I Samuel 14
1. Now it happened one day that Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who bore his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistines’ garrison that is on the other side.” But he did not tell his father.
Now the story shifts from the failing Saul to his son Jonathan. Remember that Jonathan was the one who started this whole mess back in I Samuel 13:3 when he attacked the garrison of the Philistines in Geba. We are not told the circumstances that brought about this attack, and whether Saul was privy to it in advance or not. Now we will see more of the character of this son of Saul, Jonathan. It seems that even as the rest of Saul’s army is terrified and certain that a terrible loss to their enemies is inevitable, Jonathan is not afraid of the Philistines, for he is trusting in God. It is a pity the rest of Israel was not like him in this, and even more a pity that his father Saul was not like him. If he had been Jonathan surely would have made a worthy successor and next king. Alas, though, Saul did not have the faith of his eldest son.
So Jonathan, not deterred at all by the vastly superior force of the Philistines, decides to carry out a plan of his own. He makes this bold proposal to the young man who is his armor-bearer. He suggests they go over to the other side to the Philistines’ garrison. What he plans to do there, he does not yet reveal. In going, he does not inform his father. Perhaps he is aware that his father is filled with fear, and will likely not be in the mood to risk his son and heir on what he would view as a fool’s errand. Saul just did not have the outlook of faith that his son Jonathan had.
2. And Saul was sitting in the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree which is in Migron. The people who were with him were about six hundred men.
Saul meanwhile is in the outskirts of Gibeah trying to order his army from under this pomegranate tree. The place Saul is located is called Migron, which means “Precipice.” Clearly, this was a precipitous place, full of cliffs and crags, where these two armies have pitched their camps.
Saul seems to be trying to muster his troops, though certainly there is not much he can do with six hundred men. The LORD should have been the One ordering the battle and telling the people what to do, but Saul has lost His blessing by failing to heed Him, as we saw so clearly in the last chapter.
3. Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the LORD’s priest in Shiloh, was wearing an ephod. But the people did not know that Jonathan had gone.
The high priest Ahijah, Eli’s great-grandson, is with Saul with an ephod. In the ephod were the Urim and Thummim, with which Saul could ask questions of God. Apparently God would still answer such questions at this time. He had not left Saul completely as of yet.
Ahijah means “Brother of Jehovah.” This man is the son of Ahitub, which means “Brother of Goodness.” Ahitub in turn is the son of Phinehas, who was Eli the priest’s wicked son. Notice how quickly we have gone from Eli the priest to his great-grandson being the priest. Remember that part of the curse against Eli’s family was that, “There shall not be an old man in your house forever.” (I Samuel 2:32b.) We see this is coming true in his family.
Now we learn that not only was Saul unaware that Jonathan had left the army to go off on his own, but the people did not know either. It seems that no one but Jonathan and his armor-bearer knew that they had left and why.
4. Between the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistines’ garrison, there was a sharp rock on one side and a sharp rock on the other side. And the name of one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh.
We are now informed of the topography of the region Jonathan and his armor-bearer had to cross. In this region it seems there are two sharp points of rock very near to each other, and yet with a deep valley in between which one would have to cross to get from one point to the other. Though one standing on one point of rock might easily converse with one standing on the other point of rock, to cross from one to the other point would be a long and arduous journey down into the canyon in between and then up the other side. These two points of rock were given names by the Hebrews, not too surprisingly. The name of the one is Bozez, which means “Surpassing White” or “Glistening.” The name of the other is Seneh, which means “Thorny,” certainly an appropriate name for a sharp point of rock.
5. The front of one faced northward opposite Michmash, and the other southward opposite Gibeah.
The one point of rock was accessible from the Michmash side of the valley where the Philistines were in the south, and the other point of rock was accessible from the Gibeah side of the valley where Saul’s army was.
6. Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore 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 restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few.”
Jonathan wants to confront the Philistines alone with his armor-bearer. He knows how great the LORD is, and hopes He may work for them. He knows that Israel are in relationship with Him, as circumcision, the sign of their covenant with Him, attests. He knows the Philistines are not in relationship with Him, as their lack of circumcision demonstrates. Jonathan believes that the LORD could just as easily save Israel with the two of them as with all six hundred of Saul’s soldiers. He realizes that the LORD is Israel’s secret weapon, and that all their true hope rests in Him. With the LORD, then, what does it matter how many people are available to save Israel with? As long as the LORD is with them, they cannot lose. Compare the strong faith of this man Jonathan with Saul’s unbelief, who didn’t even believe that God could save them with six hundred men!
7. So his armorbearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Go then; here I am with you, according to your heart.”
Jonathan’s armor-bearer is perfectly willing to go with him. He trusts Jonathan, and whatever is in his heart, he is ready to go with him and do. No doubt such an attitude came not just from trust in Jonathan, but in Jehovah Whom they served as well. An armor-bearer was usually not just a job at that time, but was a close friend of the one whose armor he was bearing. Since this man was responsible for caring for and saving your life if need be, you would want him to be your friend! This young man was no doubt Jonathan’s friend because he had a strong faith in God like Jonathan did.
8. Then Jonathan said, “Very well, let us cross over to these men, and we will show ourselves to them.
Jonathan now tells his armor-bearer his plan. They will cross over to the Philistine guards, and will not hide themselves, but will allow the guards to see them.
9. If they say thus to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place and not go up to them.
They will see what the Philistine soldiers say when they see them. They might decide to cross the valley and attack them or attempt to take them prisoner. This would seem more likely for soldiers on guard and eager to defeat an outnumbered and cowed enemy. If this happens, it will mean that Yahweh has not chosen to save Israel through them.
10. But if they say thus, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up. For the LORD has delivered them into our hand, and this will be a sign to us.”
The Philistine soldiers on the other hand may mock them and encourage them to cross the valley instead. This could be laziness, as they do not want to cross the difficult valley. It would be rather strange too, for it would seem to indicate they were afraid of only two soldiers! Coming up on them from below would be a dangerous proposition, since they would have the lower ground. So if they refuse to come over and say this instead, it will mean that the LORD has delivered the Philistines into the power of Jonathan and his armor-bearer.
Now it is inevitable, perhaps, that people today who read this think it sounds like a great way to seek the mind of the LORD, and try something similar. Perhaps just about every young believer has tried this. I remember doing something similar myself when I was a child with whether or not the next car down the street would be red or not. Yet we need to understand that we as believers in this dispensation of grace have no right to dictate terms and conditions to the LORD like this. Jonathan had a right to set up a test like this, being the son of the God’s anointed king. He was related to the qoheleth, the very man God had set up over His qahal of His people of Israel. If things had gone well, he would have been the next qoheleth, the next king over Israel. As such, he had a special place before God, and had a right to ask God for signs and help in this way. Yet we have no right to make up little omens for God to give us to let us know His mind, copying this. Today we hold no position but that of sinners saved by grace. All our superior positioning, which is considerable, is yet future. For now, it is not right for us to do this, and God will not manipulate things just at our say-so like this.
11. So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines. And the Philistines said, “Look, the Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden.”
So Jonathan and his armor-bearer carry out this plan. They show themselves to the Philistine soldiers to see how they react. The Philistines see them and taunt them among themselves, saying that they have emerged from the holes where they had hidden themselves. Apparently the Philistines are aware of the fearful state the Israelite army is in.
12. Then the men of the garrison called to Jonathan and his armorbearer, and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you something.”
Jonathan said to his armorbearer, “Come up after me, for the LORD has delivered them into the hand of Israel.”
So the Philistine soldiers call across the narrow valley to the two Israelites. They tell them to cross the valley and come up to them, and they will then show them their might in defeating them. Why, we might wonder, did the Philistines answer this way, instead of coming after these two soldiers who were so bold as to separate from the group and show themselves? Perhaps they simply did not want to go through the work of crossing the valley. They also may have feared a trap, not liking the idea of exposing themselves while they climbed up the other side of the cliff. But whatever their reason, Jonathan recognizes the sign from Jehovah in their answer. He calls upon his armor-bearer to follow him up the other cliff, for now they know that Jehovah will fight on their side and deliver the Philistine army into their hands.
13. And Jonathan climbed up on his hands and knees with his armorbearer after him; and they fell before Jonathan. And as he came after him, his armorbearer killed them.
So these two brave young men make their way down into the valley and then up the other side. The climb there was so steep that they had to climb with their hands and their feet. This certainly was an awkward way to charge the enemy! Imagine having to pull yourself over the edge of a cliff to meet the enemy already standing on the top. And you just two, and the enemy more than twenty! Surely such an attack was doomed to failure from the start. Yet Yahweh gives them help, as the sign indicated, and they start to slay the enemy. First up is Jonathan, and they start to fall before him, and his armor-bearer comes after him and finishes them off in Jonathan’s wake.
14. That first slaughter which Jonathan and his armorbearer made was about twenty men within about half an acre of land.
We learn that the first slaughter that Jonathan and his armor-bearer made on their own was twenty men, whom they killed in this small plot of land.
15. And there was trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and the raiders also trembled; and the earth quaked, so that it was a very great trembling.
Now the slaughter of twenty men by two, though it might be a bad thing for an army, was hardly enough on its own to turn the tide of the war, particularly one which was so lop-sided as this one. Yet now the LORD steps in once again, and strikes the host of the Philistines with fear. This happens not just in sight of the slaughter of Jonathan either, it seems, but also in the garrison, and in the raiders who were far down the road from here planning to loot and pillage Israel. They were far out of range of any fear caused by Jonathan’s slaughter, but were certainly not beyond the range of God’s Spirit. So the Philistines tremble, and an earthquake takes place at the same time. Indeed, it is hard for us to tell which happened first: if the Philistines started trembling, and then the earth quaked, or if the earth quaked and the Philistines then started trembling, or if the two took place at about the same time. Yet whatever the case, the result was that the invading army was suddenly full of great trembling and fear.
16. Now the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and there was the multitude, melting away; and they went here and there.
Now there has been no earthquake nor supernatural fear in Gibeah of Benjamin where Saul’s army was. So imagine the surprise of the watchmen of Saul when they see the army of their enemies unexpectedly start to run away, melting away from their mighty camp like wax melting before the heat of a furnace. This army is not withdrawing in an orderly manner, but are fleeing in terror, and so desperate to get away that they were killing each other in an attempt to clear a path for themselves to flee. So Jehovah was causing great fear and confusion among them, and bringing their invasion of Israel to an inglorious end.
17. Then Saul said to the people who were with him, “Now call the roll and see who has gone from us.” And when they had called the roll, surprisingly, Jonathan and his armorbearer were not there.
Saul figures that this inexplicable event cannot have happened on its own, so someone from his own army must have gone to attack the Philistines and cause this. Therefore he quickly calls the roll and numbers his six hundred men to find out who has left them. By doing this, they discover that Jonathan and his armor-bearer are the ones missing.
18. And Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here” (for at that time the ark of God was with the children of Israel).
Saul, it seems, hesitates over what his response to this panic among the Philistines should be. Perhaps he does not want to run into whatever is frightening the Philistines so much! So he wants to ask God what he should do, and he asks priest Ahijah to bring the ark so he can seek God’s command. Now we are informed that the ark of God at this time was with those representing Israel in their army. It seems that the idea that the ark being present with them could help the army had not died out after the disaster of I Samuel 4!
19. Now it happened, while Saul talked to the priest, that the noise which was in the camp of the Philistines continued to increase; so Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.”
While Saul is getting ready to ask Yahweh what to do, the noise in the Philistine camp increases so much he knows it is a route. At this point, there can be no doubt but that God is coming to their rescue and giving them the victory, and at last Saul gets the idea. Ahijah had put his hand into the ephod to consult the Urim and Thummim, but Saul tells him not to bother, but to withdraw his hand. He now knows what to do.
20. Then Saul and all the people who were with him assembled, and they went to the battle; and indeed every man’s sword was against his neighbor, and there was very great confusion.
At last Saul and his army head to the battle, though they are late to arrive. The LORD has already won the victory for them by turning their own swords against the Philistines in the confusion. Surely no one but the LORD could win a battle for His people this way!
21. Moreover the Hebrews who were with the Philistines before that time, who went up with them into the camp from the surrounding country, they also joined the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan.
Now the Hebrews who had gone over to the enemy out of fear, seeing this sequence of events, joyfully return to their countrymen to help Saul and Jonathan. Though they did not have enough faith to remain with God’s people when all seemed hopeless, they were more than happy to return when God acted and brought them the victory. Yet how shallow is such faith compared to the deep trust even at the lowest point which was shown by Jonathan and his armor-bearer!
22. Likewise all the men of Israel who had hidden in the mountains of Ephraim, when they heard that the Philistines fled, they also followed hard after them in the battle.
In the same way all the Israelites who had fled and hidden themselves in hopes of living out the conquest of the Philistines, as we saw they were doing earlier, now come out to chase the Philistines away and join their fellow countrymen in the battle. These also had no faith beforehand, but now are ready to join in the victory of Jonathan, the one who did believe in advance.
23. So the LORD saved Israel that day, and the battle shifted to Beth Aven.
We read that this is how Jehovah saved Israel on that day. He was Israel’s true weapon, though Saul had forgotten it. When Israel trusted in Him, Jehovah would always give them the victory. In this case, there were only two men who trusted, yet they were enough for Jehovah to save the whole nation. How important can be the actions of just a few men in the sight of God!
Now the battle passes from the two army camps to the city of Beth Aven, which means “House of Vanity.” In modern English “vanity” has to do with pride, but in old English it meant “emptiness.” In Pilgrim’s Progress, Pilgrim visits Vanity Fair. This does not mean “Pride Fair,” but rather, “Emptiness Fair,” and speaks of the emptiness of this world and all its materialism, entertainment, and other attractions. So this city is called House of Emptiness, and a vain or empty thing is about to happen there, as we are about to see.