1 Samuel 14

1 SAMUEL CHAPTER 14

Saul and Jonathan Fight the Philistines

      • One day Saul’s son Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come on, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.” But he didn’t tell his father.

        • On Jonathan’s armor-bearer the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds, “He is not only a porter of equipment, but also serves a function similar to a squire or apprentice while fighting alongside the king.”

        • Guzik writes, “The Israelites were in a military conflict where victory seemed impossible. They were vastly outnumbered and greatly surpassed in military technology. Yet Jonathan was bold enough to go over to the Philistine garrison just to see what the LORD might do.”

        • Why didn’t he tell Saul? Guzik notes, “Perhaps this was just an oversight, or something easily and properly explained. Or, it may be that Jonathan deliberately did not tell his father, because he believed his father would have simply said ‘no.’”

      • Saul was staying under a pomegranate tree in Migdon, on the outskirts of Gibeah and had about 600 men with him. Among them was Ahijah, who was carrying an ephod. Ahijah was the son of Ahitub, who was the brother of Ichabod, who was the son of Phinehas, who was the son of Eli, who had served as Yahweh’s priest at Shiloh. No one was aware that Jonathan had left.

        • Was Ahijah wearing or carrying the ephod? NET Bible’s text critical notes states, “’Heb ‘bearing.’ Many English versions understand this verb to mean ‘wearing’ (cf. KJV, NAB, NASB, NIV, NLT). The ephod could be used for consulting the Lord’s will (1 Sam 23:9-10; 30:7-8) and is not always worn (1 Sam 23:6). The significance in this context is probably not that Ahijah was dressed for sacrificial duties or to appear before God at the tabernacle, but rather that the ephod was available for consulting God, given the people’s ignorance about Jonathan’s activities…”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible reminds us, “In the present context, the ephod that Ahijah is ‘wearing’ (or ‘carrying’- the Hebrew verb can mean either) was probably the high priestly ephod containing the Urim and Thummim, devices used in divine inquiry…[Ex 28:15]…The presence of these oracular instruments among Saul’s entourage might encourage hope that Saul would seek and receive divine guidance, as David did on several occasions using the ephod (1 Sa 23:9-12; 30:7-8).” On the hope mentioned in this last sentence, see note below.

        • The text goes to great lengths to identify exactly who this priest is that Saul has with him. NLT Illustrated Study Bible points out why that is important, “Saul, the rejected king (13:13-14), kept in his company a priest from the rejected priesthood (2:27-36). Ichabod (see 4:21).”

      • There were steep cliffs on both sides of the pass Jonathan intended to cross to go over to the Philistine outpost: the cliff on one side was called Bozez and the cliff on the other side was called Seneh. The cliff on the north was in front of Michmash and the one on the south was in front of Geba. Jonathan said to the young man carrying his armor, “Come on, let’s cross over to the outpost of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps Yahweh will intervene for us. Nothing can prevent Yahweh from saving, whether by many people or by few.

        • Guzik comments, “Jonathan had little faith in himself but great faith in God. It wasn’t “I can win a great victory with God’s help.” It was “God can win a great victory through even me.”

      • The armor-bearer replied, “Do everything you have in mind. Go ahead, I am with you all the way.” “All right,” Jonathan said, “we’ll cross over to the men and let them see us. If they say, ‘Wait there, we will come to you,’ we’ll stay where we are and not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we’ll climb up to them because that will be our sign that Yahweh has handed them over to us.”

        • Guzik writes, “In his step of faith, Jonathan wanted to know if God was really leading. He proposed a test based on the response of the Philistine guards. Jonathan showed wisdom and not unbelief. To this point, he does not act on a specific, confirmed word from God. Instead, he followed the bold hope and impression of his heart. He was humble enough to know his heart might be wrong on this day, so Jonathan asked God to guide him. This was not the same as Gideon’s setting of a fleece (Judges 6:36-40). Gideon had a confirmed word of God to guide him, and he doubted God’s word. Jonathan did not doubt a word from God; he doubted his own heart and mind. Jonathan was prompted by faith. Significantly, he did not demand to know the whole battle plan from God in advance. He was willing to take it one step at a time, and let God plan it out. Faith is willing to let God know the whole plan, and to know our part one step at a time.”

      • So, they let the Philistines at the outpost see them and the Philistines said, “Look! The Hebrews are coming out of the holes they’ve been hiding in!” And they told Jonathan and his armor-bearer, “Come on up to us and we’ll teach you a thing or two!” Then Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Follow me, Yahweh has handed them over to Israel.”

      • Jonathan climbed up with his hands and feet with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan and his armor-bearer followed behind him killing them. In this first attack that Jonathan and his armor-bearer made, they killed about 20 men in an area measuring about half of an acre.

        • On the measurement of the area NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Hebrew half a yoke; a ‘yoke’ was the amount of land plowed by a pair of yoked oxen in a day.”

      • Then a panic fell upon those who were in the camp, and in the fields, all the troops in the outpost, and those in the raiding bands. They trembled and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God.

        • NET Bible’s text critical notes adds, “Heb ‘and it was by the fear of God.’ The translation understands this to mean that God was the source or cause of the fear experienced by the Philistines. This seems to be the most straightforward reading of the sentence. It is possible, however, that the word ‘God’ functions here simply to intensify the accompanying word ‘fear,’ in which one might translate ‘a very great fear’ (cf. NAB, NRSV). It is clear that on some occasions that the divine name carries such a superlative nuance.”

        • HCSB further explains, “English versions of the Bible differ on the translation of this verse; did a terror from God spread, or was there a very great trembling of the earth? The issue is how to fit an ambiguous Hebrew sentence- ‘And she/it was to fear/trembling of God’- into the narrative flow. Some translators connect it with the Philistines’ terror mentioned at the beginning of the verse, while others associate it with the shaking of the earth mentioned in the previous sentence. Both are reasonable possibilities. The Hebrew word elohim is usually translated ‘god,’ but has the basic meaning of ‘strength, might;’ the phrase ‘quaking of god’ could be translated ‘a powerful trembling.’”

      • When Saul’s lookouts in Gibeah of Benjamin saw the troops scattering in all directions, Saul told the men that were with him, “Gather the troops and see who has left us.” When they did this they found that Jonathan and his armor-bearer weren’t there.

        • Guzik notes, “This was useless at the moment. Saul should go and fight the Philistines at this strategic moment. Instead, he was probably worried about who was leading the battle and who would get the credit.”

      • Then Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ephod here.” Because, at that time Ahijah was wearing the ephod before the Israelites. While Saul spoke to the priest, the panic in the Philistine camp was continuing to increase, so Saul told the priest, “Withdraw your hand.”

      • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible does an excellent job of explaining why I have opted to go with the LXX rendering of verse 18, “…Saul orders Ahijah to ‘bring the ark of God.’ Mentioning of the ‘ark’ is surprising at this point in the narrative for the following reasons: (1) in v. 3 Ahijah is in possession of an ‘ephod,’ not the ark; (2) judging from 7:1 and 2 Sa 6, the ark appears to have remained at the town of Kiriath Jearim throughout the reign of Saul (1 Ch 13:3 confirms that the ark was not sought during Saul’s reign); (3) Saul’s order that Ahijah ‘bring’ the object seems appropriate in reference to an ephod (cf. 23:9; 30:7) but not in reference to the ark; (4) Saul’s command in v. 19 to ‘withdraw your hand’ makes little sense if the ark is in view, but excellent sense if Ahijah is in the process of grasping Urim and Thummim, or the container holding them, in the breastpiece of the priestly ephod…Considerations such as these have led a majority of commentators to follow the Septuagint (the pre-Christian translation of the OT) (cf. Also Josephus, Antiquities 6.115) in reading ‘ephod’ instead of ‘ark’ in the present context- the two words are orthographically fairly similar in Hebrew…”

      • Then Saul and all the men with him assembled and went into battle. They found the Philistines in a great confusion- fighting against each other with their swords. Even the Hebrews who had previously gone over to the Philistines’ side and joined the Philistines’ camp turned and joined the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. Likewise, when all the Israelites who had been hiding in Ephraim’s hill country heard that the Philistines were running away, they too chased the Philistines in battle. So Yahweh saved Israel that day and the battle passed beyond Beth-aven. There were about 10,000 men with Saul and the battle spread out over Ephraim’s hill country.

        • Who are these Hebrews who had joined the Philistines? Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges writes, “Either renegade Israelites who had taken service in the Philistine army, or forced levies from the districts occupied by the Philistines. The name ‘Hebrews’ by which they were known to the Philistines is used to distinguish them from the ‘Israelites’ who had not submitted to their oppressors. The Sept. reads ‘slaves.’”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Beth-aven was due west of Micmash (see 13:5). The Israelites forced the Philistines to retreat all the way to Aijalon that day (see 14:31).”

Saul’s Rash Oath

      • The men of Israel had been hard-pressed because Saul had committed a rash act that day. Saul had bound the people by an oath saying, “Any man who eats food before evening comes, before I am avenged on my enemies, is cursed.” So no one had eaten.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “With this oath, Saul forced abstinence from food on men who were already hungry and exhausted from battle…That Saul said my enemies rather than ‘our enemies’ reflects his self-centered pride.”

        • Guzik adds, “If Saul wanted to call for a voluntary fast, that was one thing. He might have said, “I’m fasting today before the LORD. If anyone wants to join me, they are welcome.” But instead of leading by example and inviting the army of Israel to follow, he placed the people under an oath.”

      • When all the troops went into the forest they saw that there was honey on the ground. They saw the honey dripping, but no one ate any of it because they were afraid of the solemn oath. However, Jonathan hadn’t heard of this oath that his father made the troops take. So, he reached out with the end of the staff he was carrying and dipped it in the honeycomb. When he ate it his eyes brightened. Then one of the troops told him, “Your father bound the troops by a strict oath, saying, ‘The man who eats food today is cursed,’ and the men are exhausted.” Jonathan replied, “My father has brought trouble on the land. See how my eyes brightened because I tasted a little honey? How much better would it have been if the troops had eaten freely today from the plunder they took from their enemies? Wouldn’t the slaughter of Philistines have been even greater?”

              • On Jonathan’s use of the phrase “made trouble” the NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Joshua had used this verb in speaking with Achan (Josh 7:25), and Jephthah had used it with his innocent daughter (Judg 11:35). Saul’s foolish oath limited Israel’s victory (1 Sam 14:30) and put his son’s life at risk (see also Josh 6:18; 1 Chr 2:7).”

      • That day they struck down the Philistines from Michmash all the way to Aijalon and they were very faint. So, they pounced on the plunder, taking sheep, cattle, and calves. They slaughtered them on the ground and ate them with their blood. Then they told Saul, “Look, the troops are sinning against Yahweh by eating meat with the blood still in it.” He said, “You have all broken the covenant! Roll a big stone over here to me. Then, go out among all the men and tell them: ‘Each one of you bring me your cattle and sheep, and slaughter and eat them here. Don’t sin against Yahweh by eating meat with the blood still in it.’” So, that night each one brought his ox and slaughtered it there. Then Saul built an altar to Yahweh; it was the first time he had built an altar to Yahweh.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “If the Philistines fled along the likely route through Beth-horon, then the Israelites kept up the pursuit for close to twenty miles. The men were famished, so they ate meat without draining the blood. This act violated God’s law (see Lev 17:10-14) and this constituted sinning against the Lord. To prevent more sin, Saul used a large rock as a field altar so the animals’ blood could be properly drained. The incident would never have occurred had it not been for Saul’s foolish oath.”

        • NET Bible’s text critical notes explains what Saul meant by his statement in verse 33, “Heb ‘You have acted deceptively.’ In this context the verb refers to violating an agreement, in this case the dietary and sacrificial regulations of the Mosaic law. The verb form is second masculine plural; apparently Saul here addresses those who are eating the animals.”

        • Then Saul said, “Let’s go down and pursue the Philistines by night and plunder them until dawn, let’s not leave even one of them alive.” And they replied, “Do whatever seems good to you.” But the priest said, “Let’s approach God here.” So Saul asked God, “Should I go down and pursue the Philistines? Will you hand them over to Israel?” But God did not answer him that day.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Neither the ‘no’ lot nor the ‘yes’ lot of the Urim and Thummim appeared.”

      • Then Saul said, “All you leaders of the troops come here and let’s find out what sin has been committed today. As surely as Yahweh who saves Israel lives, even if it is my son Jonathan, he must die.” But not one man answered him. Then he said to all the Israelites, “You will be on one side and I and my son Jonathan will be on the other side.” And the troops said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.”

          • Guzik says, “The people knew Jonathan ate the honey, and Saul’s sentence of death on anyone who had eaten must have sent a chill up their back. All the people loved and respected Jonathan and they knew that Saul was in the wrong.”

      • Then Saul said, “O Yahweh God of Israel, why haven’t You answered Your servant today? If I or my son Jonathan have committed this sin, O Yahweh God of Israel, give Urim. But if Your people Israel have committed this sin, give Thummim.” Jonathan and Saul were chosen by lot and the troops were cleared. Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.” And Jonathan was chosen.

          • If you’re confused by what appears to be additional text, the NET Bible’s text critical notes explain, “The Hebrew textual tradition has accidentally omitted several words here. The present translation follows the LXX (as do several English versions, cf. NAB, NRSV, TEV).”

        • The same source also informs us that the LXX includes additional text after Saul says to cast lots between the two of them, “The LXX includes the following words: ‘Whomever the Lord will indicate by the lot, let him die! And the people said to Saul, “It is not this word.” But Saul prevailed over the people, and they cast lots between him and between Jonathan his son.’”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “…The Urim and Thummim were two small objects (perhaps flat stones, sticks, or arrows) that may have been cast like dice. They would provide a positive answer, a neutral response, or a negative answer.”

      • Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan replied, “I tasted a little honey with the end of my staff. Now I must die.” Saul said, “God do so to me and more; you will surely die Jonathan.”

        • Guzik writes, “Saul was shaken. He pronounced a death sentence on whoever ate in violation of his forced vow. Instead of admitting that the commandment and death sentence were foolish, Saul hardened his foolishness and declared “God do so and more also; for you shall surely die, Jonathan.”

      • But the troops said to Saul, “Should Jonathan, who has brought about this great victory in Israel, die? Never! As surely as Yahweh lives not a single hair from his head will fall to the ground because he has done this today with God’s help.” So the troops rescued Jonathan and he didn’t die.

      • Saul withdrew from pursuing the Philistines and the Philistines went back home.

Summary of Saul’s Kingship

      • When Saul had taken the kingship over Israel he fought against all their enemies on all sides: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned he was victorious. He fought bravely, struck down the Amalekites, and delivered Israel from the hands of those who plundered them.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “In contrast to the folly described in 14:1-46, these verses summarize Saul’s military successes. A similar summary of achievements ends the description of each king’s reign in 1 Samuel- 2 Kings.”

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible adds, “The Moabites and Ammonites were descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot, through incestuous relationships with his daughters (Gen 19:37-38)…The Amalekites, a nomadic tribe inhabiting the desert south of Judah, are frequent plunderers in the Biblical narrative.”

      • Saul’s sons were Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malchi-shua. His first born daughter’s name was Merab, and his younger daughter’s name was Michal. Saul’s wife’s name was Ahinoam and she was Ahimaaz’s daughter. The commander of his army was named Abner and he was the son of Saul’s uncle Ner. Saul’s father was Kish and Abner’s father Ner was Abiel’s son.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “This information about Saul’s family, placed here rather than at the end of Saul’s reign, hints that his reign was essentially over and he would not be succeeded by one of his sons.”

        • Bible skeptics often note this passage as a Bible contradiction since more sons are listed in subsequent books. But there are ways of reconciling the data:

          • First, most commentaries agree that Ishvi (listed second here) is one and the same as Abinadab (listed second in other lists of Saul’s sons). Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges notes two scenarios in which this would be accurate: (1) “Since in ch. 1 Samuel 31:2 and 1 Chronicles 10:2, the names of the sons who fell with Saul at Gilboa are given as Jonathan, Abinadab and Melchishua, and in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 8:33; 1 Chronicles 9:39 these three are again mentioned with the addition of Esh-Baal or Ish-bosheth, it seems probable that Ishui is identical with Abinadab.” (2) Either Ishui was a second name, or it is a corruption of the Heb. word for “and the second.” (in the latter scenario the Hebrew text is corrupt at this passage dropping the appropriate name, Abinadab, and accidentally creating the name “Ishvi” out of the Hebrew word that was meant to describe Abinadab as the second son.)

        • There is the issue of the unnamed Ishbosheth here, who later went on to become king himself. Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible suggests (as do other commentators) the reason could be that the passage above was only listing sons who bravely died with Saul on Mt. Gilboa, “…and besides these three there was another, whose name was Ishbosheth, sometimes called Eshbaal, 2 Samuel 2:8 who succeeded him in the kingdom; for which reason Abarbinel thinks he is not mentioned here, because he was a king; though it is generally supposed the reason why these only are named is, because they went out to war with him, and died with him, but this did not…”

        • Gill mentions another good reason to recognize that this was not intended to be a complete list because it does not include the sons that Saul had by his concubine, “he had other children by a concubine, or secondary wife, whose name was Rizpah, not mentioned here, 2 Samuel 21:8…” Saul’s concubine, Rizpah, also gave him two more sons, Armoni and Mephibosheth (not to be confused with the Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan).

        • So to sum up, Saul had a total of 6 sons. 4 by his wife Ahinoam: Jonathan, Ishvi (also known as Abinadab), Malchi-shua, and Ishbosheth (also known as Esh-baal). Of these 4, Jonathan, Isvi/Abinadab, and Malchi-shua died with Saul on Mt. Gilboa. Ishbosheth was not at Mt. Gilboa and later became king. Saul also had two more sons by his concubine: Armoni and Mephibosheth.

      • All of Saul’s days there was fierce fighting with the Philistines. So whenever Saul saw a mighty or brave man, he enlisted him.