1 Samuel Chapter 14
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Go to Bible: 1 Samuel 14
“That same day.” The Hebrew vocabulary indicates that this is the day that the Philistine army came out to the pass at Michmash. Jonathan did not want the Philistine army to get dug in and become fortified.
“on the other side.” That is, on the other side of the deep valley that runs east to west between Geba and Michmash.
“But he did not tell his father.” It is possible that by this time Jonathan realized that Saul was making some very bad decisions and not getting guidance from God. In contrast, it is almost certain that at this point Jonathan was walking by the spirit and had revelation from God as to what to do. It is unlikely that he would have attacked an entire garrison of the Philistines on his own. There is a wonderful lesson here. It occasionally happens in life that someone who is in a higher position of authority (a leader, a boss) is not walking with God and is making bad decisions, and it takes great prayer and wisdom to go around them, so to speak, and do the right and godly thing. Believers must remember that the highest “boss” or “leader” is God, and that obeying Him takes precedence over obeying earthly leaders. There may be consequences in this life for obeying God, but that is the cost of living in a fallen world. The apostles defied the religious leaders of Israel and were whipped for it (Acts 5:40), but they had done the right thing and will be rewarded for their godly obedience in the next life. Jesus used this same kind of wisdom when he did things with some people and excluded others. He often took Peter, James, and John with him and left the others behind, and he sometimes made sure that others were not around when he did miracles, such as when he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:36-40).(top)
“sitting.” The Hebrew can also be translated as “staying,” but Saul was not camped out long-term on the outskirts of Gibeah, but he apparently regularly stayed there and performed his role as king, which seems to be indicated by the word “sitting’ That Saul was regularly there is likely, but in this case, it seems the emphasis is on the fact that Saul was “sitting” as king (cp. CEB; NAS; NET; NKJ). We see the same vocabulary in 1 Kings 22:10 when Jehoshaphat and Ahab sat on their thrones at the threshing floor outside the gate of Samaria (1 Kings 22:10), and Deborah sat as the judge under a palm tree (Judg. 4:5). Lucifer wanted to exalt his throne above the stars of God and “sit” (rule and judge) on the mountain of assembly (Isa. 14:13).
“under the pomegranate tree.” Likely mentioned to highlight Saul’s position as king, getting to sit in the shade while others would stand in the sun (cp. Judg. 4:5).
“at the threshing floor.” The traditional translation, “in Migron,” has always presented difficulty because it has never been located and besides, normally a town would not be located on the outskirts of another town. There is evidence that the meaning likely refers to a threshing floor. Threshing floors were usually large and flat, and thus a good place for a king to sit, and sometimes by the gate or outskirts of the city, as we see at Samaria (1 Kings 22:10). The translation “threshing floor” is espoused by David T. Tsumura and others.a If the threshing floor was large, it would not be unusual to have trees nearby to provide welcome shade since the grain harvest was always in the hot summer, and the trees could even be close enough to be encroaching upon the threshing floor itself.
“and the people who were with him.” That is, his soldiers.
Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel [NICOT].
“Ahijah was wearing an ephod.” So Ahijah was the High Priest at this time, but this is somewhat ominous because Ahijah was a priest in the line of Eli whose descendants would lose the priesthood (1 Sam. 2:30-36), and they are serving a king who has lost his kingship. The genealogy of Eli to Ahijah is given here. Eli was the High Priest in 1 Samuel 1. He died in 1 Samuel 4:18 when he heard the news that in the war with the Philistines the ark of God had been captured. His sons were Hophni and Phinehas, and they died in that same war (1 Sam. 4:17). Phinehas’ son was Ahitub, as we see here in 1 Samuel 14:3, and Phinehas’ other son, who did not become High Priest, was Ichabod (1 Sam. 4:19-22). The son of Ahitub was Ahijah, as we see here in 1 Samuel 14:3. So the line of High Priests was Eli, Phinehas, Ahitub, Ahijah.(top)
“Between the passes.” There is one large pass, but it has some different options as to how exactly to cross the ravine.
“a tooth-shaped cliff on the one side.” This location is described in some detail in Josephus.
“Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh.” Bozez means “shining,” and Seneh means “acacia,” and still to this day the valley below is dotted with acacia trees.(top)
“in front of Michmash and the other on the south in front of Geba.” This is very specific geography. The valley, the ravine, between Geba on the south and Michmash on the north is so steep that if you are in the ravine there is a cliff in front of you to the north and a cliff behind you to the south.(top)
“It may be.” Jonathan knew that God wanted victory over the Philistines, and he was a skilled warrior, so at this point, he was willing to risk his life in an attempt to save the fledgling kingdom of Israel. Very soon after he seems much more confident that Yahweh will give him victory (1 Sam. 14:10). God’s people must be bold and be willing to risk to accomplish the will of God. We see the same kind of attitude in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3:17-18. They knew God could deliver them, but they were not 100 percent confident He would.
In this record, we see part of the reason that Jonathan became so close to David. David was willing to risk his life for the kingdom too, and we see that when he fought Goliath (1 Sam. 17).(top)
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“if they say this, ‘Come up to us!’ then we will go up, for Yahweh has given them into our hand.” Jonathan had to have revelation to say this because it would have been the natural thing for the Philistines to invite the Hebrews up to fight. The steep valley was apparently heavily wooded, which is why Jonathan and his armor-bearer had to “reveal” themselves to the Philistines, so the Philistines would not naturally descend the steep bank and lose the advantage of the high ground and also possibly risk being ambushed by other people hiding among the trees.(top)
“The Hebrews.” The Philistines use the term “Hebrews” because Israel was not yet thought of as a nation by the other nations around them. The “Hebrews” was more used for the group of associated tribes that descended from Jacob. It would take some time before the surrounding nations thought of “Israel” as a united nation.(top)
“teach you a lesson.” The Hebrew is idiomatic, and the difficulty of bringing the idiom into English is why the English versions differ so much. The Hebrew text is more literally, “make you know a dabar” (dabar (#01697), means “word,” “matter,” or “thing”). Young’s Literal Translation has “cause you to know something.” This could be easily translated as “teach you something,” but given the idiomatic nature of the statement, “teach you a lesson” is a better way to translate what the overconfident and arrogant Philistines were saying (cp. CEB; CSB; NAB; NIV; NLT; TNK; NET), and is the way we would usually say it in English.
“Come up after me, for Yahweh has given them into the hand of Israel.” Jonathan certainly had revelation from Yahweh as to what to do by this time, and speaks with the calm assurance of one who knows the will of God. We see the same confident talk when David challenged Goliath (1 Sam. 17:45-47). But God’s revelation does not guarantee victory, it must be accompanied by trust in God and willingness to do the hard work at hand. Jonathan and his armor-bearer still had to risk their lives and fight to win the battle.
We can see the courage that Jonathan and his armor-bearer had to have in this situation because this was not a “sneak attack.” The enemy was better armed, larger in number, had the advantage of higher ground, and had invited the attack and was expecting it. So this is one more biblical example where the hand of Yahweh is obvious. People act and risk, but Yahweh gives the victory.(top)
“And they fell before Jonathan.” Jonathan would likely have killed many and mortally wounded others whom the armor-bearer would then finish off, although the armor-bearer no doubt killed his share of the enemy. The Philistines, overconfident and unprepared for this bold and aggressive attack, were caught off guard, but were still trained soldiers and so killing them required skill and determination. This is an important lesson for believers: even if we are doing the will of God, we must be prepared to be bold and aggressive about it. Occasionally some Christian teacher will say that all we need to do to have God’s victory is trust (“have faith”) and pray. But the many examples throughout the Bible like this one, which shows believers accomplishing the will of God by bold and aggressive (and sometimes risky) action, is the true picture of what it takes to see God’s will done on this fallen earth.(top)
“in, as it were, half a furrow length of a team of oxen plowing in a field.” The Hebrew text is idiomatic. Many English versions use the word “acre,” and the idea for that translation comes from the tradition that an acre of land was the amount of land that a team of oxen could plow in one day. Similarly, the Hebrew “furrow (“furrow’s length”) had the same basic idea; the length of a furrow that oxen would plow in a day if they went back and forth and plowed a plot of land. However, the exact area indicated by the Hebrew text is unclear because it is unknown how many times the farmer would go back and forth. If he went only a few times, the furrow could be quite long, while if he went back and forth many times the furrow would be shorter. So we really do not know the area in which Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some 20 men, but it would not have been very large, and perhaps very close to half an acre.(top)
“and the earth quaked.” God helped Israel by adding an earthquake at the very time of Jonathan’s attack, which added to the fear and panic among the Philistines.
“it was a trembling from God.” This great trembling (the Hebrew can also mean “panic”) came from God, who was now actively fighting for Israel. Occasionally the word “God” is used in Hebrew to express something that is large, excessive, or superlative, which explains why some versions read something such as “an exceeding great trembling” (ASV) or “a very great panic” (ESV). However, in this context, it seems most logical that the text is letting the reader know why, not just the Philistine garrison that was attacked by Jonathan, but the whole Philistine army, was suddenly struck with great fear and ran away. God sent a great panic on the Philistines.(top)
“Gibeah of Benjamin.” Situated on a high point, the watchmen in Gibeah could see Michmash and the Philistines running away.
“multitude.” The Hebrew word translated “multitude” is hamon (#01995 הָמוֹן, sometimes spelled הָמֹן cp. Ezek. 5:7(, and it can refer to a crowd or abundance as it does in 1 Samuel 14:16, or what happens in a crowd such as tumult, confusion, or it can refer to a sound made from a crowd, an uproar, sound, or murmur, as it does three verses later in 1 Samuel 14:19, where many versions translate it “uproar,” “tumult,” or “noise.”
Just like in other languages, Hebrew words often have several meanings, so although when a word appears more than once in a context it usually has the same meaning, it is not uncommon that the meaning would be different. There are many other examples: “regret” and “repent” (see commentary on 1 Sam. 15:11).
“going back and forth.” The Philistines were so confused and panicked that they ran back and forth, not sure of which way to go.(top)
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“Bring the ark of God here.” The Septuagint has “ephod” instead of ark, and many scholars think that is the correct reading and the Hebrew text was miscopied at some point. However, it is possible that Saul did ask that the ark be brought to where he was.(top)
“uproar.” The Hebrew word is the same for the multitude of people and the sound—the uproar—that the multitude makes (see commentary on 1 Sam. 14:16).
“Withdraw your hand!” The statement “Withdraw your hand” indicates that the priest was using the Urim and Thummin in his breastplate to determine what was going on and what to do about it. This process could take a while, because the “lot” that came from the breastplate could only say “Yes” or “No,” so a person such as the king would have to be clear about the questions he would ask. Apparently, King Saul felt that they did not have time to clearly determine what to do next, and joining the battle was the logical move.
[For more on the Urim and Thummim, see commentary on Exod. 28:30.](top)
“every man’s sword was against his fellow.” God so confused the Philistines that they began to kill each other. There are other battles in the Bible where God works such that the enemies of God kill each other. For example, when Gideon fought the Midianites (Judg. 7:22), and when Jehoshaphat fought the armies from the east (2 Chron. 20:23).
This was very helpful to Israel for a couple of reasons. For one thing, at that time the Israelites were not well armed, whereas the Philistines were (cp. 1 Sam. 13:19-22), and also the Philistines killing each other allowed the Israelites to arm themselves with the now available weapons and armor.(top)
“and who went up with them into the camp, they too turned around.” The Hebrew text is difficult here, and the English versions vary. The REV translation follows versions such as the BBE; CEB; ESV; NAB; NIV; and NRSV.(top)
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“The battle crossed beyond Beth-aven.” Beth-aven was east of Michmash, and the main battle moved westward, the Philistines fleeing back to their cities on the coast (cp. 1 Sam. 14:31). Actually, the battle went much further west than Beth-aven. But from 1 Samuel 14:23 we learn that when the Israelites first attacked, the Philistines ran in lots of directions, even to the east.(top)
“distressed.” The Hebrew can also be “pressed, hard-pressed, oppressed.” All of these fit the situation. There is a great contrast here between Yahweh, who saved Israel (1 Sam. 14:23), and Saul who distressed Israel. At a time when Israel should have been rejoicing, they were distressed. The king and leader, Saul, made a very pious-looking but ungodly curse, which greatly hurt both the people and Israel’s cause in getting free from Philistine domination and reoccupying the Promised Land. Jesus said that we would know evil people and actions by their fruit, and Saul’s fruit was bad.
“I have avenged myself of my enemies.” Saul’s pride shines through and he does not give any credit to Yahweh.(top)
“all the people of the land.” The Hebrew text uses metonymy, “all the land” represents “all the people of the land.” When Saul put that oath-curse on the people it did not just affect a few people but the whole army who faithfully followed and obeyed him.
[See figure of speech “metonymy.”]
“came into the forest.” Coming down from the hill country and going toward the coast there are areas of woods punctuated with fields and meadows. The Israelite army had entered one of those areas.
“honey on the open ground.” This would be incredibly rare and was likely a provision of God for the army that Saul, by his oath-curse, kept them from receiving.(top)
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“from Michmash to Aijalon.” This is downhill to the west.(top)
“So the people rushed upon the spoil.” The sun had now set and the people could eat, but they did not wait to properly slaughter and cook the meat.(top)
“You have been unfaithful.” It is Saul who has abused his power as king and led Israel away from the Law, and yet he accuses Israel of unfaithfulness to the covenant. This is typical of ungodly people: they accuse others of doing what they are doing.(top)
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“the first time he built an altar.” Saul’s ungodly boldness is increasing. Saul had been told that he would no longer be king. The Hebrew is difficult to bring into English. The word translated “first” is a verb, expressing a verbal idea.(top)
“take plunder from them.” The Hebrew just uses a verb, “plunder them,” but that is very awkward English, and the text means “take plunder from them.”
“But the priest said.” The Hebrew can be “And the priest said,” or “Then the priest said,” as well as “but.” However, in this context, it seems that Saul and the people were going to rush down on the Philistines and the priest interrupted their hasty plan, so the word “but” is warranted.
“Let’s draw near to God here.” The reason to “draw near” to God was to inquire of Him. Some of the English versions read, “Let us inquire of God.” While that is an interpretation and not a translation, it does accurately represent what the priest is saying.(top)
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“all you “cornerstones” of the people.” The leaders were the “cornerstones” of Israel, guiding and supporting it (cp. Judg. 20:2). Jesus Christ, however, is the chief cornerstone.
“what sin has happened this day.” Saul did not know what sin had been committed.(top)
“die, yes, die.” See Genesis 2:16.(top)
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“tasted, yes, tasted.” The word “tasted” is doubled for emphasis, using the figure of speech polyptoton. Jonathan emphasizes that he only tasted of the honey, it's not like he ate a full meal (see commentary on Gen. 2:16).
“here I am, must I now die?” The Hebrew can be taken as a fatalistic realization: “I will now die.” Or, as a question, “Must I now die.” Or, as sarcasm, “Here, I am about to die.” But the question seems to fit the best in this context.(top)
“God do so and more also.” Saul makes an incredibly emphatic statement here, showing he was totally blinded by religious zeal to the point of horrific ungodliness. First, he uses an oath-curse, “God do so and more also.” Then he uses the figure of speech polyptoton, repeating the word “die” in the same pattern as in Genesis 2:17.
[See commentary on Gen. 2:16 and commentary on Gen. 2:17.](top)
“But the people said.” Thankfully, the people of Israel intervened against the madness of King Saul. They emphasized their speech with a counter-oath to Saul’s oath, saying, “As Yahweh lives.” Then in an interesting blend of power and tact, they do not directly threaten the king, but speak in a way that firmly states their case without a specific threat. They say, “if one of his hairs falls to the ground….” This is technically the figure of speech anacoluthon, or “sudden silence,” when the speaker stops and lets the listener fill in the blank from their imagination. For example, if two kids are fighting in the back seat of the car, the parent who is driving might say, “If I have to come back there…!” That is a threat of sorts, but it is unspecific so the kids have to figure out what might happen if the parent had to stop the car and deal with them. Similarly, the people said to Saul, “if one of his hairs falls to the ground,” leaving it up to Saul to imagine what might happen if Jonathan was harmed.(top)
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“taken the kingship.” The Hebrew is more literally, “captured the kingship.” The emphasis seems to be on Saul’s work, not God’s gift.
“he was victorious.” This translation closely follows the Septuagint, but the Hebrew text can have the same basic meaning.a
Cp. D. Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel [NICOT], 382, n108.
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“Ishvi.” Also called Abinadab (1 Chron. 8:33).(top)
“Abner the son of Ner, Saul’s uncle.” Ner was Saul’s uncle and Abner was Saul’s first cousin and thus a very close relative. He was the commander of Saul’s army (1 Sam. 17:55).(top)
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“he took him to himself.” That is, Saul drafted him into his army. Saul’s constant battles with the Philistines meant he had to keep his army manned and ready.(top)