Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 14

Introduction

SECTION 2. The Rise and Fall of Saul. Saul Having Been Anointed As King, The Reasons For His Downfall Are Now Described, Along With His First Major Defeat Of The Philistines And His Defeat Of The Amalekites. This Is Accompanied By A Brief Reference To His Wider Successes (13:1-15:35).

This section opens and close with examples of how as Saul becomes established he becomes lax in respect of his obedience towards YHWH, resulting first in the loss of his dynasty (1 Samuel 13:1-18), and then in the loss of his kingship (1 Samuel 15:1-35). In between these two incidents are a record of his victories (1 Samuel 13:19 to 1 Samuel 14:23 a; 14:47-52) and indications of Saul’s increasing spiritual failure. We can analyse this section as follows:

a Saul disobeys YHWH and does not wait for His advice through Samuel. His dynasty are rejected from the kingship (1 Samuel 13:1-18).

b Jonathan and YHWH deliver Israel (1 Samuel 13:19 to 1 Samuel 14:23 a).

c Saul makes a rash oath and Jonathan unknowingly breaks it and becomes liable to sentence (1 Samuel 14:23-31 a).

d As a result of Saul’s rash oath his men eat animals with their blood resulting in Saul building his ‘first altar’ (1 Samuel 14:31-35).

c Saul consult the oracle over his rash oath and Jonathan is sentenced to death, but the people will not allow it (1 Samuel 14:36-46).

b Saul and Abner deliver Israel (1 Samuel 14:47-52).

a Saul disobeys YHWH and preserves for himself and the people what is ‘devoted’ to YHWH. He is rejected from the kingship (1 Samuel 15:1-35).

YHWH Delivers Israel From The Philistines (1 Samuel 13:19 to 1 Samuel 14:23 a).

The passage that now follows commences with a description of the hopeless situation of Israel in the first part of Saul’s reign, and concludes with the declaration ‘so YHWH saved Israel that day’. All was thus seen as due to YHWH. The Philistines had rendered Israel as a whole powerless by preventing them from making weapons, and especially iron weapons, for the Philistines had a monopoly on the way to smelt iron. No doubt some of the tribes not affected by the Philistine occupation and control were able to make bronze weapons, but even these were seemingly not available to Saul’s own small army. Only Saul and Jonathan as the recognised leaders were properly armed.

But the whole point of the narrative is in fact to bring out that with YHWH as their Saviour they did not need proper weapons, because YHWH fought for them. It commenced by Him inspiring Jonathan and his associated armourbearer to slaughter a small Philistine garrison, and then by His using the news of that fact, possibly combined with an earthquake, to put the Philistines themselves in a quake so that they felt that they had no alternative but to flee back to their own country. Meanwhile Saul was playing around with his new found ‘toys’ and was left as a mere spectator until the final chase. Thus there is a great contrast between Jonathan the man of faith, and the favoured of YHWH, and Saul the malingerer, who was totally lacking in faith.

Analysis.

a Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears,” but all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock, yet they had a file for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to set the goads (1 Samuel 13:19-21).

b So it came about in the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan, but with Saul and with Jonathan his son was there found (1 Samuel 13:22).

c And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash. And it fell on a day, that Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who bore his armour, “Come, and let us go over to the Philistines’ garrison, that is on that side over there.” But he did not tell his father. And Saul abode in the uttermost part of Gibeah under the pomegranate-tree which is in Migron, and the people who were with him were about six hundred men, and Ahijah, the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the priest of YHWH in Shiloh, wearing an ephod (1 Samuel 13:23 to 1 Samuel 14:3 a).

d And the people did not know that Jonathan was gone. And between the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over unto the Philistines’ garrison, there was a rocky crag on the one side, and a rocky crag on the other side: and the name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. The one crag rose up on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba (14:3b-5).

e And Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armour, “Come, and let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that YHWH will work for us, for there is no restraint to YHWH to save by many or by few.” And his armourbearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Turn yourself, see, I am with you according to your heart” (1 Samuel 14:6-7).

f Then Jonathan said, “Look, we will pass over to the men, and we will disclose ourselves to them. If they say thus to us, “Wait there until we come to you,” then we will stand still in our place, and will not go up to them” (1 Samuel 14:8-9).

g But if they say thus, “Come up to us,” then we will go up, for YHWH has delivered them into our hand. And this will be the sign to us” (1 Samuel 14:10).

h And both of them disclosed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines, and the Philistines said, “Look, the Hebrews come forth out of the holes where they had hidden themselves (1 Samuel 14:11).

g And the men of the garrison answered Jonathan and his armourbearer, and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.” And Jonathan said to his armourbearer, “Come up after me, for YHWH has delivered them into the hand of Israel” (1 Samuel 14:12).

f And Jonathan climbed up on his hands and on his feet, and his armourbearer after him, and they fell before Jonathan, and his armourbearer slew them after him. And that first slaughter, which Jonathan and his armourbearer made, was about twenty men, within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land (1 Samuel 14:13-14).

e And there was a trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people; the garrison, and the spoilers, they also trembled, and the earth quaked. So there was an very great trembling. And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and, behold, the amassed men melted away, and they went hither and thither (1 Samuel 14:15-16).

d Then Saul said to the people who were with him, “Number now, and see who has gone from us.” And when they had numbered, behold, Jonathan and his armourbearer were not there (1 Samuel 14:17).

c And Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring here the ark of God.” For the ark of God was there at that time with the children of Israel. And it came about that, while Saul talked to the priest, the tumult which was in the camp of the Philistines went on and increased, and Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand” (1 Samuel 14:18-19).

b And Saul and all the people who were with him were gathered together, and came to the battle, and, behold, every man’s sword was against his fellow, and there was a very great discomfiture (1 Samuel 14:20).

a Now the Hebrews who were previously with the Philistines, and who went up with them into the camp from round about, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. Similarly all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill-country of Ephraim, when they heard that the Philistines fled, even they also followed hard after them in the battle. So YHWH saved Israel that day (1 Samuel 14:21-23 a).

Note that in ‘a’ ‘the Hebrews’ were bereft of swords and spears by the Philistines, and thus rendered unable to save themselves, while in the parallel they were able to spoil the Philistines because YHWH saved them. In ‘b’ Israel had no swords and spears, and in the parallel YHWH made the Philistines destroy each other with their own swords. In ‘c’ Ahitub was with Saul and with all who were gathered with him, but they were doing nothing under the pomegranate tree, (while at the same time Jonathan went out to make a stir among the Philistines garrison), and in the parallel while Saul was talking to Ahitub he noted the increase of the tumult among the Philistines. In ‘d’ the people did not know that Jonathan had gone, and in the parallel they number the army in order to discover who has gone. In ‘e’ Jonathan asserts his faith that YHWH can work for them, working by many or by few, and in the parallel YHWH does work for them and the amassed army of the Philistines melted away. In ‘f’ Jonathan and his armourbearer prepare for the possibility of going up among the Philistine garrison, and in the parallel they go among the Philistine garrison and slaughter them. In ‘g’ the test of whether they should go up will be that they are invited up, and in the parallel they are invited up. Centrally in ‘h’ when they disclosed themselves to the Philistines, the foolish Philistines jeered at the two brave men as cowards, something that they were soon to regret.

Verses 1-14

Chapter 14.

YHWH Commences The Work Of Deliverance Through Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:1-14).

Jonathan, Saul’s son, and a man of great faith, clearly found it a hard and trying experience to watch the marauders going about their oppressive work, while he, and Saul and his men, moved around the mountains keeping out of the way, and his restless spirit longed to do something more positive. Surely, he thought, YHWH would want them to act in some way to help His downtrodden people? Thus the sight of the small unit of Philistines who were watching out for them from the crags seems especially to have irked him, and in the end he decided that here at least was something that he could do something about on his own (this indiscipline in itself suggests that he was still only a young man with a young man’s faith in himself and disregard for discipline).

So he called his ‘armourbearer’ and explained to him his purpose. His intention was to attack the detachment of Philistines who were stationed in the hills watching for any sign of Saul’s men. His armourbearer, who was no doubt unswervingly loyal to him, fell in line with him. He informed him that he was willing to go with him wherever he went, and was willing to follow him in whatever he attempted to do. The final result of Jonathan’s faith would be that the nest of Philistines were rooted out and mainly killed, something which would then result in panic in the Philistine camp.

It should be noted that this chapter presents us with a deliberate contrast between Jonathan, the man whose firm faith in YHWH brings about the victory, and who eschews folly, and a Saul who, without Samuel’s help, appears to be lost and not sure what to do. First he waits under the pomegranate tree, and then he dithers in his camp talking to the Priest. And when he finally does belatedly act he commits a gross folly. So Jonathan is seen as positive and unhesitating, firm in his faith and confident in YHWH, while Saul is seen as equivocating, as attaching to himself the new High Priest from the failed house that had previously caused the glory to depart from Israel, as making foolish oaths, and initially as not feeling that he can go forward without a talisman like the Ark, until he is finally forced to do so by the circumstances. While deeply religious, for he consults the High Priest, makes unthinking oaths and deprecates the eating of blood, his is revealed as a religion tied to symbols rather than to obedience. His lack of closeness to YHWH, already reflected at Gilgal, continues to be revealed. It is made very apparent by this that he no longer has Samuel with him, and that he lacks ‘the Spirit of YHWH’.

1 Samuel 14:1

Now it fell on a certain day, that Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who bore his armour, “Come, and let us go over to the Philistines’ garrison, that is on that side over there.” But he did not tell his father.’

Jonathan now calls on his armourbearer to accompany him in an assault on the Philistines. An ‘armourbearer’ (literally ‘bearer of stuff’) was not strictly just there in order to carry weapons. It was more a position of trust and honour. Such a man was basically a faithful servant, in this case also a soldier and probably a seasoned veteran, who carried out his superior’s wishes in any way that he desired. In many cases he might have nothing to do with armour, or even go to the battlefield. He could be a household servant with special attachment.

But, as we have suggested, in this case he was probably a seasoned soldier who was allocated to Jonathan in order to act as his right hand man, and stay with him when danger was around, with a special responsibility to watch his back. They were comrades-in-arms.

That is why Jonathan called on him to join him in a secret foray against the Philistine contingent who were watching out for them from the crags. He did not want his father to know, presumably because he knew that his father would forbid it. And the worst that could happen was that the two of them might die together.

1 Samuel 14:2-3 a

‘And Saul abode in the uttermost part of Gibeah under the pomegranate-tree which is in Migron, and the people who were with him were about six hundred men, and Ahijah, the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the priest of YHWH in Shiloh, wearing an ephod.’

Meanwhile Saul with his men had moved from Geba to a precipice (migron) on the borders of the land around Gibeah, where there was a prominent and well known pomegranate tree. With them also was Ahijah, who was presumably the High Priest (he was wearing the ephod), having now reached the age at which he could serve.

“Ahi-yah” could be another name for ‘Ahi-melech’, with Yah and Melech (king) interchangeable, or Ahimelech (1 Samuel 21:1; 1 Samuel 22:9) may have been his brother or son. We are reminded that he was the son of Ahitub who was Ichabod’s elder brother, and, as we know, Ichabod (1 Samuel 4:21) was the son of Phinehas, who was the son of Eli. Eli had been the priest of YHWH in Shiloh. Thus Ahijah was of Eli’s line and was not in YHWH’s favour, as the reference to Ichabod (‘the glory has departed’) emphasises. It is probable that Ahitub had either died comparatively young, or was for some reason disqualified from the High Priesthood as a result of some defect, which would explain why Samuel had had to act as High Priest until Ahijah came of age. Now, however, Ahijah had taken up his position (he was wearing the ephod, a special sleeveless jacket worn by the High Priest - compare 1 Samuel 2:28 - although the term here probably indicates the wearing of all the special garments of the High Priest) and was presumably with Saul in order to provide him with divine guidance. Had Ahitub still been alive he would have been around Samuel’s age. The phrase ‘The priest of YHWH in Shiloh’ probably refers to Eli. Shiloh has probably by this time dropped out of the picture as a Sanctuary. Ahijah is mentioned again in 1 Samuel 14:18.

The mention of Ahijah here is significant, and especially his connection with Ichabod - ‘the glory has departed’ (see 1 Samuel 4:21-22). The prophetic wisdom and inspiration of Samuel has been replaced by the ritualistic activities of an uninspired Priest from a rejected line. Saul still had enough of his religion in him to want YHWH’s guidance, but he had lost the source of his true contact with YHWH and was now making do with very much second best. This comes out all through the passage in his hankering after the Ark of God (1 Samuel 14:18), in his foolish oath made on his own behalf (1 Samuel 14:24), in the near execution of Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:44-45) because the Priest could get no answer from YHWH, and in the inability to take advantage of the situation to defeat the Philistines once and for all (1 Samuel 14:46).

1 Samuel 14:3 b

‘And the people did not know that Jonathan had gone.’

Meanwhile Jonathan was on his way, and no one knew that he had gone. He had simply slipped away unnoticed. He had not wanted anyone to prevent him from going.

1 Samuel 14:4-5

And between the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistines’ garrison, there was a rocky crag on the one side, and a rocky crag on the other side, and the name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. The one crag rose up on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba.’

The actual scenery of the road that Jonathan took to reach the Philistines is described. It presents us with a picture of mountain grandeur. As he proceeded along the mountain passes with his companion he saw a rocky crag on each side rising up like a tooth. One was called Bozez which means ‘shining’. This was because the sun shone directly on it causing its white chalk to blaze with light. The other was named Seneh which means ‘acacia’, probably because of its acacia trees, which are still to be found in the associated valley.

1 Samuel 14:6

And Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armour, “Come, and let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised people. It may be that YHWH will work for us, for there is no restraint to YHWH to save by many or by few.” ’

As they progressed Jonathan explained his intentions. They would continue to make their way towards the Philistine outpost, trusting in YHWH to work for them. For as he pointed out, YHWH was able to save by many or by few (compare Judges 7:4; Judges 7:7). Jonathan is thus seen as a man of great faith, which was why he could not see how YHWH could possibly let the ‘uncircumcised Philistines’ triumph in the end. The Philistines were looked down on by their neighbours because unlike most people in Canaan they were uncircumcised. They were thus often derogatorily known as ‘the uncircumcised Philistines’.

We note that Jonathan had learned the lesson that had been forgotten by a failing Saul, that ‘YHWH could save by many or by few’. Jonathan knew that what mattered was not the number in the army, but that YHWH was working for them. If that were the case were irrelevant. Had Saul remembered that lesson, a lesson especially brought home by the story of Gideon (Judges 7:6-7 - Saul had twice as many men as Gideon, also divided into three companies) he would never have offered the sacrifices before Samuel came.

1 Samuel 14:7

And his armourbearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Turn yourself, for see, I am with you according to what your heart desires.” ’

Jonathan’s faithful attendant was willing to follow wherever he led. Whatever Jonathan wanted was good enough for him. So he told him to ‘carry on’. It should be noted that this faithful follower was essential to his plan. We must never forget the importance of a faithful assistant. ‘Turn yourself’ may suggest that Jonathan had stopped and turned round to speak to him. Now, says his attendant, he can turn round again and go forward.

1 Samuel 14:8-10

Then said Jonathan, “Look, we will pass over to the men, and we will disclose ourselves to them. If they say thus to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and will not go up to them. But if they say thus, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for YHWH has delivered them into our hand, and this will be the sign to us.” ’

Jonathan then laid out his plan of action. They would cross over to the crag where the Philistine outpost was stationed and allow them to see them. Once they had done that their actions would be determined by how the Philistines responded. If they said, ‘wait there until we come to you’, that is what they would do. They could then be ready to defend themselves, or even slip away among the rocks. If, however, they said, ‘Come up to us’, then they would go up, and that would be a sign that YHWH was going to deliver the Philistine garrison into their hands.

1 Samuel 14:11

And both of them disclosed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines, and the Philistines said, “Behold, the Hebrews come forth out of the holes where they had hid themselves.” ’

Acting accordingly, they made their presence known to the Philistines, with the result that they were greeted with jeers. So the cowardly Hebrews had come out of the holes where they had hidden themselves, had they?

1 Samuel 14:12

And the men of the garrison answered Jonathan and his armourbearer, and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you something.” And Jonathan said to his armourbearer, “Come up after me, for YHWH has delivered them into the hand of Israel.”

Then the Philistines jeeringly called on them to come up so that they could ‘learn something from them’, at which Jonathan turned to his companion and declared, “Come up after me, for YHWH has delivered them into the hand of Israel.” He had received the sign that he wanted. Now he had no doubt that YHWH was with them. The Philistines may have been uncertain about how many Israelites were with Jonathan, hidden among the rocks, so we can understand their wariness. And they knew what good mountain fighters the Israelites were. But what they probably did not expect was that Jonathan would actually do what they asked. They probably thought that he had stumbled on them by accident and would now curry away.

1 Samuel 14:13

And Jonathan climbed up on his hands and on his feet, and his armourbearer after him, and they fell before Jonathan; and his armourbearer slew them after him.’

Instead the two men scrambled up the sides of the hill. They had been mountain men all their lives and it presented no difficulty to them. And arriving at the summit, and probably taking everyone by surprise, they attacked the Philistines boldly. Although the Philistines well outnumbered them they probably could not all get at the two at the same time because of the terrain. They may well also have been looking round warily for other Israelites trying to creep up on them. But the result was that Jonathan and his companion, filled with zeal for YHWH, was able to slay them all one by one.

1 Samuel 14:14

And that first slaughter, which Jonathan and his armourbearer made, was about twenty men, within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land.’

There were apparently just over twenty men in the outpost of whom most were killed, although it may well be that there were a few more and that one or two escaped to take the news back to the main camp of a ‘ferocious and victorious attack’ by the Israelites. And this all took place in an area which was a mere ‘half a furrow’s length in a yoke of land’. The size of a yoke of land would be determined by what could be ploughed in a certain time by a yoke of oxen.

Verses 15-23

YHWH Brings About The Defeat Of The Philistines (1 Samuel 14:15-23).

We must not underestimate the beliefs of ancient peoples in omens. This comes out in that regularly battles were decided by champions being selected from both sides, with the winner reducing the other side to pure terror as they recognised that the gods were against them. We have an example of this later in the case of Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. Thus this defeat of the outpost by Jonathan and his armourbearer would be seen by the Philistines generally as an omen. In those days that could well be enough to paralyse them with fear and make them tremble. It may, however, be that we are intended to see that YHWH also introduced an earthquake in order to shake things up.

1 Samuel 14:15

And there was a trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison, and the spoilers, they also trembled, and the earth quaked, so there was an exceeding great trembling.’

It is difficult to be sure here whether the trembling in question indicates an earthquake, or whether it is simply caused by the impression made on the Philistines by the news that a number of Israelites (additional to those that they were watching) had first challenged and then routed their outpost. This news resulted in a panic which we are no doubt to see as brought on by YHWH (compare 2 Kings 7:6; Exodus 15:14), and the result was that the Philistines were soon in turmoil, making the ground tremble. For such panic among the superstitious Philistines compare 1 Samuel 17:31. They appear to have laid great store by omens. Once they received what appeared to be a bad omen the Philistines appear to have lost all heart. Furthermore the story of what YHWH had done among them when they had captured the Ark, no doubt considerably magnified, was probably still remembered among them as a folk tale.

1 Samuel 14:16

And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and, behold, the host of men melted away, and they went hither and thither.’

The result was that before the astonished eyes of Saul’s watchmen in Gibeah the Philistine army ‘melted away’ and ‘went on beating down’ or ‘went hither and thither’. They were in total panic. ‘Went on beating down’ may suggest that in their panic the Philistines were striking each other down (compare 1 Samuel 14:20).

1 Samuel 14:17

Then Saul said to the people who were with him, “Muster now, and see who has gone from us.” And when they had mustered, behold, Jonathan and his armourbearer were not there.”

When Saul heard the news of the Philistine panic he recognised something of what must have happened (he had been fighting Philistines for years) and he called for a muster in order to discover which of his men were no longer there. The result of the muster was that they discovered that Jonathan and his armourbearer were missing. As we know from verse 1, no one knew that they had gone.

1 Samuel 14:18

And Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring here the ark of God.” For the ark of God was at that time with the children of Israel.’

In his excitement Saul then called to Ahijah to bring there the ark of God. His aim was probably in order for it to lead them into battle (compare 1 Samuel 4:4-5; Numbers 10:35-36; Joshua 3:3), so as to increase the panic among the Philistines. He would know that it had led Israel through the wilderness, and in his present state he wanted a talisman on his side. Probably not realising it he was, by this, linking himself with the defeated army in 1 Samuel 14:4. It may well be that he was not aware that it was no longer in the Tabernacle, for his relationship with Ahijah appears to be a new one, and only the priests may have been sure where it was. Or, being desperate to spur YHWH to act for him he may have had in mind that it be brought from its quiet backwater. But it is quite likely that he did not know the full details of the situation, probably simply knowing that it was ‘somewhere’ and assuming that Ahijah could lay his hands on it. The writer then explains that it was in fact at that time with the children of Israel, but by that he was probably simply reminding his readers that it had been returned by the Philistines.

There is something very ominous about this call for the Ark, for we have heard it before, when it was by a God-rejected Israel (1 Samuel 4:3). It is thus being made clear to us that there is in the heart of Saul something of the foolishness of those earlier people.

LXX changes ‘Ark’ to ‘ephod’ but the Hebrew texts and most of the other versions do not support the change. The view of LXX was that Saul was wanting to consult YHWH through the ephod. But it is quite possible that someone who had been busy fighting all his life and had previously depended on Samuel as a kind of talisman, should look for an equally powerful replacement and saw it in terms of the Ark, on which he expected his new priest to be able to lay his hands. (And Kiriath-yearim was not all that far from Michmash). The point is that without Samuel’s guidance and help Saul was almost as superstitious as the Philistines.

1 Samuel 14:19

And it came about, while Saul talked to the priest, that the tumult that was in the camp of the Philistines went on and increased, and Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.”

In the end, however, he did not proceed with his request, because as he spoke with the priest the tumult among the Philistines grew more apparent and Saul therefore recognised the necessity of seizing the opportunity. The result was that he told Ahijah not to go ahead with what he had requested, and himself prepared to mobilise his troops. It is probable that he also sent swift messengers to the Israelites hiding in the hills. Even this hesitation is probably designed to bring out his present inadequacy. Without YHWH’s help and guidance he was nothing.

1 Samuel 14:20

And Saul and all the people who were with him were gathered together, and came to the battle, and, behold, every man’s sword was against his fellow, and there was a very great discomfiture.’

Gathering his troops ready for battle Saul advanced on the enemy and came ‘to the battle’ where it was immediately apparent that they were busy fighting each other. For there he found huge ‘discomfiture and turmoil’ (compare for the idea Judges 7:22; 2 Chronicles 20:23). As so often in Israel’s history YHWH had defeated them almost on His own (with the assistance of a man of faith).

1 Samuel 14:21

Now the Hebrews who were with the Philistines as previously, and that went up with them into the camp, from the country round about, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan.’

“The Hebrews.” This may refer to Habiru mercenaries hired by the Philistines (compare David later), or to renegade Israelites who had joined up with the Philistines for political advantage, or to forced levies taken from the occupied territories who had had no choice about the matter. But whichever they were they could not resist turning to help the Israelites, whom they no doubt saw as more like themselves. The arrogance of the Philistines towards them may well have already disaffected them, and anyway, the advantage clearly now lay with the Israelites.

1 Samuel 14:22

In the same way all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill-country of Ephraim, when they heard that the Philistines fled, even they also followed hard after them in the battle.’

The news of the Philistine panic also reached the ears of the general Israelite army which had taken refuge in the hills, presumably through messengers from Saul. And when they learned that the Philistines were in flight they too joined in and chased hard after any of the Philistines who were still in the hill country. Everyone in Israel had suddenly become a Jonathan.

1 Samuel 14:23 a

‘So YHWH saved Israel that day.’

The result was that YHWH saved Israel that day, and the Philistines were driven back in the direction of Beth-aven. From there they would flee down the pass of Beth-horon to Aijalon and thence down to Philistia. So the account which began with the parlous state of a helpless Israel ends with the Philistines in full flight leaving Israel, at least for the time being, a free country. And it was all because of YHWH. YHWH had again saved His people.

It should, of course, be noted that the description that we have of what happened is very truncated so that we only get the gist of something that actually took place over many hours, and at the heart of it from now on will be Saul and his six hundred. It is thus they who will immediately now be involved and will be affected by Saul’s rash oath. How far ‘the Hebrews’ joined in the actual pursuit (if at all) we do not know. The remainder of the Israelites would clearly come in at the tail end, and would probably deal with stragglers and some who had taken refuge in the hills. From their own point of view they would enjoy some of the credit, but the main chase would be by Saul’s men. All would, however, recognise that they owed it all to YHWH. All they had done was follow up on His working.

Verses 23-31

Saul’s Men Are Hindered By A Rash Oath Made By Saul, While Jonathan Who Knew Nothing Of It Breaks The Oath (1 Samuel 14:23-31 a).

The contrast between the spiritually dead ritualist and the true man of faith continues. Jonathan the man of faith has enabled YHWH to act on behalf of His people. Now we discover that Saul, the spiritually dead ritualist, has put a curse on anyone who eats any food before he, Saul, has been avenged on his enemies, thus bringing Jonathan, the man of faith, who has been concerned for YHWH’s honour and as YHWH’s instrument in defeating the Philistines, into unconscious error. Not only was this unfair on Jonathan but it was also something which would prevent the victory from being the great success that it should have been, and would even put Jonathan’s life at risk. And all because of Saul’s folly.

Analysis.

a And the battle passed over by Beth-aven (1 Samuel 14:23 b).

b And the men of Israel were distressed that day, for Saul had adjured the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats any food until evening comes, and I be avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people tasted food (1 Samuel 14:24).

c And all the people came into the forest, and there was honey on the ground, and when the people had come to the forest, behold, the honey dropped, but no man put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath (1 Samuel 14:25-26).

d But Jonathan did not hear when his father charged the people with the oath, which was the reason why he put forth the end of the rod that was in his hand, and dipped it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes were enlightened (1 Samuel 14:27).

c Then answered one of the people, and said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food this day.” (1 Samuel 14:28).’

b And the people were faint. Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See, I pray you, how my eyes have been enlightened, because I tasted a little of this honey. How much more, if it had been that the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found? For now has there been no great slaughter among the Philistines” (1 Samuel 14:29-30).

a And they smote of the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon (1 Samuel 14:31 a).

Note that in ‘a’ the course of the battle is described, and in the parallel the continuing course of the battle. In ‘b’ we are informed of the people’s distress as a result of Saul’s oath, and that its purpose was in order to gain vengeance for him on the Philistines, and in the parallel that the people were faint because of that oath, with the result that there was no great slaughter among the Philistines. In ‘c’ no man ate of the honey for fear of the oath, and in the parallel why they have not eaten is explained to Jonathan. Centrally in ‘d’ the hero of faith whose trust really was in YHWH breaks the oath unwittingly and is benefited by it.

1 Samuel 14:23 a

‘So YHWH saved Israel that day.’

The result was that YHWH saved Israel that day, and the Philistines were driven back in the direction of Beth-aven. From there they would flee down the pass of Beth-horon to Aijalon and thence down to Philistia. So the account which began with the parlous state of a helpless Israel ends with the Philistines in full flight leaving Israel, at least for the time being, a free country. And it was all because of YHWH. YHWH had again saved His people.

It should, of course, be noted that the description that we have of what happened is very truncated so that we only get the gist of something that actually took place over many hours, and at the heart of it from now on will be Saul and his six hundred. It is thus they who will immediately now be involved and will be affected by Saul’s rash oath. How far ‘the Hebrews’ joined in the actual pursuit (if at all) we do not know. The remainder of the Israelites would clearly come in at the tail end, and would probably deal with stragglers and some who had taken refuge in the hills. From their own point of view they would enjoy some of the credit, but the main chase would be by Saul’s men. All would, however, recognise that they owed it all to YHWH. All they had done was follow up on His working.

1 Samuel 14:23-24 (23b-24)

‘And the battle passed over by Beth-aven.’

The course of the battle is now described and taken up again in verse 31a. Bethaven was near Bethel and Ai, and was on course for the pass that would lead down to Aijalon, from where the Philistines could make their way home.

1 Samuel 14:24

And the men of Israel were distressed that day, for Saul had adjured the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats any food until evening comes, and I be avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people tasted food.’

Meanwhile the men who should have been rested and invigorated, to say nothing of being exultant, were instead distressed. Note especially the contrast of ‘that day’ with the reference to ‘that day’ in the previous verse. In 1 Samuel 14:23 it was a victorious ‘that day’. It was YHWH’s day of salvation. Here it is a distressed ‘that day’. And it is all due to Saul’s foolishness. It is because he has put a curse on any of his band who partake in food until the Philistines have been utterly routed and he himself has gained his own personal vengeance. Note that his thought was not on the good of his faithful followers, but on his own personal aggrandisement and satisfaction, regardless of the effects on them. It was, of course, an act of desperation. Feeling that YHWH was not with him he was trying every desperate means of altering the situation by religious manoeuvring. First he would place this curse, and then later he would consider calling on the Ark of God in order that it might lead them forward. But if only he had realised it there was only one sensible option open to him and that was full repentance, for Scripture constantly makes clear that full and genuine repentance regularly alters such a situation (compare 2 Chronicles 33:11-13; Jonah 3:5-10). But such repentance does not go along with a craving for personal vengeance. If we feel sorry for Saul we should recognise that he had no sorrow for sin, but simply a desire to come out of affairs looking good and feeling satisfied.

Saul’s purpose in his curse would seem to have been twofold. Firstly it was because he believed that religious fasting would somehow gain him the extra support of YHWH, and secondly it was in order to ensure that his hungry troops concentrated solely on killing the Philistines rather than on turning aside to food to satisfy their hunger. But while it actually made no difference to the most important events of the day, its actual effect would be to render his men inefficient and unable to pursue the enemy to the end, on the long chase back to Philistia. So we discover that Saul had moved from following the living prophetic beliefs of Samuel, to the dead ideas of the religious ascetics who made much of such ritual, and Israel would suffer for it. We can compare Isaiah 58 which depicts similar attitudes towards fasting. It is being made clear that he was following dead ritual because he was no longer spiritually attuned and obedient, and that the reason for it was because Samuel was no longer with him because of his disobedience. The writer has already indicated the same thing in his attitude to the Ark of God (verse 18). Having lost his contact with YHWH he has to resort to religious gimmicks.

It will be noted again that his curse is not said to be in order to further YHWH’s purposes. It is rather so as to enable Saul to get what he wants, personal vengeance on his enemies. It indicates how far he has fallen from his true calling. Here is a man who has lost his way.

1 Samuel 14:25-26

And all the people came into the forest, and there was honey on the ground, and when the people had come to the forest, behold, the honey dropped, but no man put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath.’

The result of the curse was that when, on passing through the forest while on the chase, his men found energy giving food readily available, they were unable to take advantage of it because of their fear of the oath.

Canaan is elsewhere described as a ‘land of milk and honey’. At this time there were wild bees in abundance in the forests, and they would make their nests in the trees and some of the honeycombs would hang down from the trees full of honey, and would seemingly even drip honey. Travellers have described seeing such things in hot countries.

1 Samuel 14:27

But Jonathan did not hear when his father charged the people with the oath, which was the reason why he put forth the end of the rod that was in his hand, and dipped it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes were enlightened.’

Jonathan, however, had not been there when the oath was made, and knew nothing about it, and so he did take advantage of the honey, and was, as a result, physically strengthened. The last point is important. The writer does not see Jonathan as culpable.

1 Samuel 14:28

Then answered one of the people, and said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food this day.” And the people were faint.’

Seeing Jonathan’s action one of Saul’s men pointed out to him that he was breaking his father’s oath. And the writer then takes the opportunity to draw out the fact that because of that oath the people were faint. He is stressing Saul’s folly, not Jonathan’s.

1 Samuel 14:29-30

Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See, I pray you, how my eyes have been enlightened, because I tasted a little of this honey. How much more, if it had been that the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found? For now has there been no great slaughter among the Philistines.”

Jonathan also draws out the fact of Saul’s folly. He points out how his strength has been restored by eating the honey, while the failure to do so by Saul’s men has resulted in the chase not being as effective as it should have been. Had they only been able to restore themselves by eating the honey, and by taking advantage of provisions that the fleeing Philistines had dropped, they would have been fighting fit. But now they were weak and faint. So the writer wants us to recognise that Saul’s break with Samuel and resultant folly has brought failure in the midst of triumph.

1 Samuel 14:31 a

‘And they smote of the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon.’

The detail of the battle is again taken up. From Michmash to Aijalon, a journey of over twenty miles, partly down a fairly steep pass, there was a continual slaughtering of the fleeing Philistines. If possible they had to be persuaded not to return. It would at least keep them at bay for a time.

1 Samuel 14:31-32 (31b-32)

‘And the people were very faint, and the people flew on the spoil, and took sheep, and oxen, and calves, and slew them on the ground, and the people ate them with the blood.’

Such was the panic among the Philistines who were in headlong flight, that Saul’s men, in spite of their weakened state, were still able to continue the chase and slaughter the stragglers all the way from Michmash to Aijalon, a distance of nearly twenty miles over rough ground. This is an indication of the quality of Saul’s men (see 1 Samuel 14:52). They would by now have been able to arm themselves with proper weapons dropped by the enemy.

But they were naturally very weak after their exertions without food, and thus as soon as the day ended at sunset, (with the result that the curse ceased to be active), they were so hungry that they threw themselves eagerly on the spoils left behind by the Philistines, slew their sheep, oxen and calves, and ate them raw without being concerned about eating the blood. This was, of course, contrary to the strict regulations of the Law which forbade the eating of the blood (see Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:10-14; Deuteronomy 12:16).

Verses 31-35

The People Sin By Eating The Blood Of Slain Beasts, And Saul Erects A Primitive Place For Slaughter (1 Samuel 14:31-35).

A further consequence of Saul’s rash vow is now seen. Having been deprived of food Saul’s men now sin against YHWH by eating animals with their blood. This was something strictly forbidden by the Law (Leviticus 17:10-11), and Saul therefore arranges for a primitive slaughter stone to be set up so that the animals may be slain properly, and the blood be allowed to pour out on the ground as an offering to YHWH (see Deuteronomy 12:15-16). If only he had been so keen on obeying YHWH’s instructions previously, what a difference it would have made. The writer then, in our view sarcastically, declares that this was the first altar that Saul built to YHWH, for up to this point Samuel has always been responsible for such activity. We gain a distinct impression here that what Saul does is being presented by the writer in such a way that it depicts him as a parody of Samuel, so that Saul, who is in fact responsible for the fiasco in the first place, is being depicted as playing the great prophet in the place of Samuel. Note that it is sandwiched between two questions asking ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’ in 1 Samuel 10:12; 1 Samuel 19:24, the first of which was at a time of hope when he had just commenced his responsibilities, the other was when he had demonstrated just what he had become, a vindictive executioner. Here we get the answer. He might try to make it appear so, but really he is a ‘no, no’.

Analysis.

a And the people were very faint, and the people flew on the spoil, and took sheep, and oxen, and calves, and slew them on the ground, and the people ate them with the blood (1 Samuel 14:31-32).

b Then they told Saul, saying, “Behold, the people sin against YHWH, in that they eat with the blood” (1 Samuel 14:33 a).

c And he said, “You have dealt treacherously. Roll a great stone to me this day” (1 Samuel 14:33 b).

b And Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people, and say to them, ‘Bring me here every man his ox, and every man his sheep, and slay them here, and eat, and sin not against YHWH in eating with the blood” (1 Samuel 14:34 a).

a And all the people brought every man his ox with him that night, and slew them there. And Saul built an altar to YHWH, the same was the first altar that he built to YHWH (1 Samuel 14:34-35).

Note that in ‘a’ the people slew the animals on the ground, and ate them with the blood, and in the parallel they slew the animals on the ‘altar’ that Saul built (thus not eating them with the blood). In ‘b’ Saul was told that the people were eating with the blood, and in the parallel he warns them not to eat with the blood and thus sin against YHWH. Centrally in ‘c’ he rebukes the people for their misbehaviour (in what is almost like an echo of Samuel) and calls on them to roll a stone into place on which the animals can be slain.

1 Samuel 14:31-32 (31b-32)

‘And the people were very faint, and the people flew on the spoil, and took sheep, and oxen, and calves, and slew them on the ground, and the people ate them with the blood.’

Such was the panic among the Philistines who were in headlong flight, that Saul’s men, in spite of their weakened state, were still able to continue the chase and slaughter the stragglers all the way from Michmash to Aijalon, a distance of nearly twenty miles over rough ground. This is an indication of the quality of Saul’s men (see 1 Samuel 14:52). They would by now have been able to arm themselves with proper weapons dropped by the enemy.

But they were naturally very weak after their exertions without food, and thus as soon as the day ended at sunset, (with the result that the curse ceased to be active), they were so hungry that they threw themselves eagerly on the spoils left behind by the Philistines, slew their sheep, oxen and calves, and ate them raw without being concerned about eating the blood. This was, of course, contrary to the strict regulations of the Law which forbade the eating of the blood (see Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:10-14; Deuteronomy 12:16).

1 Samuel 14:33

Then they told Saul, saying, “Behold, the people sin against YHWH, in that they eat with the blood.” And he said, “You have dealt treacherously. Roll a great stone to me this day.” ’

The news of their misdemeanour reached Saul’s ears. ‘The people are sinning against YHWH by eating blood.’ And his response was immediate. He declared that a primitive altar must be set up by rolling a large stone into place on which the animals could be properly slain and the blood allowed to pour out on the ground (see Deuteronomy 12:15-16). This was not for the offering of sacrifices, but in order that the beasts might be properly slain.

1 Samuel 14:34

And Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people, and say to them, ‘Bring me here every man his ox, and every man his sheep, and slay them here, and eat, and sin not against YHWH in eating with the blood.” And all the people brought every man his ox with him that night, and slew them there.’

Then Saul commanded that instructions be given to all the people that they bring their animals to the stone and slay them there in the right manner so as to avoid directly eating the blood. The people immediately responded. Note the reference to ‘that night’. The day was now over. (The Israelite day ceased at sunset when a new ‘day’ began).

1 Samuel 14:35

And Saul built an altar to YHWH, the same was the first altar that he built to YHWH.’

The writer then adds a note to the effect that this was the first ‘altar’ that Saul had built to YHWH. The implication is that hitherto he had had Samuel to see to such things. Now he was on his own. It was not strictly an ‘altar’ in the fullest sense of the word. The purpose was not in order to offer offerings and sacrifices, but so that the animals could be slaughtered in the right manner before eating. It followed the directions in Deuteronomy 12:15-16. But the writer sees it as very significant. It signified that Samuel was no longer with him.

However genuine Saul might have been the writer was probably being deliberately sarcastic. In his view it was not Saul’s responsibility to build altars. His point is therefore so as to emphasise Samuel’s absence. It is Saul’s first altar because previously he had been able to leave such things to someone else. It is all of a piece with what has gone before. Saul had called for the Ark, and had made use of a religious oath. Now he has erected a kind of altar. This will be followed by a vain consultation of the oracle. They are all acts which mark him as a religious man. But it was a religion that was all on the outside. It was based solely on ritual. In the end there was nothing underneath, for what was lacking was the responsive obedience without which all the rest was useless.

Verses 36-46

Continuation Of The Defeat Of The Philistines By Raiding Their Territory Is Aborted And Jonathan Is Nearly Executed, And All Due To Saul’s Foolish Curse (1 Samuel 14:36-46).

This passage (1 Samuel 14:1-46) began with the depiction of Jonathan, the man of faith, bringing about the defeat of the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:1-15), and it now ends with Jonathan, the man of faith, almost being executed because of Saul’s foolish oath. The whole section is designed to demonstrate Saul’s downward slide and folly. The writer clearly has little interest in Saul from any positive viewpoint (although he will shortly very briefly list his attainments), but is concentrating on how by his foolishness and disobedience he had begun to lose his hold on the kingship and was proving YHWH’s warning about the dangers of the appointment of a king to be correct. And as we have seen all this was shown to be the result of his attitude towards Samuel.

Analysis.

a And Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night, and take spoil among them until the morning light, and let us not leave a man of them” (1 Samuel 14:36 a).

b And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.” Then said the priest, “Let us draw near here to God” (1 Samuel 14:36 b). And Saul asked counsel of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you deliver them into the hand of Israel?” But He did not answer him that day (1 Samuel 14:36-37).

c And Saul said, “Draw nigh here, all you chieftains of the people; and know and see in what this sin has been this day For, as YHWH lives who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he will surely die.” But there was not a man among all the people who answered him.’

d Then he said to all Israel, “You 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 to YHWH, the God of Israel, “Show the right.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped (1 Samuel 14:40-41).

e And Saul said, “Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son.” And Jonathan was taken (1 Samuel 14:42).

d Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, and said, “I certainly tasted a little honey with the end of the rod which was in my hand, and, lo, I must die” (1 Samuel 14:43).

c And Saul said, “God do so and more also, for you shall surely die, Jonathan” (1 Samuel 14:44).

b And the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has wrought this great salvation in Israel? Far from it. As YHWH lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has wrought with God this day.” So the people rescued Jonathan, with the result that he died not (1 Samuel 14:45).

a Then Saul went up from following the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place (1 Samuel 14:46).

Note that in ‘a’ Saul aims to follow after the Philistines, and in the parallel he ceases from following the Philistines as a result of his own folly. In ‘b’ the people say that Saul may do what seems good to him and the priest suggests consulting God, and in the parallel the people refuse to let Saul do what he wants, for they believe that YHWH is on Jonathan’s side because he has ‘wrought with God’. In ‘c’ Saul says that even if the marked man is Jonathan he will surely die, and in the parallel Saul tells Jonathan that he will surely die. In ‘d’ Saul begins to seek the culprit, and says to God, ‘show the right’, and in the parallel, believing that the right has been shown, Saul asks Jonathan what it is that he has done. Centrally in ‘e’ Jonathan is selected out.

1 Samuel 14:36

And Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night, and take spoil among them until the morning light, and let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.” Then said the priest, “Let us draw near here to God.” ’

A great victory having been achieved Saul was now eager to follow it up by a night raid on the fleeing Philistines in order to obtain further spoils and destroy their army. It was, of course, describing an unachievable ideal in the exultancy of the moment, but war fever had taken hold of him and at least the spoils might be achievable. The people, equally excited, were prepared to do whatever he asked. To them he had achieved a great victory. The Priest, however, was more cautious and suggested rather that they should draw near to God and seek His guidance. Had he been with Saul Samuel would not have needed to have hesitated like this. He would have known the mind of YHWH.

1 Samuel 14:37

And Saul asked counsel of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you deliver them into the hand of Israel?” But he did not answer him that day.’

So Saul sought counsel from God, and asked whether they should continue the chase into Philistine territory. The question was, would God deliver them into their hands? This question was probably put to God by means of the Urim and Thummim which could probably give the answers ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘no answer’ (we are not sure precisely how it worked, but there are indications to this end). In this particular case he received the response, ‘no answer’.

It is thought that possibly the Urim and Thummim would be tossed down and if they both ended the same way up the answer was seen as ‘no reply’, while ‘yes’ and ‘no’ would be indicated by which lay one way and which the other.

Note Saul’s assumption that someone must be at fault. He will not believe that God will not answer him. (A similar situation arises near the end of his reign (1 Samuel 28:6) which may suggest that here the fault did not really lie with Jonathan in God’s eyes.

1 Samuel 14:38

And Saul said, “Draw nigh here, all you chieftains of the people; and know and see in what this sin has been this day.” ’

Saul did not consider the possibility that this failure to obtain an answer might lie at his door and immediately assumed that it must be because of sin in the camp. His mind no doubt went back to the incident of Achan (Joshua 7). So he called all his chieftains together and demanded of them whether they knew of any reason why God was not answering. What sin had been committed among them that day that had resulted in this situation?

1 Samuel 14:39

For, as YHWH lives who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he will surely die.” But there was not a man among all the people who answered him.’

And he swore that whoever had so sinned would die, even if it should be Jonathan his own son. Note his words, ‘as YHWH lives who saves Israel’. He still recognised that their victory was due to YHWH, and still swore by His Name. The problem was that his life did not live up to his words. However, later the people will use a similar oath about Jonathan not dying. The writer probably intends us to see that the people were right.

No one answered Saul. They were feeling that this was not quite right, and no one was prepared to give Jonathan away. Or perhaps those who were there did not know what Jonathan had done.

1 Samuel 14:40

Then he said to all Israel, “You 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.”

Recognising that the failure of the leadership would be the main thing likely to have an effect on God’s response, Saul decided first of all that he would eliminate himself and his son. So he called on the people (no doubt represented by their leaders) and declared that the first lot would determine whether the guilt lay with himself and Jonathan or whether it lay with the people. The reply of the people was that he must do what seemed right to him. Compare 1 Samuel 14:36 where they had said a similar thing. But what follows suggest that this time the words were wrung out of them with reluctance, for in the last analysis they did not let him do what seemed good to him.

1 Samuel 14:41

Therefore Saul said to YHWH, the God of Israel, “Show the right.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped.’

Then Saul called on ‘YHWH, the God of Israel’ (indicating the seriousness of the process) to ‘show the right’. In other words to indicate whether they were innocent or guilty. And when the lot was cast, to Saul’s surprise, and no doubt horror, the use of the lot indicated that it was either he or his son. The people were shown to be free from blame.

1 Samuel 14:42

And Saul said, “Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son.” And Jonathan was taken.’

Then Saul called for the lot to be cast between him and Jonathan. And the result was that Jonathan was indicated. This was what we have been waiting for, because we have known all along what Jonathan has done. But as we know Jonathan was the hero of the day. And in view of how it had happened (Jonathan had not known about the vow) it is clear that there is something wrong here.

1 Samuel 14:43

Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, and said, “I certainly tasted a little honey with the end of the rod which was in my hand, and, lo, I must die.” ’

Meanwhile Saul demanded that Jonathan tell him what he had done, and Jonathan, now knowing of the oath, admitted that he had eaten a little honey from the end of the staff that he was carrying, and recognised that as a result he must die. No one seems to have queried the circumstances. A rash oath may have been uttered by the king, but the consequences had to follow. Such was the power and responsibility of kings. We are, however, probably justified in thinking that to YHWH the culprit was not Jonathan but Saul.

1 Samuel 14:44

And Saul said, “God do so and more also, for you shall surely die, Jonathan.” ’

At his words Saul confirmed the death sentence. He declared that before God Jonathan must assuredly die. As far as he was concerned there was no alternative. It was the king’s oath. This was the extreme to which his religious activity had taken him. The death of his own son for something that had not been done with sin in the heart.

The writer wants us to know that Saul’s arrogance had reached such a stage that the thought of his oath being violated was seen by him as sufficient to warrant a death sentence being passed even on his own son. It was the arrogance of the absolute monarch. (We should note in this regard that there is no hint that any enquiry was made into the circumstances, nor had God been consulted as to the verdict. Saul just assumed that he was right).

1 Samuel 14:45

And the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has wrought this great salvation in Israel? Far from it. As YHWH lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has wrought with God this day.” So the people rescued Jonathan, with the result that he died not.’

The people, however, were not prepared for this to happen. Was it not Jonathan whom YHWH had used to bring about His great deliverance? How then could he be put to death on the day of that victory? Thus they would not allow it and declared equally strongly in YHWH’s Name that as God’s champion not a hair of his head would be allowed to fall to the ground. And the consequence was that he was delivered from death.

The writer clearly sees the people as in the right and Saul as in the wrong, and sees YHWH’s response to Saul’s questions as His attempt also to prove Saul in the wrong. The people similarly saw it in the same way, for they swore by YHWH’s life. Thus in the writer’s view they recognised the heart of God better than Saul. What Saul was proposing therefore was not YHWH’s will. His exposure as no longer knowing the mind of God was complete.

Note the contrast with 1 Samuel 11:13. The magnanimous Saul has now become the callous Saul. He no longer sees YHWH’s victory as a cause for forgiveness. His heart has become rigid in its religious inflexibility. It is a further indication of his downward slide.

1 Samuel 14:46

Then Saul went up from following the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.’

The final result was that Saul ceased the pursuit of the Philistines, and they were allowed to return home and reorganise themselves. It was recognised that it was an opportunity lost, and all due to Saul’s folly.

Verses 47-52

A Summary Of Saul’s Earlier Reign And Its Successes And Of His Close Family (1 Samuel 14:47-52).

Having demonstrated both Saul’s partial success, mainly through the faith of Jonathan, and his partial failure as a result of his own distorted religious ideas, the writer looks back and summarises his reign from when he took over the kingship. It will be noted that he could not have said what he did about the Philistines, firstly of Israel’s subjection to them, and then of their triumph over them, had he not previously described the situation above. These had not occurred at the commencement of his reign. But now the Philistines too could be listed among the defeated nations, and thus a complete list of victories can be given. This explains why these words come after the incident above. The order is intended to be topical, not chronological.

Even then, however, the writer will not let all the credit go to Saul and he therefore introduces another figure, Saul’s uncle, whose name is Abner, who is the commander-in-chief of the armies of Saul. It is almost as though he was saying, ‘Remember that Saul did not do it on his own’.

Analysis.

a Now when Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, and against the children of Ammon, and against Edom, and against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines, and wherever he turned himself, he put them to the worse (1 Samuel 14:47).

b And he did valiantly, and smote the Amalekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who despoiled them (1 Samuel 14:48).

c Now the sons of Saul were Jonathan, and Ishvi, and Malchi-shua; and the names of his two daughters were these: the name of the first-born Merab, and the name of the younger Michal, and the name of Saul’s wife was Ahinoam the daughter of Ahimaaz (1 Samuel 14:49-50 a).

b And the name of the captain of his host was Abner the son of Ner, the uncle of Saul. And Kish was the father of Saul, and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel (1 Samuel 14:50-51).

a And there was fierce war against the Philistines all the days of Saul, and when Saul saw any mighty man, or any valiant man, he took him to him (1 Samuel 14:52).

Note that in ‘a’ we are informed of the victories of Saul, while in the parallel we learn that in the case of the Philistines the warfare continued throughout the days of Saul with the result that he had always to be on the look out for good warriors so that he could maintain a standing army and as a result keep them in check. In ‘b’ he delivered Israel out of the hands of those who despoiled them, while in the parallel it is emphasised that he had in this the assistance of his uncle, the mighty Abner, commander-in-chief of his forces. Centrally in ‘c’ we have described the family of Saul.

1 Samuel 14:47

Now when Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, and against the children of Ammon, and against Edom, and against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines: and wherever he turned himself, he put them to the worse.’

Note the reference back to ‘when he had taken over the kingship’. What we learn here indicates how little we know about Saul’s genuine early achievements, for it is made quite clear that he had been kept constantly busy, especially in Transjordan against the Moabites, the Ammonites, and the Edomites, and against threats from the north from the Aramean kingdom of Zobah. But he had defeated them all. Only against the Philistines had he been unable to achieve victory, and now that too had been accomplished.

1 Samuel 14:48

And he did valiantly, and smote the Amalekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who despoiled them.’

The separate reference here to the smiting of the Amalekites may refer to 1 Samuel 15, or it may have in mind earlier attempts by the Amalekites to invade Israel. The Amalekites were ferocious, wandering desert tribes (similar to the Bedouin) who would constantly swoop down on any nation that they found to be in a weak condition in order to kill simply for the pleasure of it, and in order to obtain tribute and booty, often in alliance with others (compare Judges 3:13; Judges 6:3). They were unholy predators. That was why in the end they had to be utterly destroyed.

Up to this point then Saul’s reign could be said to have been reasonably successful, for while he had had to wait for success against the Philistines, he had succeeded admirably against others. And now at last even the defeat of the Philistines had been achieved.

However, as the writer has already indicated throughout 1 Samuel 13-14, Saul has also begun to go downhill, and this will be brought home in the chapters that follow where it will be demonstrated how the last part of Saul’s reign reveals his continuing disobedience, his consequent rejection by YHWH, his subsequent illness, his sense of absolute monarchy, the murderous nature of his own inclinations, his opposition to David, the man of God’s choice, and his own rapidly deteriorating spiritual state.

Verses 49-52

Further Details About Saul And His Leading General Who Was Related To Him (1 Samuel 14:49-52).

Saul’s ancestry was given in 1 Samuel 9:1. Now we are given his family details, after which we are also given the details of his commander in chief’s family, partly because they were related to Saul, and partly because of Abner’s loyal support, both in Saul’s own battles, and as preparing the way for what Abner would later seek to do for Saul’s son, Ishbaal (Ishbosheth). See 2 Samuel 2:8 ff.

1 Samuel 14:49-50 a

‘Now the sons of Saul were Jonathan, and Ishvi, and Malchi-shua; and the names of his two daughters were these: the name of the first-born Merab, and the name of the younger Michal, and the name of Saul’s wife was Ahinoam the daughter of Ahimaaz.’

At this stage Saul had at least three sons. Jonathan (gift of YHWH) was the firstborn. Then came Ishvi. This could be another name for Abinadab (see 1 Samuel 31:2), for it was not uncommon for a man to have two names. Alternately Ish-vi is possibly another way of expressing Ish-yah, ‘man of YHWH’, which could well then have been expressed as Ish-baal/Esh-baal (man of the Lord) in order to avoid using the name of Yah, being later expressed by writers as Ish-bosheth (2 Samuel 2:8) because bosheth means ‘shame’. The reason for this last was in order to express shame at the use of Baal’s name, although when Saul used the word it did not have the same connotation, and even Hosea could think of God as ‘baali’ (Hosea 2:16). We know nothing of Malchi-shua, except that he fell fighting alongside Saul, but the names of the two daughters will occur later in relation to David. 1 Chronicles 8:33; 1 Chronicles 9:39 list Saul’s sons as Jonathan, Malchi-shua, Abinadab and Esh-baal.

1 Samuel 14:50-51

‘And the name of the captain of his host was Abner the son of Ner, Saul’s uncle. And Kish was the father of Saul, and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel.’

We now learn that Abner was the commander in chief of Saul’s army. He was on the whole a loyal and good man. His details are recorded here both because he was a relative of the king, and in order to demonstrate that Saul did not achieve what he did on his own. He had solid support from his family. It is also preparing the way for his later activities in supporting Ishbaal (Ishbosheth) against David.

1 Samuel 14:52

And there was fierce war against the Philistines all the days of Saul, and when Saul saw any mighty man, or any valiant man, he took him to him.’

In order to make sure that we are not deceived by what has been said earlier we now learn that the Philistines were the one foe that Saul never finally quelled, for although sometimes defeated they soon came back again and occupied at least part of Israel. As a result Saul had continually to maintain a small standing army, both in readiness to deal with their forays, and in order, when they became something more serious, to prevent them taking over Israel completely. That is why we learn here that, with that in mind, he was always on the look out for good recruits. Thus whenever he came across a mighty man or a valiant man he attached him to his standing army.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 14". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/1-samuel-14.html. 2013.