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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

1 Samuel 14

Verses 1-52

Jonathan’s Exploit and Its Consequences (14:1-52)

This chapter continues the story of chapter 13 which, as we have seen, has been interrupted by various insertions. Jonathan and his armor-bearer attacked a Philistine outpost. Their strategy was to make the Philistines believe that the Israelites were coming out of their hiding places in the caves. Thus they hoped to create a panic in which the enemy would turn on one another. The sign they set for themselves was to be the way they were challenged by the Philistine sentries. The words of the sentries indicated that they should advance, and their strategy succeeded, aided by an earthquake. Some commentators suggest that traitor Israelites, who had fled to the Philistines, were set upon in the confusion resulting from Jonathan’s surprise attack and the earthquake. If so, apostate Israelites as well as Philistines were punished. When the Israelites at Geba (vs. 16, not "Gibeah") saw the resulting confusion in the enemy camp, they thought a sizable detachment of their own number was responsible and found to their surprise that only Jonathan and his armor-bearer were absent. As they gathered for battle, even those who had fled to hiding took fresh courage and rallied to the advancing host.

The presence of the Ark raises issues, for according to our text the Ark of Shiloh remained at Kirath-jearim until the time when David removed it to Jerusalem (1 Samuel 7:1-2; 2 Samuel 6:1-5) . The word translated "ark" here is rendered in the Greek translation "ephod." If this be the correct translation, Abijah the priest was present in his oracular capacity, and Saul was consulting the oracle prior to going into battle. He summoned Abijah to bring, not the Ark, but the ephod, containing the sacred dice. The injunction to the priest to withdraw his hand is then explicable in terms of the ceremony of the sacred lot. The obvious confusion of the enemy caused Saul not even to wait upon the oracle; so he bade the priest withdraw his hand from the sacred receptacle.

Victory followed; even the traitor Israelites in the Philistine camp now returned to their countrymen, and the Philistines were routed to Beth-aven and beyond. Meanwhile Saul had laid a sacred ban on his army. The soldiers were not to partake of food until evening when the enemy had been routed. This fact had a religious basis. God was evidently fighting for his people, and they must play their part to ensure his continued support. Jonathan, absent on his mission and ignorant of Saul’s ban, ate honey in the forest, whereas his fellow Israelites passed by without putting the hand to the mouth, fearing the dread consequences of the oath they had sworn. Told of his father’s ban, Jonathan obviously regarded this as a hindrance to complete victory. When evening came, the hungry Israelites fell upon the beasts which they had taken as spoil from the enemy, slaughtered them, and ate them with their blood. We have to remember that, in Hebrew thought, the blood was regarded as the bearer of the life-principle and thus as especially sacred. It must not be consumed or just poured on the ground, for it belonged to God, the giver of all life. In all sacrifices the blood was drained from the beast and poured out as a divine libation at the foot of the altar. In any slaughter the blood must be disposed of in like manner. Indeed, most slaughters partook of the nature of sacrifice. Hence we have Saul’s rebuke of the people and his securing a stone, to take the place of an altar, against which the blood might be poured.

Before further pursuit of the fleeing Philistines, Saul was encouraged by the priest to consult the divine oracle once more. This time the sacred dice gave no answer, and Saul deduced that there was sin in the camp. He required the oracular dice, now described as "Urim" and "Thummim," to decide between the people on one side, and him and his son on the other. Exactly how this casting of the dice was managed and what they were like remain shrouded in mystery. Urim and Thummim seem to mean unanimity of positive and negative answers respectively. Saul and Jonathan were taken, and further consultation placed the guilt on Jonathan, who confessed to tasting the honey and who was prepared to die, despite the ignorance underlying his action. The people came to his support and pleaded for his life, with the result that Jonathan was released and the pursuit of the fleeing Philistines apparently ceased.

The chapter closes with a summary of Saul’s victories over various enemies of Israel, and a record of his family and of his commands (vss. 47-52). We are reminded of his lifelong struggle with the Philistines and of his ability to gather around him strong and courageous warriors. This summary seems intended to close Saul’s reign, but the reign continues in subsequent chapters, and we may conclude that it is a relic of the editing and re-editing which the traditions must have undergone as the Books of Samuel were being compiled.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Samuel 14". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/1-samuel-14.html.