I Samuel 14

The Word Made Fresh

1Jonathan, Saul’s son, said to his armor bearer, “Let’s go over to the Philistine camp across the way.” But he said nothing to his father.

2Meanwhile, Saul was camped just outside Gibeah near a pomegranate tree at Migron with about six hundred men. 3One of them had a sacred vest, or ephod. He was Ahijah, a son of Ichabod’s brother Ahitub who was the son of Phinehas, Eli’s son – Eli was the LORD’s priest in Shiloh. None of them noticed that Jonathan was missing.

4Jonathan approached the Philistine camp through a pass between two rocky outcrops the locals called Bozez and Seneh. 5One of them was on the north toward Michmash, and the other on the south toward Geba. 6Jonathan said to his young armor bearer, “Come, we’ll move closer to those uncircumcised Philistines. Maybe the LORD will take action for us. The LORD can triumph with many or with just a few.”

7His armor bearer said, “Let’s do it. I’m all in with you.”

8Jonathan said, “Then let’s cross over to where they can see us. 9If they tell us to stand where we are while they approach us, we’ll stay put and not attack them. 10But if they tell us to come up to where they are, that will be our sign that the LORD will hand them over to us.”

11They stepped into the open where they could be seen and the Philistines said, “Oh, look, the Hebrews are crawling out of their hidey holes,” 12and they called out to them, saying, “Come on up here. We have something to show you.”

Jonathan said, “Follow me! The LORD has given them to us!” 13He climbed the cliff on his hands and feet, his armor bearer right behind him, and they killed the Philistines, 14about twenty of them, on a narrow strip of ground. 15It caused a widespread alarm among the Philistines, who trembled with fear as the earth seemed to be shaking beneath them, and they were thrown into a panic.

16Saul’s lookouts in Gibeah saw it happening, 17and Saul said to his men, “Check the roll and see who’s missing.” When they checked, they discovered that Jonathan and his armor bearer were not there. 18Then Saul ordered Ahijah to bring God’s covenant chest to him (the chest was back with the Israelites by then). 19While Saul was talking to him they heard the calamity overtaking the Philistine camp and Saul told the priest to hold back. 20Then he and his soldiers attacked, and as the swords began to clash there was great confusion.

21Then the Hebrews who had joined the Philistines in their camp turned and joined the Israelites with Saul and Jonathan. 22Also, the Israelites who had gone into hiding around the countryside in Ephraim got word the Philistines were retreating, and they joined the battle as well, 23and the LORD gave victory to Israel that day.

The fighting spread beyond Beth-Aven over the hills of Ephraim, and Saul now had about ten thousand warriors. 24But they were under a thoughtless order on his part. He threatened his troops, saying, “I will curse any man who eats any food before evening, before we have defeated my enemy.” So, of course none of them ate. 25They passed by a honeycomb where the honey was right there on the ground. 26But they were afraid to eat any of it because of Saul’s threat.           

27Jonathan, though, had not heard his father’s threat, and he dipped the end of his staff in the honeycomb and took it in hand and then to mouth, and right away his eyes lit up. 28One of the soldiers told him, “Your father threatened all of us and said he would curse anyone who eats anything today. That’s why we’re all exhausted.”

29Jonathan said, “Then my father has put us at a disadvantage. You can see how my eyes lit up when I tasted a bit of honey. 30Our men would have been better today if they had been allowed to eat the rations we took from the enemy. That’s why we haven’t killed so many Philistines.”

31But they had cut down the Philistines from Michmash to Aijalon, and now they were completely exhausted. 32So they jumped on what they had taken from the Philistines and slaughtered sheep and oxen and calves on the spot and ate them without draining the blood.

33A report reached Saul that the men were disobeying the LORD by eating meat with its blood. He said, “You have done what is forbidden. Roll a large stone over here now.” 34Then he told them, “Go among the troops and tell them to bring their oxen and sheep and slaughter them here and stop eating the meat without draining the blood.” So, the men brought the animals that night and slaughtered them there. 35Saul built his first altar to the LORD.

36Then Saul said, “We should attack the Philistines at night and fight them until morning, and not let any of them escape.”

They answered, “Do whatever you think is best.”

But the priest said, “Let us consult the LORD first.”

37So, Saul sought direction from the LORD. He asked, “Shall I go after the Philistines? Will you give them to Israel?”

But the LORD didn’t answer him that day. 38Saul summoned the leaders and said, “Let’s find out why the LORD is silent. 39As the LORD lives, even if it is my son Jonathan, he shall surely die!”

They made no response.

40He said to them, “All of you stand over here. Jonathan and I will stand over there.”

They answered, “Whatever you say.”

41Then Saul said, “LORD God of Israel, why have you not revealed your answer to me your servant today? If any guilt lies with me or my son Jonathan, O LORD God of Israel, then let the Urim show. If these Israelites are guilty let the Thummim show.”

They cast the lots, and Jonathan and Saul were indicated, and the people were off the hook.

42Then Saul said, “Cast the lots between me and Jonathan.” They did, and Jonathan was indicated. 43Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.”

Jonathan said, “I did taste a little honey that was on the end of my staff. So, here I am. I will die.”

44Saul said, “God do more to me if you are allowed to live. You must die, Jonathan!”

45But the people stepped in and said, “Jonathan, who won this great victory for Israel, is to die? Never! As the LORD lives, you must not harm a hair on his head. God gave him the victory today!” So, the people rescued Jonathan.

46Then Saul stopped chasing the Philistines and they retreated back to their territory.

47When Saul became king of Israel he had to fight against enemies all around – Moab, Ammon, Edom, Zobah, and the Philistines. He was victorious over all of them. 48He was a dauntless leader. He defeated the Amalekites and rescued Israel from their enemies.

49Saul’s sons were Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malchishua. His daughters were Merab the oldest, and Michal. 50His wife was Ahinoam, daughter of Ahimaaz. His army commander was Abner, son of Ner, who was Saul’s uncle; 51Saul’s father was Kish the son of Abiel, and Abner’s father Ner was also a son of Abiel.

52Saul fought the Philistines all his life. Whenever Saul saw a brave and strong warrior, he recruited him into his army.

Commentary

1-5: A garrison (12-20 men) of the Philistines leave the main camp to guard a pass. Saul’s son Jonathan decides to have a little excitement. He has already defeated a Philistine garrison (13:3) and knows it can be done. (There is some speculation that this chapter is repeating the story of his bravery in chapter 13 – before he is identified as Saul’s son.) He goes alone with his armor bearer. A place in the pass is identified with landmarks no longer known; two promontories that guard the pass on either side.

6-15: Jonathan and his armor-bearer agree on a plan of action. They will show themselves to the Philistines and either wait for them to approach or invite them to come up to their position. The Philistines, in mock camaraderie, invite Jonathan and his man to come to them. “We have something to show you,” they tease. Their bravado is soon turned to terror, though, as the two Israelites unexpectedly pull weapons (they’re not supposed to have any, remember – 13:19) and slaughter the garrison. A panic envelops the nearby Philistine camp.

16-20: Saul hears the commotion and, from his vantage point, can see the Philistines in a panic. When it is discovered that Jonathan is missing, he has God’s covenant chest brought up, then tells the priest to step aside, and he and his men engage the fight. It is not clear whether or not the chest is carried into battle, but my guess is not, since the last time they did that the Philistines captured it.

21-23: The Hebrews, Israelite mercenaries in the Philistine army, now turn against their employers and join Saul and Jonathan. Success breeds success: the refugees who have gone into hiding now swarm out of the hills and join them as well. The battlefield has grown considerably as the Philistines retreat. Saul’s forces have swelled from 600 to about 10,000.

24-30: In his zeal, Saul issues an order that his troops not stop even to eat. Jonathan isn’t aware of it and helps himself to honey they find in the hills. When he is told of Saul’s curse, he challenges his father by holding that the order not to eat was counterproductive; the troops fight better if they are allowed to satisfy their hunger, he says.

31-35: The battle over, the soldiers are so famished they begin eating meat that is not “kosher” (properly prepared according to Jewish dietary rules). Saul is informed of this and sets up a stone on which to slaughter and cook the meat, then orders his troops to gather there. He builds an altar to make offerings to God. It is the first altar to God Saul has built, we are told, and surely Samuel will not be happy!

36-46: Saul wants to pursue the Philistines, but the priest insists on seeking God’s word first. They probably cast lots to determine God’s will; but in this case God’s advice cannot be determined, and Saul is certain that someone has offended God. He swears death to the offender and lines everybody up over against himself and Jonathan. Lots are cast, and the rest are cleared, but Jonathan is indicated as the offender. Jonathan admits to eating the honey, and Saul is ready to put his own son to death, but the people intervene, and Jonathan is spared. Saul is deflated. He allows the Philistines to retreat unscathed.

47-52: Saul’s reign is marked by warfare against all the surrounding peoples, and he is successful in subduing them all. We are at last introduced to his family. Some of them will play a role later, Jonathan and Abner and Michal in particular. His cousin Abner arises as the overall general of Saul’s armies, and Abner will play a major role in the years ahead. Saul develops a policy of drafting promising young men into his army.

Takeaway

We are beginning to learn that Saul’s most credible asset is his height. But he does inspire others around him to great feats of daring-do. His son Jonathan is of a similar character, and that will later put him at odds with his father. Saul’s ego is also becoming a prominent personality trait. After all, it’s good to be the king!