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We have seen how Saul stumbled by trying to sacrifice before Samuel’s arrival. In this chapter, we see his second great sin, this time involving his son—a very noble son—Jonathan. The tragedy here is that Jonathan, who would have made a wonderful king, is excluded from that throne by the sin of his father.
“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. 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 . . .” (1 Sam. 14:1-52).
Summary of the Text
Jonathan believed what God had said (1 Sam. 9:16), and wanted to attack the Philistines (v. 1). Saul was located in Migron (v. 2) with about 600 men. Samuel was not there, but Eli’s great-grandson— Ahiah—was. He was there with the priestly ephod (v. 3). The route that Jonathan took was by a ravine—one named Bramble and the other Bright (vv. 4-5). And so Jonathan said they should go over, and God can do whatever He wants (v. 6). Jonathan had his companion’s full loyalty (v. 7). But Jonathan is not rash (unlike his father), and lets the Lord decide where the fight will be (vv. 8-10). So that is what they did (v. 11), and the Philistines tauntingly invited them up (v. 12). They fell upon the Philistines, killed about 20 of them, there was a panic, and then the Lord sent the earthquake (vv. 13-15). Saul’s sentries saw that there was a panic (v. 16), and so Saul mustered the troops. They found out Jonathan and his armor-bearer were missing (v. 17). So Saul calls for the ark, which was either the ark itself or the ark in the form of the ephod (v. 18). In the midst of calling on the Lord, the commotion increased, so that Saul silenced the Lord (v. 19). They went to the battle and found chaos (v.20). At this point some unaffiliated “Hebrews” switched sides (v. 21). The Israelites who had scattered came back (v. 22), and God gave victory up to Bethaven (v. 23). The Israelite warriors were wasted because of a rash oath Saul had made (v. 24). Jonathan had not heard about it, so he took some of the honey that was in the woods (vv. 25-27). They told him about the oath, and Jonathan thought his father unwise (vv. 28-30). They beat the Philistines back to Aijalon (where Joshua had made the sun stand still), and they were very faint (v. 31). As a result, they fell upon the spoil in a way contrary to the law (v. 32). Saul intervened (vv. 33-35), and built an altar. Saul wanted to pursue the Philistines (v. 36), but God was silent (v. 37). Saul concluded there was sin in the camp and doubled down on his rash oath (vv. 38-39). The lot took Saul and Jonathan (vv. 40-41). Then in the next round, Jonathan was taken (v. 42). The story of the honey came out (v. 43). Saul swears a self-maledictory oath (v. 44), but the people intervened (v. 45). So the Philistines were not pursued that night (v. 46). So physically, Saul consolidated his rule (v. 47), and was an effective warrior king (v. 48). Saul’s family is then listed (vv. 49-51). And Saul recruited any valiant man that he found (v. 52).
Saul has excluded Samuel by his usurpation of the sacrifice 1 Sam. 13:15). He has included the priest from the line of Eli, whom the Lord had rejected (1 Sam. 2: 27-36). He silences the Lord when the Lord was going to speak (v. 19), and then later wants God to speak when the Lord has determined to be silent (v. 37). He wants to observe the details of right worship, provided it is convenient for him. When he places the foolish food restriction on the people, he does by saying he needs to be avenged on “my enemies,” with the Lord left out of it. The role he is playing has already gone to his head. When it comes to understanding the spiritual dynamics involved, Saul has a genius for picking up the wrong end of the stick. With his series of rash oaths, he tops it all off by saying, “May the Lord do to me, and more, if Jonathan does not die.” But the people know that God had blessed the exploits of Jonathan, and had not blessed the hasty and preemptory vows of Saul. They intervene, and Jonathan does not die. But this means that Saul has in effect cursed himself.
Jonathan is aggressive, but not rash. He waits on the Lord to determine where they should fight the Philistines—but it is foregone conclusion that they will fight the Philistines. Saul is timid and tentative, but when the action comes, he is very hasty.
Samuel has told Saul that his house will not be established (1 Sam. 13:13-14). The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart (David), even though it is clear there was a man after God’s own heart in Saul’s lineage (Jonathan). This is all so that God’s purpose in election might stand. Saul had a son who was nobler than Eli’s, or Samuel’s, or even David’s. Foolish fathers destroy a wise son’s opportunities.
Bramble and Bright
Jonathan was acting on the basis of the revealed will of God. They were supposed to be fighting the Philistines. God had promised that they would prevail against the Philistines (1 Sam. 9:16). So then, Jonathan wondered, what’s the hold-up?
But this faith of Jonathan’s did not mean that the fighting was not hard. It did not mean that he encountered no obstacles. The ravine he crossed in order to fight the Philistines was not where they expected any attack, and so the element of surprise was big. In order to fight them, Jonathan had to first descend, and then ascend. He had to go down in order to come up. He climbed down through the brambles in order to climb up into glory. Throughout this entire story, we see the vibrant faith of Jonathan, fighting against long odds—both against the Philistines on the field of battle, and spiritual incompetence within the camp of the Israelites. And yet Jonathan descends and ascends. This is the order of things; this is God’s way.