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For New King James text and comment, click here.
I Samuel 13-14 Listen
Philistines: That new King of Israel is trouble (I Samuel 13:1-7)
1 Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel,
2 Saul chose him three thousand men of Israel; whereof two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and in mount Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin: and the rest of the people he sent every man to his tent.
3 And Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, Let the Hebrews hear.
4 And all Israel heard say that Saul had smitten a garrison of the Philistines, and that Israel also was had in abomination with the Philistines. And the people were called together after Saul to Gilgal.
5 And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Bethaven.
6 When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, (for the people were distressed,) then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits.
7 And some of the Hebrews went over Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. As for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.
First we saw Saul's successful organization of troops and rebellion against the Philistines at Jabesh-gilead back in I Samuel 11 (see notes). Then in this passage we see Saul's son (Jonathan) attacks them at Geba. They've had enough; the Philistines decide to bring their overwhelming forces against Israel to put this uprising down once and for all - 30,000 chariots, 6,000 men on horses and innumerable foot soldiers. Well, many of the Israeli soldiers run and hide in the caves at the sight of this awesome Philistine force, and some of them run away across the Jordan.
Incidentally, verse 1 has caused considerable confusion in the minds of scholars with the wording that is less than clear in their minds. To them it is unclear because of what they expect it to say - not what it actually says. They expect it to follow the pattern of the typical introduction of the kings of Israel and Judah presented in the books of First and Second Kings along with First and Second Chronicles. In those books we commonly see a declaration of the age when the particular king began reigning along with how many years he reigned. Therefore, they are convinced that verse 1 here must have originally followed the same pattern and some words were lost in transmission over the centuries. I'm not comfortable with that view, nor were the editors of the KJV and NKJV; these two translations translate the sentence from the words provided in the Hebrew text. Other translations, however, insert guesses right into the English text without basis for their guesses. Some of those translations place their guesses in brackets or italicize them, but others simply add their conjectures to this verse without providing any indication regarding their actions. Although the wording of verse 1 does seem a little vague, I think it best to stick with the original text on this one - a verse which seems to indicate a transition in Saul's reign and not a formal declaration of his reign.
With the acceptance of verse 1 at face value (to actually mean what it says), we then understand that in the second year of Saul's reign he appointed a permanent army of three thousand men. Everyone else who fought did so as reservists. Then we see in verse 2 a fast forward through Saul's reign down to the appearance of his son Jonathan; he is an adult leading his own troops at this point in time. We obviously have been spared the details of two or three decades of Saul's reign between chapters 12 and 13. Then, in chapter 13, we see the turning point in Saul's reign.
Saul gets on Samuel's wrong side (I Samuel 13:8-14)
8 And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him.
9 And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering.
10 And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him.
11 And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash;
12 Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.
13 And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.
14 But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee.
Saul's getting mentally prepared for battle with the Philistines; he's checking items off his battle checklist. Oh yeah...then there's the pre-battle burnt sacrifice; Samuel is supposed to come take care of that, but seven days have passed and he's not here. "No problem; I'll do it myself," Saul decides. Samuel emerges just as Saul's finishing up with the sacrifice, and Samuel is fumed. What exactly was Saul's sin here? Notice verse 13, "thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee:" The passage makes it clear that Saul had a commandment from the Lord himself that he violated. Samuel then declares that Saul's reign as king will end with Saul - no descendant kings. Whoops! That's too bad for Jonathan. Pay close attention to verse 13. Samuel says that had it not been for this act by Saul, it would be Saul's throne (and not subsequently David's) that is to be established forever.
So...what's God looking for in a king's resume anyway? There it is in verse 14, "But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart..." It is interesting to note that King David, Saul's successor, was noted for that trait.
Notice the following verses regarding David's heart:
David would end up being that "man after his [God's] own heart." This incident marks the point at which it was declared that Saul's descendants would not occupy the throne of Israel. Later, in I Samuel 15:10-23 (see notes), Samuel would decree that Saul's actual kingship would be prematurely cut short.
For more information regarding David's commendable relationship with God despite his personal shortcomings, read the notes on Psalm 51 (see notes). Despite these shortcomings, God established an unconditional covenant with David (see notes on the Davidic Covenant).
How are we going to fight without weapons? (I Samuel 13:15-23)
15 And Samuel arose, and gat him up from Gilgal unto Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people that were present with him, about six hundred men.
16 And Saul, and Jonathan his son, and the people that were present with them, abode in Gibeah of Benjamin: but the Philistines encamped in Michmash.
17 And the spoilers came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies: one company turned unto the way that leadeth to Ophrah, unto the land of Shual:
18 And another company turned the way to Bethhoron: and another company turned to the way of the border that looketh to the valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.
19 Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears:
20 But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock.
21 Yet they had a file for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads.
22 So it came to pass in the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan: but with Saul and with Jonathan his son was there found.
23 And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the passage of Michmash.
Saul organizes his army as the Philistines are surrounding his forces. Saul and his meager army of 600 weaponless foot soldiers are encamped at Gibeah, 3 miles north of Jerusalem. Just 4 miles northeast of Gibeah, that massive, well-equipped army of Philistine soldiers is prepared for battle. Then the Philistine forces spilt into four divisions and surround the Israeli rag-tag army. Hey! We have a big problem here - no weapons! The Philistines had confiscated them and made blacksmithing a forbidden trade among Israelites (verse 19). In the whole army, only Saul and Jonathan had swords; the rest of the makeshift Israeli army carried garden and woodworking implements. Let's do a quick, rough calculation of the odds: 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen and innumerable foot soldiers with real weapons VERSUS 600 men with two swords and garden tools. Oh, well...just fight with what you have, and let God do the rest.
This would appear to be a regional conflict with the Philistines. Enemy people were still firmly entrenched throughout Israel all the way into the reign of David after King Saul. As a matter of fact, King Saul was a battle king. He didn't sit up in a palace and rule his kingdom; he fought. Apparently there was insufficient time to gather a larger army from the fighting-capable men of Israel for this battle. The fact that these folks in Gibeah (located within Benjamin's territory) were so dominated by the Philistines that they were not even allowed to have their own blacksmiths verifies that they had been totally victimized by these Philistines up to this point.
Jonathan gets a crazy idea...and it works! (I Samuel 14:1-15)
1 Now it came to pass upon a day, that Jonathan the son of Saul 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.
2 And Saul tarried in the uttermost part of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree which is in Migron: and the people that were with him were about six hundred men;
3 And Ahiah, the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the LORD’S priest in Shiloh, wearing an ephod. And the people knew not that Jonathan was gone.
4 And between the passages, by which Jonathan sought to go over unto the Philistines’ garrison, there was a sharp rock on the one side, and a sharp rock on the other side: and the name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh.
5 The forefront of the one was situate northward over against Michmash, and the other southward over against Gibeah.
6 And Jonathan said to the young man that bare his armour, Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: 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.
7 And his armourbearer said unto him, Do all that is in thine heart: turn thee; behold, I am with thee according to thy heart.
8 Then said Jonathan, Behold, we will pass over unto these men, and we will discover ourselves unto them.
9 If they say thus unto us, Tarry until we come to you; then we will stand still in our place, and will not go up unto them.
10 But if they say thus, Come up unto us; then we will go up: for the LORD hath delivered them into our hand: and this shall be a sign unto us.
11 And both of them discovered themselves unto the garrison of the Philistines: and the Philistines said, Behold, the Hebrews come forth out of the holes where they had hid themselves.
12 And the men of the garrison answered Jonathan and his armourbearer, and said, Come up to us, and we will shew you a thing. And Jonathan said unto his armourbearer, Come up after me: for the LORD hath delivered them into the hand of Israel.
13 And Jonathan climbed up upon his hands and upon his feet, and his armourbearer after him: and they fell before Jonathan; and his armourbearer slew after him.
14 And that first slaughter, which Jonathan and his armourbearer made, was about twenty men, within as it were an half acre of land, which a yoke of oxen might plow.
15 And there was trembling in the host, in the field, and among all the people: the garrison, and the spoilers, they also trembled, and the earth quaked: so it was a very great trembling.
The man representing the priesthood is on the scene with Saul here. His name is Ahiah; most believe that this is Ahimelech, great grandson of Eli. You will recall that Eli was the one who raised Samuel. Ahiah is present for the purpose of representing God's will. We see in verse 3 that he was "wearing an ephod." The ephod was the vest worn by the high priest as specified in Exodus 28-29 (see notes). In the Ephod was contained the Urim and Thummim, special stones that provided the priest with a special knowledge from God regarding the correct course of action. (Click here to for more information on the Urim and Thummim.) Anyway, the priest was apparently present for the purpose of assisting in the formulation battle plans as God's representative.
Jonathan leaves the camp with his armor bearer...without consulting his dad or the high priest. He decides to toss out his own fleece before God. He'll just walk up to the Philistines and see what they say. If they say, "Just wait - we're coming after you," then we'll do nothing. But, if they say, "Bring it on; let's see what you got!" then we'll (just the two of us) wade right in and let them have it. What a crazy idea! But it works; they slay about 20 of the Philistines - just the two of them. Then they have some significant supernatural help from God when God sends an earthquake at the moment Jonathan and his armorbearer finish their attack. Look at those Philistines panic! They turn on themselves, and the Israelites hiding in the caves come out to fight. Sweet victory!
Incidentally, you gotta love what Jonathan says in verse 6 regarding their chances here when he says, "...for there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few." He's telling his armorbearer that when God's in control, it doesn't matter how many comprise your assault force. Obviously he learned a lesson or two from the Gideon episode back in Judges 6-8 (see notes).
Meanwhile...the earthquake is heard by Saul's troops (I Samuel 14:16-23)
16 And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked; and, behold, the multitude melted away, and they went on beating down one another.
17 Then said Saul unto the people that were with him, Number now, and see who is gone from us. And when they had numbered, behold, Jonathan and his armourbearer were not there.
18 And Saul said unto Ahiah, Bring hither the ark of God. For the ark of God was at that time with the children of Israel.
19 And it came to pass, while Saul talked unto the priest, that the noise that was in the host of the Philistines went on and increased: and Saul said unto the priest, Withdraw thine hand.
20 And Saul and all the people that were with him assembled themselves, and they came to the battle: and, behold, every man’s sword was against his fellow, and there was a very great discomfiture.
21 Moreover the Hebrews that were with the Philistines before that time, which went up with them into the camp from the country round about, even they also turned to be with the Israelites that were with Saul and Jonathan.
22 Likewise all the men of Israel which had hid themselves in mount Ephraim, when they heard that the Philistines fled, even they also followed hard after them in the battle.
23 So the LORD saved Israel that day: and the battle passed over unto Bethaven.
Saul discovers that Jonathan and his armor bearer are not there while he's listening to the commotion from the earthquake. Saul is talking to Ahiah, the high priest, about the situation. Saul decides he'd like to have the Ark of the Covenant present for this battle. However, before anything can be arranged, the commotion among the Philistines increases and Saul dismisses the high priest from his mission.
The Philistine army is in disarray; in their flight, they turn on each other with their weapons. It also turns out that the Hebrew soldiers the Philistines had incorporated into their army were less than loyal; they switch sides and begin fighting for the Israeli army. But wait...there's more. Those Israelis who had hidden themselves to avoid fighting decide to come out and fight as well. The Israelites prevail - on to Bethaven!
A little honey stops the campaign (I Samuel 14:24-46)
24 And the men of Israel were distressed that day: for Saul had adjured the people, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies. So none of the people tasted any food.
25 And all they of the land came to a wood; and there was honey upon the ground.
26 And when the people were come into the wood, behold, the honey dropped; but no man put his hand to his mouth: for the people feared the oath.
27 But Jonathan heard not when his father charged the people with the oath: wherefore he put forth the end of the rod that was in his hand, and dipped it in an honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes were enlightened.
28 Then answered one of the people, and said, Thy father straitly charged the people with an oath, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth any food this day. And the people were faint.
29 Then said Jonathan, My father hath troubled the land: see, I pray you, how mine eyes have been enlightened, because I tasted a little of this honey.
30 How much more, if haply the people had eaten freely to day of the spoil of their enemies which they found? for had there not been now a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?
31 And they smote the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon: and the people were very faint.
32 And the people flew upon the spoil, and took sheep, and oxen, and calves, and slew them on the ground: and the people did eat them with the blood.
33 Then they told Saul, saying, Behold, the people sin against the LORD, in that they eat with the blood. And he said, Ye have transgressed: roll a great stone unto me this day.
34 And Saul said, Disperse yourselves among the people, and say unto them, Bring me hither every man his ox, and every man his sheep, and slay them here, and eat; and sin not against the LORD in eating with the blood. And all the people brought every man his ox with him that night, and slew them there.
35 And Saul built an altar unto the LORD: the same was the first altar that he built unto the LORD.
36 And Saul said, Let us go down after the Philistines by night, and spoil them until the morning light, and let us not leave a man of them. And they said, Do whatsoever seemeth good unto thee. Then said the priest, Let us draw near hither unto God.
37 And Saul asked counsel of God, Shall I go down after the Philistines? wilt thou deliver them into the hand of Israel? But he answered him not that day.
38 And Saul said, Draw ye near hither, all the chief of the people: and know and see wherein this sin hath been this day.
39 For, as the LORD liveth, which saveth Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die. But there was not a man among all the people that answered him.
40 Then said he unto all Israel, Be ye on one side, and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side. And the people said unto Saul, Do what seemeth good unto thee.
41 Therefore Saul said unto the LORD God of Israel, Give a perfect lot. And Saul and Jonathan were taken: but the people escaped.
42 And Saul said, Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son. And Jonathan was taken.
43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, Tell me what thou hast done. And Jonathan told him, and said, I did but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand, and, lo, I must die.
44 And Saul answered, God do so and more also: for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan.
45 And the people said unto Saul, 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.
46 Then Saul went up from following the Philistines: and the Philistines went to their own place.
Saul's army is on a roll. He gets excited and issues a curse on anybody who eats before they finish off the enemy. One big problem though: his son Jonathan didn't get the word; he tastes a little honey and it perks him right up. However, upon being informed concerning Saul's decree, he even questions the wisdom of Saul's oath in verse 29-30. Though faint from hunger, Saul's army thoroughly thrashes these Philistines "from Michmash to Aijalon."
After the victorious outcome of the battle against the Philistines, Saul has to straighten out a little bit of deviation on his army's part in that they partook of the Philistine cattle in violation of Levitical guidelines i.e. draining the blood. He establishes an altar to set this issue straight. You will recall from verse 3 (see above) that the high priest is present wearing the ephod containing the Urim and Thummim. These items were commonly used to determine God's will through the process of casting lots. However, when Saul could not get a clearance from Jehovah to proceed further in pursuit of the Philistines, he decides there must be sin in the camp.
Here we go with the casting of lots again. For a more complete look at the practice of casting lots, click here. The lot falls on Jonathan identifying him as the snack culprit. Saul decides that Jonathan must die; after all, an oath is an oath. Hebrews were very serious about fulfilling their oaths regardless of how ill conceived. Jonathan even agrees that he himself must die, but the people talk Saul out of it. So, after a great day at battle, everybody goes home to live to fight another day. The campaign against the Philistines stops...over a little bit of honey. That wouldn't be the last fight that would be broken up by a little honey! (Take that last sentence as intended humor.)
Meet Saul's family (I Samuel 14:47-52)
47 So Saul took the kingdom over Israel, and fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, and against the children of Ammon, and against Edom, and against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines: and whithersoever he turned himself, he vexed them.
48 And he gathered an host, and smote the Amalekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of them that spoiled them.
49 Now the sons of Saul were Jonathan, and Ishui, and Melchishua: and the names of his two daughters were these; the name of the firstborn Merab, and the name of the younger Michal:
50 And the name of Saul’s wife was Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz: and the name of the captain of his host was Abner, the son of Ner, Saul’s uncle.
51 And Kish was the father of Saul; and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel.
52 And there was sore war against the Philistines all the days of Saul: and when Saul saw any strong man, or any valiant man, he took him unto him.
It's finally time for introductions. Remember these people; we'll be coming back to many of them as we read on. Notice verse 52. Saul understood the value of a strong defense, "And there was sore war against the Philistines all the days of Saul: and when Saul saw any strong man, or any valiant man, he took him unto him." There was no peace for Saul; he was a warring king with a carefully chosen army. In addition, we see in verse 47 that Saul also fought against Moab, Ammon, Edom, and against the kings of Zobah (north of Israel). In verse 48, toss in the Amalekites to round out Saul's battles against the enemies of Israel. However, without question, Saul's main war was with the Philistines.