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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

1 Samuel 14

Verse 2

1 Samuel 14:2. A pomegranate tree, &c.— A grove of pomegranate trees, [Hiller. 144.] which is by Migron.

Verse 6

1 Samuel 14:6. Jonathan said to the young man that bare his armour We are to consider this whole exploit as undertaken and carried on by the immediate impulse of God. Josephus supposes that Jonathan went away in the night. Do all that is in thine heart, in the next verse, signifies, whatever thou devisest and approvest. And I am with thee, according to thy heart, means, in every thing in which thou canst desire or command my concurrence. See Chandler's Review, p. 87 and the note on 1Sa 14:14 of the foregoing chapter.

Verse 14

1 Samuel 14:14. That first slaughter, &c.— The expression in this verse, possibly, was proverbial. It imports only, that this slaughter was made in a very small compass: that Jonathan slew twenty men within the space of half an acre of ground. This sudden and unexpected attack of Jonathan's threw them into a panic fear; and as their army consisted, it is most likely, of different nations, (see chap. 1 Samuel 13:5.) they fell into the greater confusion, as not understanding, and perhaps suspecting each other. Pindar has finely observed upon panic fears, that "when men are struck with divine terrors, even the children of the gods, i.e. the most heroic spirits, betake themselves to flight." Nero. ix. ver. 63. Some have supposed from the expression, 1Sa 14:15 and the earth quaked, that the Lord sent a real earthquake to terrify them: but the expression is figurative; meaning that the whole place, the whole district where the Philistine army was encamped, was in an extraordinary emotion. The French version renders the 15th verse very intelligibly. And there was a great terror in the camp, in the field, and among the people. The garrison and the spoilers were terrified; and the place was in consternation, as if a mighty terror had been sent by God. We refer to Hallet, vol. 2: p. 21 and Kennicott's Dissertation, vol. 1: p. 453 for some critical observations on the 14th verse.

REFLECTIONS.—Never did Israel appear in a more distressed situation: they have neither courage nor arms; God is offended; their enemies are at the gate; and they without place to flee to, or power to resist: but, for his own name's sake, God will not utterly forsake his people, though they so justly deserve it. We have here,

1. Saul reduced to the greatest straits; no increase of his army; retired to the uttermost part of Gibeah, for the greater security, or more ready flight, if the Philistines advanced; his tent spread under a grove of pomegranates. Hither, to consult God in his difficulties, since Samuel had left him, he sends for the ark of God, and Ahiah the high-priest, hoping by this application to God in his own way that he might have better success than when he sacrificed for himself. Note; (1.) Drowning men catch at straws. They will have the priest and sacrament at their dying bed, who, in their lives, were negligent of both. (2.) If the power of godliness be absent, the form of it can profit us nothing: nay, only deceive us, if we trust in it, to our ruin.

2. Jonathan's noble exploit. Moved, as we must suppose, by a divine impulse, he secretly quits the camp in Gibeah, and, with his armour-bearer, advances towards the Philistines' garrison, who seem to have been posted on one of the craggy rocks near Michmash, to guard the pass that was between them. Jonathan proposes to his armour-bearer to go boldly up and fall upon them, since, if the Lord pleased, he could save as well by few as many. The proposal being agreed to, Jonathan determines to rest the matter upon a providential issue. He would appear in sight of the garrison: if the men called to them to stand, and threatened to come over, then they should advance no further; but if they said, in contempt of them, Come up; then they should fall on, assuredly concluding that God was with them. Just as he said, God directed their word. The Philistines concluded them famished for hunger, and forced to surrender, and therefore deridingly bid them come up, and then they should see how they would treat them. Inspired with divine courage and confidence, they now advance, assuredly concluding that God had delivered the Philistines into their hands. Though steep the precipice, they climb the craggy rock, whilst, expecting no danger, the Philistines probably looked on, and amused themselves with the eagerness of these despised Hebrews. But no sooner had Jonathan and his armour-bearer firm footing, than they fell on furiously and unexpectedly, and twenty men presently were slain within the space of half an acre of land. Probably these were a party of scouts, who, thus smitten, fled, and carried a panic along with them into the garrison and camp, God spreading the terror on every side. Note; (1.) The greatness of danger serves only for the more glorious exercise of faith in the saints of God. (2.) Whatever our difficulties are, if we have Omnipotence on our side, we may boldly advance. (3.) It is good to follow the leadings of Providence. (4.) They who sport at God's Israel, will do it at their cost. (5.) God can with secret terrors reach the hearts of his enemies, and turn their own swords against them. (6.) They who commit their ways unto the Lord, will find that he can bring to pass the most improbable events. No man ever trusted him, and was confounded.

Verse 17

1 Samuel 14:17. Then said Saul—number now, &c.— Though, Saul must easily have missed Jonathan, he could not suppose that he would fall upon the Philistines without a number of resolute persons to assist him. But when he found that his armour-bearer alone attended him, desirous to enquire into the reason of the matter, he consults with the high-priest, (1 Samuel 14:18.) ordering him to bring the ark of God (or, rather as the LXX have it, the ephod, which appears to be the true reading; see Houbigant's note). But while he was doing so, the tumult increasing, and it being evident that the Philistines were routed, Saul found it necessary to lose no longer time, but hasted immediately to make the best of this wonderful victory, 1 Samuel 14:20. Josephus assures us, that Saul did not attempt any thing upon this occasion till Ahiah promised him victory in the name of the Lord.

Verse 21

1 Samuel 14:21. Moreover, the Hebrews, &c.— Our translators have well expressed here the sense of the text. But it seems hard to allow them the liberty of inserting so many words as they have done, which are not in the Hebrew. To make out the sense they have put in the words that, and from the country, and turned. As to the first, I make no doubt but that the word אשׁר asher, that or who, is here implied, as the Vulgate, Latin, and the LXX represent it. The other two insertions, from the country, and turned, will be altogether needless, if, instead of סביב sabib, we read, as the Vulgate and LXX plainly did, סבבו sabebu. Then the place must be rendered, the Hebrews who were with the Philistines before that time, who went up with them to the camp, they also turned to be with the Israelites. It may be further noted, that the LXX in the beginning of the verse read עבדים abadim, slaves, instead of עברים ibrim, Hebrews. Whether the LXX or the present Hebrew copies are here to be preferred, I cannot say. If the true reading is Hebrews, still they were slaves to the Philistines, whom they had made captive before.

REFLECTIONS.—The terror of the Philistines was soon observed by the sentinels in Gibeah, who, to their astonishment, beheld them melting like snow, and falling one on another. Tidings are instantly brought to Saul, who calls over the muster-roll, that he may see who is absent, and Jonathan and his armour-bearer are wanting. Hereupon,

1. Saul bids Ahiah bring the ark, and consult God about what he should do in the case; but while he was talking with him, the noise increasing, and the flight of the Philistines being evident, he bids him desist, being in haste to pursue. Note; (1.) In all our proceedings, to enquire of God's word is the surest way to succeed. (2.) They who are impatient to run before they are sent, will be in danger of making more haste than good speed.

2. They immediately follow the flying hosts, nor needed sword or spear, for the Philistines fell faster by the hands of each other. Not only the six hundred men who were with Saul assembled, but the deserters and prisoners turned upon the fugitives; and those who had refused to fight, and fled to the mountains, dare now pursue. Thus the Lord saved Israel, and the discomfiture here was very great, because it was his doing. Note; (1.) All our salvation must be ascribed to God's free grace and mercy alone. (2.) The Lord Jesus has conquered for us; let us not then, weak as we are, fear to pursue and seize the prey.

Verse 24

1 Samuel 14:24. And the men of Israel were distressed, &c.— Houbigant renders this verse in the following manner: On the same day, after the Israelites were assembled together, Saul bound them by the following oath, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth any food before the evening, until I be avenged of mine enemies. Therefore none of the army took any food. In consequence of this rash oath, whereof Jonathan, as being absent, was ignorant, he became subject to the curse. The people, for want of refreshment, were so faint that they could not pursue the enemy, and make the utmost of this great victory (1 Samuel 14:30-31.); and at the same time, through their great hunger, became transgressors of the law of God, 1 Samuel 14:33. See the note on chap. 1 Samuel 13:13.

Verses 26-27

1 Samuel 14:26-27. And when the people were come into the wood, &c.— Wild honey, which was part of St. John Baptist's food in the wilderness, may give us an idea of the great plenty of it in those deserts; and that consequently, by taking the hint of nature, and enticing the bees into hives and larger colonies, a much greater increase might be made of it, Accordingly Josephus (Bell. Jud. lib. 5: cap. 4.) calls Jericho μελιττοτροφον χωραν a country fertile in honey. We find, moreover, that wild honey is often mentioned in Scripture. 1 Samuel 14:25-26. Deuteronomy 32:13.Psalms 81:16; Psalms 81:16. Job 20:17. Diodorus Siculus, lib. 19: speaks of the μελι αγριον wild honey, that dropped from the trees; which some have taken, perhaps too hastily, for a honey-dew only, or some liquid kind of manna: whereas bees are known to swarm, as well in the hollow trunks, and upon the branches of trees, as in the clifts of rocks: honey, therefore, may be equally expected from both places. See Dr. Shaw's Travels, p. 337. Jonathan, who was ignorant of his father's adjuration, being weary with the fatigue of the pursuit, eats some of the wild honey which abounded in the present wood; and his eyes were enlighted, i.e. his spirits and strength, which were quite exhausted by long abstinence from food, so that he could scarcely see, were restored to him, and he became fresh and lively to proceed in the pursuit of the enemy: for it is a fact, that famine and fatigue, by weakening the spirits, dim the sight; and as all meat and drink refreshes and enlivens, so wine and honey, in a remarkable degree, produce this effect; for their spirits are both very subtile, and quickly diffuse themselves through the human frame. See Bishop Patrick, and Vossius de Orig. et Prog. Idol. lib. 4: cap. 69.

Verse 29

1 Samuel 14:29. See—how mine eyes have been enlightened, because I tasted See—how my eyes have {sparkled / shone} since I tasted. Waterland.

Verse 33

1 Samuel 14:33. And he said, Ye have transgressed: roll a great stone unto me The people were so extremely faint through want of food, that they flew upon the spoil, 1Sa 14:32 like ravenous birds, and forgot to pour out the blood upon the ground, according to the precepts of their law: to prevent the repetition of which, Saul orders a great stone to be rolled, or brought to him, that an altar might be erected for the sacrificing of peace-offerings, and that the blood might there be properly poured out. The French version renders this, You roll a great stone upon me this day; as much as to say, according to a proverbial manner of speaking, that they would bring upon him and his kingdom the greatest misfortunes. See Martin's note upon the verse.

Verse 35

1 Samuel 14:35. The same was the first altar that he built unto the Lord In the Margin of our Bibles, that altar he began to build unto the Lord; i.e. he laid the first stone himself. Houbigant after the Arabic reads, and when he had begun to build an altar unto the Lord, 1 Samuel 14:36. He said, Let us, &c.

Verse 37

1 Samuel 14:37. And Saul asked counsel of God The people being ready to go down with Saul, the high-priest advised him first to take counsel of God; to which he readily consented. The high-priest, doubtless, had his reasons, as the event shews; for, in consequence of Jonathan's involuntary offence, no answer could be had that day from the divine oracle.

Verse 41

1 Samuel 14:41. Give a perfect lot There is nothing for lot in the original, and our Marginal shew the innocent, is rather an explanation than a version. The following is Houbigant's version: And Saul said unto the Lord God of Israel, [shew unto us why thou hast not answered thy servant Saul this day. If this iniquity is in me, or in Jonathan my son, discover it by Urim, or if this iniquity is in the people,] discover it by Thummim.

Verse 45

1 Samuel 14:45. And the people said unto Saul Lowman, speaking of the authority of the congregation or general assembly of the people of Israel, observes, that "like the popular assemblies of other governments, they had some jurisdiction in criminal causes. When Saul had adjudged Israel not to eat any food till the evening, his own son Jonathan transgressed his order; and upon his confession, Saul his father, then king and general, determines to put him to death. And Saul answered, God do so to me, and more also; for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan. This sentence passed by Saul might appear to be without appeal, and that there was no authority to reverse it; however, the people said unto Saul, Shall Jonathan die, who hath wrought this great salvation for Israel? God forbid! As the Lord liveth, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground; for he hath wrought with God this day: so the people rescued Jonathan, that he died not. Bishop Patrick justly observes, that 'the people did not rescue Jonathan by violence or force.' It was not a mutinous act of an army: yet the expressions of the history will no ways suit with his further supposition, that 'they delivered him by petition to Saul;' or as Grotius, 'not by authority, but entreaty.' As the Lord liveth, there shall not an hair of his head fall to the ground, has very little of the style of an humble petition: it seems a very full resolution, and which it appears they understood to be their right. And why may it not be so understood, when the authority of condemning or absolving criminals is known to have belonged to the assembly of the people in the most celebrated governments of Greece and Rome? Josephus mentions, indeed, that 'they offered prayers to God, that he would forgive Jonathan's sin:' he makes no mention, however, of any petition that they made to his father Saul; but that 'they rescued him from his father's anger and rash curse:' which words can hardly, I think, be understood of a petition, but must mean either force or authority. And the words in the original seem to mean neither force nor petition, but an act of their own authority, whereby Jonathan was redeemed from the sentence of death, or whereby he was pardoned, and the sentence of death passed upon him was reversed in the general court of Israel. This interpretation is greatly favoured, as judgment in criminal cases is given to the congregation by an express law on some occasions." See Num 35:24-25 and Lowman's Civ. Gov. of the Hebrews, p. 145.

Verse 49

1 Samuel 14:49. Now the sons of Saul were Jonathan, &c.— i.e. three sons, who signalised themselves in the wars here mentioned. Ish-bosheth, mentioned 1Ch 8:33 under the name of Esh-baal, was too young to go to war, and therefore he is omitted in this place.

Reflections on 1 Samuel 14:36-52.—1st. Saul has no sooner given his army a moment's refreshment, than he is eager to pursue again the flying Philistines; and, though weary and wanting repose, his men, as faithful soldiers, are submissive to his orders, and ready to follow him. But,

1. Ahiah desires to consult God first, and Saul consents; but when they drew near, God gave them no answer. Note; It is good to have near us a faithful minister to advise and admonish us of our duty.

2. Saul hereupon concludes, that some sin had been committed, which provoked God thus to withdraw; and therefore as passionately resolves to punish, as he had imprudently bound the people under a curse. To determine the case, lots are cast; and, though none dared or cared to inform against Jonathan, God is pleased to give the discovery in the person of Jonathan, on whom the lot fell. Note: (1.) We may well conclude that God is angry, when our prayers find no answer of peace from him. (2.) We should solicitously inquire what it is wherein we have offended, that we may put away iniquity from us.

3. Jonathan, at Saul's injunction, acknowledges that he had tasted a little honey that day in the wood; and, though he thinks it hard to die for such a fault, he speaks as expecting it from his father's rash and unrelenting spirit; whilst Saul, agreeably to his character, binds his resolution with a solemn oath, that nothing should save him. Note; (1.) Violent tempers will sacrifice to their passions even the dearest relatives. (2.) An angry judge cannot but pass a rash and unjust sentence. (3.) They who swear in heat will often be guilty not only of profaneness, but perjury.

4. The people are highly displeased at Saul's resolve, and bind themselves by oath to prevent its execution. It was unjust to condemn Jonathan for unwittingly offending; and ungrateful to put to death him, who, under God, had that day saved their lives and all Israel; therefore they rescued, or redeemed, him out of his hand. Note; (1.) Those whom God, in his cause, evidently honours with his blessing, we must support against all opposers. (2.) When kings act madly against the laws of God, and tyrannically against the lives and liberties of the people, such resistance as tends to reduce them to their duty, without injuring their persons, or lessening their lawful authority, is, no doubt, true patriotism, and consistent with true piety.

5. The season of pursuit being lost by altercation, and God reserving the Philistines for a further scourge, those who escaped from the battle got into places of safety, and Saul returned to Gibeah. Thus dissensions between the generals have often lost the advantages of victory.
2nd, Saul's family are taken notice of. His house was now established, like his kingdom, great and prosperous. But how fading are all sublunary things! In a few years his house becomes ruined, and his kingdom removed. Let us never place confidence then in any thing beneath the sun. The fashion of this world passeth away.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 14". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/1-samuel-14.html. 1801-1803.