; the name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other was Seneh. The one crag rose on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba.”

“He did not tell his father” He probably knew that his father would never approve of such a fool-hardy attempt.

“Let us go over to the Philistine garrison” The author interrupted these words of Jonathan to describe the overall situation and scene of the event to be related. Jonathan’s words are resumed in 1 Samuel 14:6.

“Under the pomegranate tree” “The Hebrew word for pomegranate is Rimmon; but there is no doubt that the tree is meant and not the rock Rimmon (Judges 20:45; Judges 20:47).”(F2) This position of Saul and his men, just north of Gibeah, “Was about an hour’s march from Geba, where Jonathan was.”(F3)

“Abijah… Abimelech” “Both of these names apply to the same person, namely, the great-grandson of Eli”;(F4) and, as Barnes noted, “This fragment of a genealogy is a very valuable help in the chronology.”(F5) However, nothing very exciting is the result of it. Barnes made the deduction from it that, “about fifty years had elapsed”(F6) since the capture of the ark of the covenant by the Philistines; and Willis from the same passage made the deduction that only “about thirty years”(F7) had passed, and from this concluding that Saul’s reign was “about twenty years.” To this writer, it appears that the estimate of “fifty years” is more likely to be correct, because it fits the tradition of Saul’s forty-year reign.

“A rocky crag… a rocky crag… Bozez… Seneh” “The southern cliff was Seneh, which means acacia, so named from the trees in the vicinity; and the northern cliff was Bozez, meaning shining.”(F8)

The naming of such landmarks has continued throughout history. The two peaks on opposite sides of the Saginaw river are called Eternity and Trinity.

Verses 6-15


“And 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 can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that your mind inclines to; behold, I am with you, as is your mind, so is mine.” Then said Jonathan, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we will show ourselves to them. If they say to us, `Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. But if they say, `Come up to us,’ then we will go up; for the Lord has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.” So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines; and the Philistines said, “Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hid themselves.” And the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.” And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.” Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, and his armor-bearer after him. And they fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer killed them after him. and that first slaughter which Jonathan and his armor-bearer made, was of about twenty men within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land. And there was a panic in the camp, in the field, and among all the people; the garrison and even the raiders trembled; the earth quaked; and it became a very great panic.”

“Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few” The remarkable faith of Jonathan is evident throughout this chapter. Some have supposed that he might have been inspired by the Spirit of God which is not at all unlikely.

If they say, `Come up to us,’ then we will go up (1 Samuel 14:8). Keil explained this sign as indicating cowardice on the part of the garrison;(F9) but it seems to this writer that the sign might have been altogether an arbitrary one revealed to Jonathan by the Lord. The garrison might have thought the two men were defectors to their side, or that it was beneath the dignity of the whole garrison to go after only two opponents.

“Hebrews are coming out of holes where they have hid themselves” H. P. Smith wrote that, “This expression does not necessarily presuppose the account in 1 Samuel 13:6”;(F10) but, of course, that is exactly what it does presuppose.

“And they fell before Jonathan” The amazing success of this attack was due to “its utter surprise.”(F11) Another similar historical victory achieved by scaling what was thought to be an impossible place of ascent is that of General James Wolfe who scaled the bluff along the St. Lawrence river below Quebec on the night of Sept. 13, 1759, and on the following morning surprised and defeated the Marquis de Montcalm; and the continent of North America went over to the British!(F12) However, in Jonathan’s victory, the surprise was only the human side of it; there was also a timely earthquake (1 Samuel 14:15) that completely finished all resistance by the Philistines.

“As it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land” Keil calculated this measurement to be about the same as “a rod,”(F13) which is the equivalent of five and one half yards, sixteen and one half feet, or 5.02 meters.

“The earth quaked” Some scholars have supposed this ’quake’ to have been a reference to the earth-shaking stampede of the Philistines, but we believe the opinion of scholars such as H. P. Smith and John Willis is correct. “God intervened in Israel’s behalf by causing an earthquake.”(F14)

Verses 16-23


“And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked; and behold, the multitude was surging hither and thither. Then Saul said to the people who were with him, “Number, and see who has gone from us.” And when they had numbered, behold, Jonathan and his armor-bearer were not there. And Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring hither the ark of God.” For the ark of God at that time went with the people of Israel. And while Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the camp of the Philistines increased more and more; and Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.” Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle; and behold, every man’s sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion. Now the Hebrews who had been with the Philistines before that time and had gone up with them into the camp, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. Likewise, when all the men of Israel who had hid themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed hard after them in the battle. So the Lord delivered Israel that day; and the battle passed beyond Bethaven.”

“Bring hither the ark of God” The Septuagint (LXX) in this place reads “the ephod” instead of the “the ark of God,” and some scholars prefer that reading. It appears to us that Willis is correct in his observation that, “Saul’s bringing the ark from Kiriath-jearim to Gibeah in a time of crisis is no more out of harmony with the statements in 1 Samuel 7:2 and in 2 Samuel 6:2 than David’s taking the ark out of the tent he had made for it (2 Samuel 6:17), so that it could accompany Joab and his army in the siege and conquest of Rabbah (2 Samuel 11:11).”(F15)

“Withdraw your hand” Saul was here in the process of making an inquiry of the divine will; but he rashly decided that he did not need any word from God, rallied his troops and joined the battle. “Had he now waited, he doubtless would have avoided the errors into which he promptly fell.”(F16)

“The Hebrews who had been with the Philistines” When the Israelites forsook Saul and left him with only 600 men, this verse indicates that large numbers of them had joined the Philistines; but when it was evident that Israel was winning a great victory, they promptly changed sides again and turned against the Philistines. Also, all of those Israelites who had been hiding in the holes, caves, cisterns, etc., poured out of their hiding places and joined in the pursuit of the enemy.

“The battle passed beyond Bethaven” Perhaps due to uncertainties in the text, some scholars would change the name of this place; but Porter stated that, “Some prefer Beth-horon or Bethel, but certainty is impossible.”(F17)

Verses 24-30


“And the men of Israel were distressed that day; for Saul laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people tasted food. And all the people came into the forest; and there was honey on the ground. And when the people entered the forest, behold, the honey was dropping, but no man 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; so he put forth the tip of the staff that was in his hand, and dipped it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes became bright. Then one of the people said, “Your father charged the people with an oath, saying, `Cursed be the man who eats food this day.’“ And the people were faint. Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land; see how my eyes have become bright because I tasted of 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 the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.”

“Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on mine enemies” The will of God and God’s honor were of no concern of Saul in this pagan oath, Note the egotism: “and I am avenged on my enemies.” In this abbreviated account, not all of the oath was repeated. One finds the rest of it in 1 Samuel 14:44, “God do so to me and more also, you shall surely die.” One finds the exact words of this oath on the lips of the pagan Jezebel (1 Kings 19:2); and Jezebel herself couldn’t have said it any better than Saul did.

In this connection, we cannot understand how any scholar could write that, “So far from Saul’s oath being, rash, ill-advised or arbitrary, it was the logical expression of his carefulness for divine things.”(F18)

“The honey was dropping” This does not mean that the honey was dropping out of the trees, but that it was being dropped by the Philistines in their headlong flight, as explained by the words, “the spoil of their enemies which they (the Israelites) found” (1 Samuel 14:30).

“And his eyes became bright” “This is a Hebrew idiom that simply means `he was refreshed.’“(F19)

The direct results of Saul’s stupid pagan oath was that his men became fatigued, and from hunger were unable to exploit the opportunity to destroy the Philistines. The great majority of them escaped (1 Samuel 14:30). Also, when the evening finally came, and the curse was lifted, the people were so hungry that they slaughtered animals for meat but did not take time to bleed it perfectly as God’s law commanded, consequently bringing the whole army into sin against God. No greater disaster for Israel could be imagined. Then, in addition to all that, Saul found himself compelled to condemn Jonathan to death.

Verses 31-35


“They struck down the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. And the people were very faint; the people flew upon the spoil, and took sheep and oxen and calves, and slew them on the ground; and the people ate them with the blood. Then they told Saul, “Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord, by eating with the blood.” And he said, “You have dealt treacherously; roll a great stone to me here.” And Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people, and say to them, `Let every man bring his ox or his sheep, and slay 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 slew them there. And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord.”

“From Michmash to Aijalon” “Aijalon was fifteen or twenty miles from Michmash.”(F20) The Philistines, of course, were fleeing home as fast as possible; and, if the Israelites had not been suffering from hunger and fatigue the Philistine casualties would have been far greater.

“Let every man bring his ox or his sheep, and slay them here, and eat” The purpose of Saul here was to see that the animals to be eaten by his troops were properly bled.

“And Saul built an altar” Saul evidently used that great stone upon which the animals were slain as part of an altar to the Lord. However, “He only began to build that altar, but did not finish it (1 Cor. 27:24), because of his haste to pursue the Philistines that night.”(F21)

Verses 36-42


“Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and despoil them until the morning light; let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.” But the priest said, “Let us draw near hither to God.” And Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Wilt thou give them into the hand of Israel”? But he did not answer him that day. And Saul said, “Come hither all you leaders of the people; and know and see how this sin has arisen today, for as the Lord lives who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” But there was not a man among all the people that answered him. Then he said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side, and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.” Therefore Saul said, “O Lord God of Israel, why hast thou not answered thy servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O Lord, God of Israel, give Urim; but if this guilt is in thy people Israel, give Thummim.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped. Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.” And Jonathan was taken.”

This would have been an excellent place for Saul to have confessed his foolish sin in the invocation of that pagan oath and have asked the forgiveness of all the people; but instead, he decided to pursue the matter to its bloody end.

“Urim… Thummim” “The Urim and Thummim are specifically mentioned only eight times in the O.T.: Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; Numbers 27:21; Deuteronomy 33:8; 1 Samuel 14:41 (LXX); 28:6; Ezra 2:63 and Nehemiah 7:65.(F22) However, in many other situations described as “casting lots,” or “inquiring of the Lord,” they were doubtless used by the High Priest who wore the ephod.

Verses 43-46


Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand; here I am, I will die.” And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.” Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has wrought this great victory in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground; for he has wrought with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, that he did not die. Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines; and the Philistines went to their own place.”

“Here I am, I will die” Josephus wrote that Jonathan also said:

“I do not desire you, father, to spare me. Death will be to me very acceptable, when it proceeds from thy piety, and after a glorious victory; for it is the greatest consolation to me that I leave the Hebrews victorious over the Philistines.”(F23)

“God do so to me and more also” We have already noted the pagan nature of this godless oath which so effectively marred and nullified what would have been the greatest victory in Israel’s history. To us it appears that there is no possible justification for Saul’s disastrous oath. These words perfectly fit the pagan mouth of Jezebel, but had no place whatever in the mouth of “The Lord’s Anointed”!

“Saul’s oath did not proceeds from a proper attitude toward the Lord but was an act of false zeal in which Saul had more regard to himself than to the cause of the kingdom of God… Saul issued that prohibition (in the oath) without divine authority… And when the people pronounced Jonathan innocent and ransomed him, declaring that “Jonathan had wrought with God,” it was a divine verdict. Saul could not have failed to recognize then, that it was not Jonathan but he himself who had sinned, and through his arbitrary and despotic command had brought guilt upon Israel, on account of which God had given him no reply.”(F24)

“Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines; and the Philistines went to their own place” It appears from this that Saul at last recognized himself as the chief sinner in that episode, and he therefore gave up the pursuit of the Philistines. In the words of Jonathan, My father (Saul) has troubled the land (1 Samuel 14:29).

Verses 47-48


“When Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the Ammonites, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines; wherever he turned, he put them to the worse. And he did valiantly, and smote the Amelekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them.”

The chronology of events mentioned in this chapter is impossible of any adequate solution. This little paragraph is a summary of Saul’s forty years of fighting against Israel’s enemies. If every event in that period had been described as fully as that episode just mentioned, it would have required thousands of pages. It was only the special moral, religious, and theological implications that led to the more complete details in this and in the following chapters.

The inspired author here freely admitted Saul’s ability as a “valiant” soldier and his ability to defeat God’s enemies. Thus, the reason assigned by the Lord in his appointment of Saul to deliver the people from the Philistines was indeed a good one.

Verses 49-51


“Now the sons of Saul were Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malchishua; and the names of his two daughters were these: the name of the firstborn was Merab, and the name of the younger was Michal; And 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.”

As cited earlier in this chapter, the omission of the name of Isbosheth, or Eshbaal, from this list of Saul’s children is probably due to the fact that this list was written very early in Saul’s reign, before Eshbaal was born. Abner made Eshbaal king over part of Israel following Saul’s death; and he contested with David for the throne of all Israel for a period of seven years. The significant fact (2 Samuel 2:8-11) of Eshbaal being forty years of age when he was declared king is the basis for concluding that Saul reigned forty years. The theory that Ishvi is the same son as Eshbaal is an ingenious device to avoid the deduction regarding the length of Saul’s reign.

Verse 52

“There was hard fighting against the Philistines all the days of Saul; and when Saul saw any strong man, or any valiant man, he attached him to himself.”

The Bible does not say that this continual war between Israel and the Philistines was due to events recorded in this chapter, but the appearance of this verse just here surely suggests that very thing. Furthermore, it was in a battle with the Philistines that Saul lost his life, ending his reign.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 14". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-samuel-14.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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