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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

1 Samuel 14

Verses 1-3

First Samuel - Chapter 14

Saul’s Vacillation, vs. 1-3

Jonathan appears to have been’ a man who sought action, and who was ready to confront the enemy, pagan, Philistines relying on the Lord to give Israel the victory. He must have tired of the vacillation of his father, King Saul, and of his own initiative determined to precipitate a battle. He did not inform his father of his determination, and in that sense was guilty of insubordination, of course. He set out toward the Philistine garrison, he and his armour bearer alone.

Saul had his tent pitched under a pomegranate tree at Migron on the outskirts of Gibeah, his capital. His six hundred loyal men remained there with him. He also had Ahiah (or Ahijah, as he is also called), the high priest pretending. Ahiah was the son of Ahitub, who was the brother of Ichabod, the son of Phinehas and grandson of Eli, who was born prematurely the day the ark was captured by the Philistines. This event had occurred perhaps fifty years before this time (see 1 Samuel, chap. 4).

The ark was still in the house of Abinadab (1 Samuel 7:1-2), and Ahiah presided over a tabernacle without the ark, the chief article of its makeup. He also claimed the high priesthood without authority, for he and his family had been displaced by the decree of the Lord (1 Samuel 2:27­-36).

Though he pretended to the office the Lord did not recognize him. Saul, however, seems to have expected to benefit by his presence there with the ephod of the high priest.

Verses 4-15

Jonathan’s Bold Strike, vs. 4-15

Jonathan and his armourbearer moved up to the pass which led into the garrison of the Philistines. It was steep and difficult and two sharp rocks guarded it on either side, one jutting toward Michmash northward, called Bozez, and the other southward toward Gibeah, called Seneh. Jonathan was a man of great contrast to his father, having great faith and confidence in the Lord God of Israel. He held the pagan, uncircumcised Philistines in contempt, and believed that the Lord would possibly work for the Israelites if they trusted Him. After all, he felt, great numbers are not necessary with the Lord. Truly the Philistine forces were formidable, but it made no difference with the Lord whether the Israelites were many or few, for He could save them with whatever they had, if they relied on Him.

The armourbearer willingly followed his master to the challenge of the Philistines. Jonathan divulged his plan. They would expose themselves to the Philistines and let the Lord show them what they should do. If the Philistines asked them to stand and wait until they could come down the pass to the two men, then they would tarry. But if the Philistines were to call them to come up to the Philistine camp, then they would go up, and this would be indication that the Lord would deliver the entire Philistine forces into the hand of Israel.

When they had discovered themselves to the Philistines, the enemy soldiers scoffed at them. Here were two of the Hebrews who had overcome their cowardice sufficiently to come out of their hiding places. Then they called for Jonathan and his armourbearer to come up to them that they might show them a thing. This was Jonathan’s cue that the Lord was about to deliver the Philistines to Israel.

Jonathan’s faith and confidence that the Lord would give them victory was so great that he put his life on the line, being forced to literally crawl up the steep incline, during which the enemy might easily have dispatched both men. As soon as Jonathan reached the summit he stood up and began knocking Philistine soldiers over, and his armourbearer coming behind administered the coup de grace. In all they killed only about twenty men in an area about as large as a yoke of oxen could plow.

Jonathan’s trust in the Lord immediately began to reap dividends for Israel. The Lord sent a great trembling, first in the main host of the Philistine army. Then it spread outward to those in the field, to the people in the countryside, even to the marauding companies who were out spoiling the land. God sent a great earthquake which threw them into consternation. Indeed, "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31).

Verses 16-23

Israelite Victory, vs. 16-23

From the account it does not appear that the earthquake extended to the camp of Israel. It was the noise of the pandemonium broken out in the Philistine camp which aroused the watchmen of Israel. Looking up to the mountain pass, through which they had seen the Philistines amassing for an attack, they now saw, seemingly, the great enemy army melting away as they beat one another down. Saul himself became apprehensive and supposed some of the Israelites had attacked. He had a muster of the men under his command and found that only his son Jonathan and Jonathan’s armourbearer were missing.

Obviously, even to Saul, the Lord was disrupting the Philistines. He had sent for the ark and brought it to his camp, disregarding the dire results of carrying it into battle with the Philistines in the time of Eli (1 Samuel 4:10-11 and context). Now Saul called on Ahiah, the great­grandson of Eli, who had been rejected from the priesthood by the Lord (1 Samuel 2:27-36), to consult at the ark for the will of God in this matter, but he got no answer. Saul was apt to lose his opportunity to participate in the rout of the Philistines, if he delayed longer, so he had Ahiah to cease.

Saul cuts a ridiculous figure in this incident. This stalwart, manly king was too hesitant to lead out in the battle to throw off the yoke of the Philistines, so that his much more spiritually able son did it instead. Then, when it was obvious that the Lord was giving Israel a victory over the enemy, he hesitated still longer seeking the will of God (when it was apparent before his very eyes) from a priest whom the Lord had ejected from the office.

The Philistines were defeating themselves. The earthquake had so disoriented and terrorized them that they were slaying one another. Only the Israelites seemed to have their faculties about them. The turncoats, who had left the camp of Israel and gone over to the Philistines, now turned once again to the Israelites. Also those who were hiding in the forests of Ephraim came out of hiding and took up the chase, with Saul and Jonathan, of the fleeing Philistines. The Philistines turned to their own cities, and the Lord saved Israel out of their hands that day.

Verses 24-35

Saul’s Foolish Ban, vs. 24-35

This section of chapter 14 relates an event that occurred in the course of Israel’s pursuit of the Philistine fugitives. It begins with the statement that Israel was distressed on that day and goes on to show why they were distressed. It was for a foolish ban placed on them by their king. From his initial humility upon becoming king Saul has now risen to great pride. It seems from the ban that he felt that he was taking a share in the defeat of the Philistines. To him it required the undivided attention of the Israelites to totally vanquish the enemy, so that he strictly forbade their turning aside even for the purpose of relieving their hunger.

The pursuit passed through a forest, where there were many bee trees, and the honey was so plentiful that it was lying on the ground. Honey is quick energy food, and it might have really given the men a lift and kept them from exhaustion, but they were afraid to eat it because of the oath Saul had made. However, Jonathan, the real hero of the day, had been away precipitating the victory when his father made the oath and did not know about it. Therefore he took his rod and lifted a piece of the honeycomb to his lips

Immediately Jonathan felt better. His vision was clearer, but he was also aware that something was wrong in the eyes of the soldiers. Upon inquiry he learned of his father’s ban. The people were fatigued and too tired to keep going, but they dared not eat. Jonathan correctly evaluated his father’s deeds. He was a troubler of the land, Jonathan said. They could see how the honeycomb had revived the spirits of Jonathan, and if all the people had been allowed to eat freely it might have been the same for them.

It was a long, exhausting day, at the end of which the men of Saul were gaunt with hunger. They had pursued the Philistines from Michmash to Aijalon, a distance of some twenty straight-line miles, across the mountains of Ephraim. When the night came on, and the people at last were no longer bound by the oath of Saul, they killed oxen, sheep, and calves and ate them uncooked, with the blood still in them, contrary to the law (Leviticus 7:26-27, and many other passages). When it was told Saul he had them set up a great stone and sent a message among the men commanding them to bring their animals to him for slaughter, which they did.

Verse 35 reveals a very significant thing which illustrates the carelessness and lack of godly concern on the part of King Saul. That night the king built an altar to the Lord, and that is all well and good. It is the last part that indicts him, "the same was the first altar" that he built unto the Lord. As has been noted before in this commentary it is not known how long Saul had been king when this war with the Philistines took place. Suffice it to say there had been ample time for him to have built an altar long since.

Verses 36-46

Saul’s Second Major Error, vs. 36-46

Saul’s second major error which lead to disenchantment of the people with their king grew out of his foolish ban. It showed up when, after the people had at last appeased their hunger, Saul proposed a night engagement with the Philistines. His enthusiasm appears to have been the desire for self advancement and pride. The reluctance of the tired men is hardly concealed in their docile reply, "Do whatsoever seemeth good unto thee."

At this juncture the non-priest Ahiah also entered the scene by proposing an inquiry from the Lord whether they should pursue the enemy further that night. So Saul agreeably inquired of the Lord through Ahiah whether he should go down after the Philistines, and whether the Lord would deliver them into his hand. Not surprisingly the Lord did not answer the inquiry, just as he had not given a message through this priest at the beginning of the battle. The Lord had dismissed Ahiah and his family from the priesthood.

Nevertheless Saul concluded that someone was guilty of a great transgression which prevented the Lord from answering. The fact is that God may always be reached when problems arise, if He is sought through the right intercessor, (e.g., Joshua, after the sin of Achan, Joshua 7:6 ff). But Samuel seems not to have been present at this time, and again Saul is guilty of making his own determination in matters of worship.

So Saul decided on a lot-casting, to determine the guilty person. He called the leaders of the people together and announced his intent and again secured their less than enthusiastic agreement. Perhaps by this time he suspected something had happened with reference to Jonathan since he proposed to place himself and Jonathan on one side of the lot and the people on the other. He also swore an oath by the life of the Lord that if the fault should be in Jonathan he would die. The people, knowing what Jonathan had done, protected him by their silence.

The lot was cast and fell on Saul and Jonathan. Then when another was cast Jonathan was taken. Saul demanded to know what Jonathan had done and he told how he had taken the honeycomb, "and, lo, I must die." Saul was determined to slay his son. Again he swore, "God do so and more also: for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan." But it was not to be. The people defied their king, saying, "God, forbid," and themselves swearing by the Lord that not a hair of Jonathan’s head should fall, for it was he who had set in motion their victory, and "had wrought with God this day."

Saul was evidently not pleased and seems to have poutingly pulled up stakes and headed homeward, abandoning the pursuit of the Philistines. Once again the "people’s choice" has failed.

Verses 47-52

Saul’s Kingdom, vs. 47-52

Chapter 14 concludes with a resum6 of Saul’s kingdom. Only in this passage is revealed many of the military campaigns of Saul. Without this passage one might conclude that Saul did not have many accomplishments in behalf of Israel during his long reign. It is revealed here, however, that he encountered people on every side of him and "vexed them," evidently coming out victorious. Only his wars with the Philistines, Ammonites, and the Amalekites are related in any detail in the Scriptures. Largely Saul brought to Israel independence from the surrounding enemies, though the greatest difficulty was with the Philistines. The last verse reveals that Israel was almost constantly at war with the Philistines, and that it was very severe, during the reign of Saul.

The three older of Saul’s sons are named here. The fourth is not named, until after his father’s death, the reason for which is not revealed. Saul also had sons by his concubine, Rizpah, who are not named here. His two daughters, Merab and Michal, are named. Both were offered to David later, and he eventually married the younger, Michal. His wife, Ahinoam, is not known further, though she is mention occasionally. Abner, the captain of Saul’s host, was his cousin, and was a very able and valiant man. Saul’s father was Kish, his grandfather Abiel. His army was strengthened by his draft of every strong and valiant man he found in Israel. (See 2 Samuel 2:12; 2 Samuel 21:8; 1 Samuel 18:17; 1 Samuel 20:30; 1 Samuel 26:13 ff, etc.)

Lessons from chapter fourteen include: 1) One may lose his opportunity to serve the Lord by hesitation; 2) when God’s will is known one should go forward and not worry about the odds; 3) though the Lord uses men, He does not have to use them to accomplish His purposes; 4) when one stands for the Lord many others may also be encouraged to stand forth; 5) a bad oath is not pleasing to the Lord and will only bring evil as its result; 6) in the end the predictions of the Lord turn out just as He foretold.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 14". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/1-samuel-14.html. 1985.