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Tuesday, June 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 14

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Verse 1


In 1 Samuel 13 the failure of Saul has become clear. In 1 Samuel 15 Saul fails even more dramatically. Between these two chapters, which contain a double testimony of the failure of the king of the people’s choice, 1 Samuel 14 tells the story of a man of faith who overcomes. This chapter is a great encouragement to anyone who sees how the official authority of God’s people fails, but who continues to believe in the power of God himself. In this chapter, the Holy Spirit opposes two men. We see Saul, the man of the flesh, opposite his son Jonathan, the man of faith.

The first part of this chapter (1 Samuel 14:1-Isaiah :) leads to a climax through Jonathan’s faith. The second part (1 Samuel 14:24-1 Corinthians :) leads to an anticlimax by the foolishness of Saul, which forbids the people to eat anything before the evening.

Jonathan means ‘the LORD has given’. He is a gift from God to His people at a time of great weakness. He is a flower that God makes blossom in the wilderness that Israel is spiritually at this time.

Jonathan’s Proposal

Jonathan can no longer remain indecisive as the Philistines brutally move through God’s land. He decides to attack the Philistines’ garrison. This is not impulsive action. He has thought about this and has been in prayer for it, and one day he is ready for it. The motive for this action lies in his faith. It is not so, that Jonathan has more military insight than his father. Saul is a good soldier. In the battle of God’s people, it is not about military insight, but about faith. Faith decides the outcome and not military insight. In 1 Samuel 17 we see this also in the fight between David and Goliath.

With Saul we see no action. He is waiting. That is different from what the people wanted. After all, they wanted a king who goes ahead of them to fight. Jonathan cannot accept that his father is so indecisive. He knows his father. He knows it makes no sense to ask him if he can go or even to inform him that he will go. He knows that two can only go together if they have agreed (Amos 3:3) and that this is not the case with his father. Saul, who will see it as a reckless undertaking, lacks the faith to do so. Therefore he goes without telling his father, although he should have. Yet this is not rebellion, but an action worked by God.

Verses 2-3

Saul and Those Who Are With Him

While Jonathan proceeds to act, Saul sits under a tree. He prefers to take a wait-and-see attitude rather than take the initiative to fight. What should he do with his six hundred men against a numerous enemy? Where faith is lacking, there is no strength for battle.

Saul was not only surrounded by an army of six hundred men, but he also had the priest with the ephod in his company. It is a priest from the rejected priestly family of Eli who was set aside by God in 1 Samuel 2-3 (1 Samuel 2:27-Amos :; 1 Samuel 3:11-2 Chronicles :). Because the setting aside did not take place immediately, we find here a rejected priest with a rejected king. Military and religious, everything is at Saul’s disposal. The great absent is God. Therefore, all external displays have no effect whatsoever. Appearance does not give any strength and it does not give any insight into how the battle should be fought.

Saul does not know that Jonathan left, nor does the people of Saul. The struggle of faith is outside Saul and outside those who are connected to Saul.

Verses 4-5

The Terrain to Cross

The description of the place Jonathan must cross makes it clear that he is embarking on a risky venture. God’s Spirit shows these things to teach us that following a path of faith can present us with enormous difficulties. Faith does not make blind to these difficulties but considers them.

Faith is not reckless. It overlooks the terrain and sees the difficulties. All the difficulties that are noticed are brought to the Lord by faith. Faith then sees that there are no difficulties for Him. Faith is not overconfident, but prudent and trusting. It turns the eye to God and then takes courage.

Verses 6-7

Faith of Jonathan and His Servant

After Saul’s attitude is shown and the way of faith to go, Jonathan repeats in 1 Samuel 14:6 the word of faith of 1 Samuel 14:1. Nothing can be expected of Saul and the way is full of dangers. In his repetition of this great word of faith he goes even further than what he said in 1 Samuel 14:1. He no longer speaks of “the Philistines”, but now he calls them “these uncircumcised”. This shows that he sees them as God sees them. They are people who have no connection with God.

Saul’s army is not large, but at least he still has 600 men. Jonathan is alone with his armor bearer. He does not need the six hundred men, because he knows that he and his armor bearer are going with God. If you have God at your side, the greatest army has no chance. God can redeem as much by few as by many (2 Chronicles 14:11; Judges 7:7).

His armor bearer shows the same faith as Jonathan. It is a special blessing to fight the battle of faith with someone who faces the battle with the same confidence in God. The words of his armor bearer are an encouragement and confirmation for Jonathan.

Both men are young. To go a path of faith and perform acts of faith, it is not necessary to be elderly or to have much experience. It is about trust in God. Scripture gives an abundant testimony of young men who have acted in faith. Think of men like Elihu, David, Daniel and his three friends and Timothy.

Verses 8-10

The Plan

Jonathan presents his armor bearer his plan. He speaks of “us”. It is a bold plan. The fight must be done with consultation. Faith does not take away the fact that we work with consultation, but it is the consultation of faith and not that of the rational calculation of probability. The reaction of the Philistines will determine their action, for they see in the reaction of the Philistines what God makes clear to them. He suggests that they will show themselves open and exposed to the enemy. The enemy will not expect that.

Jonathan anticipates two reactions. One reaction is that the Philistines say they will come down themselves. In that case they will stay where they are. The other reaction is that the Philistines will stay where they are, but they will say that Jonathan and his armor bearer must climb up to them. That will be a dangerous climb, where they will have to expose themselves completely. The Philistines will feel supreme and will not see any danger. It is precisely this dangerous command to climb up that will be the sign that the LORD has given them in their power.

Verses 11-14

The Execution of the Plan

Jonathan and his armor bearer put the deed to the word and show themselves to the Philistines. By showing themselves, they are vulnerable to the arrows of the Philistines. The Philistines do not shoot their arrows at them, but words of contempt. However, they do not harm the two heroes.

Then the men from the garrison call on Jonathan and his armor bearer to climb up to them. The Philistines are certain of their case. They will have a good time with these two Israelites. For Jonathan this is the proof that the LORD has given them in his power.

Yet he says not that the LORD will give them in his power, but in the power of Israel. This is the language that David also speaks later when he is alone opposite Goliath (1 Samuel 17:46-2 Corinthians :). Saul, on the other hand, speaks of “my” enemies. The victory that Jonathan and his armor bearer will achieve is a victory for all Israel. Jonathan is certain of victory by this command of the Philistines. In what he says to his armor bearer in 1 Samuel 14:12, there is no longer a “maybe” (1 Samuel 14:6), but the certainty that the LORD will do it.

Jonathan climbs up on hands and feet. This means that he cannot protect himself in any way. He needs all his agility to reach the top. He cannot even keep an eye on the enemy. The way of faith goes up but is not easy. Yet the goal of faith is achieved. When Jonathan and his armor bearer are above, the Philistines are knocked down man after man by Jonathan and killed by his armor bearer. There is a fluid cooperation between the two men.

The number killed is not impressive when counted. They have defeated only twenty men. But God connects Himself to Jonathan’s faith. The area where the victory is won is described as “about half a furrow in an acre of land”.

This indicates the result of a victory: an area is released that can be ploughed. The piece of land can again fulfill God’s purpose for His people and that is that His people enjoy the blessing of the land. Thus every spiritual victory lays the foundation for enjoying the spiritual blessings God has given to His people.

Verses 15-16

Consequences of Jonathan’s Deed

If Jonathan has done what he can do, God will do what Jonathan cannot do. What God does is an extension of what Jonathan has done. God makes Jonathan’s small victory a great one. He multiplies this victory, just as He multiplies a little bit of food. The report of the defeat is like a running fire and God’s terror comes over the Philistines.

Saul’s watchmen see the consequences of Jonathan’s victory, that is, of God’s underlining of Jonathan’s faith performance. If faith acts, the enemy quivers and trembles. The watchmen observe this. They report this to Saul.

Verses 17-22

Saul Shares in the Victory

Saul assumes the possibility that men have left his army and that they have done something with the Philistines. He has an investigation carried out to know who and how many are gone. It turns out to be only Jonathan and his weapon bearer. For Saul, however, this cannot be the reason for the movement among the Philistines. He does not think further because there is no faith in him.

Saul can also be a pious man, he can question God, although he has no faith. To question God, he wants the ark to be brought. “Ark” (1 Samuel 14:18) presumably must be ephod. With the ark one cannot question God. It is more likely that Saul will have asked Ahijah to clothe himself with the ephod and to ask God.

When Saul notices how the Philistines are becoming more and more chaotic, Saul says that Ahijah should not do anything more. He decides that no more time should be lost in questioning God. Action is needed. You should not spend any effort and time on religion if you see that the situation is, in your opinion, ripe to act. So is Saul.

When Saul arrives at the battlefield, he does not have to do anything. God has worked for him and thus gives Saul the enemy in his hands. He does so because of Jonathan’s faith (cf. 2 Chronicles 20:22; Judges 7:22).

Another consequence of Jonathan’s victory is that Israelites who have put themselves in the service of the enemy – and who are also called “Hebrews” by the Holy Spirit here – return to the army of Saul and Jonathan. Traitors and cowards now choose the side of God’s people because they see that that is where the victory lies. Such people only want to benefit, but never take part in the real battle.

Faith initiatives are taken by only a few. If it then becomes apparent how much this is blessed, others who have seen it first will join in and do not participate in that faith. Great revivals have always started with a few.

Verses 23-26

Saul Prohibits to Eat Food

It is clear that the LORD is at work and that He has redeemed Israel. This is the highlight of this history. We see Him standing up for His people in grace, while the people have turned their backs on Him.

The army moves on to defeat the Philistines. Saul turns it into a prestige case for himself. He speaks about “my enemies”. Saul does not speak of the LORD, not of Israel, but only of himself. He enchants because of his own revenge feeling that the people will not eat before he has avenged himself. Saul swears several times in this chapter (1 Samuel 14:24; 1 Samuel 14:391 Samuel 14:44) and every time he has not kept to what he has sworn.

The character of Saul’s folly is legalism. By this he imposes a commandment on the people who rob them of their strength. That is how the people are being worn out. Faith and the taking to oneself of what God gives, gives new courage and strength. A legal mind and a constant talk about commandments and prohibitions paralyzes the people of God. People who do that, also have no room in their thinking for faith acts like that of a Jonathan. They do not like that either, because it is outside the old familiar paths.

The issuance of this severe injunction is:
1. Non-political and unwise. It may seem as if time is gained that is otherwise spent on food, but in reality, the people lose the strength for pursuit.
2. Lordly and unfriendly to the people. If the people had wanted to have a feast, there would have been something to say for the ban, but to forbid them to use food, although they are hungry, is cruel.
3. Godless, because Saul connects the Name of God to it through a curse and an oath. This is not the way of governing. Those who are in reign over others may reprimand and punish, but they may not curse their subjects. When David speaks of one of his enemies as someone “who loved the curse” (Psalms 109:17-Job :), he may mean Saul.

The people are obedient to Saul’s command, but what a torment it is when they come into the forest where they see honey on the ground. This means a great temptation for the people. However, the fear for Saul is so deep in them that they do not even dare to taste the honey for fear of Saul’s curse.

Saul, through his legal performance, has closed the path of the people to the blessing of the land. Canaan after all is a land that flows from honey. Here we have an example of it. They can, as it were, suck honey out of the rock (Deuteronomy 32:13). The sweetness will quickly give them new energy. We see that with Jonathan.

Verses 27-30

Jonathan Takes Honey

Jonathan has not heard the curse and is therefore free to eat the honey. He does. He is out of the reach of the curse. This is a picture of faith and law excluding each other mutually. Jonathan is like the Lord Jesus who drank from the brook along the way (Psalms 110:7). Jonathan enjoys, in picture, a short moment of earthly things, not worldly things. Legalism is also forbidding each other to enjoy the earthly things. We should not exaggerate the enjoyment of earthly things either, as if enjoying them is the only thing that life consists of.

With Jonathan we see how it can be done. He tastes the honey on the way, while his eye remains focused on the battle. He does not sit down at ease to eat his belly full of honey. He tastes “a little” (1 Samuel 14:29; Proverbs 24:13; Proverbs 25:16Proverbs 25:27; cf. Judges 7:6). The battle remains the goal. On the one hand we must learn to avoid the folly of Saul and on the other hand we must learn from Jonathan how to enjoy the earthly blessings.

As soon as Jonathan has eaten, he is told about the curse his father has made. It is said that the curse of his father is the cause of the exhaustion of the people. Curse does not give strength to do what is asked, but rather has a paralyzing effect. Jonathan is not ashamed to point out his father’s stupidity. Instead of leading his people into battle and providing them with all the means to do so, Saul places the people under a law. In so doing he plunges the people into trouble. The same is said of Achan (Joshua 7:25).

Jonathan talks about how much greater the blessing would have been if his father had not acted so foolishly. Our spiritual blessing would also be greater if many among us were not so legal or worldly-minded. The danger comes from both sides. Oppression or freedom prevents a great victory.

The use of a little honey has given Jonathan strength again. This allows him to see clearly again. Honey speaks of the sweetness of natural bonds. How good can it be when a warrior in the work of the Lord takes a moment of rest and enjoys his family, his wife, his children. This gives him the strength to continue his fight. Of the commandment of the LORD it also is written that the eyes are enlightened to know what must happen (Psalms 19:9). It indicates that true enlightenment is found on the path of obedience to God’s Word.

Verses 31-35

The People Eat Meat With the Blood

Although the people are exhausted, they gain the victory over the Philistines. But precisely because of this exhaustion, the people forget God’s law concerning the prohibition to eat meat with his blood. Thus, one sin of Saul causes another sin of the people. When evening has fallen, the people shoot to the other side and eat meat with blood. Instead of total abstinence from food, they surrender unrestrainedly to their desire to eat. The same can sometimes be seen with children who are raised under the law. Once they stand on their own feet, they surrender to a dissolute life.

When Saul is told what the people are doing, he suddenly becomes the pious Saul again, who seems to care about God’s commandments. He disgraces that the people are sinning. That he is the cause of it does not occur to him. He does not seek the fault in himself. He does have a solution to this problem, but without any self-judgment.

Saul is the lawful man in the full sense of the word. If such a person sees something that is outwardly unsound, he makes powerful accusations about it. The solution that such a person offers is also a solution of its own making. He makes himself the center of a religious event. The great sacrificial stone must be brought to him and the animals to be slaughtered must also be brought to him.

Then Saul builds his first altar, which is probably also his last. A rejected king builds an altar together with a rejected priest. He is not a young believer, but an older man who has never done this before. That is tragic.

Verses 36-37

Saul Gets No Answer From God

Saul sees his chance to take maximum advantage of the situation and maximize the defeat for his enemies. He wants to continue the night with going down after the enemies. The people seem to react resigned, quite different from Jonathan’s armor bearer in 1 Samuel 14:7. The priest thinks that it is better to ask God first. Earlier, Saul prevented him from doing so at the last minute (1 Samuel 14:19).

Saul accepts the priest’s proposal. He asks God if He will go after the Philistines and if God will give them into the hand of Israel. His questions sound good, but his mind is not subdued. He wants an immediate answer and he wants an answer that satisfies him. Now there is no answer from God. Before Saul did not want, now God does not want. God’s patience comes to an end. A man can come to God in a mind to which God cannot respond (James 4:3). Someone who comes with sincere repentance will always receive an answer from God, for that God takes all time.

Verses 38-44

Jonathan Taken as Guilty

Even from this silence of God Saul does not ask himself why. He does not think about himself as a cause at all. He is completely blind to it. He does say that the LORD delivers Israel. This is always the mixture with religious people: willfulness and the expression of truths.

Just like Jephthah (Judges 11:30; Judges 11:34-Habakkuk :) Saul is prepared to sacrifice his child to his legalism in the conviction that this is right for God. The people do not react to Saul’s threats to tell the cause of God’s silence. The people do not want to betray Jonathan.

If Saul does not find out through the people, he tries through lot. In doing so, he does not go tribe after tribe, but immediately separates himself and Jonathan on the one hand and the people on the other. He does not seem to want to waste too much time following complicated procedures, although these are according to God’s will. Here, too, the people reside in the will of Saul.

Saul commands God to bring the truth to light. God does not allow Himself to be commanded, but He does govern lot. Lot designates Saul and Jonathan. That is how the people escape. God spares His people. Saul then orders that lots be thrown between him and Jonathan. He knows it cannot take him, but for the form he lets the lots throw. Jonathan is indeed appointed.

Then Saul orders Jonathan to tell what he has done. Jonathan is full of dedication. He bears witness to what he has done. Jonathan does not apologize by saying that he did not hear Saul’s commandment. This ignorance is not brought forth either by Jonathan or by the people. Jonathan is ready to die. His attitude is beautiful. He does not defend himself, nor does he start to attack his father because of his folly. He acknowledges his deed, but not as sin.

After the ‘confession’ of his son Jonathan Saul bursts loose. Saul’s evil heart is ready to kill his son. In his folly he is willing to kill the only man of faith among them. He has sworn it and so he will keep his word. How far away is Saul from grace! He has no part in it himself and therefore knows of no mercy towards others, not even towards his own son who has won such a great victory for Israel.

Verses 45-46

The People Rescue Jonathan

Then Jonathan gets support. The people stand up for him. The people testify of Jonathan’s deed as “worked with God” and release him. The people see Jonathan’s deed as an act in which he has joined the side of God and has been engaged with Him in the same work. His disobedience to his father is negated by this. It should also have something to say to the people that they are testifying here against their king, a king who they just so desired it and whom they have hailed.

A performance like Jonathan’s is only possible if someone is aware of God’s thoughts and joins them. The worker then works like God, he follows the way of God. We see this also with the first Christians in the book of Acts.

That Saul must give in because of the people must have been a humiliation for him, just as many things in his life have been humiliating for him. If only he would have admitted that. We do not hear Saul acknowledging that he was wrong. In him we see how the flesh works. Flesh does not distinguish the will of God and has no compassion for those who clearly live with God. It turns victory into defeat and disgraces God-given authority by its extreme commands. It turns joy into mourning and indignation.

In the same way, in many houses hard legalism has jumbled God-given authority, and the exercise of discipline is nothing more than carnal posturing. In such cases it is not surprising that ‘the people rise and speak’.

It seems that Saul does not complete the pursuit of the Philistines. His defeat before his own people has diminished his desire to continue his efforts to pursue and destroy the enemies. Therefore, the defeat of the Philistines is not complete, and he gives them the opportunity to return to their own homes. There they can prepare for new attacks on Israel.

Verses 47-48

Deeds of King Saul

Here we hear about some war operations of Saul. The history of Saul is a moral history, not just of facts. Especially his wars and not his government are described. His victories are all imperfect. So it is with defeating the Amalekites in the next chapter.

A complete victory over spiritual enemies is not achieved by a (pretended) confession to be in connection with God. A discussion about (Christian) values and norms can offer a certain protection, but ultimately has no effect in eliminating intolerance from society.

Verses 49-51

The Family of Saul

In these verses announcements are made that are important for understanding the rest of history. Saul’s daughter, Michal, will be connected to David. Abner is his nephew, who will also play a prominent role in the coming histories.

Verse 52

Saul Fights Against the Philistines

Saul remains a soldier with an eye for all those who can help him in war. He knows how to form his army, but he lacks faith. Therefore, all his efforts, in themselves good, will not have a lasting result. David is not surrounded by the best of Israel, but with them is faith.

The final rejection of Saul comes in the next chapter.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 Samuel 14". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-samuel-14.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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