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2. Saul’s struggle against the Philistines 13:16-14:23
As a result of Saul’s disobedience he began to struggle, whereas his son Jonathan, who sought to follow the Lord faithfully, became increasingly successful.
Jonathan’s success at Michmash 14:1-23
Armed with trust in God and courage, Jonathan ventured out to destroy Israel’s enemy in obedience to God’s command to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan (cf. 1 Samuel 9:16). He would have made a good king of Israel. Saul remained in Gibeah, evidently on the defensive. His comfortable position under a fruit tree (cf. 1 Samuel 22:6; Judges 4:5) in secure Gibeah, surrounded by his soldiers, contrasts with Jonathan’s vulnerable and difficult position with only the support of his armor bearer. Jonathan was launching out in faith to obey God, but Saul was resting comfortably and failing to do God’s will.
The reference to priestly activity at Shiloh (1 Samuel 14:3) shows that the nation still regarded Shiloh as a cultic site (i.e., a site where the people practiced formal worship).
"Saul is accompanied by Ahijah, a member of the rejected priestly house of Eli (1 Samuel 14:3), and this first mention of an Elide after the disasters which befell Eli’s family in chap. 4 triggers the response ’rejected by Yhwh.’ Lest the point be missed, it is reinforced by the odd and needless genealogical reference to Ichabod, Ahijah’s uncle, picking up on 1 Samuel 4:21-22, and reminding the reader that ’the glory has departed.’ His own royal glory gone, where else would we expect Saul to be than with a relative of ’Glory gone’? The axes which here intersect, the rejection of Saul and the rejection of the Elide priesthood, will do so again in 1 Samuel 22:11-19, when Saul will bloodily fulfill the prophecy of 1 Samuel 2:31-33, wreaking Yhwh’s will on the Elides." [Note: David Jobling, "Saul’s Fall and Jonathan’s Rise: Tradition and Redaction in 1 Samuel 14:1-46," Journal of Biblical Literature 95:3 (1976):368-69.]
Bozez (1 Samuel 14:4, lit. shining) was the south-facing cliff near the Philistine camp at Michmash, perhaps so named because it reflected the sun that shone on it from the south. Seneh (lit. thorny) faced north and was closer to Geba. Jonathan’s route was an extremely difficult one. This fact accounts for his being able to surprise the Philistines.
In contrast to Saul, Jonathan had a true perception of God’s role as the leader and deliverer of His people (1 Samuel 14:6). He viewed the Philistines as unbelievers under divine judgment whom God wanted exterminated (cf. Genesis 17). He believed that God would work for His people in response to faith, as He had done repeatedly in Israel’s history. He also had learned that superior numbers were not necessary for God to give victory in battle (cf. 1 Samuel 17:47; Judges 7:4; Judges 7:7).
"Other parallels with the story of Gideon commend themselves as well: the hero accompanied by only one servant (1 Samuel 14:7; cf. Judges 7:10-11); the sign (1 Samuel 14:9-10; cf. Judges 7:13-15); the panic (1 Samuel 14:15; cf. Judges 7:21); the confusion, causing the enemy soldiers to turn on ’each other with their swords’ (1 Samuel 14:20; cf. Judges 7:22); reinforcements from the ’hill country of Ephraim’ (1 Samuel 14:22; cf. Judges 7:24); and the pursuit (1 Samuel 14:22; cf. Judges 7:23 . . .)." [Note: Youngblood, p. 661.]
Perhaps Jonathan chose his sign arbitrarily simply to determine how the Lord wanted him to proceed. Some commentators have felt he did not.
"If the Philistines said, ’Wait till we come,’ they would show some courage; but if they said, ’Come up to us,’ it would be a sign that they were cowardly . . ." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, p. 138.]
Half a furrow of land (1 Samuel 14:14) was half a parcel of land that a yolk of oxen could plow in one day. Evidently God assisted Jonathan by sending a mild earthquake to unnerve the Philistines further (1 Samuel 14:15; cf. Deuteronomy 7:23).
When Saul should have been acting, he was waiting, and when he should have been waiting, he was acting (1 Samuel 14:18-19). He may have viewed the ark as a talisman that he planned to use to secure God’s help. Or he may have used the Urim and Thummim. [Note: Merrill, "1 Samuel," p. 214.] As Saul watched, the multitude of Philistine soldiers that covered the area began to dissipate. He evidently concluded that he did not need to seek the Lord’s guidance or blessing (cf. 1 Samuel 13:12).
God caused the Philistines to fight one another (1 Samuel 14:20; cf. Judges 7:22; 2 Chronicles 20:23). Some Israelite deserters or mercenaries who were fighting for the Philistines even changed their allegiance and took sides with Jonathan. The tide of battle had turned. Beth-aven stood near Michmash, but the exact site is uncertain.
Saul’s selfishness 14:24-35
Saul’s improper view of his role as Israel’s king comes through clearly in 1 Samuel 14:24. The Philistines were not Saul’s enemies as much as God’s enemies. This was holy war (cf. Judges 16:28), but Saul viewed the battle too personally. His selfish desire to win for his own glory led him to issue a foolish command. Perhaps Saul had "sworn the army to a vow that they would fast until God intervened on their behalf (1 Samuel 14:24-30)." [Note: Ibid.]
An oath was an extremely serious matter in the ancient Near East (1 Samuel 14:26; cf. Judges 14:8-9). One did not violate a king’s oath without suffering severe consequences. Jonathan saw the folly of Saul’s oath clearly because he wanted God’s glory (1 Samuel 14:29-30). The Hebrew word translated "troubled" (1 Samuel 14:29, ’akar) is the same one from which "Achan" and "Achor" come (Joshua 7:25-26). Saul, not Jonathan, had troubled Israel, as Achan had, by his foolish command (1 Samuel 14:24).
Aijalon (1 Samuel 14:31) stood about 17 miles west of Michmash. 1 Samuel 14:32-34 illustrate the confusion that resulted from Saul’s misguided oath. The Mosaic Law forbade eating meat with the blood not drained from it (Leviticus 17:10-14). The great stone (1 Samuel 14:33) served as a slaughtering table where the priests carefully prepared the meat for eating.
Saul was not entirely insensitive to Yahweh and His will. We can see this in his concern to observe the ritual dietary law (1 Samuel 14:33) and his desire to honor God for the victory (1 Samuel 14:35; cf. Exodus 17:14-16). However, Saul may have built this altar simply to make amends for his legal infringement, not to express gratitude for the day’s victory. [Note: Gordon, p. 140.] There are many examples of spiritually sensitive Israelites building altars to God (e.g., 1 Samuel 7:17; Genesis 12:8; Judges 6:24; 2 Samuel 24:25; 1 Chronicles 21:18). The writer’s note that this was the first altar that Saul built reflects the king’s general lack of commitment to Yahweh.
3. Saul’s cursing of Jonathan 14:24-46
Jonathan, a man of faith, initiated a great victory, but in this section we see that Saul, a man of pride, limited the extent of that victory while trying to extend it. Saul’s failure to submit to Yahweh’s authority resulted in his behaving foolishly more than wickedly (at this time).
Saul’s blindness to his guilt 14:36-46
Evidently Saul would not have inquired of God if Ahijah (cf. 1 Samuel 14:18) had not suggested that he do so (1 Samuel 14:36). Probably God did not answer his prayer immediately because Saul wanted this information to vindicate himself rather than God (1 Samuel 14:37). Saul thought God did not answer him because someone had violated his rule (1 Samuel 14:24), which he confused with God’s Law, calling violation of it sin (1 Samuel 14:38; cf. Joshua 7:14). Really, God did not answer him because Saul was disloyal to Yahweh. The king boldly vowed that anyone who had sinned, which was only breaking his rule, even Jonathan, would die (1 Samuel 14:39). God identified Jonathan rather than Saul as the guilty party. Jonathan had violated the king’s command though he had not violated God’s command. Actually, Jonathan was executing God’s will.
Jonathan would have had to die if he had broken Yahweh’s command, as Achan did. However, Saul’s oath was not on that high a level of authority, though Saul thought it was, as is clear from his insistence that Jonathan die. The soldiers who had gone along with Saul’s requests thus far (1 Samuel 14:36; 1 Samuel 14:40) refused to follow his orders when he called for Jonathan’s execution (1 Samuel 14:45). They recognized that Saul’s rule about abstaining from eating (1 Samuel 14:24) was not divine law. They correctly saw that even though Jonathan had violated Saul’s rule, he had obeyed God’s order to drive Israel’s enemies out of the land. Saul’s failure to see his role under God and the difference between the Word of God and his own commands resulted in confusion and disunity. Saul’s preoccupation with Jonathan’s eating against his wishes cost him a great victory over the Philistines.
The writer pointed out the reason for Saul’s ultimate failure as Israel’s king and the reason for his own personal destruction in this section (1 Samuel 13:1 to 1 Samuel 14:46). Essentially Saul refused to put the will of God above his own personal desires. Careful attention to the text shows that Saul showed great concern about the observance of religious rituals, but he failed to appreciate the indispensable importance of submitting his will to Yahweh. He sought to use God rather than allowing God to use him. He thought he was above the Mosaic Law rather than under it. He put himself in the position that God alone rightfully occupied.
To illustrate the seriousness of Saul’s sin, suppose two parents have two children. The first child has a real heart for what pleases his parents. On rare occasions when this child disobeys his parents, his conscience bothers him, he confesses his offense to his parents, and he tries to be obedient from then on. This was how David responded to God. Even though David sinned greatly by committing adultery and murder, these sins broke his heart, he confessed them to God, and he returned to following God faithfully. His heart was one with God’s. He wanted to please God and honor God even though he failed miserably occasionally.
The second child in the family in this illustration really wants to run his own life. He submits to parental authority when it seems to him to be to his advantage to do so, but his heart is really not with his parents. He wants to control his own life and believes he can do a better job of it on his own than by following his parents’ instructions. He thinks, "What’s right for me is right." This was Saul’s attitude. Saul never submitted to divine authority unless he felt it was to his advantage to do so. He always wanted to maintain control over his own life.
Which of these two children has the more serious problem of disobedience? The second child does. Saul’s sin was worse than David’s. Even though David committed a few great sins, God did not cut off his dynasty or his rule prematurely since he really wanted to glorify God. However, David suffered severe consequences for his sins even though God forgave him. God did cut off Saul’s dynasty and his rule prematurely because Saul would not yield to Yahweh’s control, which was crucial for Israel’s king. Failure to yield control to God is extremely important, even more important than individual acts of disobedience (cf. Romans 6:12-13; Romans 12:1-2).
Saul’s pride led him to make foolish decisions that limited his effectiveness. Many believers experience unnecessary confusion and complications in their lives because they will not relinquish control to God.
4. Saul’s limited effectiveness in battle 14:47-52
Saul was an active warrior and was effective to an extent due to his native abilities and God’s limited blessing. He punished the enemies of Israel (1 Samuel 14:47-48), which was God’s will. Yet he did not subdue and defeat them all as David did.
The information concerning Saul’s family members that the writer recorded here corresponds to other similar ancient Near Eastern texts. It was common to give this information as part of a summary of a king’s accomplishments (cf. 2 Samuel 8). Ishvi is probably an alternative name for Ishbosheth.
God would later bring valiant warriors to David as He had previously brought to Saul (1 Samuel 10:26), but Saul now had to select recruits by personally evaluating them. This is another indication of God’s limited blessing on Saul. In contrast, hundreds of soldiers volunteered to serve with David. Saul established a standing army in Israel for the first time (cf. 1 Samuel 8:11).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 14". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
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