1 Samuel 14 (NRSV)
Jonathan Surprises and Routs the Philistines
Now a garrison of the Philistines had gone out to the pass of Michmash.
One day Jonathan son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.” But he did not tell his father.
“Armor-bearers in ancient times had to be unusually brave and loyal, since the lives of their masters often depended on them.”
–Ronald F. Youngblood
2Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah under the pomegranate tree that is at Migron; the troops that were with him were about six hundred men, 3along with Ahijah son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas son of Eli, the priest of the Lord in Shiloh, carrying an ephod. Now the people did not know that Jonathan had gone.
Frankly, this chapter does not present Saul in an altogether flattering light. King Saul is lolling under a fruit tree while his son Jonathan goes out to fight the enemy. As per Shakespeare, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
4In the pass, by which Jonathan tried to go over to the Philistine garrison, there was a rocky crag on one side and a rocky crag on the other; the name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. 5One crag rose on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba.
6Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will act for us; for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.”
Jonathan never read the New Testament, but he had a Romans 8:31 heart: If God is for us, who can be against us?
7His armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that your mind inclines to. I am with you; as your mind is, so is mine.”
The encouragement of a friend!
8Then Jonathan said, “Now we will cross over to those men and will show ourselves to them. 9If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. 10But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up; for the Lord has given them into our hand. That will be the sign for us.”
11So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines; and the Philistines said, “Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves.” 12The men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer, saying, “Come up to us, and we will show you something.”
At this time of crisis the Israelites hid anywhere they could (1 Samuel 13:6). It was reasonable for the Philistines to think these were Hebrew deserters surrendering to the Philistines because they thought it was better than hiding in a hole. But really, their words were giving Jonathan the go-ahead!
Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me; for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.”
13Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer following after him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer, coming after him, killed them. 14In that first slaughter Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed about twenty men within an area about half a furrow long in an acre of land. 15There was a panic in the camp, in the field, and among all the people; the garrison and even the raiders trembled; the earth quaked; and it became a very great panic.
Jonathan is not willing to simply hang around while God was perfectly able to defeat the Philistines! He and his armor-bearer bravely went forward in the name of the Lord and oh, look! The enemy army panicked and God sent an earthquake! Thank you, Jonathan! You have illustrated perfectly the truth of 2 Chronicles 16:9 —
For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.
The Sunday before David and I left Orlando and moved to St. Simons Island, GA, we went to service at First Baptist Church and heard this sermon by Ben Mandrell, based on this story of Jonathan’s bravery. It was such an encouragement to us! We were not Ben’s intended audience, but the Holy Spirit gave it to us, for courage and inspiration. You might enjoy it too. HERE is Ben Mandrell (currently Lead Pastor of Storyline Fellowship, Arvada, CO) and “Becoming a Brave Heart.”
16Saul’s lookouts in Gibeah of Benjamin were watching as the multitude was surging back and forth. 17Then Saul said to the troops that were with him, “Call the roll and see who has gone from us.”
Whatever for?! Just go fight the enemy!
When they had called the roll, Jonathan and his armor-bearer were not there.
18Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here.”
Whatever for?! Just go fight the enemy!
For at that time the ark of God went with the Israelites. 19While Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the camp of the Philistines increased more and more; and Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.”
20Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle;
and every sword was against the other, so that there was very great confusion. 21Now the Hebrews who previously had been with the Philistines and had gone up with them into the camp turned and joined the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. 22Likewise, when all the Israelites who had gone into hiding in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed closely after them in the battle. 23So the Lord gave Israel the victory that day. The battle passed beyond Beth-aven, and the troops with Saul numbered altogether about ten thousand men. The battle spread out over the hill country of Ephraim.
“Let God Arise” by Chris Tomlin. HERE is a song of victory!
Saul’s Rash Oath
24Now Saul committed a very rash act on that day. He had laid an oath on the troops, saying, “Cursed be anyone who eats food before it is evening and I have been avenged on my enemies.” So none of the troops tasted food.
Oh, Saul, stop and think!
Denying troops food? They will get hungry and weak. They will disobey and eat something else — in this case, something against God’s food laws for them. And if one of the troops who eats food is his son — well, will we have another Jephthah on our hands, sacrificing a child for an unwise vow?
25All the troops came upon a honeycomb; and there was honey on the ground. 26When the troops came upon the honeycomb, the honey was dripping out; but they did not put their hands to their mouths, for they feared the oath. 27But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the troops with the oath; so he extended the staff that was in his hand, and dipped the tip of it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes brightened. 28Then one of the soldiers said, “Your father strictly charged the troops with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food this day.’ And so the troops are faint.”
29Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land; see how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. 30How much better if today the troops had eaten freely of the spoil taken from their enemies; for now the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.”
31After they had struck down the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon, the troops were very faint; 32so the troops flew upon the spoil, and took sheep and oxen and calves, and slaughtered them on the ground; and the troops ate them with the blood. 33Then it was reported to Saul, “Look, the troops are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood.”
And he said, “You have dealt treacherously;
Saul blames the others instead of acknowledging that he had made a mistake with that curse.
roll a large stone before me here.” 34Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the troops, and say to them, ‘Let all bring their oxen or their sheep, and slaughter them here, and eat; and do not sin against the Lord by eating with the blood.’”
So all of the troops brought their oxen with them that night, and slaughtered them there. 35And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord.
Jonathan in Danger of Death
36Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and despoil them until the morning light; let us not leave one of them.”
They said, “Do whatever seems good to you.”
But the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.”
37So Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into the hand of Israel?” But he did not answer him that day.
38Saul said, “Come here, all you leaders of the people; and let us find out how this sin has arisen today. 39For as the Lord lives who saves Israel, even if it is in my son Jonathan, he shall surely die!” But there was no one among all the people who answered him.
Of course not! No one is blaming Jonathan, who was unaware of the command!
40He said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side, and I and my son Jonathan will be on the other side.”
The people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.”
41Then Saul said, “O Lord God of Israel, why have you not answered your servant today? If this guilt is in me or in my son Jonathan, O Lord God of Israel, give Urim; but if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” And Jonathan and Saul were indicated by the lot, but the people were cleared. 42Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.” And Jonathan was taken.
43Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.”
Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand; here I am, I will die.”
44Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan!”
45Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great victory in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground; for he has worked with God today.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, and he did not die. 46Then Saul withdrew from pursuing the Philistines; and the Philistines went to their own place.
Should Jonathan have been killed? No! Saul made a foolish vow, one that weakened his army and dishonored the Lord; it was a bad law. And Jonathan broke it out of ignorance. Besides, the Lord’s favor was clearly on Jonathan, since he was in effect the leader of the victory!
Saul’s Continuing Wars
47When Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side—against Moab, against the Ammonites, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines; wherever he turned he routed them. 48He did valiantly, and struck down the Amalekites, and rescued Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them.
49Now the sons of Saul were Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malchishua; and the names of his two daughters were these: the name of the firstborn was Merab, and the name of the younger, Michal. 50The name of Saul’s wife was Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaaz. And the name of the commander of his army was Abner son of Ner, Saul’s uncle; 51Kish was the father of Saul, and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel.
52There was hard fighting against the Philistines all the days of Saul; and when Saul saw any strong or valiant warrior, he took him into his service.
Remember what Samuel had told the people when they demanded a king? In chapter 8, he said that the king would “take your sons and make them serve with chariots and horses . . . others will make weapons of war and equipments for his chariots . . .”
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.