1 Samuel 14 Commentary: Jonathan’s Raid and Saul’s Oath

1 Samuel 14 Commentary

1 Samuel 14 unfolds with a mix of bravery, divine intervention, and impulsive leadership. The chapter highlights Jonathan’s daring raid against the Philistine outpost, an act of faith and strategic brilliance. It contrasts this with King Saul’s controversial oath, which inadvertently leads to turmoil among his own troops.

The narrative reveals the complexities of Israelite leadership and the pivotal role of divine guidance in their military endeavors, not only portraying a significant military exploit but also exploring the intricate dynamics between faith, leadership, and obedience in ancient Israel.

1 Samuel 14:1-5, Jonathan’s Plan to Attack the Philistine Outpost

In these verses, Jonathan, King Saul’s son, conceives a bold plan to attack the Philistine outpost. Unbeknownst to his father, Jonathan confides only in his young armor-bearer, highlighting his trust and the secrecy of the mission.

One day Jonathan the 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. Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah in the pomegranate cave at Migron. The people who were with him were about six hundred men,

1 Samuel 14:1-2, ESV

Jonathan’s decision to act independently of Saul reflects a significant dynamic in Israel’s leadership. While Saul remains passive at Gibeah, Jonathan initiates action, showcasing a stark contrast in their approaches to leadership and faith.

including Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the Lord in Shiloh, wearing an ephod. And the people did not know that Jonathan had gone. Within the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistine garrison, there was a rocky crag on the one side and a rocky crag on the other side. The name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. The one crag rose on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba.

1 Samuel 14:3-5, ESV

The geographical details provided here are not just filler; they set the stage for the subsequent action.

The challenging terrain and the positioning of the Philistine garrison hint at the daunting task ahead, underscoring Jonathan’s courage and strategic thinking.

1 Samuel 14:6-14, Jonathan and His Armor-Bearer Attack the Outpost

Jonathan 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 work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.”

1 Samuel 14:6, ESV

Jonathan’s words to his armor-bearer reveal his deep faith in God’s ability to save, regardless of numbers or odds. This faith starkly contrasts with Saul’s earlier actions, where he relied more on human wisdom than divine guidance.

As they approach the Philistine outpost, the interaction between Jonathan and his armor-bearer demonstrates mutual respect and loyalty. The armor-bearer’s unwavering support, “Do all that is in your heart,” amplifies the theme of faith and courage.

If 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. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for the Lord has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.”

1 Samuel 14:9-10, ESV

These verses show Jonathan’s strategic thinking. He sets a sign, showing his reliance not just on bravery but also on divine guidance to determine their course of action.

So 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.” And the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.” And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.” Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, and his armor-bearer after him. And they fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer killed them after him. And that first strike, which Jonathan and his armor-bearer made, killed about twenty men within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land.

1 Samuel 14:11-14, ESV

The success of Jonathan and his armor-bearer against the Philistines is nothing short of miraculous, illustrating God’s power working through those who act in faith.

1 Samuel 14:15-23, Panic Among the Philistines and Israel’s Counterattack

Following Jonathan’s initial attack, a divine intervention occurs. The earth trembles, causing panic among the Philistines. This natural event, perceived as a supernatural sign, greatly aids Israel’s counterattack.

And there 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.

And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and behold, the multitude was dispersing here and there.

1 Samuel 14:15-16, ESV

The panic spreads not only among the Philistine soldiers but also to their raiding parties. The magnitude of this panic, reaching even distant units, signifies the extent of God’s intervention.

Saul and his men, noticing the commotion, are drawn into the battle. This reaction highlights the reactive nature of Saul’s leadership compared to Jonathan’s proactive approach.

Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle. And behold, every Philistine’s sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion. Now the Hebrews who had been with the Philistines before that time and who had gone up with them into the camp, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. Likewise, when all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed hard after them in the battle. So the Lord saved Israel that day. And the battle passed beyond Beth-aven.

1 Samuel 14:20-23, ESV

The ensuing chaos among the Philistines, with some even turning on each other, further illustrates the disarray and confusion sown by God’s intervention. Israel’s soldiers, previously hiding, are emboldened to join the battle, showcasing the transformative power of faith and divine assistance in shifting the tide of battle.

1 Samuel 14:24-30, Saul’s Oath and Its Consequences on the Troops

King Saul, in a moment of zealous leadership, imposes an oath on his troops, forbidding them from eating until evening. This rash vow reveals Saul’s impulsive nature and his lack of consideration for the welfare of his soldiers.

And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people had tasted food.

1 Samuel 14:24, ESV

Saul’s curse on anyone who eats before evening demonstrates a disconnect between his leadership and the needs of his men. This decision, while intended to maintain focus on the battle, inadvertently weakens his troops.

Jonathan, unaware of his father’s oath, eats honey he finds in the forest. This act, innocent in itself, sets up a dramatic tension between father and son, showcasing the potential consequences of ill-considered vows.

But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright. Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day.’” And the people were faint. Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey.

1 Samuel 14:27-29, ESV

Jonathan’s refreshed strength after eating the honey contrasts with the exhausted state of the other soldiers, underscoring the folly of Saul’s oath.

This moment also subtly critiques Saul’s leadership, as Jonathan, unaware of the oath, demonstrates common sense that his father’s command lacked.

1 Samuel 14:31-35, Israelites’ Battle Victory and Saul’s Altar

After the day’s battle, the Israelites are victorious but exhausted, leading to a moment of weakness as they slaughter animals and eat them without properly draining the blood, against God’s commands.

They struck down the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. And the people were very faint. The people pounced on the spoil and took sheep and oxen and calves and slaughtered them on the ground. And the people ate them with the blood.

1 Samuel 14:31-32, ESV

The soldiers’ actions reflect their desperate state, brought on by Saul’s rash oath. This incident highlights the unintended consequences of poor leadership decisions.

Saul’s reaction to this situation is to build an altar to the Lord, marking his first recorded altar construction. This act can be seen as an attempt to atone for the earlier mistake and to re-establish proper religious practices among the people.

Then they told Saul, “Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood.” And he said, “You have dealt treacherously; roll a great stone to me here.” And Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people and say to them, ‘Let every man bring his ox or his sheep and slaughter them here and eat, and do not sin against the Lord by eating with the blood.’” So every one of the people brought his ox with him that night and they slaughtered them there. And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord.

1 Samuel 14:33-35, ESV

The building of the altar and Saul’s intervention to ensure the proper handling of the meat reflect a moment of responsible leadership, contrasting with his earlier impulsive decision and serves as a reminder of the importance of adhering to religious laws, even in times of war and desperation.

1 Samuel 14:36-42, Saul’s Decision to Attack the Philistines Overnight and the Divine Intervention

Saul proposes a night attack against the Philistines, but the priest suggests seeking God’s guidance first. This interaction indicates a shift in Saul’s approach, showing a willingness to consult God before acting.

Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and plunder them until the morning light; let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.” But the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.” And 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.

1 Samuel 14:36-37, ESV

However, when Saul seeks God’s guidance, there is no answer, leading to confusion and uncertainty. This silence from God can be interpreted as divine displeasure, possibly linked to earlier events in the chapter.

The process of casting lots to identify the cause of God’s silence points to the practices of the time and reveals the deep belief in divine direction in all matters.

And Saul said, “Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today. For as the Lord lives who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” But there was not a man among all the people who answered him. Then he said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side, and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.” Therefore Saul said, “O Lord God of Israel, why have you not answered your servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O Lord, God of Israel, give Urim. But if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped. Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.” And Jonathan was taken.

1 Samuel 14:38-42, ESV

The lot falls on Jonathan, revealing his earlier unintentional transgression. This discovery highlights the seriousness with which vows and oaths were regarded in Israelite culture, even when the person breaking the oath was unaware of it.

1 Samuel 14:43-46, Jonathan’s Transgression and Saul’s Decision

Jonathan confesses his accidental transgression, eating honey without knowledge of Saul’s oath. His honesty and straightforwardness contrast with Saul’s earlier impulsive decision-making.

Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And 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.” And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.” Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die.

1 Samuel 14:43-45, ESV

Saul, ready to execute Jonathan for this transgression, is stopped by the people. They recognize the injustice of punishing Jonathan, who was instrumental in the victory. This moment demonstrates the people’s sense of fairness and their willingness to challenge even the king for a just cause.

The people’s intervention to save Jonathan not only spares his life but also highlights the complexities of leadership and the importance of community judgment in guiding decisions.

1 Samuel 14:47-48, Summary of Saul’s Military Campaigns

These verses provide a brief summary of Saul’s military campaigns against Israel’s enemies. The summary underscores Saul’s role as a warrior king and his success in securing Israel’s borders.

When 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. And he did valiantly and struck the Amalekites and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them.

1 Samuel 14:47-48, ESV

The list of enemies defeated by Saul reflects the tumultuous environment in which Israel existed. These victories, while notable, also set the stage for future conflicts and the continued need for strong leadership.

1 Samuel 14:49-52, Saul’s Family and Continued War with the Philistines

The chapter concludes with details about Saul’s family and his ongoing war with the Philistines. This information provides personal context to Saul’s reign and foreshadows future narratives involving his family.

Now the sons of Saul were Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malchi-shua. And the names of his two daughters were these: the name of the firstborn was Merab, and the name of the younger Michal. And the name of Saul’s wife was Ahinoam the daughter of Ahimaaz. And the name of the commander of his army was Abner the son of Ner, Saul’s uncle.

1 Samuel 14:49-50, ESV

Mentioning Saul’s family members, especially Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malki-Shua, connects the personal and the political aspects of Saul’s life. It also sets the stage for future stories where these characters play significant roles.

The continuous battles with the Philistines highlight the persistent threat they posed to Israel and the ongoing challenges Saul faced as king. This recurring conflict is a central theme in the narrative of Saul’s reign.