1 Samuel 14


‘One day Jonathan son of Saul said to his young armour-bearer, ‘Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.’ But he did not tell his father. Saul was staying on the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree in Migron. With him were about six hundred men, among whom was Ahijah, who was wearing an ephod. He was a son of Ichabod’s brother Ahitub son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the LORD’s priest in Shiloh. No one was aware that Jonathan had left. On each side of the pass that Jonathan intended to cross to reach the Philistine outpost was a cliff; one was called Bozez and the other Seneh. One cliff stood to the north toward Mikmash, the other to the south toward Geba. Jonathan said to his young armour-bearer, ‘Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.’ ‘Do all that you have in mind,’ his armour-bearer said. ‘Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.’ Jonathan said, ‘Come on, then; we will cross over toward them and let them see us. If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you,’ we will stay where we are and not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the LORD has given them into our hands.’ So both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. ‘Look!’ said the Philistines. ‘The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in.’ The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armour-bearer, ‘Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson.’ So Jonathan said to his armour-bearer, ‘Climb up after me; the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel.’ Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armour-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armour-bearer followed and killed behind him. In that first attack Jonathan and his armour-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.’ 1 Samuel 14:1-14

Jonathan Attacks The Philistines

It appears that since Saul’s army was down to around 600 men, Jonathan took the initiative to go out by himself. As he didn’t tell his father, he goes secretly basically to teach these uncircumcised Philistines a lesson. And so, he, along with his armour-bearer, made a surprise attack on the Philistine outpost and killed 20 Philistines.

Saul was staying on the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree, the Hebrew word for ‘pomegranate’ is Rimmon, but there’s no doubt that the tree is meant here and not the rock Rimmon as some have suggested, Judges 20:45 / Judges 20:47.

Jonathon knew that nothing could hinder the Lord, he knew if God was with Him, he could do great things, which was the reason why he was so courageous to go out and attack the Philistines in the first place. Johnathon was setting a real example for the rest of the Israelites here, and if he can convince his fellow Israelites that God can and will do great things through him because he trusted God, then God can do the same for them, if they trust Him.

Israel Defeats The Philistines

‘Then panic struck the whole army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God. Saul’s lookouts at Gibeah in Benjamin saw the army melting away in all directions. Then Saul said to the men who were with him, ‘Muster the forces and see who has left us.’ When they did, it was Jonathan and his armour-bearer who were not there. Saul said to Ahijah, ‘Bring the ark of God.’ (At that time it was with the Israelites.) While Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the Philistine camp increased more and more. So Saul said to the priest, ‘Withdraw your hand.’ Then Saul and all his men assembled and went to the battle. They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords. Those Hebrews who had previously been with the Philistines and had gone up with them to their camp went over to the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. When all the Israelites who had hidden in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were on the run, they joined the battle in hot pursuit. So on that day the LORD saved Israel, and the battle moved on beyond Beth Aven.’ 1 Samuel 14:15-23

It was God who started the panic stations, it was God who made the ground shook. In other words, God was working in this battle against the Philistines.

The Israelites saw that the Philistines melting away in all directions, which basically means they were running all over the place in confusion. As a result, they ended up attacking one another in the middle of the night.

Notice that Ark of the Lord was with Israel at this point in time, this suggests that the ark was possibly where it belonged, inside the temple. Although this statement causes some problems for some people, the commentator Willis makes a good point. He says the following.

‘Saul’s bringing the ark from Kiriath-Jearim to Gibeah in a time of crisis is no more out of harmony with the statements in 1 Samuel 7:2 and in 2 Samuel 6:2 than David’s taking the ark out of the tent he had made for it, 2 Samuel 6:17, so that it could accompany Joab and his army in the siege and conquest of Rabbah, 2 Samuel 11:11.’

Saul tells the priests to withdraw their hands, this was a command that meant the priest were to withdraw from their pocket of the ephod the Urim and Thummim. These were the lots, by which the will of God was determined, and although we’re not really sure exactly how they worked, it’s possible they were used to determine ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers.

Saul takes full advantage of the confusion which God caused in the Philistine camp and all the soldiers of Israel were encouraged by the leadership of Jonathan and Saul. As a result of God’s help, Israel was delivered on this occasion from the oppression of the Philistines.

Notice the use of the word, ‘Hebrews’, it appears that Samuel, the possible author of the book is making a distinction between the Hebrews and the Israelites. The word ‘Hebrews’ here is used in reference to the Israelites who had been recruited into the army of the Philistines, whereas the word ‘Israelites’ is used in reference to those who were with Saul and Jonathan.

Jonathan Eats Honey

‘Now the Israelites were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!’ So none of the troops tasted food. The entire army entered the woods, and there was honey on the ground. When they went into the woods, they saw the honey oozing out; yet no one put his hand to his mouth, because they feared the oath. But Jonathan had not heard that his father had bound the people with the oath, so he reached out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it into the honeycomb. He raised his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened. Then one of the soldiers told him, ‘Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food today!’ That is why the men are faint.’ Jonathan said, ‘My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?’ 1 Samuel 14:24-30

Saul, rather foolishly, placed the soldiers under an oath not to eat until the battle was finished, 1 Kings 19:2, but it appears that Jonathan hadn’t been informed about this fast and so, he ate some honey. The foolish oath that Saul imposed on the people is shown in the fact that the Israelites had no more strength to cause a greater victory over the Philistines.

‘That day, after the Israelites had struck down the Philistines from Mikmash to Aijalon, they were exhausted. They pounced on the plunder and, taking sheep, cattle and calves, they butchered them on the ground and ate them, together with the blood. Then someone said to Saul, ‘Look, the men are sinning against the LORD by eating meat that has blood in it.’ ‘You have broken faith,’ he said. ‘Roll a large stone over here at once.’ Then he said, ‘Go out among the men and tell them, ‘Each of you bring me your cattle and sheep, and slaughter them here and eat them. Do not sin against the LORD by eating meat with blood still in it.’ So everyone brought his ox that night and slaughtered it there. Then Saul built an altar to the LORD; it was the first time he had done this.’ 1 Samuel 14:31-35

As a result of Saul’s foolish oath, 1 Samuel 14:24, the Israelites were exhausted and starving. This hunger led to them eating sheep, cattle and calves together with the blood. In other words, the ate the food without preparing it to eat according to God’s law, Leviticus 17:10-14 / Leviticus 19:26 / Deuteronomy 12:16.

Saul apparently used a large stone upon which the animals were killed as part of an altar to the Lord. However, notice because he was in such a hurry to chase the Philistines, he only began to build the altar, he didn’t finish building it, 1 Corinthians 27:24.

‘Saul said, ‘Let us go down and pursue the Philistines by night and plunder them till dawn and let us not leave one of them alive.’ ‘Do whatever seems best to you,’ they replied. But the priest said, ‘Let us inquire of God here.’ So Saul asked God, ‘Shall I go down and pursue the Philistines? Will you give them into Israel’s hand?’ But God did not answer him that day. Saul therefore said, ‘Come here, all you who are leaders of the army, and let us find out what sin has been committed today. As surely as the LORD who rescues Israel lives, even if the guilt lies with my son Jonathan, he must die.’ But not one of them said a word. Saul then said to all the Israelites, ‘You stand over there; I and Jonathan my son will stand over here.’ ‘Do what seems best to you,’ they replied. Then Saul prayed to the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Why have you not answered your servant today? If the fault is in me or my son Jonathan, respond with Urim, but if the men of Israel are at fault, respond with Thummim.’ Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared. Saul said, ‘Cast the lot between me and Jonathan my son.’ And Jonathan was taken. Then Saul said to Jonathan, ‘Tell me what you have done.’ So Jonathan told him, ‘I tasted a little honey with the end of my staff. And now I must die!’ Saul said, ‘May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan.’ But the men said to Saul, ‘Should Jonathan die—he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the LORD lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God’s help.’ So the men rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death. Then Saul stopped pursuing the Philistines, and they withdrew to their own land.’ 1 Samuel 14:36-46

Saul wanted to continue chasing the Philistines but the priest, suggested that they stop and consult God first. Notice that when they did inquire of God, God didn’t answer. Because there was no answer, this led Saul to come to the conclusion that there must be sin in the camp.

The search for the sinner now begins and it was eventually revealed that is was Jonathan who had eaten against the oath by which Saul had made the people swear, 1 Samuel 14:24.

The Urim and Thummim are mentioned again here and they are specifically mentioned only eight times in the Old Testament, Exodus 28:30 / Leviticus 8:8 / Numbers 27:21 / Deuteronomy 33:8 / 1 Samuel 14:41 / 1 Samuel 28:6 / Ezra 2:63 / Nehemiah 7:65. However, in many other situations they are described as casting lots, or inquiring of the Lord, they were almost certainly used by the High Priest who wore the ephod.

When Saul discovered it was his son Johnathon who had sinned, it’s here we begin to see his foolishness. Yes, he started off as a king well, with humility and a person of great stature but now his foolishness was manifested by a rash statement that he would command that his son be put to death if the oath of the fast had been broken.

Notice that it was the other Israelites who came to Jonathon’s rescue, this was a time when the will of the people triumphed over the mindless statement of Saul. The word ‘rescue’ in Hebrew is the word, ‘padah’, which means, to ransom or to redeem. In other words, it was the people who redeemed Jonathan from the unrighteous plans of their king.

I’m pretty sure that this whole event was the beginning of Saul’s downfall as a king. He’s becoming like a dictator and the people are already rebelling against him.

‘After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them.’ 1 Samuel 14:47-48

After reinstating his role as ruler over Israel, Saul became very successful in his military campaigns in delivering Israel from the threat of the nations around them. He got rid of all those who were oppressing Israel and taking advantage of them.

Saul’s Family

‘Saul’s sons were Jonathan, Ishvi and Malki-Shua. The name of his older daughter was Merab, and that of the younger was Michal. His wife’s name was Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaaz. The name of the commander of Saul’s army was Abner son of Ner, and Ner was Saul’s uncle. Saul’s father Kish and Abner’s father Ner were sons of Abiel. All the days of Saul there was bitter war with the Philistines, and whenever Saul saw a mighty or brave man, he took him into his service.’ 1 Samuel 14:49-52

Coffin suggest the following concerning these verses.

‘The name Ish-Bosheth or Eshbaal is missing from the list Saul’s children, this is probably because that this list was written very early in Saul’s reign, before Eshbaal was born. Abner made Eshbaal king over part of Israel following Saul’s death; and he contested with David for the throne of all Israel for a period of seven years. The significant fact of Eshbaal being forty years of age when he was declared king is the basis for concluding that Saul reigned forty years, 2 Samuel 2:8-11. The theory that Ishvi is the same son as Eshbaal is an ingenious device to avoid the deduction regarding the length of Saul’s reign.’

Abner was Saul’s uncle and he becomes the captain of Saul’s army and although Saul was victorious over the majority of Israel’s enemies, the Philistines didn’t give up, they became like a thorn in the flesh for Israel, Numbers 33:55.

Notice how Samuel’s prophecy concerning Saul was beginning to be fulfilled, in the fact that Saul took any mighty or brave man and forced him to join his army, 1 Samuel 8:11.

Go To 1 Samuel 15


"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."

Colossians 3:12