I had left off in my study of 1 Samuel with chapter 13. In that chapter we see Saul face a military crisis with the Philistines about 2 years or so after he had been anointed as king. The Philistines, in response to an attack by Saul’s son Jonathan, rallied against Israel to do battle.
As was the custom, before Saul was to lead the people in response to a national crisis, he was to wait at Gilgal for Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice before God. After 7 days, Saul was anxious and performed the sacrifice without Samuel present. However, the moment he finished, Samuel showed up and pronounced a severe rebuke against Saul for his actions.
Rather than trusting what God had promised His people in the past, that He would go to battle for Israel, Deuteronomy 20:1-4 and 28:7, the army with Saul panicked and fled from him. But his rashness in disobeying Samuel, and ultimately the Lord, only brought God’s judgment upon him as God, through Samuel, proclaims that his kingdom will be taken from him and given to a man who will be after the Lord’s own heart (13:14).
Coming to chapter 14, we have a sequel to those events. The primary character who rises before us is Saul’s own son, Jonathan. The story of his exploits against the Philistines and it presents a strong contrast to his weak, spiritually anemic father.
(14:1-3) First, we see Jonathan move to take action. While his father laid about under the pomegranate trees on the outskirts of Gibeah with his 600 men who remained with him, Jonathan takes the young man who was his armor-bearer and together they go out to stir up trouble with the Philistines.
One should notice that Jonathan did so secretly. In other words, he didn’t tell anyone, especially his father, of what he was planning. Quite possibly he knew that Saul would attempt to stop him and thus ruin the opportunity for attack.
(14:4-14) Second, Jonathan exercised a profound faith in the Lord. When he and his assistant go out to Michmash to find the Philistine garrison, it is fairly obvious to assume those two would be woefully outnumbered. In fact, the garrison was on a hill top and required some work to get up to it.
Jonathan, however, was undeterred, showing his dependence upon the Lord to “work for us.” He expressed a strong confidence by knowing God would fight their battles for them. Moreover, he calls the Philistines “uncircumcised,” meaning they were outside the covenant and thus the enemies of God’s redeemed people.
One should also note the faith of his armor-bearer. He confirms to Jonathan that he was with him with all his heart. (7)
Next, notice how Jonathan’s plan of attack defies all military logic.
He basically give up the vantage of surprise by showing themselves to the Philistines. He then determines God’s will (see God’s “sign” for them) in these matters by suggesting that if the Philistines come down to them they would not fight. But, if the Philistines call them up to their position, they would go up and fight.
Jonathan and his young assistant show themselves to the Philistines who mock them for hiding in the holes. They challenge them to come up to their garrison where they would “show them something.” Both of them did, and they together killed 20 men of the garrison in a very small space of land.
(14:15-28) Third, Saul demonstrates a profound, spiritual insensitivity. Whereas Jonathan trusted God to work for him, Saul was more concerned with getting vengeance upon his enemies, not God’s enemies.
The Lord caused an earthquake to freak out the Philistines. Their massive army began running all over the place and the watchman for Israel noticed the army “melting” away. Saul has the roll called and it is soon discovered Jonathan is not there. He then calls for the ark to be brought and the priests to bless the occasion, but instead, interrupts them in order to secure his personal victory against the Philistines.
Additionally, as the people of Israel rallied to overcome the Philistines, Saul stupidly put the army under a curse saying that if anyone stops to eat before evening, that person will be killed. The people were faint and needed to eat, but would for fear of the curse.
(14:29-35) Fourth, Saul troubles the people. Jonathan immediately knows that his father’s judgment was foolish. Especially after he himself (who had not heard Saul utter the curse) had eaten some honey.
Jonathan replies that his father has “troubled the land.” This particular phrase about troubling the land can be found in Jacob’s complaint to Simeon and Levi in Genesis 34:30 when they killed the family of the man who raped their sister. Joshua’s words to Achan in Joshua 7:25 after he stole from God and it resulted in Israel’s defeat. And Ahab’s misplaced use of the phrase against Elijah in 1 Kings 18:17-18.
The specific phrase seems to suggest that by the individual’s actions, he is not only incurring wrath and judgment upon himself, but also the nation. In the case of Saul, his foolish oath prevented the people from getting a greater victory.
Moreover, because of the rashness of his “curse,” Saul causes the army to sin. When they found the spoil the Philistines had left in their haste to retreat out of the area, the men of Israel ran upon the food, particularly the animals meant for eating. They were so famished from Saul’s foolish oath that they butchered the animals improperly and ate them “with the blood.” Saul, in an act of hypocrisy, builds an altar so the men could properly prepare the meat for consumption, but the editorial note in verse 35 which says, “this was the first altar that he built to the LORD” suggests the action was not pleasing to God. The next time Saul “builds an altar” he is severely judged (1 Samuel 15).
(14:36-46) Fifth, God abandons Saul. Whereas it is clear God helps Jonathan and his armor-bearer, this isn’t the case for Saul.
Saul moves to go after the Philistines at night and plunder them. The men agree to his plan, but the priests recommend seeking God’s counsel on the matter. But when Saul asks of the Lord His will, God does not answer Saul (37).
Saul takes this as a sign that sin was present in the camp and in a similar fashion that Joshua used to discover Achan’s sin in Joshua 7, Saul begins casting lots against his army. He even says he will offer up his own son Jonathan, assuming Jonathan didn’t do anything worthy of death.
But in God’s divine providence, the lot was cast against Jonathan. Saul, outraged by his own son being “taken” in the lot, demands to know what he did. Jonathan tells him of eating the honey while under Saul’s “curse.” In an attempt to demonstrate how foolish his “curse” was, Jonathan explains that he ate a bit of honey at the end of a stick and “now I must die.”
Thankfully, the men were stirred to protect Jonathan and rescue him from Saul’s outrageous demand. They recognized that Jonathan was the man God raised up to bring about a great deliverance for Israel that day.