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Scripture reading – 1 Samuel 14

Our last scripture reading in 1 Samuel concluded with the king usurping Samuel’s role as priest and judge in Israel. I summarized that study with a brief but pertinent observation: “Character flaws in leaders breed insecurity in the lives of their followers.” 

The weaknesses manifested in Saul’s character took a significant toll on the people’s trust in him as their king. Saul’s standing army of three thousand fighting men (1 Samuel 13:2) had been reduced to six hundred men who trembled at the thought of following him into battle (1 Samuel 13:5-6). The nation was terrorized by Philistine raiders who rode unchallenged through the countryside, leaving the people impoverished (1 Samuel 13:17-18). History records that the Philistines controlled large parts of Israel and the people were not allowed to possess weapons of war. Indeed, there were no blacksmiths in Israel who could fashion swords, spears, or even sharpen farm implements (1 Samuel 13:20).

1 Samuel 14

Jonathan’s Courage (1 Samuel 14:1-2)

As we come to 1 Samuel 14, we again observe that Jonathan, Saul’s son, took the initiative. Jonathan “said unto the young man that bare his armour, Come, and let us go over to the Philistines’ garrison, that is on the other side. But he told not his father” (1 Samuel 14:1). It is revealing that Jonathan said nothing to his father, for surely the king would have crushed his son’s courage with his fears and apprehensions. With his army decimated and scattered, King Saul pined away his time in Gibeah “under a pomegranate tree…and the people that were with him were about six hundred men” (1 Samuel 14:2).

Jonathan’s Faith (1 Samuel 14:1-10)

With no one noticing, Jonathan and his armorbearer made their way through the rock ledges and neared the Philistine garrison. Jonathan encouraged his servant and said, “It may be that the Lord will work for us: for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6). Unlike the insecure men who followed his father, Jonathan’s servant encouraged him saying, “Do all that is in thine heart: turn thee; behold, I am with thee according to thy heart” (1 Samuel 14:7).

Jonathan’s Triumph Over the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:11-15)

Agreeing on a sign and believing the LORD would bless them, Jonathan revealed himself to the Philistines, who said to him, “Come up unto us” (1 Samuel 14:10). With those words, Jonathan and his servant assailed the garrison and slew twenty men in their pursuit (1 Samuel 14:13-14). The noise of the clash, accompanied by the LORD sending a timely earthquake, aroused the Philistines, who, in the darkness, took up swords against one another in a terrified frenzy (1 Samuel 14:15).

Israel’s Victory Despite Saul’s Rashness (1 Samuel 14:16-26)

What followed in King Saul’s camp was incomprehensible. Israel’s watchmen alerted their “do nothing” king that the Philistines had turned on each other, and their army was scattered. Rather than commanding his soldiers to go to arms, Saul ordered a roll call to find who was missing. It was discovered that “Jonathan and his armorbearer were not there” (1 Samuel 14:17).

The roll call being ended, Saul commanded his men to battle. When they came upon the Philistines, they found “every man’s sword was against his fellow, and there was a very great discomfiture [confusion]” (1 Samuel 14:20). Incredibly, it was found that some Hebrews had deserted Israel and were amid the Philistines. Those then turned and began to fight for Israel (1 Samuel 14:21). Soldiers of Israel that had fled to the mountains heard the Philistine army was in disarray and emerged to fight (1 Samuel 14:22). So it was that “the Lord saved Israel that day” (1 Samuel 14:23).

Unfortunately, the great victory over the Philistines was nearly eclipsed by a foolish, rash oath spoken by Saul, who had said, “Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies” (1 Samuel 14:24). With no nourishment during the battle, the people became faint although they passed through woods where there was honey. Nevertheless, “no man put his hand to his mouth: for the people feared the oath” of the king (1 Samuel 14:25-26).

Jonathan and Israel Troubled by Saul’s Folly (1 Samuel 14:27-46)

Jonathan, however, had not heard “when his father charged the people with the oath: wherefore he put forth the end of the rod [staff; scepter] that was in his hand, and dipped it in an honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes were enlightened” (1 Samuel 14:27). Recalling Jonathan was much-loved by the people, we can imagine their concern when they informed him how his father had foolishly “charged the people with an oath, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth any food this day” (1 Samuel 14:28).

Though a son, Jonathan minced no words in expressing his disdain for his father’s oath. He wondered aloud if there might have been a greater victory had the people been sustained and energized by eating the spoils of their enemies (1 Samuel 14:29-30). Indeed, the men of Israel were so famished at the close of the day that they slew the livestock of their enemies, and “the people did eat them with the blood” (1 Samuel 14:31-32).

When Saul learned how the people had eaten meat with the blood, he rebuked them and said, “Sin not against the Lord in eating with the blood” (1 Samuel 14:34). The king, in a pretense of dedication to the LORD, then “built an altar unto the LORD,” (though it was revealed that it was “the first altar that he built unto the Lord,” 1 Samuel 14:35).

When Saul discovered that someone had violated his oath (1 Samuel 14:24) and eaten food during the battle, he added to his rashness with another vow. The king said, “For, as the Lord liveth, which saveth Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die” (1 Samuel 14:39a).

Reading the Scriptures, it is revealing to see where the men of Israel stood in the matter. In fact, “there was not a man among all the people that answered him” (1 Samuel 14:39b). (No doubt there were those who knew Jonathan had eaten honey in the battle, but none were willing to expose him to their foolish king.)

Undeterred by the silence of the people, Saul cast lots to determine the man who had disobeyed his oath, and it fell upon Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:40-42). Jonathan confessed, “I did but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand” (1 Samuel 14:43). Then the king, unwilling to realize his carelessness, declared to his son, “Thou shalt surely die” (1 Samuel 14:44).

The people, however, would no longer be silent and observe another injustice. They withstood the king and said, “Shall Jonathan die, who hath wrought this great salvation in 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” (1 Samuel 14:45).

Closing thoughts:

The immediate leadership crisis was ended, and Saul’s army increased. Israel experienced a series of victories over the Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, and Amalekites (1 Samuel 14:46-48). Despite his failed character, God blessed Saul’s home with sons and daughters (1 Samuel 14:49-50). However, as we will see, Saul’s failings forever shadowed his reign, and Israel would be perpetually at war with the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:51-52).

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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